From Bloodstreams to Black Rat: An Interview With DZ Deathrays

DZ Deathrays are one of my favourite bands. The energy they create on stage is not easily done, yet every show seems to turn the could-be peaceful crowd into an all out frenzy. The two piece and their unique brand of Thrash/Punk Pop has spread like wildfire over the years, with the boys gathering a huge following not only in their home country of Australia, but in the US, UK and Europe as well. They’ve also nabbed themselves two ARIAs, so it’s not just me who thinks they’re onto something brilliant here. They have recently returned home after a solid almost year of touring abroad, and were just appointed the replacement slot of Julian Casablancas + The Voidz for Falls Festival (Lorne and Byron Bay only, sorry Tas!). That’s not all – they’re booked into play Mountain Sounds Festival, which they’ll be following up with a national tour, bringing Bass Drum Of Death and Hockey Dad along for the ride.

Their 2014 album Black Rat saw the duo make a notable departure from their sound in 2012’s Bloodstream. They teamed up with noted producer Burke Reid (The Drones) to tie it all together, and to help guide them to this new chapter. Although it’s still as raucous and punch-you-in-the-face as their debut album, Black Rat shows a development in lyricism, and vocals, as well as a few “softer” (or as soft as possible with these guys) tracks. They continue to traipse the world supporting huge acts (most recently Band of Skulls) as well as a strong presence in the European festival circuit. It seems there is just no stopping this powerhouse duo!

We were lucky enough to chat to vocalist/guitarist Shane Parsons who filled us in on all things DZ over the last year.

You guys have had a huge few months with Black Rat, aside from winning an ARIA what have been some of the other highlights we might not know about?

Well this year we spent most of the year overseas in Europe, and that was really great. I think we did 120 odd shows over there this year! It was really good; we got to see a bunch of places and play in venues we haven’t played in before in places like Italy and Holland and places like that. Our headline tour was really great too – even though we hadn’t played there in a while the response was even better this time! I was a bit worried they might have forgotten about us.

You’ve got some loyal fans over there!

Yeah it is kind of like that in Europe with the loyalty. Another great part was wrapping up with tour with Band of Skulls at the Hammersmith Apollo, which fits about 5000 people in there!

Yeah! I saw Tame Impala there, it was incredible!

Yeah! That was really great, that was a really cool way to wrap up the year there. We were really keen to get home and it’s been really nice. We’ve had a few weeks off now and resting, we’ve only been playing shows over the weekend.

You’re playing Mountain Sounds with Alison Wonderland, Beat the Drum with a number of different artists – is it ever strange to know you’re sharing the stage with such diverse acts, especially with hard rock or punk in the minority? Do you get weird vibes from such a mixed audience?

No, not really. When we first started, our first national tour was with Crystal Castles, so that was kind of like the first time we had played in places like Perth and Melbourne. We were thrown into this world where we didn’t quite “fit in” so we worked a lot harder to win over people. But, at the same time, the guys in Crystal Castles chose us because they wanted a rock band. They didn’t want it to be a completely electronic night. I think that’s cool! I grew up going to festivals with diverse line ups rather than just the same thing all day. But even in the rock world you have all different stuff like garage rock and other stuff and we try to change that up on our tours…

Kind of like having Hockey Dad on your next tour?

Yeah! We had Palms on the one before that too!

Next year you’ve got your tour with Bass Drum of Death and Hockey Dad. You guys will be swapping spots with BDOD this time around though – is that kind of weird? 

No not really. They’ve only been over to Australia once. We did a tour with them over in the US two years ago and it was awesome. Since then we’ve been saying, “Let’s get this tour going, let’s get this tour going!” But a lot of the time when you tour with a band overseas, you always talk about like trying to bring them back to Australia. Once you’re on tour and if you’re getting along really well you never want it to end! I think it’s going to be really fun! We’re playing smaller rooms but double shows, so we get to stay in Sydney and Melbourne longer and actually hang out. I imagine the shows are going to be very messy as well *laughs* it’s gonna be a good one!

You have had such an extensive touring schedule, how does that go when you’re trying to make new material? Do you create whilst you’re on the road, or is that the reason you went into the farm house to make Black Rat?

Yeah, pretty much. You have the best intentions to write but for both of us, when we’re on tour we’re pretty exhausted. We’re not on a bus or anything either, we’re in a van! It’s a bit hard to be pulling out guitars or anything to jot down ideas. But, you know, sometimes you’ll come up with an idea in soundcheck or something and you just try and remember them. Simon and I live separately, and have done for the last two years, so that’s why we went to the farmhouse. We were just together and just wrote for two weeks straight. It was good! That really kickstarted the writing thing. The thing for us is it sort of starts out with us in a room pretty much just making noise for a while and then all of a sudden things will start locking in! It was really good on the last record and that’s why we needed to do that. We’ll see how this one goes. I’m spending a lot of time in Sydney over this break, and we are trying to get this done in between tours as well rather than just having six months to just kind of write. I think we’re going to try and write a little bit over email and record parts and get things together and get ideas to take them into the room. It’s going to be a really fun way to do it, we can do it in our own time and we can record late at night. It’ll be interesting. It’s more how electronic producers work than how rock producers work!

