Interviews

Death By Denim: “We’re a force to be reckoned with”

On the doorstep of their debut album release, we caught up with Death By Denim to chat breaking through, keeping sane, and beers. Lots of beers.

We’ve been keeping our eyes on Death By Denim for a while now – the band will be the first to tell you. Well and truly a key part of the Western Australian boom, Pallè Mazzulla, Nikolas Ilidias, George Gunson, and Hamish Macarthur have shown a commitment to their craft unmatched by many.

Last year, their breakout track Wiggy saw them propelled to new heights. Now the four-piece are on the verge of releasing their much-anticipated debut album, Sleepless and Sunkissedcentred around their restless search for connection and fulfilment upon entering adulthood – whilst also scoping out a few beers along the way. We caught up with the band (minus George), to chat about the melting pot of talent in the WA scene, putting an album together during COVID-19 lockdown, and even the possibility of a denim-based merch line.

Death By Denim, Sleepless and Sunkissed

HAPPY: Hey guys! Really appreciate you all coming on to chat today. 2019 was obviously a very successful year for you guys, performing at Falls Festival and Wiggy becoming one of the most played songs on triple j. Did you know you had something special when you put that song together?

NIK: I think we thought it was pretty stupid at first. We thought the chorus was a bit of a joke whilst in the writing phase. We didn’t think it was a hot track until we recorded it and then realised: “Huh, Wiggy actually not bad.”

HAMISH: I remember hearing the riffs in the rehearsal room. And being the drummer sometimes you just hear a song, and if it’s really organic to play along to, you think it could be something. But when I heard the lyrics, I did sort of think: “this is a little bit different”.

PALLÈ: [“Wiggy”] was just something we’d just say to each other when we were feeling a bit out of it. We’d said it enough times, we needed to try put it into a track.

HAPPY: Do you guys generally trust your senses when it comes to which songs will be well-received? Or is it the unexpected ones that take off?

NIK: I feel like yes and no. Our first single of 2019, Cigarettes and Honey, was a similar type of thing to Wiggy. It was almost a joke, something that came about in a green room. And now it’s become one of our most trending song on Spotify.

PALLÈ: It tends to be the songs we really pour our heart and soul into that don’t quite connect. Whereas when you’re writing about something a bit more banterous, it’s easier for people to get on board. We usually record a few songs at a time and we’re always on pretty different ends of the spectrum when it comes to which is the best. We’re always fighting about which song should be the next single.

HAPPY: Obviously this year has stopped a lot of bands from playing live shows, but being from WA, you’ve been able to tour more consistently in recent months. How has that felt, considering some bands on the other side of the country haven’t been able to play shows at all?

PALLÈ: It’s been amazing. We’ve been so privileged to be able to do that, and it’s just funny how quickly you can get back to feeling like things are normal. I think before August, we never really got as much out of regional WA shows as we did going to the east coast. But now we’re getting the same type of feeling at both.

It’s great to be able to create that vibe again. It’s pretty demoralising when you can’t actually play a gig. I don’t know how people have done it over east. The live stream thing was fun but it’s just not the same as playing a normal gig, there are so many other dynamics that happen.

NIK: Drinking beers is one of those dynamics. Being on your own drinking doesn’t quite have the same feeling.

HAPPY: The growth and explosion of the Perth and WA scene have been well documented over the past couple years. Can you talk about being part of that boom?

PALLÈ: The funny thing is, when you start out there are a few names kicking around at the same level. And over the years, the same names have been steadily rising. You really feed off that. You’re always looking at what these other bands are doing and why they’re cracking through, and why the other ones aren’t. It just seems like all the bands that are really staying true to who they were originally are the ones making it. We draw inspiration from those bands that stay true.

NIK: Your Spacey Jane’s, your Great Gable’s. They’re the types of bands we look at.

PALLÈ: Seeing Spacey doing as well as they’re doing is just so encouraging. You can kind of see the pathway a lot of these bands are on, and when you start seeing the same things happening to yourself – it’s a great thing after sticking it out.

