Zachary Cole Smith is the leader and primary songwriter of the shoegaze revival band DIIV. Originally conceived by Smith as a solo project, DIIV is now a completely integrated four-piece group. Founded in New York, the band relocated to Los Angeles over the past few years. In October, they released Deceiver—DIIV’s most ambitious and fully realized album to date. L.A. Weekly caught up with Smith—who goes by his middle name, Cole—to talk about Deceiver, his widely publicized recovery from drug addiction, and DIIV’s current tour, which includes three nights at the Lodge Room in Highland Park on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you and the band move to Los Angeles?
COLE SMITH: I moved to Los Angeles three years ago, and then the band moved out like piecemeal, one at a time, over the past [year or two].
How do you find living in L.A. compared to New York?
It’s a different experience. Right now we love it. There’s a lot more space, like, physically and mentally, to work. We had been part of a little underground scene [in New York] that just kind of got priced out of the city, and we were looking for something, I think, for a while and then moved to L.A. and we found a little community that’s really nurturing and supportive. It’s kind of what we’ve been looking for all along, and what we’ve lost in New York, so, since then, since we’ve found our people, or whatever, we’ve really loved it.
You’ve been very open about your struggles with addiction, which you’ve been able to put behind you, and now you’re several years into your recovery and, I would imagine, a new way of life. How did you decide that you were willing to talk about those private matters with your fans and the public?
Well, I wouldn’t say they’re behind me. They’re never really behind you. It’s like a lifelong thing that we deal with. I don’t think I had a choice, really, talking about it publicly, ‘cause it was kind of thrust on the public when I got arrested and it was in the media. So that was kind of the beginning of it, but since then, it’s been made clear to me through my own experiences and through people I’ve met [that] addiction is a really, really common experience, and it’s something that affects almost everybody, either directly, or with their friends or family, or whatever, and it’s just like a massive epidemic, across the world, and especially across our country, so it seems like something that’s important to talk about. It just came naturally. It seemed like the proper thing to do.
What is your life like now that you are, what, about three years sober?
I’ve been sober since March 2017, and my life now is just, you know, unrecognizable from what it was before. The program of recovery that I’m working has a number of promises, and if you work the program, those promises materialize, like, kind of magically. You make these certain changes in your life and then one thing kind of leads into another and it starts affecting every aspect of your life, which it has for me, and it’s been just a gigantic change. And a big improvement.
Your new album Deceiver is a bit different from other DIIV records, and I’ve read that it was more of a collaborative effort, certainly than, say, Oshin. Can you tell us about the process of writing and recording the new album?
The previous records had been mostly just like me making demos and then fleshing them out, playing a lot of stuff myself in the studio, or bringing it to the band basically like finished in my mind, and looking back on it now, I think that there’s a lot of songs I feel like could have used a little workshopping. I think with the [new] record that we set out to make, in the beginning I realized my own limitations and it just seemed natural. We had a good dynamic, as people within the band, and so we just decided to work together on it.
And I think it’s the best thing that we did as a band like making that decision. We kind of all were thinking about the record a lot, thinking about what we wanted to do. People brought ideas, either little demos or guitar parts, or just like, “we should have a song like this.” And we spent a lot of time rehearsing together and practicing the songs and talking through them and listening, and listening to other music as references. It was deliberate, collaborative process. None of us I think had ever really effectively collaborated before.
Deceiver, to me, is a pretty cohesive record, but I feel like the songs sound a little more distinct than on previous DIIV albums. Is that something you and the band thought about?
Yeah, definitely. I think just as we were working through songs, each song found its place and we tried to accomplish a couple different things on the record musically, that we hadn’t really [done] before. We started realizing, listening to other records, that you don’t have to write songs that sound like your band—you can write whatever you want, and if the band is playing them and making them, it’s gonna sound like you anyway. So it gave us a little more freedom to branch out. And I think the thing that keeps it cohesive is that it’s the same four people.
Which are your favorite songs on the album?
I like different ones for different reasons. I like the lyrics on “Between Tides.” We all have a special place for the last song, “Acheron,” because you’re able to branch out more and experiment more musically. I think that we have attachments to different songs for different reasons. I feel like if you asked me right when we finished the record what my favorites were, I’d have like a more firm answer, but it kind of changes.
DIIV is touring California and the West Coast, and then the band goes to the U.K. and Europe. Do you have plans to tour beyond that?
Yeah. That’s basically our plan for the next year or more, to tour this record. There’s stuff in the pipeline, outside of U.S. and Europe, like worldwide stuff, and then we’re talking about doing more U.S. stuff coming up. [We’re] working on the live set and perfecting that and putting the same diligence we put into the record into the live show. That’s actually what we’re doing right now in our practice space.
Have you thought about when you might start working on new music?
The day we left the studio. The record is intense and serious and whatever, but we did have a lot of fun making it. The day we left the studio we were like, damn, we could just do that again right now. We’re kind of always writing on our own, but then we set aside time between tours to basically pick up the same process again, because I think the process really worked for us.
What can fans expect from DIIV’s three-night stand at the Lodge Room?
We’re going to play a lot of songs from the new record. This is the tour for that record, so we’re trying to fit some of the older songs into the new sound, reimagining some things with the older stuff, and then for the new ones, just trying to make it sound the best we can. I think they will definitely be the best DIIV shows that we’ve ever played at that point, because I think the shows are getting better every time we play, and we’ve put a lot of work into perfecting it.
DIIV plays with Milly (Sat), Storefront Church and Nixon/Kato (Sun), and Omni and Nixon/Kato (Sun) at 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 14, Sunday, December 15 and Monday, December 16 at the Lodge Room.
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