Face scraping the pavement, wind getting stomped out of him, Sebastien Grainger could see the end credits rolling.
He couldn’t tell how many people had jumped him or what they wanted. All the singer/drummer knew was on this night — last Halloween, while he was on tour in Dallas — a nasty, anonymous mob was showing him a side of humanity he wished he wasn’t privy to. “They just beat me until I submitted,” he says. “I basically thought I was going to die.”
Death From Above — almost. Fortunately, Grainger’s band name didn’t turn tragically prophetic that night. He lived, his assailants — a group of serial muggers — were arrested, his wounds healed. But he still bears scars. “I’m just sad about it,” he says. “The insane part was the kids who did it, they were having a good time. So, that’s the world we’re all trying to move through.”
It’s safe to say Grainger’s been feeling disillusioned. Outraged, even. And as overused as that word may be in our zeitgeist, it’s in the title of Death From Above’s third album, Outrage! Is Now. With the same dinosaur-in-a-China-shop intensity they’re famous for, Grainger and bassist/keyboardist Jesse F. Keeler have collided once again, this time birthing a hooky, scuzzy, scathing indictment of nasty, anonymous mobs everywhere — on the streets (the track “Moonlight” recounts his assault) and on Internet comment boards. It’s a dance-punk declaration of outrage over many things: social media addiction, our capacity for cruelty, even the Age of Outrage itself.
Which, even Grainger admits, can be a bit confusing. “There’s a lot of outrage in the world — some of it is well-directed, some of it isn’t,” he explains. “The things some people are mad about are what outrage me. We’re dehumanizing each other over the slightest differences of opinion.”
Not that Death From Above are immune to disagreements themselves. It was in the mid-aughts, just as their raucous debut You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine was starting to blow up internationally, that the Toronto duo imploded. Between industry pressures and a growing hatred for one another, says Grainger, “We just didn’t enjoy it anymore.”
But then something weird happened: Death From Above, despite Grainger and Keeler quitting, kept blowing up. Their fan base kept multiplying, new bands kept cribbing their sound (see: Royal Blood, DZ Deathrays), and their logo essentially became deified. So much so that by the time the duo inevitably reunited in 2011, the pressure to live up to their own folklore was immense. The result: 2014’s The Physical World, a comeback record that sounds like it’s trying real hard to be a comeback record.
Thankfully, the band keeps the self-mythologizing to a minimum nowadays. “This time around, it’s just pure expression,” says Grainger. “I’m not even thinking about the band as a concept.” Whereas their last effort relied on grandiose narrative arcs and obligatorily hard-charging rhythms, Outrage! Is Now is immediate and loose. Super Mario-esque electro-stomps (“Never Swim Alone”), gargantuan stoner gallops (“Nomad”), and serrated grooves (“Caught Up”) meet head-on in an aural car pile-up closer resembling the wild abandon of DFA past.
Of course, now aged 38 and 40, Grainger and Keeler aren’t quite the reckless scallywags they once were. “I used to want to start fights at bars because I felt invincible,” Grainger recalls. “And then the world squashes you and you’re forced to fight back. You realize it’s never easy, so you learn to pick your battles.”
Presumably, said battles are no longer with each other. “We’re having fun making this noise together now,” he admits. “That’s all that’s important.”
And if these two can get along, well, maybe there’s hope for us all.
Now with Less 1979
The duo chose to drop the suffix from their name this year. “We were having a few drinks and decided to just drop it and see what happens,” says Grainger. They initially decided to add the numbers after James Murphy’s label Death From Above Records filed a cease and desist against the band. Apparently, Murphy’s since eased his stance. “When news came out that we were gonna stop using the numbers, James texted Jesse right away and was like, ‘Cool man. That’s great. It’s your band, you’ve got to do what you do.’”