Long Read: We talked with Will and Remy of Death Bells about New Signs of Life and also about the craziness that’s been this year.

LA-via-Australia duo Death Bells have just released their brand new album, New Signs of Life, which is kind of a new chapter for the band along with good amount of positivity and new energy on their tunes. We talked with Will and Remy about this new effort and also about the craziness that’s been this year.

Everything that’s happening in our world/society has been really difficult for all of us and overall, it demands quick changes, especially in the USA. How are you dealing with all that?
Will: There’s no doubt this year has been tough! I’ve been lucky enough to be on lockdown with my partner and two great housemates. It’s been nice to slow down and appreciate the little things for a second.
Remy: I don’t know anyone who has been thriving this year, but thanks to the support from my partner, friends, and family, I’m getting by okay.

What has been the hardest thing for you guys during these crazy times we’re living right now?
Will: The internet’s been driving me nuts. I’m taking steps to log off for a few hours each day which has been helpful.
Remy: I try not to think about it too much, but the Australian government has a forced 14 day hotel quarantine for any returning visitor. That has played on my mind a lot. My biggest fear is any loved ones becoming ill since I won’t be able to be there right away.

This September you’re going to release your new album, New Signs of Life, and it’s definitely a new chapter for your band. What did you want to bring to life on these new songs?
Will: There’s a healthy dose of optimism that made its way into this record. We’ve taken a real step forward from the morose, dark energy of the last one. I feel really good about this album as an extension of myself and am super excited by all the new things we tried. Two or three years ago we just wouldn’t have considered horns or piano for this band – so using those more traditional instruments has been a lot of fun.
Remy: There was a definite focus on this record to not cut any corners production-wise too. We put in many hours to get the songs to a point we were completely happy instead of settling for “good enough”.

What was the creative process like this time around?
Will: The big difference was not having access to a practice space for most of the writing process. For the last record, the six of us hopped in a room and just played until we had an album’s worth of material. This time was more deliberate – We wrote everything using one guitar and a laptop. So all the MIDI instruments that we started writing with eventually got tracked by our friends who can play – and that’s when everything really opened up and started to feel a bit more real.
Remy: Every release has been different, and this time around we took our time with the whole process. We had been making demos for the better part of a year before moving away from the laptop so we had a lot of material to choose from. For the first time we also wrote songs and then let them be for a little while before coming back and adding aspects to complete them.

The title-track “New Signs of Life” was influenced by the theme song of HBO’s classic Six Feet Under and it feels quite appropriate to nowadays. Tell us more about the writing and meaning of this song.
Will: I binge-watched that show like three times last year. Normally I skip the intro to most shows, but Six Feet Under has such a compelling and quirky theme song. Something about the repetitive oboe line, I think. So when we got to writing the chorus for “New Signs of Life” we were using this shit MIDI saxophone plugin which sounded very much like the oboes in that theme. We kept that layer in the final mix and it still retains some of that character.
Remy: I like when songs represent a certain point in your life, and the song ties into the album as a whole in obvious ways since it shares the same name. The meaning is quite literal in that it relates to new beginnings for Will and I personally at the start of a new decade.

Talking about the new songs, what’s the story behind the album’s opening track “Heavenly Bodies”?
Will: Whilst “New Signs of Life” draws influence from Six Feet Under sonically, “Heavenly Bodies” was influenced more directly by the show’s narrative. The lyrics are about the gradual disconnect between Nate and Brenda. The song’s chorus reflects Nate’s sudden death on the show – which had me thinking about my own mortality and the impermanence of love and life itself.
Remy: “Heavenly Bodies” was also one of the first complete songs we had before recording the album. We only toured once last year and that song was played live at all shows before it was recorded.

The new album was engineered and mixed by Colin Knight at Paradise Studios. How was it like to work with him for this effort?
Will: Colin is a legend and a genius. Most underrated producer in Los Angeles. Really good drummer too.
Remy: Honestly, the album wouldn’t have turned out the way it did without his significant input. Colin was very dedicated in helping us make the vision we had come to life and he is a dream to work with. He drummed on all of the tracks and knew when to challenge us to help the songs sound the best that they could. I’ll always be grateful for him being part of the process.

What are your thoughts about the future of independent music during and post this pandemic?
Will: I’m trying to think about it in an optimistic way. I see a lot of musicians talking their shit and getting into a negative headspace about how competitive touring will be when shows return. To me, I see it as the playing field levelling out a bit. The music has to stand on its own right now, and people are only really going to care about songs that they can really connect to.
Remy: Independent music during the pandemic has been fascinating. Plenty of acts have made the most of the situation to keep the wheels turning, while on the other hand many have postponed records. I see both sides. No doubt there are going to be major challenges with less venues and realistically less money being spent on entertainment, but moving forward I think it will also open the door for some out of the box thinking that could lead to some very memorable live music experiences.

What are your plans after releasing the new album?
Will: We’re gonna start on the next one.
Remy: Definitely recording again in the not too distant future. I feel really excited about where we are heading musically and I can’t wait to start the whole recording process again soon. We have also been brainstorming some ways to make the most of the situation and do some sort of album release.

If you could go and play a show now, where would it be and why?
Will: Club Congress in Tucson. I miss the desert and our friends out there!
Remy: I’m going to cheat. I would love to go to Mexico City again and also play in Europe for the first time. I have family in Lithuania and performing there right now seems like the furthest thing away from reality, so that’s a really appealing thought.

Describe 2020 in three words.
Will: Late capitalist hellscape!
Remy: Excruciating, challenging, hope.

Words: Andreia Alves // Photo: Jeff Fribourg – New Signs of Life is out now on Dais Records.

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