Dear Deathray Davies

It's the same for music as it is for love: The new ones, with oh-so-much potential in the beginning, are too often short-lived. Bad runs in dating I accept, but I want my music to be there for me. I find myself torn when I like a new band—they're so good but damn, I just don't know if I can handle getting hurt again. And with old bands: What if they stop being attentive to my needs? What if they change? What if they can't keep it up? What if they break up...and tell me on MySpace?

I'm no stranger to rejection. As a music fan, I've had my heart broken more times than I've been in actual relationships. And I don't even want to count how many band break-up bulletins I've read this past year. It's depressing.

Luckily, and despite what you may have heard, The Deathray Davies have not broken up. Sure, they haven't played live in more than a year, but they're still as virile as ever. And not to worry—Deathray has spent some of that time in the studio. In preparation for their Thursday show at the Granada Theater, I spoke with frontman and original member John Dufilho about exactly what the DD indie pop-rocket has been up to:

We haven't heard from you guys in a while as a band. You've been playing with The Apples in Stereo and Jason [Garner] has been drumming in The Paper Chase, but what has Deathray been doing?

We've been recording together the whole time in between. We haven't actually played a live show since October of last year. It's been a while. But yeah, almost every chance we've gotten in between his travels and mine we've been recording. We've got around 21, 22 songs recorded now for the next record. I'm gonna add another four or five brand-new ones that I've written recently, and then either we'll weed it down to about 14 or just put it all out. I haven't decided yet.

The last album was 2005's success The Kick and the Snare. How is recording this one different?

The first two records were mostly me playing everything, and then the third was a full band. And then Midnight [at the Black Nail Polish Factory] was our fourth, and that was just Jason and me again. And then the last one was a live band. And it seems like those records, which were The Day of the Ray and The Kick and the Snare, are closer to what we do live. They're simpler records—straightforward and more rocking, whereas this new one is more like Midnight or like [Return of the] Drunk Ventriloquist in that it's mostly me, and Jason's been coming up and playing drums and some bass, singing backup. It's a lot more experimental than the other ones so far. It's still got some shaping up. I haven't mixed anything yet. We've recorded a lot of songs, and I've got rough mixes of everything, and in fact, Robert [Schneider], the singer of The Apples, is going to come in and help me mix it when it's all recorded.

Do you find that you and Jason having been in different projects of late influences what you've been doing, as far as it being experimental? Or, rather, have your experiences with these other bands had a hand in shaping the new album?

Yeah, sure. I've learned a lot this year. And Jason has been our bass player since the start of The Deathray Davies, and now he's switching back to drums, which was his first instrument, and I think with The Paper Chase he's been playing so much...he was incredible before, but every time I play with him, he's getting better and better. He's really amazing.

And you play drums as well, so you'd certainly hear the change in him.

Yeah, that's what I play with The Apples. It's kind of interesting 'cause there's a lot of drums on the new record. He would play some, and then I would play. And sometimes we would like both tracks, so we would bounce back and forth between two different drum sounds and two different drum tracks. This is definitely gonna be sort of a drummer's record, without even intending it. It wasn't like that was something we planned, going, "Oh, well, we're both drummers now, we should do that." It just kinda naturally fell that way.

You said it's mainly just you and Jason, but have the other guys recorded, or any guests?

We've had a few people—Andy Lester, who's our bass player now, and he's also in I Love Math [Garner and Dufilho's other band]. He's put bass down on a couple songs. And Rich Martin [of Shibboleth], who is gonna be playing with us live, at least for [Thursday's] show, has come in and done some keyboards. We had a day off when I was on tour with The Apples in Athens, Georgia—where Bill Doss, the keyboard player lives—and he's got a home studio. So I got all The Apples to sing background vocals. I brought all the tracks to his studio. So we've got them doing three-part harmonies and different vocals and stuff. So they're our backup singers for this record, which is really cool. Yeah, they sang on about eight tracks, I guess.

I'm sure that only broadens your audience by way of their fans.

I was really encouraged by it 'cause The Apples guys all seemed to love the record and really got into it. I was playing it for them in the van as we were traveling around, and they seemed to like it a lot, so they kinda got into the idea, and I said, "Well, maybe if we have some time, we could do some singing," and they really got behind it, which was cool. And in fact, Bill's still got all the guide tracks that I brought in to sing with, and he was so into the whole thing that right now he's getting the horn players from Olivia Tremor Control—they're going to put some horns on a few songs as well, and then send me those tracks, so it's going to be this big monster that we're putting together, but I'm really excited about it.

When do you anticipate it'll be released?

I don't know. I'm just hoping for some time in '08, this next year. I don't want to say, "It's gonna be done by February," because when it's done, it's done. We put out five albums in basically five years, so we figured we were going to take our time with each one, and hopefully we've learned a lot. It all seems to be coming together well so far.

Does it feel like you've lost no time when you guys get together to prep for this upcoming Granada show?

So far, it's felt really effortless, which is nice. I was wondering how it would because even though Mike, Kevin, Jason and I have all been playing together for a long time, we've switched around: Jason's on drums; we've got a new bass player. So luckily...when we tried it—which was actually just two weeks ago—it felt good right from the start. We've been playing together for long enough now. Certainly Jason and I have. We've got no excuses. We've got our own language, for sure. Or at least it feels like it. It's cool having Don [Cento, of Shibboleth] and Rich play with us. Jason calls them "the ringers" 'cause they're amazing. We've stolen half of Shibboleth.

But it's not malicious. That's just collaboration.

When I first moved here, I joined as many bands as I could because of that. I think the more everyone here in town plays together, the better it is. I'm all for that sort of thing.

It's a condition of Dallas to be apathetic about music that's readily available, so the audience is really going to be anticipating this show since you haven't played in so long. What songs are you most excited to play again for people?

Definitely the new stuff, actually. I was saying when we started to practice that I wanted to do nothing but new songs, and Jason kind of talked me out of that 'cause basically, if anyone comes to hear us and has any of our records, it's kind of defeating the purpose. So I think we're going to do about half and half. But I think it's just the way I am—I'm always the most excited about what I'm working on at the moment. I think we're gonna do six or seven new ones and six or seven old ones. But definitely the new ones are what's getting me excited about the whole thing right now.

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Merritt Martin
Contact: Merritt Martin

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