DD/MM/YYYY’s Mike Claxton (clockwise from top left), Matt King, Jordan Holmes, Moshe Rozenberg, Thomas Del Balso
DD/MM/YYYY with THINK ABOUT LIFE as part of SummerWorks, at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West), Friday (August 7), 10 pm. $10. summerworks.ca.
Despite having spent much of my adult life living near Queen and Bathurst, I draw a blank when Toronto art punks DD/MM/YYYY suggest meeting at Michael's Deli for beers.[rssbreak]
Tomas Del Balso smirks mischievously when the rest of the band realize he's taking us to the dingiest dive bar still running in the area.
"It's the only place near here where I can afford to drink," he explains as he counts out his change.
As we sit around a pitcher of suds with the five-piece band, it's evident that this is the perfect setting for the interview. After all, this year's SummerWorks Festival includes a look at the history of the Queen West strip (see related story, page 55), and the dark hole in the wall filled with gutter punks and aging boozers is one of the last relics of the area's Wild West era that preceded the influx of condos and chi-chi restaurants.
The odd mix of death metal and top-40 dance pop blaring from the grimy watering hole's jukebox sums up the contradictions of DD/MM/YYYY's sound, which crosses prog rock with punk, ambient electronic experiments with Captain Beefheartesque spastickness and trance-inducing repetition with abrupt math rock changes.
Despite glowing reviews, unlikely V Fest and MTV appearances, constant touring, a mind-boggling 13 gigs at the most recent SXSW festival and an Artistic Achievement Award from the town of Brampton, they're still very much a DIY punk band, holding it all together with duct tape and boundless enthusiasm. Still, there's nothing like being presented with an official plaque by your hometown mayor to help you justify your career choice to concerned parents.
"They misspelled my name on the plaque," laughs Del Balso.
"Mine is hanging in my kitchen!" blurts Jordan Holmes.
"I think it's the touring that was impressive to [Brampton], because we're an international band now," offers Moshe Rozenberg, explaining how the art rockers found themselves getting recognized.
That relentless touring is definitely an important part of their success. It's given them credibility, tightened up their playing and helped them forge working relationships with like-minded spirits across the world.
"Go on a tour and your next tour will be better. The more you do it, the more tricks you learn," says Rozenberg.
Most importantly though, it's given them the confidence to rock out as weirdly as they want without fear of failure.
"My goal was to go on some kind of tour by the time I was 25, but then I was 22 and I'd already started touring. So you have to keep setting the bar higher," says Del Balso.
"Where we are now is beyond anything I ever hoped for my life," Matt King agrees.
It hasn't been all rock 'n' roll road-trip glamour and award ceremonies, though.
While most of their press has been positive, especially for a "difficult" band who eschew traditional song structures, regularly change time signatures and tempos mid-song, have no identifiable frontman and switch instruments constantly, they were disappointed when influential music blog pitchforkmedia.com ran a lukewarm revue of their most recent album, Black Square (We Are Busy Bodies), criticizing it for lack of cohesion and logical flow. It seems not everyone is completely sold on their constant shape-shifting and abrupt 180-degree turns.
"We went into the album deliberately wanting to insert different soundscapes and ideas into it, so it was pretty disappointing that they didn't like that aspect," says Holmes.
"The point of DD/MM/YYYY has always been to be constantly shifting," continues King. "We're five different people living in this universe with all these things happening around us, and we're not going to do an album like the Strokes and be concise about it all."
It's true that on first listen they sound like they're trying to pack too many ideas into one album, but when you spend a bit more time with their music, an overall aesthetic begins to emerge, despite their best efforts to evade attempts at pinning them down. At one point during the second pitcher of beer, they spend five minutes arguing about whether they're a rock band, and don't even come close to an answer.
"Help me out here, guys. What are these songs about?" Del Balso asks. "They're about being processed through some kind of machinery and coming out the other side."
"They're more about living our whole lives in front of the giant monitor - living inside the videodrome and trying to be conscious of it," counters King.
Their sonic identity lies somewhere between their love of off-kilter lopsided math rock riffing and their appetite for droning lo-fi ambient jams. Those two tendencies might seem like polar opposites, but they're more like two sides of a coin. If they were a more straightforward band, we'd see those two extremes as the equivalent of rock songs and ballads. And like a traditional rock band, they focus on the uptempo numbers during the live shows, though the soundscape bits play a role as well.
"We trade instruments a lot, and that takes time, so instead of having a pause we'll play little snippets of stuff that's kind of like that," explains Rozenberg.
"That's why our newest album is all over the place - because we're switching up our instruments all the time," continues Mike Claxton.
Refusing to commit to an instrument tends to confuse sound techs, but it's a way to push themselves in new directions and stave off the ever-present threat of boredom.
"I love guitar and I love drums, but if it had to come to one, I'd choose guitar," offers Del Balso. "Of course, if you don't have to choose...."
DD/MM/YYYY talk about their early experiences touring, and the joys of all ages shows in unconventional venues.