Divine Fits: “I was going through some severe apocalyptic emotional trauma”

Serial collaborator Dan Boeckner talks to EDWARD SHARP-PAUL about collaborations, ‘severe apocalyptic emotional trauma’ and new outfit Divine Fits, which was just confirmed for Laneway.

Having split much of the last decade between the critically-acclaimed Wolf Parade and the equally adored husband-and-wife venture Handsome Furs, Dan Boeckner found himself at a loose end with the conclusion of those projects. Being a well-connected guy, he got in touch with Britt Daniel (Spoon]), Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) and Alex Fischel (unattached). The result? Divine Fits, an intriguing new project with the swagger of Handsome Furs, the dry humour of Spoon, and some throwback synths just for good measure. Recorded with post-punk legend Nick Launay, their debut album A Thing Called Divine Fits features a cover of The Boys Next Door’s classic ‘Shivers’.

Hi Dan, how are you? Where are you?

I’m in LA right now, in Korea Town. We’re launching the record at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery this week. Marilyn Munroe’s buried there – we’re gonna be playing in the crypt. I’m really excited, man. I’ve been there once before, and it’s truly a trip.

So you dig collaborations, huh? What makes you keep coming back to working with other people?

All of my favourite bands have always had more than one songwriter – The Stones, The Clash, Fugazi – even The Pixies, wasn’t just Frank Black. I dunno, it’s just what I like to do.

Do you thrive on the friendly rivalry of having another voice in the band?

Yeah, I do. It’s having someone to bounce ideas off and someone who knows when you’re at your best, and when you’re not at your best. I think because home production has become such a staple of a lot of modern indie rock, you’re able to just sit at home with GarageBand or Ableton and disappear up your own ass. I like having someone else there as a balance.

Someone that can call bullshit on your worst moments…

Exactly. Someone that can say, “That doesn’t work”, or “You can do better than that.”

Well, you’ve had a good run. Spencer Krug, your wife [Alexei Perry], now Britt. If you were to name-check guys in indie-dom, it seems like you’ve worked with some of the leading lights. Are you working through a wishlist?

Not really; when I started Wolf Parade with Spencer, neither of us had been in a band of any profile before, we were just friends starting a rock band. With Alexei, she had never played music before Handsome Furs. With Britt? We’ve been friends for four or five years, from when he came to a Handsome Furs show in Portland. I’d been a fan of his since high school; we hit it off and that was that. I didn’t seek that out, but it’s been cool.

So, onto the album. Were you a fan of Nick Launay before you got him to produce the album?

Oh yeah. I’ve been a big fan of that guy’s production for as long as I’ve been into post-punk records. I was into metal as a teenager, but a friend played me Gang Of Four and Public Image Limited, and this guy Nick Launay’s name kept coming up as a producer, because he’s on all of those records. I have a lot of respect for him, because he’s one of the few guys that went through the ‘70s and ‘80s, and came out the other side making Grinderman records. I don’t think there’s another producer from that era still making records that abrasive.

It was pretty intimidating when we did the Boys Next Door cover (Shivers). Nick has worked with Nick Cave on his last bunch of records, but he also produced Release The Bats, when the Birthday Party first went over to London. He was a good friend of Rowland [S Howard], and we’re talking about how to approach the guitar solo, and I was just shit-scared. Nick says, “You should just do the most paint-peeling, abrasive, skull-fucking guitar solo you can muster. So we spent about 20 minutes laying out pedals. Nick turned the tape-player on and said, “Just fuckin’ freak out, don’t even pay attention to the song”, and we got it in one take.

You got that skull-fucking sound?

Pretty much, dude.

So your website says A Thing Called Divine Fits covers “the death of true love, hitchhiking, cocoa butter, emotional distance, what happens when the curtain drops, and Minneapolis, MN”. Where do your lyrics come from?

With the Handsome Furs I was the only lyricist, so those albums were almost concept records, really focussed. A lot of people I’ve worked with, people I admire, are great at writing fiction, creating an environment and a story populated with characters. I’ve tried that, but it doesn’t really work for me. I can only really sing about what I’ve got going on, and during this record I was going through some pretty severe apocalyptic emotional trauma. I can laugh now, but yeah, that’s what I’m singing about [on the record].

“My favourite songwriters are conflicted people, but they resonate with me because they’re not selfish little man-babies.”

But you’re not the sort to seek that sort of trauma out? You don’t subscribe to the “tortured artist” notion?

Aw no, fuck that shit. I don’t buy that for a second. My favourite songwriters are conflicted people, but they resonate with me because they’re not selfish little man-babies, or lady-babies, or whatever. They have these feelings, and they’re able to transmit them to other people, but they’re not so totally self-absorbed that they have to destroy their own lives to do that.

So who are your favourite songwriters?

Well, I’m a huge Joe Strummer fan. He’s my all-time favourite songwriter, with Nick Cave a close second, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey … There’s a lot of them.

You tend to attract a cult following, and I’m sure a lot of people are hoping for the return of their favourite variant of Dan. Are your dormant projects really dormant, or are they extinct?

Well, I don’t think Wolf Parade’s coming back anytime soon. I think Spencer’s pretty happy with Moonface. If we were ever to come back, I don’t think it would be to play Coachella or ATP, I think it’d be to write an album, and I just don’t see it happening at the moment. As for the Furs, I really don’t know. We made three records, each better than the last. If that’s the end, then I’m pretty content with that.

Are you touring Australia anytime soon?

Yeah, we’re doing Laneway … We will be coming to Australia in January. Unlike Wolf Parade, we won’t be cancelling it.

Divine Fits will be touring Australia as part of the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival.