Back in June, we welcomed Death Songs to record live at the Banana Stand. A few days prior to the show, we spoke with Death Songs frontman Nick Delffs about the genesis of his new project and his thoughts recording live. Due to busy schedules, we haven't been able to share the interview with you until now. However, we're now proud to be able to offer this peek behind the scenes of one of the best new bands in Portland.
Banana Stand: How long has the band been together in its current form? How did it come together?
Nick Delffs: [Death Songs] started as a recording project with my brother (Nathan Delffs, The Castanets). It was just something that we did after Shaky Hands practice. We lived pretty close to each other at the time. I think that was 2007. It might have been late 2006, but it was around that time. It was just an experimental thing. A lot of the shows weren't really rehearsed and were more improvised.
Because of that first recording that we did — which is actually going to be released this fall, Nicholas [Taplin] is going to release a 10″ of eight of the best songs from it — after we recorded that, we were so happy with it that we started to play more shows. A lot of house shows and a lot of shows at Valentines actually. It slowly got more song based, playing a lot of songs from that recording. Then my brother moved to New York, and is doing his music now so it's been just mainly Justin [Power] — the drummer — and I. We have different guitar players from time to time, and sometimes a bass player.
BS: How would you describe your sound? What are your key influences?
ND: Townes Van Zandt I think was a really big influence on the recording and on the songs too. Especially his self-titled album.
The album that I'm doing with Nicholas and the album I did with my brother are pretty different. One is pretty lo-fi, and the one with Nicholas is pretty hi-fi. They seem kinda similar to me on one hand. The first album has a lot of percussion, different Ethiopian recordings we were listening to a lot and Fela Kuti and like Bob Marley's African Herbsman album. So there's that mixed in with way more folk stuff. I guess the genre “folk” gets kinda tossed around. Like, people use that word if you have an acoustic guitar or something. But, I consider Townes Van Zandt to be definitely folk and country, actually.
I guess recently I've been influenced by a lot of really early rock 'n' roll. The Bobby Fuller Four, I don't know, stuff like that. Originally, I wanted to do something as different from The Shaky Hands as I could. It's just always fun to do really different things. It always helps. It's kind of beneficial to each project to do that. And I feel that way with being, like, a front-man that plays on songs and then also playing drums or playing bass in another band. It's completely different but both the roles help each other. I think that's similar. One song could go in a thousand different directions. I'm sure you know about that from recording. That's how it started out, just having something really different from The Shaky Hands. But I think it's turning into actually being sort of similar. [Laughs.]
BS: Tell us your thoughts about recording live.
ND: It's great. We did that a lot with Nicholas Taplin at the Silo. He'd just record practices and would constantly be recording. It's something that I'm constantly wanting to do. I'm always trying to get my friends to come out and record our shows, even if it's just with a handheld crappy-sounding thing. I just think that when you're playing music and it's being recorded its a very different feeling than when you're not being recorded. It's completely different the way I think and feel. The goal for me is just to be so used to recording and to record so much that the line is kind of blurred. It's an addictive thing and I want to be doing it all the time. You never know what's going to be something you're really excited about or something you're completely humiliated by. [Laughs.]
Sometimes I've felt just so good about a take or about a song, it just felt so right, and then I listen back and it's just so wrong. And vice versa too. That actually happens a lot, where you just feel so shitty about something and then it's like, “Wow, that's the greatest thing I've ever done, what the hell.” There's this mystery behind it that can never get old. That's why there's so many bands, that's why there's so many people with, you know, film too. It's just that really simple idea of capturing a moment and making a really small moment whatever it can be. You really discover that when you record, especially with Nicholas Taplin. You could just go so far and then do something that you're surprised by. Something that doesn't sound like yourself, you know? So you can have this distance or separation from it, and almost can appreciate it more because you're sort of removed from the process. I think there's moments that happen like that.
BS: Our thoughts are much the same as yours. There's that tremendous serendipity of that unexpected moment that you really want to try to capture somehow so you can refer to it in the future.
ND: One more thing about recording that you somehow reminded me of. Another reason why I love it so much is that it forces — either the engineer or the musician, it forces you to … [trails off]
People have this idea of the egotistical musician or rockstar that's totally full of themselves and just thinks what they do is totally great. And there is an element to that, you can feel very high from something that you created. Just, on top of the world, no other feeling like it. But there's also always backlash to that, and it can be the most humiliating thing ever and can just completely destroy you. That's what I really like about it. You just never know what's going to happen. It forces you to be introspective. You're examining yourself and your thoughts and ideas, but also realizing that they're not just yours. They're not something that you completely created. Great songs and sounds are happening all around us all at once. A musician or a song writer is just paying attention to them and allowing it all to to filter through them.