MEET: Shane Parsons of DZ Deathrays
It's been just over 10 years since Shane Parsons and Simon Ridley joined musical forces to become DZ Deathrays, and what a ride it's been.
The prolific decade has seen the duo tour relentlessly, get kicked off stage at SXSW, gain a third member and release three killer albums - ARIA-Award winning Bloodstreams (2012), Black Rat (2014) and last year's Bloody Lovely (2018), which debuted at #4 on the ARIA Charts.
We caught up with frontman Shane for a morning yarn at the YH brewery, chatting new music, shoeys and their current regional 'Tour With The Lot.'
YH: So, how is the new year treating you so far?
SP: Pretty good. It's been quite eventful really, we kicked off the year with a couple of festivals. And then we went straight over to L.A. to record our album.
YH: How is the new album coming along?
SP: It’s getting there. We tracked nine songs over there, I think this time we’re making the record a little shorter by half an hour. So we’re kinda having a couple of singles and then some longer songs. And just trying a few different things.
YH: Are we talking a new type of sound?
SP: There’s a fair bit of development on the last record, we're working with a different producer. The last two records we worked with Burke Reid (Courtney Barnett, The Drones) which was awesome, but we were kinda like, this time we need to change it up, let's go to L.A. and record. We're recording as a three-piece, wrote the songs as a three-piece, and we'll go with a new producer. It’s a guy called Miro Mackie, he's a friend of ours from years and years back in Brisbane who ended up scoring a green card. He was a producer here, and now he’s got a studio over in L.A., so we went over to do that, just to change it up and try different things.
YH: How long did you stay in L.A. for?
SP: We were there for two and half weeks.
YH: So it was a pretty short process?
SP: Pretty short yeah. Some people can do a record in a day, some people spend five weeks. We do a song a day to track and then a week at the end to trial cool stuff.
YH: On the three-piece, you’ve always maintained that you’re a duo, but it seems as though Lachy is more and more present. Has he been announced as an official member?
Image by Mitch Lowe
SP: Yeah kind of, I think we just wanted to put it out there. It’s not a huge deal because he’s been in the social media for so long, but it’s more so people know he’s contributing to the band now. Some of the songs, well a lot of the songs, he’ll send to me, it may not have a vocal, but it’ll be the main idea of a track and we’ll just build from that. Which is great because it really changes the sound up I think.
YH: A fresh set of ears?
SP: Totally. And then I get used to it and I’m like, actually I really love that.
YH: You guys have always done a pretty great job of sounding bigger than you are, and Bloody Lovely was no exception. Do you find yourselves working overtime to achieve this?
SP: Not really. I've pretty much kept the same (especially live) setup as I always have, I've just tweaked it and tweaked it and tweaked it until I've got it as big as possible. I don't know what we're going to do with this new record because there's a lot of synthesizer and atmospheric stuff on there, so we’ll have to figure out how to do that, but most of the parts are totally doable with just the three of us.
YH: Sounds super exciting...
SP: Yeah, it’s funny. We use a Mellotron and a Prophet X. The first album had quite a lot of synthesizer on it as well. We worked with Richard Pike from PVT and he brought his world of synthesizers. We realised after, what we could get away with [live]. It’s cool to have on the record but it's not a fundamental need to have it on the live show. But in saying that, there's some things that might be kind of cool to have, we can totally work that out as we go. I think nowadays we're writing tracks and going, 'let's write the best song we can, and we'll figure out later how to do it live.'
YH: I guess they’ll always be teething stages with a new album, especially with someone else contributing?
SP: Yeah. On the second record, it was the first time I wrote a guitar line over the top of a chorus that I physically couldn’t play myself while live. Burke [producer] was like “You can’t get rid of it now, it’s so important. Just those four notes are so important. You can either have a backing track or someone else can play."
Image by: Dani Hansen
SP: I would always rather have another human on stage. Backing tracks are fine, but for us back then, it was so much easier to have a person there to do the parts. I’d still rather that.
YH: It’s been just over a year since Bloody Lovely, congrats! Were you expecting the album to be as big as it was?
SP: No, not really. I don't really have expectations on albums anymore because they come and go so quickly. At the same time, I was really stoked we got to level up on venues, especially in Australia. We went to metros and forum theatres and I think that really drove home, the fact that songs were connecting a little more.
YH: Let’s talk Murray from The Wiggles in the "Like People" video, I love this. And then he came on stage with you at Splendour In The Grass! How did this wonderful friendship being?
SP: It started with the video.
YH: Really? Did you just reach out?
SP: Essentially yeah. I saw Murray playing with You Am I at Vic on the Park a few years ago and was like “Oh. That’s awesome.” Then I used to see him around at shows, but had never spoken to him. So we sent him the song and the video idea and he was like, “I like the song, I like the video idea.”
SP: So he did it. I think it was hard work for him, I felt bad because it’s a lot of dancing. It was like 40 degrees in there, he had three shirts to keep interchanging because he was sweating so much. It was hot in that hall. It was great, after that we kept in touch and now we hang out every so often. I’ll randomly see him at Midnight Special and we’ll have a beer. We were just in Hamburg and he was there, so we met up. He’s one of those guys that loves music and loves talking music.
