THE NEW DZ DEATHRAYS ALBUM IS BLOODY-LOVELY – NO, REALLY, THAT’S WHAT IT’S CALLED. MATT DORIA CATCHES UP WITH A WHOPPING HALF OF THE BAND TO VIBE ON IT.
The new DZ Deathrays album is bloody lovely – no, really, that’s what it’s called! The dance-punk duo go harder and harsher on their long-delayed third LP.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would feel like to experience an earthquake, stand in the crowd at any DZ Deathrays concert. The sheer, inexhaustible chaos that surges through any venue they invade is something of legend: you have to see it to believe it, and after you do, the words to describe it are at once out of reach.
The duo don’t make it easy to watch passively: if his playing is meticulous on record, frontman Shane Parsons is the loosest of units onstage, coupling sharp, punishing yells with shredding that recalls the jitter-brewing car chases of an early Fast And Furious movie (back when they were all street race punks and not balding dads with helicopters).
As the Brisbane dance-punks leap headfirst into their third LP, Bloody Lovely, they’re taking that gloriously scuzzed-up live energy to the stereo.
“I think the last record was a little rigid,” Parsons says of the tight, chop-and-change musicality of 2014’s Black Rat. “It was cool because I hadn’t really heard anything like it before, especially in a heavier sense. But for this one, we wanted to get a little sloppier and loosen ourselves up a bit. I don’t even think there was any guitar feedback on BlackRat, but that was something we were excited to play with on this one – it giv es the record a little more of the swagger that we have in the live show.”
To amp up the natural sweatiness of their sound on tape, the band hit their ar tistry with an overhaul. They buckled down with acclaimed producer Burke Reid once more, but ventured to strip back the complexity that marred their last trip to the studio with him.
“We were almost trying to make a dance record with BlackRat,” Parsons elaborates. “There were so many different tones for the low notes and the high notes, and we tracked the drums separately for verses and choruses. But for this record, we went into the studio with a very straightforward approach; we focused more on getting our sound right at the start and then just going for it. The drums didn’t change much at all throughout the process, and we had, like, five guitar amps that we alternated between depending on what vibe we were going for.”
And of course, a second time in the ring with Reid gave Parsons a chance to learn from previous mistakes. “The biggest change this time was that we actually didn’t leave the vocals until right at the end, because otherwise I would’ve been completely f***ed like I was last time,” he laughs. “Trying to sing 11 songs in three days and expecting every take to come out right… It just doesn’t work like that. So we got the drums down first, and then we alternated between guitar takes and vocal takes. It was a lot better that way because we were slowly building stuff up, and we had an opportunity to be a little more experimental.”
Thus led to an album that keeps intact the bare bones of DZ’s signature ‘party thrash’ flavour, but taps a little deeper into their artistic potential to unearth a few sounds the blokes had previously shied away from. Most notable of the lot is a raw, blistering punk tone (see “Bad Influence”) that Parsons chalks down to his current go-to axe: a weather-worn Burns MR2 Marquee.
“Burns are pretty well-known for their surf guitars and more rock’n’roll sort of stuff,” he muses, “But this is a bit more high-gain and it’s got a really nice, dark tone which I like. You can split the pickups five ways, I think, so it’s one of the more versatile guitars in my collection.”
Variety came in the amp selection, which included – but Parsons is adamant wasn’t limited to – a 50- watt Orange head, a Roland Jazz Chorus, an Ampeg SVT, a small collection of Goldentones and “this one Dr. Z amp, which was a custom-made Brazilian model. It was like a JTM50 crossed with a Bassman – a little combo, it was really great.” But despite no shor tage of toys to play with, the band made an ef fort to keep things at least a little cohesive.
“We would try playing one part through pretty much every piece of gear we had, but we didn’t f*** with the settings too much,” Parsons notes. “We found the right setting for each one and just changed amps when something didn’t feel right. We used a bit more of the ZVEX distortion and Fulltone gain pedals as well, which made a big difference. I didn’t use toomany wacky pedals, except for maybe the Electroharmonix MEL9 – I combined that with a ZVEX Lo-Fi Junky to get all of those kind of Western sounds. I wanted that
really weird, kind of warped sound. You’ve gotta have a bit of weirdness on there!”