Hamish: There’s that commitment as well. A lot of bands are doing it to enjoy themselves and have fun – and that’s awesome because it should always be about that. But there’s got to be a level of commitment. I quit my job of five years to make this work and put everything into it. And I personally saw a shift in momentum and attitude to get past that point of just playing a certain level of gigs.

HAPPY: You touched on some of those bands – Spacey Jane, Great Gable – can you talk us through some of the relationships you have with other bands from the west coast?

NIK: When we first started, we found it hard to crack into the Perth scene, because it can be a little bit clicky – which can be a good thing. You’ve got to almost prove your worth to get into it. None of us were really mates with any of the other guys. A lot of those bands have played together in other bands before, and have been mates since school, and we were kind of our own thing. But the more we’ve been in the scene, the more we’ve been accepted.

PALLÈ: We’ve shared quite a few beers with the guys from Great Gable, and they’re all just really nice people. We’ve had a few after-parties that have been quite fun. But, everyone sort of knew each other, Nik and I were completely outside the Perth scene when the band started. We just didn’t know anyone, so it took a while for us to get a reputation as being a band that’s actually a serious force to be reckoned with.

NIK: Reckoned with, you think?

PALLÈ: I reckon now, we’re slightly one to be reckoned with.

HAPPY: You guys are definitely ones to be reckoned with. In fact, 2020 seemed like it would be the year that saw you guys go overseas, but obviously, that hasn’t gone to plan. Are there any international cities you guys dream of playing at?

Hamish: Glasgow definitely. My dad’s from there, and just seeing some of our favourite bands play to crowds at festivals [on YouTube] like TRNSMT – they’re just so passionate.

PALLÈ: Amsterdam for me. My family is Dutch on one side so I have relatives over there, and it was amazing the last time I went.

NIK: The whole of the UK for gigs. Obviously, when we first go out it won’t be Arctic Monkeys levels, but it will be good to build that relationship with UK fans, and we feel our music would work over there.

PALLÈ: We just hope we’re not 40 years old when we do eventually get over there.

HAPPY: It’s looking a bit that way with restrictions at the moment. You touched on the UK a bit – the band’s RnB and rock blend has a distinct British twang to it, are there any British bands in particular that you draw inspiration from?

NIK: Yeah definitely. Arctic Monkeys are a big influence.

Hamish: I personally love Catfish [and the Bottlemen], and The Gorillaz. Big fan of Damon Albarn from Blur and Gorillaz. I think that man is a genius. There are heaps of artists over there we’re in to.

PALLÈ: Idles, as well. We channelled a bit of that in Caged, had a bit of a laugh with it.

NIK: With our influences, we have such a range that it creates something different. We do all love our RnB, Frank Ocean-style stuff, and our psychedelic Perth-style stuff, Tame Impala, Pond, Methyl Ethyl, all the while combining it with ’80s-style rock.

HAPPY: Sleepless and Sunkissed is due out on Friday, just over a year removed from your last EP, Year Long Minute. How do you think you guys have evolved in the last year?

PALLÈ: We’ve gotten more experimental in the studio. We never really want to make the same song twice. Even if it’s structurally similar, we’re always looking for something, even just one key element, to take it in a new realm.

NIK: We tried to push the boundaries in a couple of songs. Like Moshi’s Medicine is almost inspired by Travis Scott.

Hamish: That song has probably got my favourite intro to it – just because it reminds me so much of Travis Scott, you’re almost waiting for him to jump on it.

NIK: We’ll see how people react. But we love it, so who cares.

HAPPY: And how have pandemic restrictions and the lack of travelling helped put together Sleepless and Sunkissed?

PALLÈ: Well it was initially going to be an EP, probably for an April-June release cycle, which we were going to tour. But as soon as August went down, we just wanted to get some recording days in because we didn’t know how long this [COVID-19] would last for. I’d rather be excited about an album personally than just wait for a gig. It all came about pretty seamlessly, almost too seamlessly.

