In Conversation: DIIV Is Reborn on “Deceiver”

The band talks addiction, recovery, and their hiatus—and how these elements led to their heaviest album to date.

DIIV have always seemed like a spectacle as much as a band. After the release of their breakout debut LP, Oshin, bandleader Zachary Cole Smith modeled for Saint Laurent Paris, dated Sky Ferreira, and was as much a personality as he was a musician. With his band in tow, the group seemed poised to take over a certain subsect of indie rock and eventually tackle the mainstream hierarchy. Then it sort of all came crashing down.

In 2014, bandmember Devin Ruben Perez was linked to a 4chan account where he had a habit of posting racist, sexist, and homophobic statements. Smith strongly condemned the actions, but Perez’s role in the band was unclear, until it was revealed earlier this year that he was officially dismissed in 2017. This was a year after the band’s stellar Is the Is Are, an album now shrouded in controversy despite its success.

Additionally, in early 2017, Smith checked into “long-haul inpatient treatment” to deal with an addiction. All this should have bought the band to a screeching halt, but along with guitarist Andrew Bailey, bassist Colin Caulfield, and drummer Ben Newman, DIIV has returned with Deceiver, a statement as powerful as its predecessors. 

It’s a heavy record, both musically and lyrically, bringing a seriousness to a project that’s always felt relatively low-stakes. It’s an excellent album by a band that nearly undid itself, only to emerge in a new, brighter light. The members of DIIV have seen hell, and with Deceiver, it’s certain they have no interest in returning.

This album comes after a long, public hiatus. Can you talk about how you got back into the writing process and when you decided to make a new record?

Zachary Cole Smith: We took time between the last record to get our priorities straight and work on our lives as individuals. At times, that made us appreciate the opportunity we had with a platform. It was a project we could always work on. 

When the band got back together after some time, we were pretty inspired and approached the writing process in a new way. We were working on the songs under a microscope. I really don’t think any of us had worked that hard on anything in our lives. It was all day, every day for many, many months. The songs came together and we focused equally on every single part of the process to make the best record we could. 

You mentioned the platform you realized the band had after you stepped away from the project. How do you view that platform differently now?

Smith: I think we took it for granted—at least I did. I didn’t think of it as a platform, but more as an outlet. That’s valuable, too, but there’s stuff that we’re in a unique position to do. There’s stuff we’re able to talk about and music we’re able to reference that would be difficult to have done off the bat. 

This album is a lot heavier than anything you’ve put out before. Was that due mostly to the full band writing sessions? Or was it something else?

Colin Caulfield: We talked a lot about wanting to make it heavier prior to actually writing or making the record. That was an extension of what felt good to play live. It wasn’t because all four of us were writing, it was more because the record is a reflection of the group as a whole and how we played it live. 

We all like heavy music, too, and we were really excited to be making this stuff. It wasn’t necessarily a super organic thing, though. We weren’t like, “Oh my god, this new shit is really heavy.” It was pretty intentional at first.

Smith: I think it’s a good complement to the stuff we’re talking about on the record. There’s a cathartic element to the lyrics and hints of a journey. The music had to meet it halfway. That was another appeal of branching out the sound and making it more dynamic—doing louder stuff than we’ve ever done before, but quieter stuff, too.

“Every challenge has a different set of solutions that present themselves. The most pressing one was that my personal life and the path of the band no longer felt sustainable. It took a complete reinvention.”
— Zachary Cole Smith

For the first few years, the band felt like Cole’s project. Was there an intentional effort to shift away from that image? Were you trying to make DIIV appear more like a band to its audience, even if that’s always been the case?

Caulfield: Cole talked about taking time off and all of us growing. In that time, I feel like the dynamic of the band totally changed. It was really honest. It just made sense for everyone to have a voice this time around. It’s a hard thing to explain, but the language in which we communicated as friends totally changed. Because we’re fundamentally friends as a band, it bled into the way the band functioned, too. It felt very natural and the way it had to be.

Did there have to be a reconciliation as friends before you got to that place? Were the relationships that fractured?

