DZ Deathrays Shane Parsons on becoming an unstoppable rock n’ roll machine

Whilst sharing a $10 jug of Toohey’s New on a muggy Tuesday arvo, DZ Deathrays singer Shane Parsons shared some terrifying tour stories, what it’s like being the Bert and Ernie of Aussie rock, their ARIA win and dealing with two piece purists.

DZ Deathrays interview

Photos by Liam Cameron

HAPPY: Thanks for meeting me here man, I was psyched and a little surprised to learn you lived in Sydney?

SHANE: I’ve been for about two years. Well my girlfriend is from here, she used to live in Brisbane with me and then we went on tour in 2012 and she lived in Berlin with us. After we got back we had nowhere to live (laughs), so we moved back in with her parents, and we’ve been there ever since (laughs). But last year I wasn’t really home, I was overseas till March, then back in April and May, then gone again from June.

HAPPY: How are you finding Sydney compared to Brissie?

SHANE: I like it. I’ve got a lot of friends out here as well. I’ve been out of school for over ten years now, and I grew up in Bundaberg so everyone does the move to Brisbane. Then you stay in Brisbane for a while and sometimes a lot of people move to Melbourne but I just ended up in Sydney. We’re looking to move out now that I’ll be here for most of this year. We have a few Australian tours and one overseas tour, plus we have some album writing we’re doing over email. Which is really great because you can do things at your own pace. We can just bounce ideas off one another and then get together when it’s time to record.

HAPPY: Oh so Simon (Ridley, drummer) is still in Brisbane? Isn’t that hard? Especially since it’s just the two of you in the band and that in itself is such an intimate relationship.

SHANE: Yeah, it’s kinda good though because we spend so much time together as it is, so it’s good to have that break away. And then when you get back together it’s exciting again. That distance really helps us be creative, because I have time now to work on my ideas and then send him whatever I’ve got, and then he can send back drums for it. It won’t be great, but then we can put together properly when we see each other. It’s kinda hard and kinda nice. But it’s funny because the guitarist who tours with us is living in Brisbane now, and the other guy who used to play with us is moving to Sydney. And the other guitarist we’ve got now lives in Melbourne, so we have the whole band spread out along the east coast. It’s ridiculous but it’s kind a cool because in each city we’ve got gear and places to say.

HAPPY: So you’ve got a conglomerate across the east coast.

SHANE: Yeah man, gotta collect em all! But living in Sydney is good, because I’ve made a bunch of new friends now which keeps me busy. I’ve found I’ve become more proactive with my entrepreneurial side of trying to book DJs and nights on the side of the band, just break even a little bit.

HAPPY: What else do you do on the side?

SHANE: DJ, pretty much that. Most days consist of DJ sets, booking or invoicing. We’re doing a night now, a friend of mine and I are doing a Thursday night at GoodGod. It’s not real DJing, it’s like playing rock sort of stuff.

HAPPY: That’s right, I remember seeing you guys playing Groovin The Moo last year, and you dropped Bring Me The Horizon which was awesome, and a lot of kids there were confused because that’s not the kind of music they expected to hear from DJ’s.

SHANE: That was really funny. I think now if they asked if we could do a DJ set it would be a lot better. Back then we were just like “Oh, let’s play this one now”, it was kind of a bit of a joke for us. They couldn’t fit us in for a live set, but we’ve been trying to play it properly as a band for ages now. Hopefully after this record they’ll be able to fit us in because it’s a great festival. It’s getting better and better too, and I found they really look after the artists well too. In terms of drinks, food, and then they take you out. You go out to Queensland for the day and they take you out to one of the islands, do water skiing. It’s a really cool little getaway. When (Violent) Soho did it the year after us I said to them they had to do it but they couldn’t because they had work commitments. They all have families and work.

HAPPY: Yeah I’ve spoken to James from the band over a year ago and I was surprised by that, it was probably the first time I realised just because you have a song on the radio doesn’t mean you’ve made it.

SHANE: Yeah, it can be a tough slog. They’ve been doing it for much longer than us. I remember seeing them in tiny little bars and being drunk at their shows and talking to them about wanting to be their manager (laughs).

