Progress Report: Divine Fits
Name: Divine Fits
Progress Report: Dan Boeckner talks about the origins of Divine Fits and the making of the band’s soon-to-be-released debut album…
While they aren’t exactly a supergroup in the way that, say, the Traveling Wilburys were a supergroup, there’s no denying that Divine Fits have a pretty excellent pedigree. The trio of Britt Daniel (Spoon), Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs) and Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) will release A Thing Called Divine Fits at the end of this month and will spend the next year or so of their lives touring around the world. I called up Dan Boeckner to chat about how the group came together and how the Fits stack up against his previous musical endeavors.
STEREOGUM: How’s it going?
BOECKNER: I’m good. I’m in Montreal. We’re about to play a show … well, we’re playing a show at midnight.
STEREOGUM: How is it to be back in Montreal? That’s where you are from, right?
BOECKNER: It’s good, but also weird. I don’t live here anymore, so it feels a little strange to just be passing through the city that used to be my home. It’s cool though. I got to see people last night and we all went to hang out at one of my favorite dive bars here in the city.
STEREOGUM: How did Divine Fits start? I assume you and Britt have known each other for a long time?
BOECKNER: Yeah, I met Britt about four years ago. He was a fan of the video that we did for “Dumb Animals” … and I’d been a fan of his since I was back in high school, back in the days of Telephono. He came to a show that we played at this place called Lolas. We just became friends after that, so anytime we both happened to be in the same city we’d make a point of trying to see each other and have a margarita and talk about what we were working on. We opened for Spoon at Terminal Five and then I got on stage and sang a couple of songs when Spoon played Radio City Music Hall. So then last year we were at a bar in Portland and he suggested that we start a band. Then he called me up whenever Wolf Parade announced that were weren’t gonna be doing stuff anymore and said, “Now we should really start a band.” I agreed…and that was that.
STEREOGUM: How did Sam get involved?
BOECKNER: Sam’s like a ringer. He’s just a universally renowned drummer. Britt was asking Mike McCarthy if he could recommend any good drummers and he told him we should check out this guy named Sam who lives in Columbus and plays with the New Bomb Turks. That was that. Then we all met up in LA to test the waters and rehearse some stuff and everything just really clicked immediately.
STEREOGUM: How does the songwriting process for Divine Fits work? You and Britt share vocal duties pretty evenly on the record, do you each sort of just bring your own material to the band or do the songs come out of jams?
BOECKNER: It’s a little bit of both, actually. We didn’t really talk about it … but we really didn’t need to. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that this wasn’t set up to be a vanity project or just a hobby band or simply a side project. It’s a band. We wanted to write songs and develop our own sound and play shows. When we first started writing with the band in mind, both Britt and I had some material that we’d each been working on, so we traded that stuff back and forth over the internet and then got together and played it live with Sam to finalize the arrangements. Then I went on tour with the Handsome Furs for a while and after that I went to LA and stayed at Britt’s place for a couple of weeks. We set up a very basic recording spot at his place, so he had a place to work and record downstairs and I had a place to work upstairs. We’d spend all day working and then we’d get together and play the stuff live with the band and kind of edit things on the spot. Some of the songs came from jams and some of them were a little more scripted, but there aren’t any songs on the record that were recorded in ProTools and then taken to the band as a finished things. I’ve never really been in a band that worked like that. For us, there’s really no ego when it comes to stripping things away and editing the songs.
STEREOGUM: Once you got started working together, were you surprised by the results?
BOECKNER: I was, actually. My songs on the record were really influenced by the minimal gear that I had available to me when I was writing them, so there is an immediacy to them that comes through as a result of that. I was surprised that the writing happened so easily. There were things that I was able to sort of actualize with this band that I wasn’t able to in previous bands that I’ve been in, which felt good.
STEREOGUM: As it stands now, this is — for you, at least — your primary band?
BOECKNER: Yeah. Absolutely. In the future, once the touring for Divine Fits starts to die down, I will probably focus on some other material that I’ve been writing, but I don’t know what will happen with that. I don’t know if I’ll put together a band to release it or if it will just be something I record on my own and tour with later. I like to have more than one project going at a time, but Divine Fits is my main deal.
STEREOGUM: How long was the recording process?
BOECKNER: It was about two months, all told. We had a couple of little breaks in that time, but generally when we were working it was usually a twelve-hour day. Then going home, fine tuning things, and coming back in the morning to do it again.
STEREOGUM: Who produced the record?
