‘Is it Mardi Gras in Ghent?’ Sky Ferreira recently tweeted after witnessing the city in the midst of its yearly feast of friskiness and alcohol-induced shenanigans. Also in town for the party is chef of Brooklyn blow-ins DIIV, Zachary Cole Smith, who sat down with us just before the band’s slot at Boomtown to talk business, touring and over-sharing.
I actually thought we were done until I looked at the calendar today and realised we’re flying to South Korea tomorrow where we’ll be for a couple of days. Afterwards there’s Tokyo and then we’re hitting Chicago, Los Angeles. I think we’ll be home in about two weeks, but it seems like a long time. We’ve already been on this tour for ten days and it has felt like forever.
Don’t like touring?
I think all bands hate touring unless it’s their first. It used to be fun but now we’ve been touring for two years straight and it has gotten way too much.
Do you still live in Brooklyn?
No. I have an apartment in Brooklyn but I live primarily upstate, in the country. It’s way nicer.
I think all bands hate touring unless it’s their first.
Were you ready to leave the scene?
Yeah, totally. My whole family lives in the city; my mom, my sister and all of my friends so I had no reason to leave. I have just spent way too much of my life there.
Am I sensing some animosity towards it?
Towards New York City? Definitely. Yeah, I definitely wanted to get out, it felt like I was living in the Internet.
Speaking of which: it’s quite striking how much of your personal life you choose to share on the Internet.
Yeah, you can follow everything. It’s crazy. I push it and post stuff. Totally.
Why do you do that?
You have to, it’s the biggest, most important way to market yourself but it’s not something that I would do if it wasn’t for DIIV. When I started the band I had to get Facebook and Twitter and all this shit because you have to have all of those platforms. That’s how everybody discovers everything. We’re not living in the era anymore where people go out and check out live music. They’re always going to look you up first and I think that the most honest portrait you can put of yourself online is probably the best.
I like people who write on Twitter and put shit up online, because then you get at least a sense of who somebody is, rather than just this hollow facade. You know how bands try to be mysterious and decide not to have Twitter and shit? There’s something kind of cool about it, but it also leaves too much up to the imagination.
People would much rather see that there’s a human behind it and learn about them, you know.
Do you think it’s important to know about where people grew up or who their mums are to be able to relate to their music?
Everybody wants to know that. Music always exists in a context; the fact that I am who I am says so much about why the music sounds like it does. If behind DIIV there was this sixty-five year old man living in North-Dakota, recording shit and just putting it online, I feel like that would make a big difference. People would probably like it less if they found out that that’s what it was. Or if they were to find out that the music was written by a computer program or something like that. People would much rather see that there’s a human behind it and learn about them, you know.
How do you feel towards fans acting like they know you and saying stuff like ‘I totally get you, man’ in the comments?
I don’t really read those comments. People just have different ways of expressing fandom and get uncomfortable talking about just the music. It seems like you’re not allowed to like a band without having a reason why.
That’s why there are all these crazy websites out there that rate music on a number system, because you need to have some sort of filter to help you figure out who to trust. Then you just have listen to what they tell you about the music and you can be all like ‘Oh, I trust Pitchfork, what they say is right, so this is this good compared to that’. That’s way more ridiculous to me than liking a band based on pictures of their personal life. I think that’s cool, it’s way more honest.
Do you use your online presence as a marketing strategy?
I don’t look at it as a marketing strategy, it’s not as if I am following one, but you just need to have those things to be accessible enough for people to connect to you, especially when it comes to the younger kids. It’s such an over-sharing world and the kids grow up needing to know everything about everyone and I think it’s a way of getting into their world.
Seems like you thought everything through quite well.
Yeah well, the band is like my full-time job, it’s the only thing I do. I started playing guitar when I was fifteen or sixteen, but I never ever took it seriously, ever. I never got good or practiced or took lessons or whatever and I only started to play in guitar bands because I had friends in New York City with whom I would just hang out and play in guitar bands. After a while I noticed that there just wasn’t any good guitar band in NYC, there just wasn’t one.
After a while I noticed that there just wasn’t any good guitar band in NYC, there just wasn’t one.
So I tried to put together shows or I tried to think of people who could open for Beach Fossils, my old band and I’d be like ‘God, there’s just like fucking nobody’. There weren’t any young guitar bands who were fun and who I wanted to listen to or would have liked watching play live.
I figured I could do it so easily so I started DIIV and as it continued to grow I had to keep staying ahead of it. You have to make room for yourself to grow into. You can’t just push out, you have to clear space for yourself and fill it in. You just have got to stay ahead of yourself.
What do you mean?
We went on tour opening for The Vaccines for example, who are a huge UK band with whom we played arenas. We had been playing in basements up until then and all of a sudden, we get shoved on this arena tour. We were completely unprepared; all our instruments were broken and our sound wasn’t totally figured out, because we were used to playing live in a way that you didn’t have to be insanely tight. It never really mattered and we were into this punk-like ‘who gives a fuck’.
After this arena tour I knew for certain that if I wanted to get to that level, there were some things I would need to do and some of those things I decided to do and others I of which I decided not to. Especially in terms of writing songs, I know which songs to write in order to get a certain crowd to respond to it, but that’s something I would never do. To me it’s about being prepared for the next level before you even get there. That’s all I am working on right now, setting everything up to make sure that the next record sells a lot of copies when it gets released and figuring out what the strategy is going to be.
Have you always been like that?
It’s just that if you do something, there’s no point in not doing it right. I just don’t want to waste my time and at this point I’m not doing the band for fun anymore. It started that way but then as it became business and slowly grew, it’s now supporting quite a lot of peoples lives.
It has become a machine and I – we all – just work for the band now. DIIV isn’t my innocent little fun project of recording songs anymore, although it’s still partly that because I love writing songs and I feel like I have a lot to say.
It’s a business I’ve found out that I am actually pretty capable at running.
Do you feel like you are in over your heads?
It kind of has, but I can manage the business. I have the band’s creative side which is one thing I enjoy doing. On the other hand it’s a business I’ve found out that I am actually pretty capable at running.
How do you feel about playing with White Fence and Ice Age in Ghent tonight?
It’s cool, I love both those bands so much. I think it’s crazy to be playing on such a good bill, even more as I think we’re kind of headlining. Although I don’t really know what’s going on in this city at the moment.
Well, if you want, you can go into town and get your cards read.
Jesus, that’s the last thing in the world I would want to do. Maybe if the time is right, but I don’t really want to know what’s next.
Are you even looking forward to the future?
I’m looking forward to going home.