With Black Rat, I found it was a lot more dynamic than Bloodstreams. There is a lot more going on with this one – was that a conscious decision to shake things up like that?

Yeah, totally! I mean, we always wanted to make it heavy but this one is a little bit softer. We wanted it to be punchier and a bit tighter, and I think it came down to the way we wrote it. Bloodstreams was written over three years, and with that album we had the songs and we had been playing a lot of them for a long time. When we got to Black Rat, we had only spent six months putting it together and there was one song we had been playing live. Everything else was able to be changed. Because of that thing of not being scared to change songs because we hadn’t played them live yet, and we weren’t too attached to it, it allowed us to “cut the fat” on some of them and try and trim them down to be a bit more succinct in a way. We were working with Burke Reid who produced it, and he really helped us as well. We did a lot of reproduction and he would say like, “You need to get this part right”. We were making changes all the way up until we recorded. There would be parts of songs that we had already recorded that we re-recorded because we weren’t happy with it how it was sounding. It came together! I love those moments, when you’re under pressure and you get these great ideas!

I can’t help but notice a development in your lyricism with Black Rat, as opposed to Bloodstreams – was that also a Burke influence or was that more personal from you, Shane? The lyrics are more involved and there is more singing on this record…

I think just from touring a lot more and seeing different parts of the world, as well as seeing how different bands work and put songs together… I think I am understanding what songs mean to people as well; it’s kind of interesting because you could write something and think, “Ah, that’s cheesy,” but it could be that borderline part where it could really mean something to someone and be a stand out moment for them. I wrote a lot of lyrics for this album – I’ll never call myself a great lyric writer – but I just worked and worked until I sort of came up with ideas that were interesting, suited my voice and had a bit of narrative to it. With the singing side of things, Burke would say like, “Sing this part, don’t scream it!” But we actually went back when it was about 90% done and I just screamed over parts I thought just needed that little bit more of a bite! It was a good balance. There is definitely a lot less screaming on this one.

Is that how you’ll work in the future with other records?

I don’t know, we’ll have to see how the songs pan out. I’m always up for changing ideas, and just trying to hone in on our sound. Once we get some songs together I can start demoing vocals and I’ll get a good idea. The thing that Burke brought to our attention, especially mine, is that the vocal melodies are there but I just wasn’t hitting it properly. If I sung it a bit more, I’d be able to hit the melodies a bit better. I was always just scraping the bottom and top of the melody, rather than hitting the notes. It’s good to try and get a balance between that and the screaming. It was a big learning curve for me.

Okay, so what can we still expect from you? You’re booked up until March and then?

It’s a little bit open ended at the moment. We’ve made ourselves a bit of a deadline to get our next record done, by October next year. I think we’ll just be trying to write as much as possible and tour. There is also plans to get back over to Europe and do the summer over there. We had such a great time doing all the festivals over this summer. It was really awesome and was a great time to be over there!

And just taking it easy for the time being?

Yeah, and just writing! Writing, writing, writing. Staying creative. Sometimes when you stop, it’s really hard to get going again!

Will you still remain based in different cities?

Yeah I think so, I’ve lived in Sydney for two years now and it’s really grown on me. We just float around and go with the flow…

It’s kind of like “recording for the future”!

Well yeah, that’s why I want to get songs together and then get back in the room and actually play them as we’ve demoed them over emails and stuff so we can get a feel of playing them together! It is kind of interesting to think you can do that now, and I guess we’ll just see how it all goes. I’m kind of excited. At first I was traveling up to Brisbane every two weeks and spending a week up there, sleeping on the floor, to do rehearsals. Then I’d fly back to Sydney, and spend two weeks working on vocals and extra melodies and stuff at home. This time it’s going to be cool to work on things at my own pace.

DZ Deathrays Australian Tour Dates:

Mon 29 Dec – Falls Festival, Lorne

Wed 31 Dec – The Espy, Melbourne
Tix here

Thurs 1 Jan– Falls Festival, Byron Bay

Sat 21 Feb – Mountain Sounds Festival, Kariong NSW
Tix here

Fri 27 Feb – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne w/ Bass Drum of Death & Hockey Dad
Tix here

Sat 28 Feb – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne w/ Bass Drum of Death & Hockey Dad
Tix here

Thur 5 Mar – Fowlers, Adelaide w/ Bass Drum of Death & Hockey Dad
Tix here

Fri 6 Mar – Amplifier, Perth w/ Bass Drum of Death & Hockey Dad
Tix here

Sat 7 Mar – Prince of Wales, Bunbury w/ Bass Drum of Death & Hockey Dad
Tix here

Sun 8 Mar – Newport Hotel, Fremantle w/ Bass Drum of Death & Hockey Dad
Tix here

Wed 11 Mar – Newtown Social Club, Sydney w/ Bass Drum of Death & Hockey Dad
Tix here

Thurs 12 Mar – Newtown Social Club, Sydney w/ Bass Drum of Death & Hockey Dad
Tix here

Fri 13 Mar – The Brightside, Brisbane, w/ Bass Drum of Death & Hockey Dad
Tix here

Sat 14 Mar – Yours & Owls Festival, Wollongong
Tix on sale soon