BOECKNER: We got Nick Launay, which was really a dream opportunity for me. I was telling Win from Arcade Fire about the project — I think he was the second person that I told — and we were tossing around names for people that would be good producers and he suggested Nick. I knew Nick had recorded a lot of great post-punk records with bands like PIL and Gang Of Four and The Jam. He also worked on a lot of great records in the ‘80s, including stuff with Midnight Oil and INXS. He also made those last two Grinderman records, which was what sealed it for me. He told us about his process for doing the Grinderman records, which is when I knew he would be perfect for us. It was like taking a master class in recording, basically. We recorded in the drummer from Toto’s old studio in the valley in LA. It was great.
STEREOGUM: I was just watching YouTube clips of you guys playing live in Austin just a few days ago. It obviously looks like you are having fun, but how did it feel?
BOECKNER: It was really cathartic, actually. This project has basically consumed my every waking moment since October of 2011. When I wasn’t playing shows with the Furs, I was thinking about this. So, it felt like this tremendous release. The second show we played was a lot better — the arrangements got super crazy. Britt was doing things on the guitar that he’d never done before, as was I. Everything just really gelled that time, and it was really fucking loud, which was excellent.
STEREOGUM: After keeping this project on the DL for so long, it must be gratifying to be able to talk about it now, and for the record to finally be out in just a few weeks.
BOECKNER: Mostly it’s just nice to be able to play these songs in front of living, breathing, human beings … instead of just in front of each other in a studio.
STEREOGUM: You’re doing a string of gigs now, but I assume you must be gearing up for an epic tour later this year.
BOECKNER: We’re just doing what every hard-working band does, you know? We’re playing these little shows in our hometowns primarily so we could play for our friends, and so we could play in some small clubs and really get a feel for things. If our first show had been a festival gig or something, it would have felt much different. Not that I’m not excited to play festivals, but for me … I started playing punk rock when I was a teenager, so for me it always feels the best to be playing in small venues — 200 people, a stage very close to the floor, people right up in your face. It feels real. As time goes by that experience just doesn’t change. You can’t get up there and fake that shit. It’s cool.
STEREOGUM: Success — and the ability to play bigger rooms — is great, but I know a lot of musicians that really miss playing clubs. You can’t recreate that kind of immediacy in front of a thousand people.
BOECKNER: I think all three of us in Divine Fits have been very lucky to have played a truly wide spectrum of venues — from house parties to giant festival stages — and there’s always something nice about being able to play in small rooms. It feels good.
STEREOGUM: I know this is your primary job right now, is everyone else in the band similarly committed to this band, at least for the next year or so?
BOECKNER: Oh yeah. Me and Sam have been talking about things we wanna do for the next record already. So, yeah. We’re all in.
STEREOGUM: Given all of you guys’ past bands, there must be a certain weight of expectation about this band. Has that been weird to contend with?
BOECKNER: Well, I don’t think any of us are naïve about that. People are going to listen to this record with a certain amount of expectation, and people project their own hopes and disappointments onto what they are hearing. I’ve tried not to think about it too much, but the fact that people are recording our shows and putting them online is, I think, actually a good thing. People will undoubtedly see elements of Spoon or Handsome Furs in what we do, but I hope that people will see the videos of us performing live and come to realize that this band is really it’s own thing.
STEREOGUM: People will no doubt compare this music to your other bands, but both you and Britt have such varied musical pasts. Even the Spoon records are pretty all over the place, style-wise.
BOECKNER: Well, both he and I have been doing this since we were teenagers, so we’ve both dipped into making lots of different kinds of music. I think we bring a lot of different kinds of ideas with us to this project.
STEREOGUM: What was your favorite thing about making this record?
BOECKNER: I can tell you my favorite moment from when we were recording. I’d been recording vocals for one of the songs and I’d already done it four or five times already. I try to do the vocals in one take because I feel like going back and doing comps — just singing bits and pieces — is kind of like cheating. You lose the emotional focus of the song that way. So, Britt got behind the soundboard and I basically asked him if he could direct me while I was singing, which is something I’ve never ever done with anybody while I was singing. So, I basically put my ego aside and told him to direct me, which involved doing all of these vocal things that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It just clicked. We got it done in a couple of takes. I really appreciated that.
STEREOGUM: What kind of direction was he giving you?
BOECKNER: He’s say things like, “That’s great, but do it wilder. Can you be more wild?” And he’d keep pushing me. You know, sometimes when you are in the middle of working on an album — especially after many takes — you start second guessing yourself. You lose perspective. For him to just sit and watch me sing and say things like, “This time, just lose your shit” … sometimes you need that. You need someone you can trust telling you what to do.
STEREOGUM: Everyone needs someone to tell them to just lose their shit every once in a while.
BOECKNER: It’s true. And I lost my shit. And it was a great vocal take … so there you go.
“My Love Is Real”
“Would That Not Be Nice”
A Thing Called Divine Fits is out 8/28 via Merge.