Jesse F. Keeler of the Toronto-based bass-and-drums dance rock band remembers the craziness of Voodoo 2005.

death from above 1979 photo

Death From Above 1979 have a different narrative arc than most bands. The Toronto-based drum and bass duo that plays The Voodoo Music Experience’s Saturday at 4:30 p.m. on Le Ritual released an album, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine in 2004 to critical and commercial acclaim, toured, and broke up.

“Most bands break up partially because things aren’t going well, or when you hear that such-and-such band broke up, you think, I haven’t heard much from them in a while,” says bassist Jesse F. Keeler. “We broke up because the way everything was going so well wasn’t making us happy.”
Keeler explained to Stereogum’s T. Cole Rachel:

Back in the early days of the band we were so poor. SO POOR. We always look back and find it incredible that we ever managed to pick up girls because we literally couldn’t afford to go out and buy a single drink for ourselves or anyone else. We’d snatch up unattended drinks and sneak into the back doors of clubs. I have no memory of ever going to a liquor store to buy anything. We’d go to this one place that served an all-you-can-eat bottomless breakfast and just hang out and eat until they made us leave — and that would be our one meal of the day. So anyway, when you go from that to suddenly being in this band being offered money — not a lot of money, mind you, but still, being offered money to play all these weird things — we just always said yes. There was never a discussion. It just never occurred to us to not say yes. Now we are hyper-aware of what we commit ourselves to, but back then we just said yes to everything no matter what, mostly because we felt like we had to. We’d go to England and play three shows in one day, not ever even knowing if we got paid or not. We just never said no, and the result is that we never got off of tour. We left it up to other people to sort of be the ideological curators of our band, which is insane to me now. It seems crazy that we entrusted so much of our lives to other people, but we just didn’t know any better. We just thought if we said no to something then we’d never be asked back again.  

Keeler discovered an upside to ending a band early.

“You know how there’s only young, handsome pictures of James Dean?” he asked. “We didn’t get to watch him become old, obese and develop a meth problem or kill someone. Gary Glitter himself. Something that would tarnish the legacy. When you stop and you’re still young and beautiful, there’s only good things for people to look back at. Maybe that’s part of it, and maybe the momentum that was building continued to build anyway.”

The endurance of the band’s reputation without any help from Keeler and drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger—along with time to let the wounds heal—got the two talking about playing together again. The result is The Physical World, an album that is a logical follow-up to the first album in its dance-oriented heavy rock, but it’s a follow-up that came a decade later.

“We knew that if we were going to make another record, it had to be at the very least on par with the last one,” Keeler says.

While touring You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, Death From Above 1979 played Voodoo 2005 on The Fly. Keeler remembers it as a surreal experience.

“It was right after the flooding,” he says. “I remember because we pulled into town at night, and you can’t plug into a GPS, ‘Avoid flood damage. We were coming through on the way to the festival grounds, and we were going through a neighborhood with seaweed on cars. Suddenly, we got stopped by an army transport and two guys in full gear got on the bus and were, like, Where are you guys going?

“I woke up because I tend to wake up when the bus stops. I came to the front of the bus and there are these two guys with guns drawn saying, What are you doing? But they were super-cool and guided us through the carnage to get us into the festival area. Our driver was from Fargo; what do you want?

“My recollections from that day were whiskey-related. I remember my bass tech throwing up underneath the bus after we’re done playing and passing out on the grass, and then later some girl’s like, Hey, we’re going to go to this bar after, and I’m like, okay. I’d watched The New York Dolls and was all excited to see them play. I was walking down the street with some strange woman I’d met and she threw a rock at somebody’s pick-up truck. The guy comes out, like What the fuck’s going on? and I said, I don’t know this girl.

Yeah, but I can’t fight her.

“He came running at me, so I told her, ‘You’re on your own’ and took off. We had left the festival at this point and I ran pack to the festival and said, ‘Man, I really don’t know how to pick them.’”