Best of What’s Next: DIIV

Music Features DIIV
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Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Band Members: Zachary Cole Smith, Andrew Bailey, Devin Ruben Perez, Colby Hewitt
Album: Oshin
For Fans Of: Surfer Blood, Beach Fossils

At this point, it’s probably more accurate to say that DIIV is the Best of What’s Now rather than Next, considering their first LP Oshin has made a sufficient splash in the current music scene following its release in June. The guy behind DIIV’s hazy, dreamlike concept album is Beach Fossils guitarist Zachary Cole Smith. A firm believer that albums should be heard from start to finish, he wrote Oshin with the goal for it to be a transitional story. As Smith explains it, “the first half is existential and almost poppy, more curious, and the second half is much darker and more watery and shadowy.”

Although it’s very clear when speaking to him that Smith had strong intentions and a complete vision of what Oshin would be, he has realized that for a lot of fans, the record creates an entirely different experience than he anticipated. He says he’s gotten comments like “This record is perfect for sitting on the beach,” which is not only not what he had in mind, but also slightly ironic considering he wrote the record in the confinement of a small Brooklyn apartment with no running water.

Creating an album in seclusion is a stark contrast from the position DIIV is in now, touring and promoting the record. For Smith, it was an almost strategic way to eventually escape his isolation. “I thought writing songs would be a good way to re-introduce myself into the social world,” he says. It worked. The Captured Tracks-backed band, made up of Smith, his childhood friend Andrew Bailey, Devin Ruben Perez and former Smith Westerns drummer Colby Hewitt, are currently on tour in Europe and will continue to perform in the U.S. until early October.

A perfect word to describe Smith would be inspired. Granted, most musicians are, but certain people seem to trust where their ideas come from and let them mature more than others. For example, the bass-heavy melodic track on the album, “Air Conditioning,” was written in an unconventional location and reflects his contemplative nature.

“I went with my mom to visit my grandparents, brought my guitar and ended up writing that song when I was there. I wrote it in a retirement home with all of this air conditioning pumping into the rooms. It felt like some kind of mind control, this weird group mentality and people just sitting by the swimming pool. I was just thinking about the air conditioners. ‘Where does this all come from?’ It was weird for me to have air conditioning and to have so much of it after living in a sweltering studio.”

It’s probably fair to say a lot of people wouldn’t think of writing a song using air conditioning as a metaphor, but Smith finds a way to take relatively simple ideas and turn them into something surprisingly interesting. The same is true for the execution of the band’s video for the ethereal and more pop sounding track “How Long Have You Known.” Shot for a mere $300, the video was inspired by the performance artist Clifford Owens. The concept came from the idea of extracting the essence of tangible objects and putting each significant thing into a pill that Smith would then ingest.

“From the concept to the execution, there were a lot of things that materialized that made the video more interesting,” he explains. “It’s hard to think about what’s an item that has a soul, or an essence that you can remove. You can take the coils out of the toaster and it’s no longer a toaster. You can pour the lava out of a lava lamp, and it’s no longer a lava lamp.”

Based on Oshin, it appears that DIIV has its own concentrated form of musical essence and has dutifully created an album that not only reflects Smith’s talents for writing strong melodies, but also his willingness to take the time to let his concepts materialize into something worth well-deserved praise.