HAPPY: (laughs) How did that go down?

DZ Deathrays tour

SHANE: Well back then they were like “Yeah man!”, but it’s a good thing that didn’t happen because I didn’t know anything about it. I was in an indie band back in Brisbane and we played together. But in the end you have to subsidise it with something. I can’t think of any bands at our level who can just afford to live off their band, unless they have some crazy deal with publishing or something! But any money we make we put back into the band, pay ourselves a tiny amount not even to pay half a week’s rent.

HAPPY: Does that kind of weigh you down a bit sometimes?

SHANE: It does, because you’re like “I just want to treat it as a job”. The return you get is that you’re in a band, more so than a financial one. And I guess the other side of it is when people talk to you and they say “Oh man you must be killing it” you’re like “Errr, not really. I’ve got negative money in my bank”. That’s why I do the DJ sets, because they pay really well, it’s essentially really easy work, and I’ve got friends who can book sets for me. So I may as well use that to my advantage a little bit. Otherwise I’d have to go and get a job, which I wouldn’t mind doing but it’s hard to go up to an employer and say “I’m keen to work these days, and from this date I’m away, and after I’m going overseas”, what’s the point?

HAPPY: Yeah I understand that completely as a writer man.

SHANE: Yeah, it’s a bit ridiculous now I’m coming up 30, so something needs to happen. But we’ll keep working on ideas and building the band up and building the brand of the band up. You never know, it could do really well or it doesn’t. It’s been a really good time, we’ve been able to see the world.

HAPPY: Like your Groovin The Moo water skiing holiday!

SHANE: That’s not even the start of it. I’ve only been on really two overseas holidays, the rest have been on tour, but I’ve seen almost all of America and a good chunk of Europe. Last year I had a friend who was getting married in Italy, so myself and our guitarist who was playing with us decided to stay in Europe, for next to nothing we flew to Spain first for two weeks then went to the wedding. It was a nice break since you don’t get to do that when you’re on tour because you always have to be somewhere.

HAPPY: That’s why I always think I should start a band so I can travel, although all I can really play is the triangle…

SHANE: (laughs) That’s it! Although I am starting to get a bit sick of the flying, just those long hauls. But then it’s only a day out of your life, then the rest is completely worth it. I did the trip back and forth from London four times last year, and once over to the America. When you get on the aeroplane don’t eat the food on the aeroplane! Eat before you get on. And set your clock to home, try take some sleeping tablets and when you wake up you’ve started to adjust already. We have a little system! We used to fly in and do shows that day and a couple of years ago. Now we just say “No, no more”.

We did miss one show once, flying from England to Atlanta and there were just storms. We would have made it if it weren’t for that and when we got there the show had finished, but we were doing a support slot so it was okay! But since then we decided to have a day between travelling and shows, just to get ourselves straight.

HAPPY: Oh yeah, of course man. Especially when your job is to perform you can’t do that when you’re exhausted.

SHANE: Yeah and bags get lost, so you have to wait for them to catch up with you, so it’s good to have a day buffer to make sure we have everything. Because we don’t have a road crew or anything.

HAPPY: So it’s just you and Simon?

SHANE: Yeah, and whoever is playing guitar with us. In Australia we have a tour manger, and in Europe we have a driver.

HAPPY: Like a chauffeur!

SHANE: Yep! But oh man, you can’t do it yourself, it’s too far. On the last tour we drove from Edinburgh to Milan, which was about 28 hours. And he drove most of the way which was amazing. I thought we might die. I drove for a bit through France at about 5am, just sticking to the right lane to give hime some sleep. Then he took over and kept on driving, we were starting to go a bit insane by the end of it. And then we got to our hotel and we didn’t have a room there! It had been cancelled! We just wheeled our bags in after this trip and this Italian guy just shook his head and said “Nope. No room for you guys”. It was a hectic couple of days.

DZ Deathrays awesome two piece bands

HAPPY: So despite all the chaos it seemed like the reward always wins out.

SHANE: It’s always worth it in the end. But there’s definitely been some rough ones. It usually involves airlines who get ya.

