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DZ Deathrays: Rat Pack

Amongst the chaos at SXSW, we found local noise merchants DZ Deathrays in a dive bar and grabbed a beer with drummer Simon Ridley to chat about their new album Black Rat and surviving Austin.

DZ Deathrays

You’re going another round at South By Southwest, do you have a goal you wanted to achieve this time around?
At the moment we’re looking for a new US agent and when we signed up to go we were looking for a label, but I think that’s kind of handled – we ended up with something just before we left.

You guys had a pretty brutal schedule this year…
We were supposed to do 11 shows over five days but we ended up doing 10 shows over four days, which was pretty exhausting. It sucked the fun out of South By, but it was still awesome. The previous year the most we ever did was six shows and we had four or five days and that was pretty good. This time we kind of just said yes to everything that came along and it’s probably not a strategy I want to deploy again.

You’ve just lugged your gear halfway across town, set it up and ended up playing to a handful of people – is that disheartening to you? How do you find the motivation to do it all again at another showcase in three hours’ time?
Free alcohol [laughs]. That’s really it, that’s what keeps you going. I guess knowing that just one of those people at the gig could make it worth it. I remember when we first started playing, we got asked to support Ratatat and we got asked two days before the show. It cost us something insane like $600 for flights, we went down there, we played the show and we played to like five or six people. One of those six people watching was a guy who is in charge of booking a lot of festivals in Australia, so he got us onto a couple of bills after that, which is great. If you’re playing to like five people or so, it doesn’t matter – there could be someone there to make it worth your while.

Do you have any advice for Aussie bands who are thinking about heading to SXSW next year?
If you’re in a band and you can do it, definitely do it. It’s so much fun and it’s kind of just like, if you want to have a go at being an international band, you should definitely do it. The first time we did it, there were a lot of UK people there and that’s how we picked up a label and a booking agency over there. After that, we got invited over and it kind of just snowballed from there. I think you need to go in with a bit of a strategy. Don’t go in with no connections.You can’t expect someone to just stumble upon you, you have to invite people to get the people you want there.

You’re just about to release your second album Black Rat. Did you experience the dreaded second album syndrome, especially after your debut was so well received?
The first album did way more than expected. In saying that, we never did anything crazy, we never flooded the market or anything – we still live with our girlfriends and at our parents’ houses. Going into it, we just hung out, jammed for a couple of songs and went to the studio and worked it out with Bourke Reid who produced it. It was a lot of fun, but it’s always stressful when the clock is ticking and there’s money on the table to get things done right.

What sort of influence did Bourke have on DZ Deathrays’ sound?
He challenged me a bit because I’m a pretty lazy drummer and he made me do some extra stuff, which just destroyed me. But it’s always good when you have to try harder and when you have to up the ante – you never get comfortable. He got us out of our comfort zone.

So when you’re playing songs from Black Rat live, are you going to be cursing him?
There’s one or two songs on the album I won’t be playing live – “Night Walking”, I never want to play that thing live. When we did all the drum takes, it’s pretty funny because I’d drum for like five seconds and then be cursing for five seconds and that was it, and then we just taped it all together and cut out all the cursing. I’m so glad there’s Pro Tools [laughs]. It’s great for lazy people like us.

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