The Holy Trinity of Divine Fits

Published August 27, 2012

DAN BOECKNER (RIGHT) WITH HIS DIVINE FITS BANDMATES SAM BROWN AND BRITT DANIEL.

Writers barely had time to formulate a few coherent sentences about the supergroup by the time the news hit the web: Divine Fits—comprising Spoon’s leading man Britt Daniel, Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, and New Bomb Turks’s Sam Brown—had materialized as if out of thin air, yet felt like something that’s been long overdue. Shrouded in anticipation and frustratingly minimal details (but for an overexposed black-and-white shot and a few vague sentences), the music sphere was abuzz with the kind of curiosity reserved for only the most promising collaborations. Divine Fits’ first single, “My Love is Real,” is an apt introduction to their sound: heavily reminiscent of the trio’s catchy pop-rock pasts, with lingering traces of rock-‘n’-roll seeping into the familiarly infectious sound.

We caught up with Dan, the band’s guitarist, and delved into the past few months on the road and the band’s freshman album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, out tomorrow.

ALICE GREENBERG: Hey, Dan—thanks for taking time out of your Saturday.

DAN BOECKNER: No problem. We’re actually recording soundtrack music right now. I’m in Sun Valley, which is a suburb of L.A., out in The Valley. It kind of looks like it belongs in the 1950s, like it never changed.

GREENBERG: Why there?

BOECKNER: My friend David has a house here, and that’s where we’re doing all the tracking. It’s actually really inspiring to be out here.

GREENBERG: Because of the nature?

BOECKNER: [laughs] There’s no real nature—except for ants, and birds and rats. 

GREENBERG: I remember reading about you guys getting together, a few months ago, and thinking, “This is gonna be big.” How did you decide to start the group?

BOECKNER: Britt and I have known each other for about five years now, and we were just kind of sitting around in Portland a year and a bit ago and having some drinks, and we just started talking about getting a band together and starting up a new rock band. And then I guess early last year he gave me a call and was like, “Well, Wolf Parade’s not doing anything, let’s just do this; let’s do it right now.” And that was that.

GREENBERG: How did the band member selection happen?

BOECKNER: Mike McCarthy, who produced most of the Spoon records, he recommended Sam Brown as a drummer—and he’s just like a killer, killer drummer. And Alex [Fischel], the keyboard player, was in this other band called Papa, and I kind of poached him from them.

GREENBERG: So, why Divine Fits? Were there any other names in the running? 

BOECKNER: Yeah, there was a whole list of names and we went through all ’em, but Divine Fits seemed to be the one everybody loved the best. Another name we had was Hot Skull. We played our first show—a surprise show in Austin—as Hot Skull. And that was after we’ve already decided on Divine Fits.

GREENBERG: It’s interesting to compare your aesthetic to your past musical projects. There’s still this incredibly catchy element (like with a lot of Spoon’s songs), but with a distinctly different, synth-pop quality. What kind of sound were you gravitating toward with this album?

BOECKNER: We never really had a sit-down meeting about what the band should sound like. We just wrote songs and got together and played them, and Britt and I kind of developed our own aesthetic for however many years we’ve been playing music professionally. It never really came up, talking about what the band should sound like. I remember having one conversation in the car on the way to rehearsal, and we were both like, “We shouldn’t put any limitations, stylistically, on what we’re writing.” We were starting a band; it wasn’t a recording project that needed an aesthetic hook to it.

GREENBERG: Your tracks have a certain summery, upbeat feel to them. They’re perfect driving songs. What do you guys listen to when driving from say, Ohio to Montreal?

BOECKNER: I think everybody’s playlists are pretty different, but I know when we were recording the record we listened to a shitload of AC/DC, nonstop.

GREENBERG: Did that inspire your album?

BOECKNER: I think it did. I think it was actually more of a reflection of the fact that we were listening to the stuff we were coming up with; we were coming up with these burnt, sharp rock arrangements. Like really high-frequency guitar stuff, and it’s like AC/DC in that it’s more muscular rock.

GREENBERG: You started the tour with concerts around your hometowns, in a lot of the same venues in which you’ve played before. Does it feel nostalgic, in a way, reminiscent of when you started playing?