HAPPY: I remember a little while ago The Amity Affliction penned this open letter to Jetstar saying ‘fuck you’ because their flight was cancelled. Have you ever felt like doing that?

SHANE: We could have written some big ones. For us it’s always been about getting home but usually it’s the weather which you can’t help. We only missed that one show because of that. Another time we were with Qantas, and they had overloaded the plane so we had to make a routine stop in New Zealand on the way home from Dallas. I thought “Oh, okay, that’s kind of on the way home”. But on the way someone got really ill so they had to stop in Tahiti, and they wouldn’t let anyone of the plane. They take this guy off, they refuel and then they said we still had to stop in New Zealand because the crew had been on the plane for so long they had to get off for their workplace agreement.

So we have to stop there and we still can’t get off the plane. By the time we get home we’ve gone out of the atmosphere, twice, and which added four or five hours to the flight, which is one of the longest flights you can do. I think it’s about 17 hours, so we were on the plane for 22 hours. Everyone got off very irate with a letter of apology. And the worst part is some people were going to New Zealand and they weren’t allowed off, so they then had to fly back to New Zealand. We ended up going to Melbourne and we had a show that night, then one the next night in Adelaide, then one the next night in Sydney. (laughs) And we were just, I couldn’t put words to how we were feeling.

HAPPY: Wow that really is chaotic. Which reminds me, before you mentioned building the band’s brand, and when I think of DZ I think of chaos. The first time I saw you guys was about five or six years ago at the Enmore Theatre with Grinspoon. At the start of the night no one knew who you guys were. A fight broke out in the crowd during the Grinner’s set, one guy had his face cut open, but when people walked out they were still talking about your blistering set. A dude’s face was covered in blood and yet your set was more intense than that. It really left an impression. Is that something you guys do consciously or was it something that was developed?

SHANE: We’ve always gone really intense as our thing. When we first started we had one strobe light that would drive people insane. We wouldn’t do that now, but it was a thing that said “You don’t need to know who we are, we’re just loud and noisey”. Since then we’ve tried to hone in on our sound a little more. When you get into your third record we thought “It’s time to start developing our sound a bit more”. So we put aside some of the craziness. We’ve always wanted that happy/ evil something sort of thing. It’s sort of like mean music but light-hearted. Not to go as far to say it’s a comedy group, but it’s not over the top, it’s not political, it’s good, fun music and it’s heavy and angry and mean.

That’s how we started out. When we first started we lived together and we had a piece of paper on the fridge and we wrote a heap of acts on the paper. It was everything form DJ’s to electronic bands to punk rock, metal. We’d always walk past that and be reminded of what we were doing. A big party, but heavy. And since then we’ve been able to keep that going and try a few new things. Not go fully pop, just adding touches. We did a song called Northern Lights on the last record which was really different for us, but it’s not like I haven’t written those kind of chord progressions before. We hadn’t released anything like that.

HAPPY: Well in the scheme of the record I think it sits quite comfortably there. In terms of spirit, when you’re talking about keeping things raw yet playful, and it carries that honesty like all the other songs.

SHANE: Well that’s kind of what we wanted. When we released it we kind of knew there’d be a bit of backlash.

HAPPY: Really?

SHANE: Well every single we’ve put out have been thrashing. We were like “Yeah, people are gonna say something”. I remember someone wrote to us and I said “In the grand scheme of the record it will all make sense. This is just a moment to have breather”.

HAPPY: Whenever I hear a song like that on an album I think that this will be the part of the show where everyone will calm down a bit…

SHANE:  Which is the weird thing though because whenever we play that live it’s the song where we have the most crowd surfing. It’s mental, I don’t get it! And it happened when we headlined at the Landsdowne, all these young guys with their shirts off and I’d be thinking “What are you guys doing? There are songs that are way more energetic!” But I think maybe it’s the time when everyone else is standing still so people take the opportunity, I always thought that would be the moment when everyone would go to the bar. I like playing it live, it’s good to have a moment to sit back on your heel and not be thrashing around so much. Because we’ve been doing longer sets now. If you try do an hour of thrashing you’re gonna be fucked and absolutely drenched in sweat. Well, we’re always drenched. Especially Simon playing drums because he goes all out. It’s nice that we have so many rock songs that now we can bring in different elements to spice up the set.

