DIIV-ing deep, ris­ing above

Amidst the spec­ta­cle of in­die-rock star­dom, Zachary Cole Smith might have taken a beat­ing but he isn’t down for the count.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Special Feature - MaHB / Mu­sic by Jonathan Fong

How dificult is it to sus­tain a suc­cess­ful in­die-rock ca­reer? For New York band DIIV (pro­nounced “Dive” af­ter the Nir­vana song), the fouryear gap be­tween their highly suc­cess­ful de­but Oshin and their sopho­more fol­low-up Is the Is Are has been plagued with set­backs, con­tro­versy and run-ins with the law.

Es­sen­tially the mu­si­cal pro­ject of Zachary Cole Smith, DIIV play gui­tar-laden dreamy rock songs that sparkle with poppy melodies and sunny beach vibes. Cole’s re­la­tion­ship with singer-song­writer/model/ac­tress Sky Fer­reira has put both him (and the band) un­der much me­dia scru­tiny through the years; get­ting busted for drug pos­ses­sion in 2013, while in the com­pany of Fer­reira, was the per­sonal nadir of a largely dif­fi­cult pe­riod. As if that didn’t threaten to de­rail DIIV com­pletely, the band’s bassist, Devin Ruben Perez, was found to have posted sex­ist, racist, ho­mo­pho­bic and anti-Semitic re­marks on the web­site 4chan. Cole pub­licly chas­tised and apol­o­gised for his band mate, mak­ing clear his own stance on the is­sue.

I spoke to Cole over the phone two weeks be­fore the re­lease of Is the Is Are. Po­lite and earnest, the 31-year-old seemed ea­ger to set the record straight and elab­o­rate on the jour­ney lead­ing up to DIIV’s new al­bum. For one, Is the Is Are is a deeply per­sonal record for Cole. He sees it as an hon­est al­bum that aims to com­mu­ni­cate to the lis­tener what he has been though in the past few years. “Hope­fully, af­ter peo­ple hear the record, they know more about me, more about my sit­u­a­tion, and are not as likely to judge me, or say shitty stuff about me, which they love to do,” Cole en­thused.

Haters aside, DIIV have also strug­gled to man­age the busi­ness side of things a lit­tle bet­ter. They’ve learned the hard way, hav­ing lost money on pre­vi­ous tours. How so? In en­deav­our­ing to push DIIV to make their live shows as good as they pos­si­bly could, Cole in­sisted on dip­ping into prof­its from shows and in­vest­ing the money back into pro­duc­tion.

“Is bal­ance the key to keep­ing things to­gether?” I asked, re­fer­ring to Cole’s mu­sic en­deav­ours, tours with DIIV and other projects like modelling, with Fer­reira, for Saint Lau­rent. “Modelling, that’s just kind of been out of cu­rios­ity, tak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties when pre­sented to me,” he clar­i­fied, “while tour­ing is a nec­es­sary evil.” Ul­ti­mately, Cole is hap­pi­est when writ­ing and record­ing mu­sic for the sim­ple fact that it lasts. While tour­ing might be fun, he finds it fleet­ing and highly stress­ful on oc­ca­sion. “Writ­ing and record­ing: that’s your per­ma­nent legacy. The mu­sic that you put down on vinyl or CD that’s what peo­ple will see for­ever.”

Cole must feel proud of the praise that Is the Is Are has re­ceived, both from crit­ics and fans alike, since its re­lease. While cathar­tic in doc­u­ment­ing his jour­ney, vin­di­cat­ing his ef­forts to de­trac­tors might ac­tu­ally be the more sat­is­fac­tory tri­umph he truly de­sires. In learn­ing from past mis­takes and hav­ing the aware­ness to cen­tre and find re­newed fo­cus, I hope Cole does not fall prey to the trap­pings and the clichés known to trip up those on the cusp of great­ness. In­stead, here’s to root­ing for DIIV to notch 2016 as a high­light in an oeu­vre of greater things to come.

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