BOECKNER: Yeah, for me it definitely did. In Montreal, I played at the Il Motore venue—the place we played at—a lot; I feel really good there. I know for Britt, playing in Beerland was really nice for him, as well. We hand-picked the venues that we were going to play on the tour. I think it’s important to be able to play those kinds of shows. A band has a built-in audience with fans from the past, but this is a new band, and I think this is really important to go in and play your songs in a really compacted, sweaty club that maybe doesn’t have the world’s best sound system—but it’s important to be able to do that.

GREENBERG: Did it feel good coming back to Montreal, being on your home base?

BOECKNER: It was bittersweet for me, because I left Montreal in October of—well, effectively in 2011, and I don’t live there anymore, and sometimes I miss it, and I haven’t been back in a long time. So it was a little bittersweet. But it was nice to see my friends.

GREENBERG: Let’s talk about your album art for a minute. Britt has previously been known to pick some sweet cover art for a lot of Spoon’s albums. Was this one Britt’s doing?

BOECKNER: We’ve spent a lot of time sending images back and forth, and [Britt] found this painting of a cherry that—I just loved it. I thought it was really simple and unpretentious, and I mean, for lack of a better description, it’s just really nice to look at. At least I think it is.

GREENBERG: I think it complements your sound really well. I can’t really explain it.

BOECKNER: I think because it’s clean. That’s the thing that appealed to me about it. I thought it really fit. And then, the 7-inch cover for “My Love is Real,” that was something that I sourced. There was this Russian photographer that I really loved, and I was looking online through his portfolio—he’s kind of unknown outside of Russia—I think he’s done one art show, or two.

GREENBERG: So how did you come to hear of him?

BOECKNER: I spent a lot of time in Russia touring, and I have friends over there, so I’ve been introduced to his art before. He takes photographs of children and teenagers who live in these post-Brezhnev giant tower blocks outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and there were these teenage couples that he’s photographed. And after that song, “My Love is Real,” just that picture—the photograph he took, the expression on the kid’s face—the boy, as he’s looking over the girl’s shoulder. She’s holding him and he’s just like, off in space. I really loved how that expression went with the emotion of the song. I was pretty happy that he let us license it.

GREENBERG: Was he taken aback when you contacted him?

BOECKNER: Yeah, he’s never done anything like that before. He was a dissident in the ’80s, and he loves rock-‘n’-roll music, but no Western people had ever approached him with licensing his art.

GREENBERG: Did you experiment with your sound a lot?

BOECKNER: Well I was using pretty much what I had at hand. You know, a lot of the songs were based around the sounds of things Britt and I had at hand or around the house. I used my old vintage synthesizer for the stuff that I wrote—pretty much a necessity. We were working with Nick Launay, who did all the most recent Nick Cave stuff and a lot of great post-punk records, and he’s pretty fearless about throwing crazy noise and whatnot over songs, and Britt and I are both predisposed to that too. So it all worked out pretty great. We would just basically pick a song and then just layer…

GREENBERG: Yeah, you can really hear that. It’s not a clean, one dimensional sound.

BOECKNER: Yeah, we got pretty wild with the recording. And a lot of the stuff you hear on the record is like first or second sync. And that was really exciting for me.

GREENBERG: Do you have any secret talents no one knows about? Or is that entirely confidential?

BOECKNER: Secret talents? I have secret talents. I don’t know if I can talk about them in print, though. I’m a really good cook! I used to be a professional chef. Italian food. I recently got into cooking Szechuan food from the Szechuan province in China. I went on tour there a couple of times, and did some research on how to make it.

GREENBERG: So how does a chef transition to a new-wave pop rock band founder?

BOECKNER: I was just cooking to finance my teenage dream of being a musician. I cut the end of my finger off in a coffee grinder, and I had to lose it.

GREENBERG: Shit. I imagine it must be difficult playing with part of your finger missing?

BOECKNER: It was for a while. I lost all the feeling in it. But after that I realized, you know, it’s more important for me to have full use of my hands.

GREENBERG: Seems about right. So what about Britt and Sam? Do we get the scoop on their secrets as well?

BOECKNER: I think those will have to stay confidential. [laughs]

A THING CALLED DIVINE FITS IS OUT TOMORROW. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.