Dan Boeckner of Divine Fits on being inspired by the sprawl of L.A. but put off by $5 cupcakes
I saw Drive Like Jehu and Unwound when they did a show together in Victoria, British Columbia at the student union building at the university. I was very young. It was before the Fugazi show. That made a huge impression on me, too. They were playing in this brightly-lit cafeteria, and both bands just crushed it. It was one of the loudest shows I've ever seen. Unwound did this incredibly long, sort of free-form jam at the end of their set.
I was used to this sort of cut-and-dried...the aesthetics of hardcore are kind of fascist in a lot of ways. It's a reactionary thing. It's like, "We don't want to be like this. We're not this. We're that." But Unwound had this sort of positive attitude of "We can do anything we want." And I had never seen a band that wasn't a hippie jam band jam out for fifteen minutes. That opened my mind a lot about song arrangements and how to entertain an audience. Those two shows made a huge impact on me.
That was pretty early on in that band's history. Was Sara Lund the drummer at that point?
Yeah, Sara Lund was the drummer. There was Vern Rumsey on bass and Justin Trosper was the singer-guitarist. I saw them when they were a three piece. I think they eventually added a fourth member.
Yeah, I only saw Unwound once when they toured for Leaves Turn Inside You and they had a fourth member. At any rate, I was curious about the line-up because Unwound had another drummer before Sara -- who plays in the Corin Tucker Band.
Yeah, that's right. They had a dude on their earliest recordings. You know, if a band came out right now sounding exactly like Unwound, I think Pitchfork would be all over that.
In that interview you did with the Vine, you talked about how you felt that geography had an impact on your music or how you're thinking about it. In what ways would you say that living in Los Angeles has influenced your music?
I think just the fact that it's sunny all the time kind of motivated me to work more. I work in the morning. It's not like I had a bad work ethic before, but living in Montreal, it's kind of hard to get motivated when it's minus forty out and you really have to force yourself to get up in the morning.
If you don't have a regular job, you've got to force yourself to get up in the morning. You have to have a rigorous schedule just to sort of psychologically un-tether yourself from the fact that the outside would kill you if your apartment wasn't heated. So the weather in California maybe didn't necessarily cheer me up, but it's definitely easier to get out of bed and write songs in the morning when the sun is shining.
The sprawl in L.A., I think, influenced a lot of the songwriting on this record, too -- the sort of expanse of the city. Driving around at night listening to Kraftwerk in Los Angeles was very inspiring. Just watching the palm trees and the city lights, I think that definitely made it into the music somehow. Not that it turned out like Best Coast record, but California definitely seeped in there.
What were some of the things you felt were the biggest adjustments you had to make living in Los Angeles specifically and maybe the United States generally?
Living in L.A., everything is very disconnected. L.A., to me, as an outsider, is like six, seven or eight different smaller cities linked together by this network of highways -- which people complain about driving on constantly. It's the definitive ambient bummer of everybody's life in Los Angeles that they're stuck in traffic. They're obsessed with traffic. So when I first moved there, I moved to Silver Lake, which is the Williamsburg of Los Angeles. At first, I thought it was this kind of Utopian community.
Slowly, Silver Lake completely wore its welcome with me. It's just not for me. It started reminding me of every other place in America or Canada that has...You know, as soon as you get a store that sells five dollar cupcakes on the street, it's fucking over, culturally. I did find that although there are great things to do in Silver Lake, it's really just this sort of wild game preserve for mostly kids who are making art, or claim to be making art, but there's a lot of trust fund kids there like in any other sort of younger, affluent artistic community. I think that just has to be a function of those communities.
Who has time to make five dollar cupcakes, right? Definitely not lower middle class or working class kids, right? It is what it is, but it's really not for me and I found that it was incredibly distracting and kind of frustrating being there. So I moved to Koreatown, which is maybe kind of escapist in the way that I walk out my door and no one speaks English and it looks like Korea.
I've been on tour in Korea and it's shocking how much Koreatown is kind of a monoculture. It's definitely very Korean. But I like that. I find it inspiring for my writing. If I want to go listen to cool music and have a twelve dollar cocktail served to me, then I can go to Silver Lake. If I want to go people watching I can go to Hollywood. Once I figured out where to live in L.A., I started really enjoying the city a lot more.
What kind of guitar do you play?
It's a Telecaster Thinline. It's kind of been my go-to guitar for the last four years, I guess. I started playing one in Handsome Furs, and I started using that guitar in Wolf Parade. I love those guitars. They don't go out of tune, and they're basic. They're resonant because they're semi-hollow and they're ring-y. They're very simple and you can get a lot of different tones out of them. They're like a workhorse.
Do you like to switch up your guitars a little or do you prefer to kind of stick with one guitar across an entire set?
I generally like to play one kind of guitar. There's one song in The Divine Fits where I play this Gibson E335 because I play kind of behind the bridge and do a lot of feedback stuff. That's a hollow body so when you plug it in, you have to make sure you're pointing away from the amplifier because it'll go crazy.
Is there an amp you prefer to use?
I was a Fender guy until this band started. I specifically used a '74 Fender Super Reverb that would fall apart and I would rewire it and it would fall apart again. It caught on fire. In this band, Britt turned me on to the hand wired Vox AC30s that got put out a couple of years ago. Man, I love those amps, just the amount of tone control you can get out of them. There's a specific sound you get out of them where it's clean but it's really loud but not tinny like a Fender Twin. So, yeah, I've been digging that.