DIIV's Zachary Cole Smith on Loving Nirvana, 'My So-Called Life'

The neo-shoegaze mastermind discusses those and his other (non-'90s) passions

DIIV's Zachary Cole Smith
DIIV's Zachary Cole Smith
WRITTEN BY
Thomas Charles

Last summer, in an attempt to revitalize what he considered a disappointing music scene, Brooklyn's Zachary Cole Smith, formerly a touring guitarist for Beach Fossils, created his nautically influenced shoegaze project DIIV. (Each member of the band is a water sign according to Chinese astrology). "Part of the reason I started this band," explains Smith, "is because I felt like there weren't really that many Brooklyn bands that I thought were very impressive. I mean, there's obviously the bigger ones, but the rest blend together." Now joined by drummer Colby Hewitt, bassist Devin Ruben Perez, and guitarist Andrew Bailey, Smith is making a splash with the release of DIIV's dreamy guitar pop debut, Oshin (get it?), out June 26th on Captured Tracks.

After first mistaking our call from one from his mother ("I can't talk right now! I have to do an interview!"), Smith spoke with SPIN about Angela Chase, Arthur Russell, and more of his favorite things.

Favorite Brooklyn Band:
"Burning Star Core — he's a violin player named C. Spencer Yeh. He does very rhythmic, loop-based music and it's amazing. He played one of the best shows I've seen in New York in the past year. It was a show that I put together. I actually first saw him play doing solo violin stuff. Half his piece was solo violin and the other half was with something called a 'mouth piece.' He basically put two microphones into his mouth and kind of made these crazy sounds."

Favorite Album:
"The first one that pops to my brain is Arthur Russell's Love is Overtaking Me. He recorded it almost 30 years ago, but it was re-released recently. It's just so fragile and emotional and beautiful and diverse. It's different than his electronic, experimental cello stuff. It's just acoustic guitar and vocals for a lot of it and then weird drum machines and stuff. And it's all a bunch of love songs recorded at home while his boyfriend was at work about him or the things happening around the house. A lot of the songs were recorded while he was sick and dying with AIDS. The best part is that it's not even an album! It's just kind of his lost tapes or whatever. They never were meant to be released and that's what I love about it."

Favorite Song:
"I recently thought it was a Tex Ritter song called "High Noon," but I think I'm going to change that right now. I think my actual favorite song is 'She's in Love with the Boy' by Trisha Yearwood. I just can't get enough of it. It's the perfect song."

Favorite Nirvana Song:
"Definitely the recording they did of 'Endless, Nameless' on With the Lights Out. It's a radio appearance from 1991. And this version of 'Polly' on Wipeout. It's the original Smart Studio session that they recorded. It was the original demo for Nevermind and they mixed the harmonies way too high. I just love Dave Grohl's harmony part. It sticks out. It's kind of a special version of that song, so I especially dig that."

Favorite Instrumental Album:
"I don't know, maybe the Red Krayola record The Parable of Arable Land. It's not instrumental, but it's largely instrumental. Maybe this Faust record called The Faust Tapes. They are all these kind of weird experiments and there aren't any real vocals."

Favorite Moment From a Beach Fossils Show:
"Man, there's a lot! We played at Santos Party House in Chinatown and John [Pena], our bass player, smashed his bass during the first song. We were like, 'What are you doing, man!' He was just so drunk and I guess he spilled vodka on the floor or something. His story is that he slipped and fell and his bass broke. That was a pretty novel moment. I was originally the drummer for that band, then I quit, then I rejoined playing guitar, so it was one of my first shows back in the band."

Favorite Pasttime:
"Swimming, probably. I bike to the river and go swimming — that's what I do, two or three times a day. I'll be sitting there trying to record a song or read or whatever and then I kind of always just want to get up and bike to the river. It's like a mile, two miles."

Favorite Video Artist:
"I'm obsessed with Jan Svankmajer. He has a bunch of insane pieces from between the '60s and the '80s. My favorite is this one he did in 1982 called Dimensions of Dialogue. It's kind of almost like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot. The rock eats the scissors and then chews it up and spits it out and then the scissors goes and eats the paper and does the same. They keep doing that until the particles become microscopic. It's divided into five parts. There's one where these clay men spit objects out of their mouth. This one guy will spit out a toothbrush and one will spit out toothpaste, and then the toothpaste goes on the toothbrush and they take back the items. There's bread and butter, a shoe and shoelace, a pencil and a pencil sharpener, but then after a while they get mixed up. We actually did a tour with a band that brought a projector so we projected it behind us during our show."

Favorite Book:
"I love Susan Sontag's diaries. They're the most amazing thing I've ever read. It's her as a 16-year-old prodigy discovering her sexuality and discovering that she's gay. She writes about it in the most fluid, beautiful prose ever."

Favorite Author:
"N. Scott Momaday. He wrote House Made of Dawn. He's a Native American poet as well as a novelist. I feel like House Made of Dawn was one of the first major classics in Native American literature. It won the Pulitzer Prize. That's my favorite of his books, but he has a lot of great books."

Favorite TV Show:
"A couple of years ago I watched the whole season of My So-Called Life over the course of a few months on tour. My friend had it on his laptop. He also had Star Trek: The Next Generation. I always related to My So-Called Life's Angela Chase a lot in that show and modeled a lot of my style choices off her."

Favorite Place to Eat in NYC:
"I like Angelica Kitchen in Manhattan because I used to work there so I get hooked up. It's a vegan restaurant. I'm vegan. But my favorite place to eat is at the grocery store! Get some cabbage, get some kale, steam it — you've got yourself a nice meal going on there."

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