Interview: Dehd

Chicago trio Dehd couldn’t sound more classic if they tried. Their scuzzy, infectious riffs could be pulled straight from an MC5 record, yet whether it’s the jousting voices of lead singers Emily Kempf and Jason Balla or their stood-up sticksman Eric McGrady, there’s something wonderfully idiosyncratic about Dehd.

Their new album ‘Water’ documents Kemp and Balla’s romantic break up and the ensuing transition to a friendship and professional partnership. It’s as if Kempf’s guttural, ball busting vocal represents the initial emptiness, while Balla’s jaunty, chilled vocal personifies the healing that followed. A maudlin album this isn’t, rather it’s a record packed with vitality – the hooks are addictive, the vocals transformative and the sound downright classic. ‘Water’ will hold it’s own in your record collection, holding its’ own comfortably amongst artists you might consider ‘classic’.

As Kempf says herself in our interview with her below, “The best sort of light comes from a dark place.” And ‘Water’ will always shine a light from the depths of your record stack, ready to bedazzle you whenever darkness surfaces.

You’ve said this album is about the wild nature of everyday life. What sights that you see on a standard day do you think of as magical? Personally I think roadworkers and people on their own in bus stops late at night make for weirdly beautiful ‘everyday’ sights.

I’d say this album is about the process of going from a romantic partnership to friendship partnership with music being the guiding force and facilitator of a painful albeit worthy transition but speaking to the beauty of small everyday magic – I also find road workers at night particularly beautiful especially the lighting! I’m obsessed with it and every time I see it I am very moved. I also recently have become enamoured with seeing swans on water on side of highways, they’ve been popping up a lot recently, and I love watching old people doing anything. I love old couples out in the world doing stuff like holding hands or helping each other up and down places and old people solo, just like walking around in their giant sneakers and old ladies having old lady friendships and talking etc! I can’t wait to be old!

What process do you usually go through to end up with a Dehd song? How do you decide which parts are sang by who?

We just all start playing in the practice space and then a song comes out! We write very quickly and easily – I think it comes from our ability to listen to each other musically and give each other space to groove and find our way/our parts. I also think there is a certain measure of luck and mystery as to why/how the songs come. 

We are good at letting go when needed as well, if it ain’t working we move on. And we all know how to write a good song, we know how to have space and flair and are gifted at balancing the two. Me and Jason just sing when the spirit moves us! We both love writing and the process and harmonizing with each other, we rarely talk about lyrics we just write them, and they seem to match up and sometimes I don’t even know what he is saying until months later!!

There’s lots of classic sounding riffs on this album, people are naturally going to compare you with bands from the past. Does that bother you?

Not at all! we hope to stay classic forever! Classic is something timeless and something people can hold onto.

What bands/acts making music today influenced this album?

Angel Olsen, Cate Le Bon, Tim Presley, Broncho, Frankie Cosmos

Where else did you draw inspiration from for these set of songs?

It was an album of processing heartbreak and a look at the transformative journey of a deeper familial friendship. A sort of transcendence of pain and ego to become something better and more focused, music being the vessel. To face ourselves and each other through the difficult times while also having fun and taking care. Just a lot of learning about love in its many forms – extremely painful but worthwhile. 

In what ways does this album differ to your previous work?

It’s a little like chaos tidied up, moving closer to a certain type of maturity we feel we are embodying today. We try to write for fun and with honesty while not taking ourselves too incredibly seriously. Our first releases are more childlike in wonder and like crush love vibes and kinda house party summer fun, a certain simplicity that is easy to eat up but lacks a depth of difficulty and “a life lived” that you’ll see in future albums (wink wink) hehe. The best sort of light comes from a dark place.

Where did the album cover come from?

Jason is a genius artist!!! And we love horses. It seemed to lend itself towards a sort of old romantic western ‘devil may care’ feel.

In ‘Sunbeat’ and in a lot of the other songs you sing quite gutturally. Is that something you’ve been working on for years or does it just come naturally to you? Why do you like singing in that way in certain moments?

it just comes naturally! I kinda view my singing range as like a room of voices that I can choose from depending on what I’m feeling or what I’m listening to  – and sometimes it’s not a choice, certain voices decide to come out on their own. They are like little outfits I put on. It’s really fun and scary to sing loud and try to hit notes, I feel like it’s akin to maybe a decision to jump off a cliff and the moment of fearlessness you’d feel the second before you decide to leap, it’s going for and going against everything in you.

What are your hopes for this record once it’s set free to the world?

Tour the world baby! and make more records!!

What do you do when you’re not working on music? 

I tattoo people and travel all over and try to become a better skateboarder and I dance and sing in a freaky performance art project called “vail”.

Jason runs sound for bands on tour and venues around town and avidly records/works on his solo music “accessory”.

Eric works at The Empty Bottle and watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer and also skates!!!

What does the future hold for Dehd?

Worldwide tour until we are too old to rock n roll anymore but hopefully we just go forever maybe play on mars

Water is out on Fire Talk Records on May 10

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