HAPPY: Dude it’s a great song.

SHANE: Some of my favourite bands are ones that change. Not change what they do but how they do it. One of my favourite bands is Soulwax and they put out Any Minute Now, and then they did the remix version and toured it live with synths and stuff. Seeing that disco stuff live was amazing, it was heavy and there was a lot of hard work that went into it, you can tell.

DZ Deathrays hard rock award

HAPPY: Well you’ve said one of your other favourite bands is Shihad, and when you won the ARIA for Black Rat you were very humbled to be in the same category as them, let alone win. What was going on in your head when that happened?

SHANE: They were sitting right behind me. As a kid I really adored them. I really loved their records and I also used to see them at Big Day Out. They used to have the whole crowd bouncing and everyone was having the best time. When we were sitting there and I thought we weren’t going to win. I was sitting there talking to the guy who runs our label and was saying “Amity man, they’ve smashed it this year, and I’m sure they’re going to win it”, and he said “Yeah, I’m pretty sure you guys aren’t gonna win it”. So I just went there to have fun and drink. And then we got it! I had to go up by myself because Simon was like “Agh, we’re not gonna win it”, and his girlfriend couldn’t get off work so he didn’t want to come without her.

But yeah it was cool! When you’re a kid you’re so much more obsessive about music, with CD’s and magazines. I used to listen to a DC over and over and over and over again. I just remember feeling bad. “These guys have been such a huge influence on my life”, and then we took out the award (laughs). John Toogood said thanks to me afterwards. I remember seeing them at The Zoo in Brisbane. I got drunk and it was the craziest, sweatiest gig. I wanted to say hi to them but I was too scared. The next time I saw them was at the ARIAs (laughs).

HAPPY: Right after you supplanted them!

SHANE: (laughs) Well, I’m glad they’re still doing it though. I’ve seen a lot of bands split up and there are a lot of reasons why. It’s tough on your personal life and also financially it can get to the point where it’d be “Look man, we’re hitting this ceiling and we can’t get any further”, so people would take a break and try other things. Then it becomes a year, two years, three years, and then it’s hard to get back into it because it’s you’d have this other project you’re working on.

HAPPY: Is that a problem you worry DZ might face one day?

SHANE: Not really. We always keep our expectations as low as possible (laughs). I think at the start we said “If we can make it ten years!”. Now it’s our seventh year and our third album. When we gave the album to our label in the UK I said to them “I’ve got so many more ideas for the next one!” There are still a lot of things we want to figure out and achieve on records and then figure it out how it’ll go live. That’s the kind of band we’ve become, just throw it all in and figure out the live stuff later. That’s how we got another guitarist. That wouldn’t have happened if we tried to stay as a two piece. We would’ve needed backing tracks which starts to really regiment your set. I feel that if you’re not a dance act you don’t really need to be on a click. It’s good for some bands but for us I think the sloppiness is good.

HAPPY: It’s part of your sloppy charm!

SHANE: (laughs) Well that’s what I’ve always said. It’s like you’re always falling apart but always holding it together at the same time (laughs). It was really funny when we did the Beat The Drum gig with The Presets and they had all this shit on stage, I had no idea how they did it. We literally just have amps. When we go set up at shows the sound guy is like “Aw no, you don’t need that, or that”, apparently we have too much stuff. But having another guitarist has been great. Just to have someone else to play with and kill time with, and talk to. After all this time with Simon we’ve heard each other’s stories a million times…

HAPPY: Like Bert and Ernie?

SHANE: Yeah! (laughs) Well most people have been pretty good about us having another guitarist, some people are two piece purists. It’s hilarious. We were a two piece for five years, and after we added an extra guitar. Over in England there were some people who were writing on our Instagram “I can’t wait to see this band as a two piece again”. What? I guess we’ll go back to playing our old songs again (laughs).

HAPPY: (laughs) Well we’ve polished off this jug of New so I may as well ask you our last question. We always write about what makes us happy, is this the thing that makes you happy? Growing and changing your music?

SHANE: Yeah, so much has happened but at the end of the day this what has made us happy.