Considering he grew up in Bundaberg, you might not think the Big Day Out played a big part in the life of DZ Deathrays frontman Shane Parsons. You'd be wrong.
“It was what I looked forward to every year,” he remembers. “I've only missed two since I was 14. I've been to, like, 11 or 12 of them. So, yeah, it was a big thing. It was the only live music I really got to see. There weren't too many all-ages shows in Bundy. I got to see Frenzal, they played there once, and there were some random bands that you'd just go see because you wanted to see live music. I was in a band at school, but we just used to play at house parties. So Big Day Out was… it was a huge thing.
“We got on a bus, leaving at four in the morning, and the bus would take us down to the Gold Coast. We'd hang out at Big Day Out all day, moshing and jumping and running around having a great time. Then we'd get back on a bus, all sweaty, and we'd just freeze our arses off because of the air conditioning all the way back to Bundaberg. We'd get back at four or five in the morning. So it was a huge day, but when you were young, you just didn't care. You were just so excited.
“Everyone would have mix CDs of all the bands they wanted to go see, and we'd put it on in the bus, and people would say, 'Oh, you've got to check out this band, I've made this mix CD of all their hits!' It was rad. I just remember standing there watching bands at Big Day Out, just thinking, 'I don't even know what I'd do if I got a chance to stand on that stage'.”
These days, of course, Shane and fellow Deathray Simon Ridley know exactly what to do on a Big Day Out stage. It's the same thing they do to every stage — lay waste to it, mercilessly, until God takes pity on anyone who has to follow them. Debut LP 'Bloodstreams' was a masterclass in brutality, winning the Brisbane-based duo an unlikely ARIA and earning them rave reviews from international tastemakers Pitchfork and NME — giving them plenty of opportunities to destroy stages in the US and UK, as well.
At the next Big Day Out, however, audiences will see a new side of DZ Deathrays. New single 'Northern Lights' is the closest the duo have ever come to recording a ballad, and opens up a whole new world of possibilities for their forthcoming sophomore LP. “It's probably the softest song that we've ever written,” Shane says, “but we thought it'd be cool to release it to show that we're not just doing loud stuff all the time.”
The pair wrote the track while isolated from the rest of the world, and from the pressure to follow up 'Bloodstreams' with more of the same. “We went and spent two weeks out in country New South Wales; there was this house in Yass that Jack Ladder and PVT recorded at. We just hired it out and did demos there by ourselves, just me and Simon. The owner was there, but he and his partner were away most of the time. So we were in this four-story, 10-bedroom, 120-year-old homestead by ourselves. It was creepy as. We spent two weeks just writing, and that's when we wrote 'Northern Lights'. It just felt right.”
That isolation had an undeniable influence on 'Northern Lights', which feels more introspective than anything they'd previously released, but so did Shane's increased interest in storytelling. “I would never class myself as a strong lyricist at all,” he qualifies, before explaining his new approach.
“I just take different things from different places, kind of like a snapshot of my life. Other times I'll just write about a story that I make up in my head, or a fake person that doesn't even exist, but they're fun to write about because you can imagine all the shit they'd get up to. I've been doing that a little bit more recently. The lyrics on this record might seem like they're about me, but I'm just writing about stories that I have in my head. I've just been sitting around thinking, 'Imagine if that was something that happened,' you know?”
Unsurprisingly, 'Northern Lights' has been another success for Shane and Simon, even going into rotation on BBC Radio 1. It's the sort of thing that would be unthinkable for most local bands, but is almost inevitable for DZ Deathrays. Not that they're taking anything for granted. “We don't expect anything,” Shane stresses.
“That's always been our little motto — don't expect anything. The only time you're going to be really disappointed is when you expect that you're going to be played on the radio; when you expect that you're going to play at a festival and it's going to be packed out. If you get those opportunities, don't expect anything, and you'll always be surprised. That's always been the way I've felt about it, you know. Don't expect anything. It's better to just do things.”
DZ Deathrays play Big Day Out at Metricon Stadium and Carrara Parklands on Sunday January 19.