Diiv’s Master Plan Backfires

Photo: Danny Krug

Z. Cole Smith was just hoping to see his friends.

After playing guitar for — and quitting then re-joining — Beach Fossils and logging time in Seattle, Minneapolis and London, Smith had come back to New York City, but found that his world had moved on. “When I got back all my friends were still here but they were getting on without me,” he says. “I had all of this free time, so I wanted to reach out to friends, and the only way I knew how was to start playing shows.”

“In New York, at that moment, there were no good rock bands. And the ones that would bubble up to the surface would all of a sudden get too big.”

So Smith started writing songs and formed Diiv (initially named Dive, but changed in deference to the German industrial act already using that name), then started playing shows around town and releasing singles on Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks label, home to Beach Fossils, Blank Dogs and Widowspeak, among others. The catchy, shimmery rock was indicative of what Smith felt was missing in New York. “I wanted to make guitar music and do something interesting working within that classic rock band paradigm, which is potentially tired,” he says. “I feel like there’s still room there, and that in New York, at that moment, there were no good rock bands. And the ones that would bubble up to the surface would all of a sudden get too big.”

Smith’s songs wore some influences proudly, showcasing his affinity for Krautrock, the oft-alluded to C86 bands and Nirvana, which he calls “a touchstone.” Less obvious is the influence Smith cites as coming from world music. “People didn’t seem to pick up on the influence of these Malian guitar players, especially Baba Salah whose record I got at the library,” he says. “He’s a huge star in Mali, but he has this one record called Borrey and it was huge for me and influenced the way I experimented with melody.”

Diiv’s debut album Oshin might not have the sound that Salah perfected, but it’s an addictive, exciting collection of guitar rock nonetheless. And the version fans will hear has benefited from something Smith’s initial bedroom recordings didn’t have: production. “I did a version of the record and played it for friends and people liked it, but they wanted to talk to me about mixing and all this shit I had no idea about,” he says. “They told me my recordings were sounding bad, so I talked to a friend with a studio and went to record there.”

And while he does play every instrument on some of the album’s tracks, most cuts were done with a full band pitching in. After the release of Oshin, the band will hit the road, and Smith’s already making plans for a second record. His original plan to form a band in order to see more of his friends seems to have backfired just a bit. “It did get me back in touch with my friends,” he admits. “That’s what happened first, but now it’s pulled me back away.”

Diiv’s Oshin is out now via Captured Tracks. Stream “How Long Have You Known” below:

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