DZ Deathrays on slowly growing as a band, collaborations and continuously making new music

J.N. February 26, 2020

Twelve years ago one of Australia’s most hard-working bands started off in Brisbane when Shane Parsons and Simon Ridley moved from Bundaberg for university studies, and soon after they formed DZ Deathrays and started playing local house parties in Australia’s third biggest city.

A decade later and after relentlessly touring the world, including opening up nights for bands as Foo Fighters and The Bronx, the band now play major shows on home turf and have gained a worldwide fan base. And they brought in a third band member when they added Lachlan Ewbank as a fully-fledged Deathray in 2018 when they started recording the “Positive Rising” record series.

When they embarked on a European tour supporting cult band The Darkness we caught up with the band ahead of their show in Gothenburg at their first visit ever to Sweden, and chat about slowly growing a fan base in Europe, their frequent collaborations the last years and how to deal with pressures on continuously releasing new music.

First decade as a band

You celebrated some sort of a tenth anniversary as a band last year, it was ten years since your first releases – a split single with 1995 and the EP “Ruined My Life”. What is your thoughts about the first decade and how far you have come today, four albums into your career?
Simon: Like why are we still doing this? (laugh)

Shane: I know I thought about that early and said “Let’s see where we are at ten years and if we’re still happy with the band, and if we’re not let’s change it up or have a break”, but it seems to be that we just kept doing stuff and for me that was enough, to keep pushing the band forward.

Simon: We did that ten year anniversary tour in Australia the year before, and I think it was pretty good just to see how it slowly increase and that we get more people to come out for our shows.

Shane: And it’s also kind of funny when you see other bands that got kind of popular and then broken up in ten years, and we’ve just kept on doing this (laugh).

You’ve slowly increased your fan base across the world, but in Australia you already play bigger venues, right?
Shane: Yeah, but that’s only in the last five years. The first five years in Australia was just like what we’re doing here in Europe, playing support slots and doing small clubs wherever we can. It’s obviously a lot cheaper for us to do it in Australia because we live there.

Now in Australia we’ve got to a point where we can’t tour too much because if we do it we would oversaturate the market, so we have started looking to other places to become new homes for us. Europe has been the one we have enjoyed the most.

I guess when you reach a certain point in your career you are quite limited in terms of venues to play. How many cities can you play in Australia without oversaturating the market? Is it eight or nine bigger cities?
Simon: Make that five, maybe six (laugh).

Shane: It’s five main ones and then you can do a regional tour once every year and a half. Didn’t we do 25 shows last time? But that’s over months because you just do the weekends and then you go home. That’s a different kind of touring to here where you can play Monday and Tuesday nights and shows will sell out.

We played Oslo [Norway] last night, a Monday night, and people are willing to go down for a show. In Australia you won’t have that, you won’t have people going out on a Monday night to a show unless it’s a big artist from overseas.

It’s also an interesting point because many of the Australian bands we’ve interviewed the last year, bands that were at the point where you’re at now, point out that if they want to live off what they do they have to move closer to the market which means moving out of Australia to Europe or North America. Have you ever had that kind of thought and discussed to move out of Australia?
Shane: Yeah, but I think that the hardest thing is to get the next market up to a level where it’s actually affordable to do it. If we come to Europe we still lose money, but we make money in Australia and use that money to fund European tours or like when went to Canada in December.

If you get to that point where you can come over to Europe and play to 500 people a night and do twenty shows, then you can go home and you break even or you even made money, and you slowly build it up. And of course it’s also really fun (laugh). That’s the other side of it; we really enjoy coming over here and play.

Many of these support tours you’ve done in Europe are about building up a reputation I guess. At Reeperbahn Festival you were some sort of headliner act at Molotow at the Aussie BBQ Day. Did those three shows had any impact in Germany for you?
Simon: Yes I think so, especially after that. When we did those ones in Hamburg I feel at the rest of the shows we got people coming to those saying that they’d heard about it or had friends at those shows, especially in Munich and Frankfurt.

We always find it crazy that there’s artists who are only big in Germany and never break out of the country but they can live off it, and for us that’s just mind blowing (laugh).

The music factory: “Being ahead of the game”

Since the advent of the commercial music industry in the ‘70s, the standard trajectory for any signed band has been to release an album, tour on it for roughly two years, release another album, repeat. In the industry, this is known as the two-year album cycle, a model that’s ostensibly designed to maximize the impact (and profits) of a sole record by having an artist promote it for the time it takes them to exhaustively gig throughout their markets.