It might come as a shock to some fans given DZ’s quirky, dance-slathered tones, but Parsons is an avid believer that pedals and amps will always prevail over DAWs. “You could emulate all of those little string sections in Pro Tools, but it would just sound like you did it in Pro Tools,” he says. “It makes things sound a little more pumped up when you actually have a guitar to get those sounds from scratch, and to me, that’s a lot more interesting than just pulling a sample from some software.”
In the end, it all comes back to their vision to bring a live feel to BloodyLovely. “There are so many different things that go into the signal chain,” he continues; “You’ve got the guitar going to the pedals, the pedals to the amplifier and then all of that to the microphone – and every time you change one of those variables, you’re changing the whole sound. I guess you’re never going to replicate the exact sound you have live, but it’s really cool when you’re able to capture some of that atmosphere.”
It wasn’t just in the realm of production that DZ Deathrays shook things up. Best exemplified by lead single “Total Meltdown”, the band poured more focus into writing huge, sticky choruses and earworm-ish hooks that don’t just fizzle out of the listener’s mind once the next tune rolls around.
“We were thinking a lot more about how a song is put together – how pop songs in general are put together – and how we could have these loud, ‘party rock’ songs that also have a lot of thought put into them,” Parsons explains. “We had to step back and ask ourselves, ‘How do we have that classic sort of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, then f*** it up so that people don’t actually notice?’ Because I love listening to songs and going, ‘Well this is just a classic pop song,’ but then realising that there’s all these little bits that make it special. A lot of people can write a verse and a lot of people can write a chorus, but it’s all those little interesting bits and bridging sections that make a good song stand out.”
In the age of the Spotify playlist, it’s more crucial than ever for bands to make everything they throw at the wall stick, and stick hard. “People have been doing rock music for f***ingages, so you’ve really gotta find a way to stand out and be credible without having some sort of schtick,” Parsons says. “You don’t want to be the band that makes people go, ‘Ah, yeah, he looks like that,’ or, ‘They sound like that.’ We just want to write solid rock songs that hopefully stand the test of time, and that people can listen to on repeat or listen deep enough to notice all the little extra bits.”
Parsons is happy to confirm that, although it took a whole four years for DZ Deathrays to pump Bloody
Lovely out, its follow-up is already in the pipeline. The band have a rough outline for where LP4 will take them, and if recent demos are anything to go by, mosh fiends will be stoked with their new direction.
“I think it’s going to be a little heavier,” Parsons teases. “There are a few demos that sound a fair bit different to anything we’ve done before. We’ll see where they end up and if they fit into the whole spectrum of things, but for now, yeah, we’ve got a bunch of songs flying around. It’s nice that we didn’t stop writing once we finished BloodyLovely, because the hardest thing is getting started again after you’ve taken a break.”
As if early news of a fourth album wasn’t enough, Parsons is quick to sling us another bombshell: “We’re writing it as a three-piece,” he says proudly. Lachlan Ewbank has been the band’s second guitarist onstage since 2015, but has, until now, always been relegated to the status of ‘touring member’.
“He’s been playing with us live for three years now, so it just made sense to bring him onboard,” Parsons says. “He didn’t write anything on Bloody Lovely, but we were sort of bouncing ideas off him here and there. And then when we started writing this next one, we were like, ‘Well, we play live and travel together already, why not give it a shot?’ I think it’s a nice thing that we have three brains worth of ideas coming together, because y’know, a lot the guitars on the records are all ideas that I came up with, and when it all comes from the same place, it can get a little boring sometimes – especially after so many albums.
“It’s a bit like we’re throwing another colour onto the canvas; maybe it’ll end up being messier, but maybe it’ll be way more beautiful. It’s just one of those things where we felt like we needed to take a risk. We’ve got a whole bunch of tracks that we’re happy with so far. We’ve still got a shitload to write, but y’know, we’re getting there!”