Hamish: It’s strange thinking that it came together so easily in the studio. I didn’t spend any more than three or four takes on a track. You can hear that in the songs, I think. There was awesome production – shout out to Andy Lawson. But in terms of song structure, it all came together seamlessly.

NIK: I think having the album has kept us sane. At the start of the year, we had all these tours booked, we thought it was going to be such a crazy fun year, and then this happened. So we needed something to focus on – otherwise, we’d fall into madness. Especially this guy [Pallè].

PALLÈ: Not even just the music, the merch, the vinyl – it’s cool to see all that stuff realised. But I also think it was the way we recorded. We didn’t spend 20 days in the studio. It was all recorded two, three songs at a time every couple of months. So it didn’t feel like we went too nuts on it, and that’s probably also why there’s a lot of variety on it. It’s just been a project to sink our teeth into. What we do next will be interesting.

NIK: We’ll probably have another album out in February or March at this rate.

HAPPY: Hey, I wouldn’t be complaining. Personally, for each of you guys, what are some of your favourite songs on the album?

PALLÈ: I like Sleepless & Sunkissed, the title track. And another one is Moshi’s Medicine, which is just a psychedelic, cooked, experimental track. We just run with whatever ideas we have going at the time, which is one of the things I love about this band: we’re not too critical. Then a song gets made and you’re like, well, this is fucked. But it’s good that we give ourselves that freedom to do it.

HAMISH: I love the opening song, Golden Morning. I loved playing drums on it. I think it highlights all our best attributes. Nik’s voice sounds amazing, synths sound wicked, guitar sounds wicked. Another song I really enjoyed playing, and I think the lyrics mean the most to me on the album, is Satellites in Paradise. It’s a very heartfelt song, and I still listen to it now, and yeah I don’t get emotional, but I get emotional.

Death By Denim
Photo: @fieldnotes_

PALLÈ: I like Show Up. It’s a bit more of a funky, groove track. We all like different songs, which is good, I think, for an album. I just hope people don’t just listen to it and go: “Oh, I love Wiggy”.

NIK: Well, they will for sure.

PALLÈ: Wiggy is still one of my favourites, but I think we’ve broken some ground with the other tracks.

HAPPY: I’m sure Wiggy won’t be the only favourite once everyone is finished listening to the album. Apart from writing music and rehearsing, what are some of the band’s favourite pastimes when touring different cities?

HAMISH: I’m a big fan of a Bloody Mary, so I’m always chasing the best Bloody Mary in Australia. I could probably do a decent blog at the moment.

Nik: We’re not shy about it, we do love our beers.

HAMISH: Love a game of pool as well, love versing the locals.

Nik: We like op-shops and stuff, and when we go to Melbourne, Newtown, Byron Bay especially, they’re very cool. I’m feeling a bit triggered saying all these cities right now. Just going out and meeting new people is what we like to do.

PALLÈ: We do like to keep it productive and try set up meetings, so we’re not just sinking beers every day. You can still have the beers – but after the meeting.

HAPPY: Business before pleasure of course. And finally, what are the chances that the band brings out their own line of denim-based merch?

NIK: We’ve spoken about this many a time.

HAMISH: We’d love to get a denim jacket going, definitely be first on the list.

NIK: We’ve got a bit of a relationship with Levi’s, so something with them in the future would be really cool, perhaps a denim hat.

PALLÈ: The dream would definitely be to have a line with Levi’s. We had a relationship brewing but, obviously, COVID-19 has affected everyone in the industry, so reaching out for that kind of thing hasn’t really been on the cards. But it is something we’d want to collab with a brand on.

HAPPY: Sounds awesome! Thanks again for coming on guys. Good luck with the release of the album, hoping we can have you touring the country again sooner rather than later, with a few festival appearances sprinkled in there.

BAND: Absolutely! Thanks for having us, appreciate your time.

 

Pre-order Sleepless and Sunkissed here.