Formed in 2002, disbanded in early August 2006, Death from Above 1979 was a Toronto-based Canadian indie rock duo. Members were Jesse F. Keeler (~30 years old) on bass/synths/vocals and Sebastien Grainger (27 years old) on vocals/drums. The "F" in Jesse F. Keeler's name is for the middle name of Frederick.
Originally named just "Death From Above” after Jesse F. Keeler shopped in an Army Surplus store and noticed the motto the U.S. Paratroopers, the duo changed their name after a legal dispute with New York City’s dance-funk label Death From Above, now named DFA Records after the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York city. An explanation of their trunks is that they want their music to have the same effect as if there was an elephant in your living room.
Their sound is mainly made from Jesse F. Keeler on the bass and synths. His set-up is as follows: Rickenbacker 4003, Dunlop Tortex 0.73mm triangle-shaped picks, Vintage Peavey and Acoustic heads with two Traynor 8x10 cabinets loaded with PA speakers (output of 1,200 watts), ’80s Ibanez SC10 Super Stereo Chorus pedal and Dunlop GCB-95 Crybaby wah-wah pedal. He describes the sound as, "My sound partly grew from not being able to afford anything new or ‘vintage-cool.’ It had to be ‘vintage-nobody-wanted-it.’”
He then went on to explain his set-up a little more, "Since it’s just two of us on stage I need a full-range sound. Using two 8x10 cabinets and putting out about 1,200 watts helps have a big sound. My rig gives me about as many speakers as a guitarist’s full stack plus a bass player’s 8x10. I also like to use amp distortion because it gives me more dynamic response than a pedal.
Instead of stimulating output with preamp gain or a pedal, I prefer to get maximum output from the instrument. I rewired the Rickenbacker so that nothing impedes the pickup’s signal. I only use solid-state amps because the attack is instant—it’s much quicker than a tube amp. I also put PA speakers in my cabinets because they have better top-end response than bass speakers."
A common misconception of how Jesse F. Keeler get the distinctive sound is that he uses pedals. Jesse does not use pedals or effect pedals at all. He uses controlled feedback from the amps by playing close to it and he wired the amp to a way that it makes the sound it does. If you have ever seen them play live or listened to my Live Bootleg CD you might have noticed that Jesse's sound is consistent all the way through the whole show. This is because of the no effects pedals he uses. The sound in the studio is a little different on some songs but is basically the same too. The only effects "pedal" Jesse uses is for synths.
The reason why it is just a drum and bass combo is...
“The idea was designed as a challenge: To set boundaries, and be creative [as much as possible] inside those boundaries.” “What we’re doing now is closer to what we’ve been wanting to do all along,” said Grainger. “We still haven’t achieved what we set up to do. Every record so far has been a snap shot of our learning process. Not only of writing songs but also how to record our band. There’s no protocol for recording bass and drums. It’s still a learning experience.” And no matter what convention dictates, they’re not about to cave and allow guitars to infiltrate their sound. The drum-and-bass set up is “still challenging us and invigorates us,” said Grainger. “There’s no point in stopping now.”
Keeler goes on to say, "We both played guitars, drums, and keyboards, but this is the first time I’ve ever played bass in a band. I started playing drums when I was three, and I think that has bled into every other musical thing I’ve done. I also play guitar, but when I had the idea for this band, I found that I couldn’t get the sound I wanted from a guitar, but I could get it with a bass and an amp."
Death From Above 1979 is now disbanded after nearly a year-long hiatus. Jesse F. Keeler posted on the band's official message board that they decided to disband over a year ago and that their Nine Inch Nails tour was their last shows. The talk of new albums was a joke and a lie, said to make people believe Death From Above wasn't dead. Last Gang records might have "made" them say that for the fact that they would reconsider breaking up. In the post announcing their breakup they said they never wrote new material after recording the B-Sides for Romance Bloody Romance, nor do they plan to release any other music or "lost" tracks. They continued to say they will never release a DVD of live material or any other material of them live.
Since parting ways, Jesse F. Keeler now works full-time for MSTRKRFT. He also is currently working with Queens of the Stone Age and is continuing to work on Femme Fatale. It is assumed Femme Fatale is short a drummer since Sebastien and Jesse are no longer friends. The next Femme Fatale CD is called "4".
Sebastien Grainger has been mainly out of the spotlight for over a year now since the last tour of Death From Above 1979. He now is back with a solo project. He is unsigned althought you can expect he will sign with someone. His sound is more of a pop sound than anything DFA-like. His Myspace is here.
Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger both can play the drums, guitar, keyboards well. This is the first time Jesse F. Keeler had to play bass in a band (he did play bass in Femme Fatale, but nothing like this.)
Although they joke about where they met, Grainger and Keeler met initially through a mutual friend in their hometown, Toronto. They ended up frequenting the same bars and playing in the same venues with their separate bands. “We were friends before we were in a band,” said Grainger.
In 2000, the two became part of Femme Fatale, a single-member [five when playing live] outfit that was “more faster, hard core and way more violent. The lyrics were so rap,” said Grainger, whose own lyrics for Death From Above 1979 tend towards the romantic.
In 2001, Keeler, then 23, retired from his day job as a financial person (thought to have been a stockbroker.) The son of the guitarist from an early incarnation of the classic rock band Steppenwolf, Keeler bought a house with the profits he had made from his investments. He and Grainger then renovated the building, which had previously been a funeral parlor. From that point, the formation of Death From Above was organic: “The band formed out of living in the same house together,” explains Grainger. Keeler now lives in "MSTRKRFT Studios" in Toronto, while Grainger moved out two years ago to live with his girlfriend, with whom he has since parted ways. Grainger now has another girlfriend.
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