Sebastien Grainger was the drummer and vocalist for Toronto dance-punk duo Death From Above 1979. The 1979 was added to avoid threatened litigation from New York-based DFA Records, home to James Murphy's pre-LCD Soundsystem project Death From Above. If you were a DFA79 fan, you may have certain expectations of Sebastien Grainger based on his previous band's revved-up sound and his notoriously abrasive onstage mannerisms. Grainger's Saddle Creek Records debut reveals a completely different man and musician. Sebastien Grainger & the Mountains is simply not what you are expecting, and in a recent e-mail exchange, Grainger talked about how he spent his time following the split with DFA79's Jesse Keeler.
"After DFA, I felt like I needed to put my life back together," he says. "It was a sort of rehabilitation period.Ê I re-learned how to live in a neighborhood, be a friend, be a boyfriend, and a brother and a son. I've had three white birds that either flew away or died.Ê I bought a house and built a studio with my friend and guitarist for Metric, Jimmy Shaw. I got a dog and got engaged,Êall the while writing songs and working on arrangements.ÊI think the calm and comfort gave me a more focused approach to music. I was more able to express myself and took the time to shed any notions of what I felt I needed to do and just got to doing it.ÊIt was a rare process and a period of refinement that will likely inform my music and recordings in the future."
When a musician embarks on a solo career after time spent in a band that achieved the cult status that DFA79 did, there are bound to be all sorts of expectations for the new project from fans and critics alike. After all, the band's album, 2004's You're a Woman, I'm a Machine, was a blogosphere favorite, spawning remix albums, commercial appearances and the Brazilian band CSS's "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above." The new record exists completely apart from DFA79's sound, replacing frenetic dance-rock with a pretty pure version of classic rock with new-wave splashes. Grainger reveals an affecting way with melody on standouts like "(Are There) Ways to Come Home?" and "Who Do We Care For?" It's hard to envision these songs being written and recorded by a man concerned about negative reaction from his previous band's fans, and it turns out that his vision for a new direction was of the tunnel variety.
"I don't mean this in a bad way, but I didn't consider DFA fans at all in the process," he explains.Ê"This record was written, performed and recorded on a clean slate for me.ÊIt's not realistic to ask people to forget what I've done in the past, but if they did, it would maybe give them a better perspective as a listener.ÊIn fact, my goal with this record is to find new fans; if DFA fans want to come along, that's cool too."
Literally and metaphorically, Grainger had the protective shield of the drum kit onstage with his band. As the frontman for his new band, one might expect some painful, awkward adjustment period. Not so; Grainger says he was liberated.
"I don't miss being a live drummer," he says. "With DFA I felt a little bit trapped.ÊNever quite a singer, never quite a drummer.ÊMy band now has fun onstage.Ê I get to flail around and fall over and kick stuff around, and I know that my band, being as deadly as they are, is holding it down beside me.ÊWe've come a long way together. This December marks our second anniversary.ÊI wouldn't want to be up on stage with any other dudes."