However, the music industry has changed a lot the last decade. DZ Deathrays started the same year as Spotify went national – in Sweden. Since 2008 there has been a never-ending flow of new music on different streaming services opening up opportunities for bands that never would get a record deal, and the market quickly became oversaturated with new music. Since streaming gives people so much sheer access to music, and the nature of social media constantly bombards people with new music content, simply keeping an artist’s name in people’s minds can be incredibly difficult.

As artists, you’re dealing in “attention economics” today. Gone are the days when you could disappear for three years to make your next album and expect fans to stay loyal. To put it simply; to stay competitive and keep fans in good spirit you just have to release new music a few times a year. The good news: Just like in the ‘50s and early ‘60s we’re living in an age of singles and EP’s, and there are tons of ways to put one song to work.

The Deathrays adapted to the modern industry and changed their mindset, and made sure to have a few songs in the bag already when being back from touring, it just needs a bit of strategic thinking.

As I’ve understood it you live in different cities, right? It’s Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. I measured the distance between the cities and it’s almost a whole Sweden between Melbourne and Brisbane. How does it work out to get the band together for rehearsals and writing new music?
Shane: It’s a ten-hour drive from the city of Melbourne to Sydney and another twelve hour from Sydney to Brisbane, something like that (laugh).

Ewbank: “Come over for a beer mate”, “Alright, see you tomorrow” (laugh).

Shane: We’re just used to it and use the Internet. It has been like that for a few years now and we just send ideas back and forth.

Simon: If the Internet ever goes down we’re screwed, there’s no more DZ (laugh).

Shane: Actually, I think we work quicker by being apart because we all have our own time to ourselves just to work on the idea, get it right and then send it rather than annoying each other by trying to work it out in front of the other person. As it is now we can build a song in a day over email really quickly.

When it comes to rehearsing; Simon and I have done over a thousand shows together and just need to rehearse before a tour. When we got a tour coming up we’re going and do a couple of days of rehearsals, get the set right and then go out to do the tour. We did one day together before this tour, and when we get home we do one day rehearsal, and that’s kind of like a refresher. We still need to learn all the songs we didn’t play at this tour that we’re going to play back home.

Let’s say we have found a way around it.

I grew up with hardcore punk music and one of all-time favorite bands are The Bronx and I was stoked about your collaboration with Matt Caughtran on “Year of the Dog”. How did it happen that you collaborated with him?
Simon: Years of just annoying him until he did (laugh).

Shane: When we first started this project Simon and I, The Bronx were at the top of our lists of bands we were influenced by. A few years later we got a chance to open for The Bronx, and then we opened for them again about two years later.

They were in Australia quite a lot and we became friends after a while. Then we spent one night in Leeds in the UK; they had a day off when we were playing and they came down to the show, and we all just went out partying together and just had a really great night (laugh). Since then we’ve been friends.

I had that track, “Year of the Dog”, and thought “It would be nice to get someone to sing on it”. We were recording in LA and I was like “Let’s ask Matt if he’s around and not on tour, maybe he’d be up for it” and he said “Yeah sure”, and he just drove down to the studio. We went into the vocal both for something like twenty minutes.

Simon: Not even that, it was like five minutes and he just knocked it out (laugh).

Lachlan: He did two takes, that was it (laugh).

Shane: He is such a nice guy, such a friendly guy, and he was just up for it so for us it was just a really nice thing to do.

But you have opened up for more collaborative work lately, for example “Front Row Hustle” with Briggs, Jesswar and Trials. I also heard that Ecca Vandal is involved at “Positive Rising Pt.2”. Is that an avenue you started to explore a little bit more now?
Shane: I think so because it’s a really nice thing to do, especially these days because it’s a) nice to work on a piece of music together with someone you usually don’t work with and then b) it’s also nice for fans of both artists, like fans of DZ and fans of Ecca to listen to a song and be like “Oh, I really like Ecca but I don’t know much about DZ”, so doing that crossover is really good. The more stuff like that we can do the better.

We do writing sessions in Australia quite often now and trying to work with different people like electronic artists, different punk artists and rock artists. Someone just goes “You want to do a writing today with this person”. Sure, what’s the worst that can happen? We just go in there and write a song or a couple of songs.

