“I Just Got a Baby Cow”: On the Road With the Indie Rockers of Dehd


All photos courtesy of Emily Kempf and Jason Balla of Dehd.

Moments after I got on the phone with Emily Kempf and Jason Balla, who make up two-thirds of the Chicago-born band Dehd, we were interrupted by a newborn calf. Upon his arrival, Kempf panned her phone camera over to introduce him and explained that he just arrived today—and no, he won’t be living inside for much longer. On the other end of the line is her bandmate Balla, calling in from the attic of his current home in Chicago. The two just left New York after playing a series of shows in support of their latest LP, Poetry, including a pop-up at Rockerfeller Plaza and Maria Hernandez Park. “I basically wind up crawling out ’cause I just expend every ounce of energy that I have,” Balla says of his New York hangover. On a mini-hiatus until their US tour resumes next month, Kempf and Balla regained their strength to recall some of their strangest experiences on the road, including publicly urinating on a Boise milk factory and finding oneself barefoot in an elevator with Marc Maron.


EMILY SANDSTROM: Where are you guys right now, and can I get an explanation of the cave?

JASON BALLA: I’m in my house. This is my attic and it’s where I package all the merch orders.

SANDSTROM: It looks scary up there. 

BALLA: It is, actually. My house used to be abandoned, so there’s all this graffiti everywhere. I don’t know if you can see it, but it’s from when people were having parties in the eighties. A lot of people being like, “Rico loves Maria,” and that kind of stuff. It’s kind of cute, actually. 

SANDSTROM: Emily, where are you?

EMILY KEMPF: I’m in Taos, New Mexico. I just got a baby cow and he’s in the house with me.

SANDSTROM: Wait, can I take a screenshot?

KEMPF: My dog was just barking at him. Bert is under the bed terrorizing the cow, he was peacefully sleeping and now he’s standing there.

SANDSTROM: Why did you get a cow?

KEMPF: I have lots of animals. I have chickens and horses and the cow is just the latest edition, he just arrived this morning. It was raining so I brought him inside, even though he’s probably fine outside.

SANDSTROM: What’s going to happen to him when you go on tour? Can the cow come, or no?

KEMPF: So it’s only going to be this big forever, the size of a dog, but I have a groundskeeper. I have different people come stay in my house or in the RV and they watch the thousand animals that I have.

SANDSTROM: That’s awesome. Well, thanks for joining Tour Diary. I did want to know what Boise, Idaho was like, ’cause I feel like there would be a weird math rock crowd. Like, ancient Modest Mouse energy. 

BALLA: Boise was actually this festival called Treefort that’s supposed to get the spillover from people going to SXSW. So it was a little bit more fully booked than just the math rock heads. It’s a small town that’s been booming lately, I guess. It’s also one of the first places I ever went on tour and I was going past all of these memory lane spots. The first time I ever went there, I had no money and we slept in the car and I remember we fell asleep next to this milk factory, and then I woke up in the morning and was peeing on the building right when it was time for shift change, so a whistle blew and hundreds of people in lab coats just appeared out of nowhere, watching me. It was when I realized that I’m trash, basically.

SANDSTROM: That sounds punishing. Did they welcome you into the milk factory? Probably not, huh?

BALLA: No, I got a lot of bad looks and we were like, “Let’s get out of town.”


KEMPF: Wait, Jason, wasn’t this the festival where every time you got into the elevator in the hotel, there was a famous person with you?

BALLA: Oh, yeah. 

KEMPF: Jim Jarmusch was in the elevator with him one time.

BALLA: Yeah, I was geeking out about that, but then I also had a funny conversation with Marc Maron in the elevator and I was going to get a piece of pizza, but I didn’t have any shoes on because I was just going between floors. 

SANDSTROM: Did he look at your feet?

BALLA: Not that I noticed, but maybe.

SANDSTROM: What do you guys eat on the road? Which out of the three of you has the most disgusting food habits?

BALLA: Well, Emily eats like a child.

KEMPF: I’ll have a PBJ and, well, I don’t know if eating a chai seed bowl is child-like, but…

SANDSTROM: No, that’s really evolved.

BALLA: You eat grapes, berries, toast. Apple sauce in individual packets.

