It’s Thursday evening in LA and Zachary Cole Smith admits he’s a little spaced out. But it’s not long until I find myself falling for his awkward expression and delicate humility.
Our conversation pre-empts the release of DIIV’s sophomore record, Is The Is Are, a sprawling double album that splits 17 tracks across 63 minutes. It picks up where the band’s 2012 debut, Oshin, left off, but reflects darker days.
Since Oshin, Smith has been wrestling a heroin addiction and incurred multiple police charges (drug possession and driving a stolen vehicle without a licence, along with a host of misdemeanours). The arrest put his long-term partner, Sky Ferreira, behind bars. Then Smith spent an 11-day stint in rehab.
Is The Is Are marks Smith’s triumphant escape from the throngs of addiction while sticking two middle fingers up to his doubters. “After the first record, I was coming up against a lot of hard stuff,” he says.
To rub salt into the wound, Colby Hewitt, DIIV’s original drummer, left the band in spring 2015 because of his own drug addiction. His departure followed a series of sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks posted by the band’s current bassist, Devin Ruben Perez, on 4chan. Smith and Ferreira turned to Twitter to express their disgust.
“People had strong ideas about who I was and what DIIV was capable of. I wanted to dispel ideas that DIIV was just a buzz band that made one record. I guess I was working hard against that in a lot of ways.”
Smith’s account flutters between a modest retelling of his achievements and an overwhelming sense of self-doubt. His voice stutters and he apologises for the inadequacies of his responses.
“I honestly think having this record to talk about and show to people – this is where I’m at,” Smith says. “It feels so good because I’ve worked so hard on it for so long.
“Me and my friends talk about how lucky I am to be a musician. All of this shit happened and I have an outlet. I can turn it into something. I feel really lucky to have song writing as a way to digest all of the stuff that has happened.”
After a short pause he backflips. “In some ways, though, it’s really hard to keep reliving what has happened ... to keep talking about it, to talk about my problems and addictions and all this shit with people everyday,” he says. “That makes it really hard. So, in some ways, it has been great, but in other ways, it has probably been detrimental.”
The conversation soon circles back to the new album. “One thing I’ve really learned doing stuff around this record, I think from my parents and people close to me, is that a lot of the time when people say something shitty to you, almost always they’re talking about themselves,” Smith says.
“There has been so much negativity around the band, and I realise that so often, when people are talking shit, they’re just exposing something about themselves they’re probably not even aware of.”
DIIV will performance at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival on February 13, 2016.