Some dive into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s to mend a broken heart. Dan Boeckner packed up his possessions and moved to Los Angeles to start a band as a salve. With Wolf Parade on an infinite hiatus and the disintegration of his marriage to Alexei Perry putting an end to the Canadian couple’s electro-pop duo Handsome Furs, Boeckner needed a change of scenery. Spoon’s Britt Daniel offered a place to crash and the promise of a new musical endeavor.
Enter in Divine Fits – Boeckner and Daniel’s (along with drummer Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks renown) amalgamation of fuzzed-out garage rock and synth-soaked new wave. Daniel got the ball rolling during a phone call where he broached the idea of collaborating with the 34-year-old guitarist and unlike so many “we should” exchanges, this one stuck. (Take note ye who nod at every suggestion to meet for Sunday brunch or schedule a play date only to default on the initial promise.)
“It didn’t feel like a passing comment when I brought it up. Or let me put it this way – it could have been a passing comment, but his response was really enthusiastic and it was something I knew I really wanted to do, so I didn’t treat it like one,” Daniel explains by phone from L.A. “And I guess it’s possible that would have just been bluster, but he didn’t let it be and I didn’t let it be.”
Boeckner concurs by phone the following afternoon: “I was really excited about the idea of me and Britt starting this ’cause . . . we like a lot of the same stuff and we like a lot of the same aesthetics in music. I’ve always respected him as a musician. He’s like No. 1 in my book for contemporary singer-songwriters and somebody who’s had a career full of dignity and I really respect that. And the other reason I jumped on it was ’cause after knowing Britt for four or five years, I knew he wasn’t just some guy who was going to say ‘Dude, we should totally start a band, man!’ He’s a straight shooter. He doesn’t say stuff that he doesn’t mean. So, when he said it I knew he was serious.”
Appearing: 10/25 at Logan Square Auditorium (2539 N. Kedzie) Chicago with Cold Cave.
The two lived and worked together in small quarters cobbling together the tracks that would populate the band’s striking debut, A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge). “It would be a thing where . . . he’d work up there in that little room and I’d work down in the basement and then he’d either call me and I’d go up there or I’d call him and he’d come down to me and we’d play each other’s stuff,” Daniel recounts. “I’d come upstairs and say ‘that’s a hit’ or ‘try some different syllables’ or whatever. So, even though sometimes we were working separately, there was a lot of back and forth. There was a lot of input from the other.”
Their relentless dedication to releasing the album before summer’s official end put the kibosh on any “two wild and crazy guys” antics. (However, in a scenario where the roomies did lay the City of Angels to waste, we’re imagining Daniel in the Steve Martin role and Boeckner taking up Dan Aykroyd’s stead.)
“We didn’t really go out very much while he was here,” Daniel admits. “It was a lot of long days and going to bed relatively early like 12:30 [a.m.]” The hijinks will have to wait for the tour. “It’s not the high pressure kind of work. It’s a fun kind of work. There’s a lot of downtime and a lot of partying for lack of a better term,” he concedes.
Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, as the saying goes, so for Boeckner the stringent schedule and camaraderie were lifesavers during this fragile period.
“It was a pretty bleak time. Like I would go to the studio and record and work and then I’d come home and like just drink myself to sleep. And I think if Britt and Sam and [keyboardist] Alex [Fischel] hadn’t been around . . .,” he trails off. “It really cemented my relationship with these guys in a big way. Britt and I had known each other for four or five years. Sam was a new friend and Alex was a new friend . . . and I figured if they could see me going through this kind of trauma and be gentle and supportive and like kind of push me to do the best work I think I’ve done in a really long time musically, then those are real friends. So, yeah, when I came out the other side of it – when we had the album – it was a positive experience and . . . I had this document of it, of making it through that, you know?”
One imagines Christian Slater (and his semi-sinister smirk) running down a high school hallway to the propelling synth of “My Love Is Real” and its profession of affection doubling as a minor threat. “Flaggin’ A Ride” comes two decades too late to take its rightful place as a Pulp Fiction soundtrack staple while “Would That Not Be Nice” struts and sneers alongside a wicked bassline. The understated “Civilian Stripes” is a welcome breath of organic air as “For Your Heart” turns up the programmed hooks to echo Super Mario’s level-advancing confrontations with the deceitful Bowser. Only “The Salton Sea” waivers, with a pungent electronic drone mimicking Chinese water torture.
– Janine Schaults
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