âI’ve been a farmer for a while,â says Jesse Keeler, bassist for Canadian duo Death From Above 1979. âI live on a 198 year old farm, halfway between Toronto and Ottawa. When I was a kid I was interested in the concept of having a place in the country, because I wanted to make my own Big Pink.
Keeler is here referring to the Big Pink country house in New York State where Bob Dylan and The Band recorded in 1967.
âMy dad, Fred Keeler, grew up with all these guys because he was a musician too. They were all friends and they all shared stuff and stuff.
âHe’s had a lot of success in Canada. You know, he was the opening act for the Rolling Stones, and he was the first guitarist for Triumph, and stuff like that. But he’s always been a player – I don’t think he wanted to be a star. He certainly didn’t want to be famous. He just wanted to play, and he figured that at some point people would give him money to do a good job. Paul Butterfield asked him to be his guitarist. It’s so crazy. He didn’t even tell me that – I must have heard it from a friend of his.
âSo the idea of ââbeing here, making music, has always been very idealized for me. I always thought that what I wanted was to be in the woods, in a house that was also a studio. We have three studios here and lounges in the basement. Our new record has been mastered here.
It sounds pretty idyllic. âI don’t say this lightly, but the pandemic period has been the best for me,â he explains.
âIt was my favorite time of my entire adult life, for sure, because nothing here has changed. My kids are still on the beach, hanging out, doing everything as usual. It really gave us the right to be completely selfish, just to jump in, make music, and be loud.
âI always thought I would end up taking a day off in the future. I thought: “When I’m done with everything, I’ll have a place in the country.” But I sold my house in town, and I’m doing it now – and not far in the future. I realize my childhood dream.
Keeler and his Death From Above 1979 partner SÃ©bastien Grainger have released a new album, is 4 in love, their fourth since their formation in 2001. Here we dive into their material choices and what made this album different from the band’s previous releases.
What was the writing and recording process for is 4 in love?
âNormally what we do is I write a bunch of stuff and Sebastian writes a bunch of stuff, we get together and decide what songs to use, and then we go to downtown Los Angeles and throw a bunch of demos in front of the producer.
âBut this time we knew we were going to do it ourselves. We’ve always wanted to produce and finish a record ourselves, partly just because we have the ability to do it. I have mastered people’s records, for example, but I hadn’t mastered any of our stuff. Seb produces records for other people, but he hadn’t produced records for us. So we knew we could do it.
âAt the same time, we knew that without a producer we wouldn’t have a third vote on anything. When there are only two people working on something, you can’t be a democracy – you have to be willing to do something or it won’t happen – and the only way to really work that way is to be together.
âSo we went to LA for six weeks and we literally wrote every day. We recorded continuously, all in one room, with the drums in the same room as us. We would just beat a record, to keep it all tracked, and then we would write. We practically wrote a song every day, while I was there.
âI took my time to master the new album because we didn’t know when it was going to be released. Actually, I’ve done it seven times – the version you’ve heard is master seven. Normally you release records around a tour cycle, but at one point we were like, “We don’t. “Can’t sit on this thing. Maybe the world will open up, maybe not. Maybe no one will ever spin again, but this record has yet to come out.”
Is the bass your primary songwriting instrument?
“90% of the time, yes, because I find that if a part or an idea occurs to me, I have to very quickly make a real part of it, otherwise the notes in my head will drift, if that makes sense.” Either I’m going to use the phone recorder and hum or sing my part in it, or I’m going to grab the bass and make the part a real thing.
“What did that say on one of those Sonic Youth records – that once the music leaves your head, the compromises begin?” When an idea comes to my mind, it literally has to be something that really exists – it has to exist on bass.
We often see you with a particular transparent bass.
âOh, I love my Dan Armstrongs – they’re awesome. I have a luthier friend here who designed a new bridge for them. It has the same screws in the exact same place, because you can’t screw and unscrew [the Armstrongsâ body material] Lucite a bunch of times. The new bridges have individual string intonation and height and brass saddles.
âI also added a brass nut, and had to re-rub them. I also put Luminlay light dots on it which is really just right for the scene – I like to look down and see that I am where I wanted to be.
âAll of my mics are from Dan Armstrong’s son, Kent. I’ve bought probably eight mics from it over the years since using them. There wasn’t one that I didn’t appreciate. Sometimes you can see me using a single coil, and sometimes you can see me with a humbucker – it really depends on what Kent feels like sending.
How did you end up playing Armstrongs?
âWell I started off with a Gibson Grabber that I’ve completely restored over the years – it has ebony fingerboard and everything. I had to change the bridge to a Badass because the original hurt too much in my hand.
âThis bass has been everywhere, but I went to this music store in Toronto, and saw a Dan Armstrong bass, and I thought it was really cool. When I tried it I was like, ‘Wow, this neck is so small and so comfortable to play, and I have all those extra frets. It’s awesome!’ I think it was $ 1,200, so I bought it.
âWe had a show that night, opening act for someone, so I thought, ‘I’m going to use my new bass,’ and I went to play Dan Armstrong. In the first song, the one of the ankles broke so I quickly took it out and grabbed the Gibson again. The next day I take the Dan Armstrong back to the music store and I’m like ‘Guys, that just broke’ They said, “Well, we’ve got this 1971 Rickenbacker 4001 that we can trade in for you with no paperwork.”
âIt really was. So I played this Rick for years, until we broke up the band in 2006. When we decided to play again five years later, I went and got this Rickenbacker, and I tried to do it. tune, but nothing could be done because the reinforcement bars were bent as hard as possible. They were like fucking hangers! I asked my luthier friend about it and he said, âWell, you know, that’s the nature of bass necks – once they bow past a certain point. , you can’t do anything anymore â.
âNow I wasn’t going to replace the neck of a 1971 Rickenbacker – it would just be a new bass – so I thought, I think I should try a Dan Armstrong again. It had been a long time, but I never got over it. I really missed that neck. So I found one, and it’s still my number one bass, then bought a second one.
Have you always been a four-string player?
âI have a friend who plays a five-string bass and he always says, ‘You’re gonna love it, man, you can go lower.’ But I always give a full step down, so I’m happy with that. The way I write bass parts is that I try to compose songs that I can’t play at first. I want it to be a boring and painful thing at first, and then eventually I’ll play it like it’s okay, hopefully.
“There’s a song on the new record called Free animal it seems easy enough to play, but when i play this bass part it’s like a tongue twister for my fingers. Most of it is between the open strings and the 22nd fret, and there is also a bend on the 24th fret. Because my hands are busy doing other parts, to do that high turn I have to do it with my pinky finger – but you only have some strength with that finger, don’t you? But I’m like, ‘I did it on record, I can do it live, and ultimately, it will be easy.’ That’s why four strings and 24 frets are enough for me. More than enough! “