Death From Above wants to get Outraged!


Courtesy Lindsey Byrnes

Death From Above wants to get Outraged!

By Kendrah Villiesse

Meeting in an anonymous men’s group in London, Sebastien Grainger, a 6-foot-3-inch tall man, noticed Jesse F. Keeler’s cool fashion style and thought they would be perfect bandmates. Both from Canada, Keeler and Grainger joined up, with Grainger singing and playing the drums simultaneously and Keeler playing bass even though he only knew how to play guitar. Together, they decided to create Death From Above, formerly known as Death From Above 1979.

Known for combining punk, hard rock and dance music, Death From Above has toured alongside bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. After forming in 2001, the duo broke up in 2006 and pursued their own paths. They decided to reform the band in 2011 and made their comeback at Coachella. They released their third album, Outrage! Is Now, Sept. 8 and will perform Nov. 4 at The Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield Ave.

The Chronicle spoke with Grainger about Death From Above and the duo’s new album.

The CHRONICLE: What was your first performance like?

SEBASTIEN GRAINGER: It was very sweaty, loud and chaotic. It was not what I had anticipated in my mind. It was like a physical altercation. [In my first fight as an adult], I went to push this person, and they weighed 80 pounds more than I did. I was confronted with the strength of the physical world and the brutality of it. That’s what it’s like playing in this band. It’s like trying to fight a grown man.

Why did the band change its name?

We had gone to the movies with [our friend] James Murphy, back in the early 2000s. We went to go see an original cut of “Apocalypse Now” at a movie theater. In one scene, there was a helicopter that said “Death From Above” on it. Both of us [thought it was] a cool name. That night, [Keeler] and I [said] we should call our band Death From Above. The very same night, Murphy said, “I’m going to call my record label DFA.” We hadn’t spoken in a few years; then he sent us a letter telling us to stop using the name. He spent $4 million on a lawyer to sue us. He [won] because he had more power in that situation.

Where did you come up with 1979?

[1979] is the year Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was first released, and it was our favorite food at the time. Now I like fine wines and fine foods, [but] when we started the band I liked canned soups and boxed noodles. So we named [our band] after the year our favorite food was invented.

Why did the band decide to break up and then get back together?

We stopped playing because I had inherited a bunch of money from my grandfather, who was in the pie business. This band was our job at the time and [when] my grandfather passed away, he left me all of his pie money, and I decided I didn’t want to rock anymore. Then when the pie money ran out, after a few years of bad life choices, I called [Keeler] and [said], “Hey, is our band still cool?” and he [said] yes, so we started playing again.

What inspired Outrage! Is Now?

Musically, [Keeler] wanted to make Ride the Lightning by Metallica and I wanted to make Dirty Mind by Prince, and we ended up with Outrage! Is Now. It’s rendered through our insanity, so it ended up sounding like Death From Above.

How do you capture the sound of a full band with only two members?

It’s probably creating some kind of internal organ damage; it’s quite loud. We started treating the band almost like rap music in a way. We started using piano sounds and different kinds of sounds on the records, but we were treating them as if they were samples. We weren’t trying to make a piano sound like a beautiful pianoWe were trying to make it sound like a piano you would hear on an old record. When we started playing those songs live, we were using an MPC sample, which is used traditionally in rap music. We started using that onstage to supplement the sound, and now I play the sounds from a sampler that is connected to my drum kit.

Were you always interested in music?

[Keeler’s] father is a musician, an amazing guitar player. For [Keeler], it was difficult for him when he was growing up because his dad was so good at music that it intimidated him. In my house, both of my folks had always dreamed of being musicians. They’re both very interested in it, so there was a lot of music playing around the house, which I thought was quite normal until I’d go to a friend’s house and they wouldn’t even have a record player.

What was it like going solo during the duo’s breakup?

It was a lot of fun. I got to explore all kinds of musical impulses that I couldn’t otherwise, at least at the time, explore in Death From Above. It permitted me to make the music that had been in my mind since I was 11 or 12 years old. It was basically a creative rabbit hole that I went down.

What is the most exciting part about performing?

The most exciting thing is to share it with people and to make that noise, that sound, live. There is so much distraction in the world, with the ubiquity of technology being around us all the time. Just to be able to play a show for an hour and a half and to not even think about my telephone, to not even think about the internet—it’s a gift. Even if I wanted to, I can’t [because] I’m playing drums and singing. What I find beautiful and exciting is being in a room with hundreds or thousands of people and sharing a moment together, where all we’re doing is sharing and communicating through sound and action. That’s really what excites me. That is always my advice for people coming to a show, is to forget about your phone, forget about the world and just enjoy the moment in time and transcend everything because that’s what music is for. It’s a spell that we’re casting and there’s magic there to behold. If you’re not ready to receive it, then you’re missing your life on planet earth.