Readers will know that one of my favourite bands in the whole wide world is The Death Set. I love their energy, positivity, pursuit of fun and desire to keep moving forward no matter what challenges they face. I recently caught up with frontman Johnny Siera while he was on tour in Europe playing shows to between 5,000 and 10,000 people a night! Not bad for a guy who grew up in the ’hood where I currently reside. The Death Set is living proof that if you have a dream, work hard and believe in yourself and what you’re doing you will succeed.
The Death Set are known for being a dynamic live band with out of control shows however recently in an interview you commented that you love the writing process a lot more these days.
JOHNNY SIERA: Yeah. When I started the band I definitely just wanted to play live. Being an audience member that’s what I loved seeing: the human experience of being up the front of a show. It’s like anything you know, you experience things and once you experience them you want to experience more. I don’t want to be doing the same thing for my entire life—it’s not who I am or what I am. I haven’t lived in the same city for more than two years for the last twelve years. It’s an extension of that. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience touring in every sort of facet and now I’ve come back to what I’m really in love with and what I’m in love with is really just expressing myself through music. As cheesy as that sounds, I really love the writing process now. It goes in waves, talk to me in six months when I’ve been in a studio for that long and I’ll probably be itching like a mother fucker to get out and play live [laughs].
In regards to the latest record – Michael Poicarrd – how do you feel about it?
JS: I’m really proud of it. I think that we did the best that we could and the most that we could and we were true about where we were at, at that time in our lives. At that point in our lives when we started writing that record it was pretty intense. I think if we didn’t write that record and we didn’t write a lot of those songs on that record, I think that it would have been contrived. In hindsight I’m a hundred and fifty million percent proud of that record. There’s always things that you could call up in hindsight that you may not have done but I think the errors are part of the process that makes it beautiful as well. I’m happy with it. I’m happy to move forward from it as well.
When you started working on the record it was a month or so after Beau’s passing right?
JS: It was right after Beau passing. It was right in the middle of Beau passing actually, we’d already started it.
Was making that album cathartic for you?
JS: Yeah in a sense it was cathartic [sighs] I can’t even tell you if it helped or not, I’m not sure. I can definitely tell you though that it was hard not to write a song about him or the situation. In means of a release in hindsight it probably was. There are definite songs on the album that are undeniably about that. There are definitely songs on the album even more so that are still true to the Death Set’s spirit. When it comes down to it Dan [Walker – guitar/vocals] and I knew that we couldn’t stop, we knew that if we did stop that we would have stopped. It was a situation that we just had to go through it. I can’t speak for Dan, I can only speak for myself but I think it would have been a lot harder for us to stop and start again and not go through it. I’m glad that we decided to keep writing and keep going on with the record. Actually I think it was cathartic. I also just think though you just have to keep going… no matter what happens you just have to keep going.
You’ve always done that. Since the very beginning no matter what challenges the Death Set have faced you guys just keep moving forward. I remember you telling me last time we chatted that there was a time when you were over in the States by yourself and had no band members, no money, no nothing, no van, you just had this record that you believed in. It’s so admirable how you’ve just keep going.
JS: What’s the other option you know? [laughs] It’s what we’re built on and what we love. It has been a struggle in a lot of ways but I try to look at all of the positive things and all the awesome things that it has provided. Through struggle brings rewards.
What song do you love most on the record? Which one holds the most significance to you?
JS: I really love I Miss You Beau Velasco – that’s my favourite song. It’s something that we stepped out of our comfort zone to write. I think songs like that and Is It the End Again? are songs that you would never expect on a Death Set record. It was a little confronting to actually decide that I love these songs and it was a decision to decide to put those songs on the record. It comes back to, again, I think it would have been contrived if we didn’t acknowledge everything that happened, to acknowledge that musically and emotionally and not be plastic, to make this what we love and to make it come from the heart. It would have been easy to write a ‘spazz’ punk rock record, that shit comes out like jelly beans for us but to write songs that are actually real was a lot harder and more scary. I’m most proud of those songs because I think they hold up. It’s a testament and a tribute all in one.
There’s a lot of different kinds of singing than usual for you over the album too?
JS: Yeah totally! We wanted to move forward. I think the sophomore record is a difficult one. It’s where you’ve gone through so many different experiences and you want to move forward as a band but you don’t want to alienate the fans but you want to be where you are at this present moment. In essence I wrote the record with Dan who is an amazing producer so the production stepped up as well. We post produced it with XXXchange who is an absolute mind blowing genius. In every way we wanted to step it up: in song writing, in musically and production –this was the result!
Diplo and Spank Rock are on the record as well.
JS: Yeah. Spank Rock has been a friend for a long-arsed time. I stayed on Alex XXXchange’s floor when I first moved to America so I automatically kicked it with Spank Rock. They’d been friends forever so it was a no-brainer to have Naeem on the record. Diplo is a funny one [laughs]. We’ve had up and down run-ins with Diplo. All in all he is a good dude. He thought I punched him in the face one time but it was more a friend did. He came over to us and we were like, oh shit what’s going on? We ended up sorting it out and ended up drinking cups of tea all day. The Mad Decent guys are awesome, I have a lot of respect for those guys. It’s been interesting. In essence we’ve always thought of this band as not a normal punk rock band. If anyone asks what kind of music do we play? I don’t even know what to say: punk rock? Electro-punk? That makes me want to throw up! I always just say strange punk; we’re a punk band but a little weird.
I really love it. It’s like Death Set progression!
JS: Thank you, that makes me feel really good.
You guys are all the things I love mushed together.
JS: Thanks buddy it’s all the things that I love mushed together too!
Recently The Mess Up was released, a remix you guys did of Australian band DZ Deathrays. The clip has a censored scene, what was that scene you decided not to show for fear of having to find new management?
JS: [Laughs] just a bunch of cocaine. It was a gram of cocaine snorted in that thirty second interlude. Our manger was probably right that we would have had visa issues from here to kingdom come because of it.
I like the kitty that you show in that space.
JS: [Laughs] I do like the kitty too!
Have you always had a love of cats?
JS: I actually have! I’m quite obsessed! I bought Dan as his birthday present, a subscription to Cat Fancy magazine. We have cat centrefolds all over our bathroom. It’s so ridiculous!
I read that you’re interested in opening up a bar in New York once the touring and whatnot finishes.
JS: Yeah I’m actually opening up a bar once I get off this tour which has been my main focus. It’s just again, what we all kind of come to, we get to certain periods in life when opportunities come and I really want to move forward. I love playing music and I don’t want to hate playing music because I have to play music. This is a brilliant opportunity where I can still stay involved and be a booker and create an awesome bar and book awesome events and make a little bit of money instead of touring and not making any money [laughs]. It’s one of those things where once you are not dependent on your art to earn a living sometimes it’s easier to sit back and look at it with a bit more perspective about what you really want to make. I’m hoping that this opportunity will give me that.
I can hear that, out of the 100 interviews I’ve done this year I’ve probably been paid for around 10 of those.
JS: Wow. I think it’s really great to get paid for what you love to do but I think there gets to be a point in time where you need to get paid to live. You learn that you either have to compensate your credentials and do other things and you’re in the field that you love or that you have to do something completely different and keep the field that you love completely pure. That’s the decision that I’ve made. I want to keep the music that I make completely pure. I don’t want to write or do anything else unless I really love it. I’ll have something else to make money and just keep doing the music that I absolutely love. Both sides are totally fine but that’s just the way I see myself and the way I want to do things. I can’t be on stage hanging off rafters when I’m 70 years of age unless I’m like Keith Morris! [laughs].
Death Set live:
Death Set tour documentary:
All thoughts forward,