Smith: The relationships were certainly damaged. There are different types of amends you make to people that you’ve wronged. There wasn’t a moment where it was like, “Alright, everybody. Sit down. I’m sorry. Now I’m different.” You have to live it and show it to people. After enough time spent together, they started to believe it and see it. Out of that, over time, your relationships change. The dynamics do, too. That was a pretty dramatic shift in our friend group and as a band. 

Did it take time for you to gain that trust back?

Andrew Bailey: It was easier for me because I’ve also been through the program and gotten sober. I know what’s going on with that. Part of Cole’s recovery was us acknowledging that it was a new game. We had habitual reactions to things that don’t apply anymore. It felt really natural, too.

The band has dealt with so much, going back to 2014 when it was revealed that [former member] Devin Perez said vile stuff on 4chan. Then, there was this hiatus brought on by addiction. Did it ever seem easier to simply quit?

Smith: Every challenge has a different set of solutions that present themselves. We had to take them piecemeal. The most pressing one was that my personal life and the path of the band no longer felt sustainable. It took a complete reinvention.

Did playing these songs live before they were recorded shape the way they ended up being cut on record?

Ben Newman: The songs went through a lot of change and progress before we went on tour. They stayed that way throughout the tour. When we got back, they went through even more changes. It wasn’t a nightly thing of adjusting the songs. We got a feel for playing them, and when we got back, we sharpened and refined the elements.

Caulfield: We only had half of the songs while on tour. When we came back, that experience shaped the way we wrote and arranged the rest of the songs. It was a process of building off elements that were working live, and learning from mistakes that weren’t.

Cole, you’ve been very outspoken in the past few years about your addiction and recovery. Are you worried that the story may overshadow the music itself? Or are the two inextricably linked?

“A lot of the strength in the lyrics, in my opinion, comes from Cole’s ability to communicate a feeling associated with recovery or addiction, and he puts it into a universal language. It can make me feel something without having felt it myself.”
— Colin Caulfield

Smith: It’s a story I’m fine telling. I have distance from being in the absolute shit of it. The reason I’m talking about this stuff on the record is because I think it’s stuff that should be talked about. If I didn’t want to discuss anything, we probably would have shied away from it on the record. I can spend more time with lyrics on the record, so it’s better articulated than in an interview or something. It’s not like I want to put out this record then hide in the shadows. People would miss a lot of what’s being talked about. We’ve been seeing that happen a little bit already.

In what way?

Smith: There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about the specific lyrical content, with regard to the singles. Maybe it requires a bit more from us as a band. These are things that we find important.

Is it easy to relate to Cole’s lyrics and speak about them now that they’re so personal?

Bailey: I did go through that, I was a deceiver, and I’m still coming to terms with that. In that way, the record helped me a lot. It’s very special to me for that reason.

Caulfield: Even though Ben and I haven’t gone through addiction and recovery in the same way Cole and Andrew have, we have very, very close experiences with it from being in the band. For a long time it was really difficult to go through that as bandmates and friends. It was hard to navigate. It’s evocative of a huge time in our lives, too, even if it’s not a firsthand account.

But a lot of the strength in the lyrics, in my opinion, comes from Cole’s ability to communicate a feeling associated with recovery or addiction, and he puts it into a universal language. It can make me feel something without having felt it myself.

Newman: During the last phase of writing the record, we were with Cole for a lot of it. We really workshopped every element of the album, including the lyrics. We were there. Nothing was surprising or seemed weird to us. It was all stuff that we agreed upon together.

Smith: Even though a lot of the songs are about my specific experience, it’s not a unique experience. I think they’re relatable even if you’re not an addict or have firsthand experience of it. It’s extremely common, but the record isn’t specifically about that.

Bailey: The themes of addiction and recovery apply to everyone, I think. Whether or not you’re addicted to a chemical substance, everyone has an ego. Everybody has vices and has too much self-importance. The themes of recovery can apply to anyone, regardless of a chemical addiction. FL

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