The first word that comes to mind when Jesse Keeler is on stage is "regal." Maybe it’s the bright lights breaking through the clouds of smoke. Maybe it’s the flowing mane. Or maybe it's because of binge watching "Game Of Thrones" but there is no doubting who is in command when he takes the stage at the first of two guerrilla shows Death From Above 1979 played in their Toronto hometown last week.
Keeler and his equally majestic bandmate Sebastien Grainger don't require you to go down on one knee when speaking to them. There are no rings to kiss or allegiances to swear, though many probably did that 10 years ago when the band's debut, "You’re a Woman, I'm A Machine" first dropped. Unlike anything around at the time, their pumped up (or maybe more adequately, “punked up”) anthems blazed a trail that few could follow.
Sitting down with the duo at a local gallery, I find them to be incredibly affable despite popular opinion to the contrary. I'm jokingly informed that the only reason they're playing nice is because of a haphazard wardrobe decision I made that day.
"I was planning on being difficult," jokes Keeler. "But then he disarms us with his Metz T-shirt," adds Grainger.
There is an ease about their interaction that belies the word-on-the-street assessment. Clearly, this is a band with a history of conflict but they're not about to give way to it.
"Now that I've found you I know my life's complete," sings Grainger in Keeler's direction. It is a moment that is equally hilarious and incredibly touching at the same time because there is truth there.
Keeler laughs it off, calling for the interview to be over before it's even began. "That’s a wrap," he says.
Their chemistry is undeniable and it turns out that the mad science is something that Keeler stands in awe of. "It always blows my mind when I listen to a band like Daughters or Yes or Dillinger Escape Plan," he explains. "How did these people find each other? If you're going to be crazy, you gotta find other people that also want to be that crazy. It's such a rare thing."
The two met in their early twenties and clicked almost instantly.
"We found each other and started making music pretty quickly and started touring pretty quickly," explains Grainger. Critics were equally quick to jump on board and they experienced a rise that can only be described as meteoric.
But the intensity in which things burned led to the inevitable burn out. Though they don't talk about it directly, its evident that the toll it took hasn't been forgotten.
"We buggered off our separate ways for a while and then we came back and started talking again," says Grainger. "We weren't the same people and we didn't have the same interests but a lot of the stuff we were in to, a lot of the intellectual progress we had made, kind of meshed."
Interview continues after slideshow
The decision to revisit the repertoire had both Keeler and Grainger tentative. In 2011, they played a series of shows to test the waters and were surprised to find them still warm. More shows followed and the two were soon in the midst of a full-blown reunion. However, the nostalgic feelings people were attaching to them started to make less and less sense as time wore on.
"We had to stop playing 'reunion' shows, had to put a cap on it," explains Grainger. "It's people singing along to the old songs. At a certain point that's gonna lose its charm. We can't do that. It's cheap for us and it's cheap for the fans. We had to stop or do something new to keep the band alive."
That something new arrives September 9th in the form of their new album, "The Physical World." Still the hardest driving duo you’re ever bound to come across, the sophomore effort keeps all the heavy elements in place, while walking the razor's edge of pop sensibility.
Nostalgia might have dictated that the band go back to using "You’re A Woman, I'm A Machine" producer and longtime friend Al P (partner in crime for Keeler's MSTRKRTF project), the band agreed that something new was in order.
"We wanted to go do something different, we didn't want to be locked in," Grainger says. "We needed some one to push us a little harder. Working with a stranger who’s a little more objective kind of helped that."
The band chose Dave Sardy (Oasis, Marily Manson) to help new songs like "Cheap Talk," "Right On, Frankenstein" and the first single "Trainwreck 1979" showcase their knack for the ear candy. Impossibly catchy melodies weave in and out of the din, elevating the songs to a rock ‘n roll heavyweight class previously inhabited by the likes of Foo Fighters and Queens Of The Stone Age alone.
"I think Al would have made the record way more clangy," says Keeler. "It would have sounded awesome and we would have been just as happy with it but it would have been a different record. Dave and Al are both old punk kids but Al is thinking Crom-Tech while Dave is thinking the Ramones."
"I'm thinking the Ramones," Grainger interjects.
"Me, too. My mind is open," Keeler replies.
"Your mind has deeper, darker crevices," says Grainger. "Gotta get a Dyson in there."
"Oh God, yes," Keller returns. "I got an MRI the other day and there were all these black bears in there, just eating old cans and stuff. It was crazy."
And in clearing away the clutter, Death From Above 1979 have put an arrow straight through nostalgia's heart.
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