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Division Day's Startling Reinvention 

L.A. band’s new Visitation is an album apart

Wednesday, Aug 12 2009
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Dayenu. In Hebrew, it means, “It would have been enough.” It’s also one of Division Day’s best songs. The L.A. quartet have, in the past four years, self-released an album, released it again, blasted an EP’s worth of covers into the blogosphere to promote it, toured the country, been name-dropped on 90210 and made another record on their own dime. For many bands, doing half that would’ve been enough. But then Division Day went ahead and signed with local powerhouse Dangerbird Records, which’ll release the group’s sophomore album, Visitation, on Tuesday, August 18 — two weeks before they kick off a national tour at Spaceland on September 2. Dayenu? Not yet.

“We had waited so long, we weren’t about to wait again for somebody to show interest,” guitarist Ryan Wilson says of the drive behind the new album, which they recorded in a two-week session several months back with busy session bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Nine Inch Nails, Goldfrapp and many others). The songs came from a year of writing and demos that found the band — whose debut, Beartrap Island, drew on the dark romanticism of ’80s acts such as the Church and Tears for Fears — pilfering different influences (David Bowie’s Heroes for one, and black-metal acts like Deathbell Omega and Ofermod).

“I’ve listened to nothing but metal for the last year and a half, maybe almost two years,” singer Rohner Segnitz, whose Brita vocals run the opposite of the genre’s usual shrieky theatrics, admits abashedly. “I’m not a Satan worshiper, but it turns out my favorite black-metal bands are the ones that are really fucking curious about Satan. I don’t think you can really hear that in any telegraphed way, but a lot of that music informs the way we work — noncompromise and disregard for the stuff you don’t care about.”

click to enlarge Division Day: - It’s been a long road to now.
  • Division Day: It’s been a long road to now.

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It’s that sensibility that found the band going into what Segnitz calls “hibernation” after touring Beartrap Island into submission following its 2007 release on Eenie Meenie Records, a year after Division Day’s own self-release. After what Wilson calls an amicable parting with Eenie Meenie, the band stopped booking shows and started cutting demos, going home alone after finding their practice space uninspiring.

“There was a period of feeling a little lost creatively,” Segnitz says. “Once we figured out the process, it got really exciting. It was liberating to decide, ‘We’re not going to just slink away and decide that that was enough work and now we’re tired.’ It really was a period of withdrawal from the rest of our musical lives, the scene that we’d been in.”

Indeed, Visitation is an album apart, certainly separated from the lo-fi punk blowing out amps at the Smell on Saturday nights. While the synth-heavy ’80s influence is still evident, it paints a bleaker, heavier picture than Beartrap Island — at times, drummer Kevin Lenhart’s tracks seem ready to punch through headphones. It sounds like the work of a band ready to evolve.

“We felt like the other thing had been out for so long that it wasn’t really us anymore,” Wilson says of Beartrap Island. “We hadn’t had the chance to show who we were or what we could do now.”

Getting to now has been a long road. The band’s first incarnation, Flood, began in 1996 or so — junior high days — when Lenhart, Segnitz and bassist Seb Bailey would play in Bailey’s garage and eat frozen pizza. Segnitz, who had already started to write songs, decided he wanted to switch from drums to singing, and Lenhart got behind the skins. Wilson joined the band at the end of 2001, and Division Day, named after the Elliott Smith B-side, was born. In 2005, with college all wrapped up and Segnitz joining the rest of the group in L.A., the band got serious. Dayenu? Nope.

This was when I discovered the band: the spring of 2005, before Segnitz grew a beard and when Beartrap Island was just a gleam in their eyes. They were opening for Xiu Xiu at the Cooperage, a low-rent but lovable pizza place at UCLA, which has probably been replaced by another Jamba Juice. Even then, Division Day had that sense of claustrophobic intensity that has come to define their sound, and with the Internet’s indie revolution in full swing, these were heady days for the college rock scene — Okkervil River would play the same stage a week later. You could smell a breakthrough. In retrospect, it was probably pepperoni.

Despite the band’s best efforts, their debut didn’t set the blogosphere on fire — even with a covers project that saw them reworking tracks by Sunny Day Real Estate and Sponge for giveaway MP3s. They did catch the ears of the producers of 90210, who worked a band sticker onto Converse-wearing rebel Silver’s (Jessica Stroup) binder in The CW drama’s premiere last fall.

“We had a lot of MySpace traffic from that,” Wilson says. “The funniest thing that happened was that my roommate works with kids and tweens, and she overheard them whispering about how cute somebody in our band was.”

More importantly, though, the band — and Visitation — found a new home a few months later.

“The album was the cherry on top of Division Day,” Dangerbird co-founder Peter Walker says. “We knew we loved the band, we loved their drive and I think once they made this record it was just so obvious it was the whole package for us.”

Walker says they’ll start thinking about a third release “when the time is right” — for now, they’ll plot the band’s tour and try to keep them on the road. Dayenu? Getting there.

“We could make 10 more records or no more records,” Segnitz says. “I hope it’s closer to 10.”

Visitation | Dangerbird

Reach the writer at david.elliot.greenwald@gmail.com

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