SP: Well, we just did on the latest record. One of my favourite bands, well, Simon and I have been huge fans of The Bronx, forever. We were in L.A. and we asked Matt from The Bronx to come down. He's put vocals down on one of the new songs. It was kind of awesome, sitting back and listening to him in the booth just go for it. We did a couple of takes and thought, "Wow, this guy’s got such a powerful voice."
SP: I'm totally up for collaborating with whoever really. In the last few years I've done a lot more co-writing, which has been really great. Just to work with different people and open up my musical world a little to the way other people write. I did a writing session with Kim Moyes from The Presets, I think a couple of the songs will make the cut on the new record.
YH: Have you ever done a writing session like that before on any of your other records?
SP: Only on the last record. There’s a track on Bloody Lovely that I started with Novak from Polish Club, him and I did a writing session together. He’s an amazing songwriter and vocalist.
YH: I watched a funny video of you guys getting kicked off stage at SXSW for being too loud. Was this annoying or straight up hilarious?
SP: When we were asked to play in the hall, we knew it was going to be loud, the hall would have been far better suited to an acoustic set. We asked them “Are you sure you want us to go for it?” And they told us to go for it, so we did and then got told to stop. It was fine, I mean we had other shows, it was funny though.
Video via AU Review
YH: I imagine that wasn’t the first time you’ve been told to keep it down?
SP: There’s been a few times over the years that have been shut down, warehouse parties and that kind of thing. It’s normally fine with venues though.
YH: You guys have been a band for 10 years, what’s one of the funniest or weirdest things you have come across?
SP: I think one of the funniest things, well something I’ve enjoyed, is the weird trends that people in Australia get behind. Like the shoey…when we go overseas, we have to say “No, that’s not us.”
YH: So you’ve never done a shoey?
SP: I was in Germany and this guy tried to make me, well, he did make me.
YH: Drink from his shoe?
SP: Yeah, I had too. He was this giant German guy forcing it and I was like, “Dude, I don’t want to.” It was from his gross shoe, it was so bad.
YH: Moving on, in the past 10 years, do you think it’s become easier or harder to make it as a band?
SP: It’s hard for me to say, when we first started out we had another band which got no love at all. It was called Denzel, it was a different drummer and Simon on guitar. That sort of fell apart and Simon went to play drums and we started as a two-piece, and that’s why we’re DZ.
SP: Back then it was really tough, then somehow, after a year of DZ, we got lucky. Maybe because we didn’t give a shit anymore, we were just doing whatever, playing house parties and fucking around. We’d do our own light shows using flood lights and would get a friend to switch them on and off at a bar in Brisbane. Dumb stuff like that. I mean we’re not far off that still, in some aspects.
SP: I think it's hard for me to say, comparing to back then. A lot of time, if the songs are good, then you'll hopefully get the shows. Music is free now and everyone can hear it, you don't have to send out a CD or something like that. Just send a link and you can potentially get a lot of shows. I think that's the biggest change that I've seen, now it's music first, live second. Where as it used to be live first. Especially in our world.
YH: Do you think selling vinyl and merch has helped the band more so these days?
SP: 100%. I think the reason we went to #4 on the ARIA charts for our last album was because of vinyl sales. It’s super important and it’s good that people buy them. People are keen to have something tangible, so they may as well have the most beautiful version that they can listen on.
YH: What’s the biggest goal for the band?
SP: Well, we always said we wanted to be able to do the band full-time and we are doing that now, so that's a goal achieved. You always push the goalpost back and you’re kind of like, "Okay, what can we do now."
SP: I think the main goal for us is to keep going and hopefully on a trajectory that's upwards. I mean, it's kind of interesting, because we have been around for so long, I sometimes get the feeling that people will go, "Oh, that band's old and it's not exciting." But then we play a show and there's a bunch of kids who are super young and into it, which I’m stoked about.
YH: So big regional tour coming up! Is this the first time playing at some of these venues?
SP: Totally. It’s our first ever proper regional tour. We’ve done regional shows alongside main cities, but this time, we’re focusing only on regional.
YH: Feels like you’re on the road so much, do you guys ever get sick of one another?
SP: Not really to be honest. Simon and I have only had one fight and it was back when I used to drive everywhere and I was just super exhausted. We all live in different cities now, so when we get to see each other it's actually kind of fun. We're not in each other’s pockets all the time. We talk to each other every single day, but you know there's always new things to chat about.
YH: What was the first album you ever bought / listened to?
SP: I was really into Midnight Oil as a kid, I forget what the album was. But I do remember the first ever music I bought was an EP Single, The Living End’s Prisoner of Society/Second Solution double single.
YH: God, remember when you used to buy singles?
SP: Yeah, for like seven bucks.
YH: There're some seriously good supports announced for this tour, what are some great emerging bands we should be listening too?
SP: For this tour, we tried to handpick bands specific to each city. There’s a band called Flossy who are playing with us in WA who are really awesome. There’s a band from NZ called Miss June who are fucking awesome too, I’d love to get them on tour support at some point.
YH: I just have one last question for you. Would you rather go to gaol for four years for something you didn’t do, or get away with something horrible but always live in fear of being caught?
SP: Live in fear for sure. I live in fear as it is.
DZ Deathrays' 'Tour With The Lot' continues next week in Adelaide. Catch them in a regional town near you and keep an ear out, new music is on the way! Tickets via dzdeathrays.com.