We wrote a couple of songs on these two “Positive Rising” records with Kim Moyes, one half of The Presets. I went to his house for writing sessions and we wrote six or seven tracks together in that day, but they were kind of the most basic form of an idea. And then I took away the ones where I was like “I feel like that’s gonna work” and then turned them into songs. That was a cool experience because he works differently to me and it was interesting for me to sit down with him just to learn from him.

You released “Positive Rising” in two parts and I read somewhere that you have to do it like that because you need to release a new album or an EP just a few months after the first release because people expect new music, and many new bands today just go for EP’s and don’t release albums at all. Have you ever had that kind of discussion to release EP’s instead of albums, just to be able to release music more often?
Shane: We’ve actually been looking at the next project we do with this band which may be doing some EP’s and just taking different directions for each one or have different themes.

After “Positive Rising Pt.2” comes out it will be five full-length albums, and we can allow ourselves to stuff around and try some different stuff now. Maybe going back doing some EP’s would be great. A lot of bands just do singles because of streaming purposes, and they say “We put all our effort into one song and getting it amazing”, and they do huge shows on the back of one song, that’s crazy (laugh). They have other songs but they could keep going on touring because of this banger.

Simon: We found that really handy when we did “Blood On My Leather” and “Pollyanna”, that just got us through nearly a year of gigs.

Shane: In the time that we’ve been a band and been involved in music, the music industry has changed so much, where it used to be that you put out one single just before a record and then you toured to promote the records because you wanted to sell CD’s. Now it’s like “Put as many singles out as you can, then put the album out for free on Spotify or Apple”, and people can listen to it and hopefully come to the shows.

The whole thing has been flipped on its head a little bit, and if you don’t adapt I guess you can be left behind. And you got to try it out, you got to try whatever feels right. We’ve recorded “Positive Rising Pt. 2”, it’s finished and it’s getting mastered but we won’t put it out this year, we just wait to the right time.

It’s not coming out in August as it was announced?
Simon: (laugh) That was the plan, but then we talked to our marketing team and we’ll wait.

One of the things we found when we put out “Bloody Lovely” and “Positive Rising Pt. 1”, because it was just a year between the records, was that our marketing team had problems to get us interviews. It was like “Oh, you just put out a record and we’ve put you in the magazine just a couple of months ago”, and it was quite much harder to get us interviews. If you can stretch this out a bit longer maybe it’s going to be easier for us to get more coverage on it the next time.

Shane: And we got it now so we’re ready for the right time, and if it needs to be pushed back with a month or two we can do that. It’s no rush, but we don’t want to wait for two years and be bored of it (laugh)

But it also means that after this tour we can go home, do The Drop Festival and then we got four months to do something new and get that ready, so we’re kind of always ahead of what we’re doing and don’t need to be like “Alright, there’s no more music to put out, we better go and write something”, and then you just sit there and go “I don’t know what to do” (laugh). It’s a good feeling.

Isn’t that one of the most fundamental changes in music that when you come off a tour you need to have something ready and not start completely from the beginning again.
Simon: It’s a lot less stressful as it is now, it’s a really nice feeling to know you got one in the bag.

Shane: The first album we released came out after we’d been a band for six years, we had six years worth of music to choose from, and with the second one it was like “Ok, so you guys gonna write another album” (laugh). Where would I even start? We toured for a year and a half, then we didn’t know where to start.

After learning from that we sort of got a bit more ahead of the game, and before even “Bloody Lovely” came out we’d started writing “Positive Rising Pt. 1”, and when “Bloody Lovely” was out we finished “Positive Rising” one and two. We had so much material because we didn’t stop, and I feel like that momentum really helped us.

If we look at the near future; you’re going home and will strategically think about when to release “Positive Rising Pt. 2” and to catch the last part of the festival season in Australia, but what happens the rest of the year?
Simon: We will start putting out stuff from “Positive Rising Pt.2”, like a single.

Shane: And I guess we’ll start writing whatever is next and try to get some more material recorded, which I’m kind of excited about because I quite like being in the studio now. I used to hate it, but now I really like it because I’ve grown used to it, we just do it a lot more. We do it at home, the whole day every day, just sitting there and tinker away and put songs together.

Once you’re used to something you work a lot faster.

Will we see you back at Reeperbahn Festival this year then?
Shane: That would be nice but I don’t think so.

Simon: We’re still hung-over from the last year (laugh).

Photographer: ©Richard Bloom and ©Christian Berg
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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.