Diving Into Details with DIIV’s Zachary Cole Smith

When Brooklyn indie rockers DIIV released its debut album Oshin in 2012, critics heralded the quintet for creating gorgeous, lush soundscapes that are as melodic as they are dreamy. The band relentlessly toured to support the album, and hit the festival circuit to spread the glory. Their quick rise to fame came to a screeching halt in September 2013 when singer/guitarist Zachary Cole Smith was arrested with his girlfriend, Sky Ferreira, on a number of offenses, including drug possession.

Three years later, Smith and company released sophomore album Is the Is Are, which expands on the band’s familiar shoegaze/krautrock formula but includes Smith’s take on the controversy via introspective lyrics. Get a taste of the formula August 23 at the Bunkhouse.

The last time you were in Las Vegas, you opened up for How to Destroy Angels. How was that experience?

Oh, wow, that feels like it was such a long time ago. That tour was amazing. It was so awesome watching Trent [Reznor] perform every night, and his taking us under his wing was a dream.

That tour, we played Coachella, and it was an incredible experience, especially since we were a young band. It was a bit weird playing theaters with seats—we’re not used to that—but it was very cool. It was totally worth it in the end.

What have you done here?

I’ve had some pretty crazy experiences in Vegas; too many to mention. I recently went there just to hang out and blow some money at the casinos. I stayed in old Vegas—Downtown. It was a good time.

This time around, I’m not sure if we’re doing anything crazy. If somebody offers us a cool party, we can’t say no to that.

What took so long between Oshin and Is the Is Are?

Honestly, I don’t think three and a half years is that long today, considering how often artists are expected to tour. We were on the road the entire time, and it was hard finding the time to write. Also, all that stuff in my personal life became public, so making the record was a long process.

I’m meticulous when it comes to details; I wanted every note on the record to sound perfect. We wrote it over such a long period, which included the time we toured to support Oshin and when we [Smith and girlfriend, Ferreira] got arrested.

I recorded one song, the title track, after the entire record had already been recorded. I figured the middle section needed something upbeat. That day, I was sitting on the ground and fucking around on guitar while watching a movie with my mom, and it was on the same day when I was asked by Vice to learn and re-record a version of Neu!’s “Hallogallo.” They were making a documentary about the krautrock genre. So [I] recorded all of the instruments myself in one of their studios. [So] I think the title track was heavily influenced by that song, subconsciously. 

What happened to the other 150 songs you’ve written for the album?

Maybe some will get used for something. Every time I sit down to write, I always come up with a fragment of a demo, and I record it to my computer. It’s done in individual tracks, and there are so many of them that live on my computer. I write multiple tracks, multiple ideas for one song, and I can’t do all of that without a tape recorder or computer. So I fuse them all together by playing and recording parts over each other.

Right now, I’ve got maybe 300 demos of songs I’ve been writing since Oshin. I’ll probably expand on some of the tracks that I think sound good. We’ll see.

DIIV_zachary_cole_smith_credit_Joyce_Kim_2_WEBJoyce Kim

How’d you land your modeling gig with Yves Saint Laurent?

I met Hedi [Slimane, creative director at the time] through Sky and Grant Singer, a filmmaker. We went out to dinner [with] friends and there were a bunch of fashion people there. When we finished eating, Hedi asked if I was available sometime six months into the future [in 2013]; he told me to block out a certain amount of time. I agreed, and didn’t think anything of it for a couple of months.

Then in December [2013], somebody called me and said, “Keep your entire March open. Don’t book anything.” I told that person I had several shows booked! We worked something out, and still, I didn’t know what that entailed. So a week before, I found out they were shooting me for a campaign. It was with [model] Cara Delevingne. Since then, I’ve done runway shows and have remained friends with Hedi.

You recently crafted a mix for Zane Lowe. How did that relationship come about, and what can we expect in the future?

I love making mixtapes for friends. [Apple’s] Beats One radio always features mixes, and I think that’s really cool. Zane’s always been a big supporter of DIIV; he’s just a passionate music lover. We have so many things in common, and one of those is our taste. We can talk to him about music for hours.

Doing a mix for him was a chance to show what I’m listening to, [in a context] that makes sense for our band. It’s not just minimal house and hip-hop, fuck that; it includes everything in DIIV’s world.

What’s next for DIIV?

We have plans for a really big, cool thing in September. It’s related to Mexico, and I can’t say much just yet, other than it’s going to be huge.

The band will be in Los Angeles soon, and we’re going to start writing and rehearsing for our next release. I don’t want it to be too long before another release. Third records are easier to write than second records, so hopefully you get to hear some new stuff soon.


Aug. 23, 9 p.m., the Bunkhouse, $15-$20, 702-982-1764, BunkhouseDowntown.com.