KEMPF: Yeah. I eat healthy though, ’cause it’s just too hard to feel bad. I don’t know if any of us eat disgustingly, but Eric and I order the most DoorDash. I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars on DoorDash.

BALLA: Oh, yeah. I’ve never ordered DoorDash in my life.


BALLA: Yeah. Eric’s favorite food is potatoes and every time we go to Boise, he always orders a potato pizza, ’cause he’s convinced that’s the only place you can eat it and it’s actually pretty good.

SANDSTROM: Oh no, what is that?


KEMPF: It’s actually good. It’s like, thinly sliced scalloped potatoes on top of the cheese and it’s really good. 

BALLA: It’s really nice, surprisingly so.

KEMPF: And when our sound guy Nate is with us, Taco Bell is always a present. But we would never go there if he wasn’t in the van.

SANDSTROM: What would you order from Taco Bell as someone who eats well?

KEMPF: I get the thing that’s like, it’s like a round and the tortilla goes around it and it looks like a…

SANDSTROM: Oh, the Crunchwrap?

KEMPF: Yeah, that. I like that one.

SANDSTROM: What’s the average Dehd fan like?

BALLA: For the first show we played this year, we hired a merch seller and at the end she was like, “You literally have the nicest fans of anyone I’ve ever worked for.” People are happy and ready to dance.

KEMPF: They’re pure of heart even if they have evil in their lives, you know what I mean?



KEMPF: There’s the teens or 20-somethings and then there’s a 60-year-old man, who’s like, “I haven’t liked a band since Led Zeppelin, but you guys are awesome”

SANDSTROM: Awesome. Well, on that note, have you had any fun fan interactions? Or terrible ones.

KEMPF: People sometimes cry and explain really cool love stories. That’s my favorite, when they’re like, “I put it on a playlist when we were flirting and then our first date was at your show.” It’s like, oh my god. We’re at the heart of the hearts.

SANDSTROM: That’s so sweet. You guys would be a good first-date band. Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?

KEMPF: I’ll take a shot of Red Bull and do 10 push-ups, and now I more healthily get a lot of hot tea and then I do the 10 push-ups. The push-ups kind of get my cardio going and then I feel strong and ready and I feel cool.

BALLA: She used to be in a phase where she would listen to this trainer guy and there was a day where we were playing a show with Stephen Malkmus from Pavement, but all the green rooms didn’t go up all the way, so every room was connected and we could all hear the trainer going, “Yeah, girl, get it, yeah.”

SANDSTROM: Love that. Obviously, Stephen Malkmus would be awesome to play with, but do you guys have another dream person to perform with or open for in the future?

BALLA: We’d open for like, Britney Spears or RX Nephew. I like his weird vibes.

KEMPF: Bert, stop. This one wants to kill the cow.

SANDSTROM: Can I see the cow again?

KEMPF: Bert, stop being weird. It’s your new brother.

SANDSTROM: Sorry, we can get back into the interview. But do you eat meat? 

KEMPF: I do. I eat meat for power.


SANDSTROM: My final question was about New York. I liked the pics of you guys hanging out here. What’s the New York crowd like?

BALLA: I love it. I mean, everyone’s been turning up a lot and honestly, I’ve been to so many New York shows where people are statues or something, but people get down at our shows.

KEMPF: Yeah, no one’s ever standing around.

BALLA: Every time I come to New York I basically wind up crawling out ’cause I just expend every ounce of energy that I have.

SANDSTROM: For sure.

BALLA: But I’m pretty obsessed with it, honestly.

SANDSTROM: When you’re not doing music stuff, what do you guys find yourself doing in the city?

KEMPF: I stay in the hotel and I get a lot of DoorDash. But I went to see a Broadway show this time, it was about women and the suffrage movement. I actually don’t really like musicals at all, but it made me feel teary-eyed. The woman power was strong in that room.

SANDSTROM: That’s awesome.

BALLA: When I’m there, I have to order at least one or two things from a street vendor. And I love riding the trains. I was also just hanging out at this bar called Marshall Stack, named after the guitar amp. Both times I went, there was hardly anyone there and so it was an amazing bar to go to in Manhattan. And the bartender is very nice.

SANDSTROM: Do you want to say what the third member got up to in New York, since he can’t advocate for himself right now?

BALLA: I feel like he played video games a lot this time.

KEMPF: Yeah, he was playing video games and ordering DoorDash.