DIIV – “Is The Is Are”

James Rettig | January 21, 2016 - 1:24 pm

DIIV have shared the title track to their upcoming album, Is The Is Are. It follows previously released tracks “Dopamine,” “Bent (Roi’s Song),” “Mire (Grant’s Song),” “Under The Sun.” In an interview with Zane Lowe on Beats 1, Zachary Cole Smith explained that this was the last song that was written for the album, even after the rest of the tracks had already been recorded. Listen below.

This is what Smith wrote about the song on Tumblr:

This song was the last song I wrote for this record. I wrote it even after the rest of the record had already been recorded! I felt like something was missing from the record, that it needed an upbeat, propulsive, and vocal-driven song to kick off the 2nd LP. This is the rare DIIV song that doesn’t rely on a hooky guitar melody, but rather relies on a vocal melody and a propulsive bassline. This song was inspired by my experience recreating Neu!’s “Hallogallo” for a Noisey documentary on Krautrock. I was heavily inspired by their process behind the song. All the lead guitars on the track came from just me playing melodies over the song, as I would with any other song, but then we took the whole guitar track and flipped it backwards. Then, we did the same thing again! I recently read an interview with Michael Rother of Neu! in Tape Op magazine while waiting in line at a customs check in Berlin, months and months after the album was already submitted, and he talked about the recording process of “Hallogallo” and he said they basically did the same thing, playing melodies over the track and then flipping them backwards, but he said that they played their parts over an extended 30-minute version of the song and that their producer Connie Plank took their guitar parts and chopped them up to include his favorite bits, and I remember thinking, “aw man, I wish I had thought of doing that.” Anyway, I like the song the way it is.

The lyrics on this track are pretty intense, they’re included above. Kind of about finding yourself in vastly different, often paradoxical headspaces at various stages throughout addiction and recovery. One paradox is that while you’re out on the street killing yourself, you can be feeling real good; while the process of ‘getting better’ is an extremely long and painful experience, though one that can also be extremely life-affirming.

And here’s what he has to say about the grammatically confusing album title:

This is the title track for our record “Is The Is Are” – the song title came from the album title. A lot of people have asked about the reasoning behind having such a nonsensical title. So I guess I should try and explain it. Basically, I wanted something slightly disorienting, that felt homemade and imperfect, easy to criticize, something that made the reader feel like they weren’t grasping my intent, like I was being misunderstood, because I’ve felt so misunderstood throughout the entirety of DIIV’s existence. I wanted a title that wasn’t taken from a lyric on the album, or from the title of the album’s lead single, like they usually are. I didn’t want to name our second album “2″. I always feel like, if there’s an opportunity to be creative, there’s no reason not to use it. I wanted the title to come straight from the album art. I was really inspired by Concrete Poetry from the 60′s, poetry that took a visual form and was as much visual art as it was poetry. I loved Tom Philips “A Humument”. I wanted the title to come from a poem. Another random inspiration was from the internet – I got a lot of laughs from these two specific internet memes. One was “Has anyone really been far as decided to use even go want to do look more like?”, and another was “I accidentally 93MB of rar files”. I felt like language had a specific type of power when it was misused. I wanted something that felt profound, but upon closer inspection was meaningless. I reached out to a poet/artist I found in Paris named Frederick Deming who I thought would totally understand where I was coming from. His comics, called Bizaroids, seemed to totally fit with the direction I wanted to go with this album art and title. I told him about “A Humement” and about “Has anyone really…” and wrote a few sample poems, and told him to go crazy. I felt like English being his second language would add another dimension to the poetry. Within a week, he sent me over 30 poems, and what he came up with couldn’t have been more perfect…The poem that I chose to take the album title from was the one I felt like fit the project the best:

Hear is their.
Story, we is you .
Is the is are.

I got this poem in an email from Frederick, and probably less than an hour after I got that email, I had already announced the album title. For me, this line just jumped off the page. I didn’t really have to think about it. I knew what I wanted, and this was it.

Also, in a Pitchfork interview published today, Smith addressed the controversy over his bandmate Devin Perez’s offensive comments on 4Chan in 2014:

In the context of 4chan’s bilious atmosphere, it was, sadly, nothing unique. In the context of DIIV’s existence as a Brooklyn band making music in a supposedly progressive scene, it suddenly seemed like they were employing an unrepentant bigot. “I’m so fucking disgusted,” Smith wrote on Twitter after Perez’s posts came to light. “I will never EVER tolerate sexism, racism, homophobia, bullying, or bigotry of any kind. I’m doing everything to get to the bottom of this.” Perez apologized, claiming he “just said some dumb shit on an anime message board.”

Originally, Smith says he intended to kick Perez out, but demurred after a “super real” conversation. Perez is half-black and half-Dominican, and Smith says the accusations of racism were being made by white listeners who had never experienced any firsthand discrimination. He says Perez was abandoned by his family and bullied endlessly because of his race when he was younger. After weighing what he knew, Smith decided to let him stay. “Devin’s place in the band isn’t guaranteed,” he says. “There’s still a lot more conversation that needs to be had.” (Perez was not made available for an interview.)

A week after my first visit to Smith’s apartment, I’m once again sitting on his couch. The apartment is just as cluttered — he says he’ll clean up before the band goes on tour. The sun goes down as we talk, and Smith’s energy is flagging. As he explains his decision to keep Perez in the band, he digresses several times. His voice recedes to a low whisper, and he begins to stare into the distance, almost shrinking in his seat. He speaks at length about the culture of 4chan, the long shadow of white supremacy, the hypocrisy of white cisgendered people complaining about white cisgendered people, and so on.

All of this helps rationalize his answer, which ultimately does not seem that complicated: Perez stayed in DIIV because he and Smith are close, and Smith would rather deal with the criticism than change the dynamic of the band. “Cole definitely identifies with Devin on some levels that no one will understand,” Sniper says. “They find some solace in each other. Ostracizing themselves from other people is almost like comfort for them.”

Is The Is Are is out 2/5 via Captured Tracks.