Excerpts from Vivian Host’s interview with Johnny Siera of The Death Set.
XLR8R: You’re from Australia’s Gold Coast. Why do you say the Gold Coast is gross?
Johnny Siera: The Gold Coast is like a total retiree town. It’s kind of like Florida. It’s a city; there’s probably 500,00 to a million people. It’s the city that older people move to and it also has a glistening surfer and beach bum culture which I’m sure you can kind of imagine doesn’t do much for a bustling band/interesting scene. The biggest thing they have is the electro scene. That stuff is huge in Australia. It’s kind of boring after a while. I guess what I was thinking about the other day is that you can’t do band like Death Set in many places I’ve been to. You can’t do it on the Gold Coast, I couldn’t see it in London when I lived there, or Tokyo. Baltimore in the time I’ve lived here just seems to have been a little Petri dish that let it flourish. I just moved in, there were these spaces. In the first weekend I was here we did this party and there were 100 kids just going insane. All of a sudden I would write a message to my favorite band and be like ‘You want to play at my space?’ and they would be like ‘Yeah.’ It just seemed easy.
Why did you decide to move to Baltimore?
I saw those shows at the Copycat [warehouse space] and I was like why not just live here. All I wanted to do was write music and tour and, like anything, before you do it it seems so difficult. I was just like instead of waiting tables and doing no music in Brooklyn, why not live in Baltimore. I’m glad I moved here and live here.
So what about Tokyo and London?
I lived in Tokyo for two years, just fucking around. Well, working, obviously. Everyone that can speak English works as an English teacher. It’s good money, you can travel; I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to move to London when my visa ran out. I wanted to continue this band and I had this record finished. I moved to London because my friend (who is going to play drums for us in Europe) was like ‘come over and stay’.
What’s the process of making a Death Set track?
It’s written on guitar as a punk rock song and then it’ll be taken into the studio and I’ll write beats behind it. And usually the lyrics are written with the song if it’s written that way, so it’ll be just a total punk rock song. Or it’ll be me sitting at the computer or sampler or keyboard and writing a synth line and I’ll go ‘well that’s cool’, and then I’ll get other people in to help me because I’m usually stuck. But a lot of the time with the songs that are more nonsense lyrics or the ones that don’t flow are usually the ones that weave back and forth. They’re usually written like a dance track first so I’ll write the beat and I’ll write the synth line and I’ll write the track around that.
So what is the basic equipment setup?
Pro Tools? Guitars, distorted vocals. Very distorted vocals.
Distorted vocals through a pedal or through computer?
Pedals and plug. Soft synth, soft samplers…
So all the electronic stuff is coming through the computer.
Some of the stuff is synths that we borrow. A lot of the first EP we had a Juno lying around so we used a Juno a lot. Most of the program stuff is computer-based. If it’s simple basslines, a lot of that we just mash out but I program most of the stuff. And then its like obviously I’ll send that out through a bunch of stuff and back in.
What acts do you end up playing with the most?
We did a tour with Best Fwends. They’re from Austin, Texas. They’re amazing. We’ve toured with Ponytail. We’ve done shows with Bonjay, Girl Talk. They were the more electronic ones, which I was super scared about. But they turned out rad. I guess they’re the main people that we’ve toured with. But we do seem to fall into either the ‘punk rock band’ or ‘electronic’ category even though we have played with lots of other bands.
What scares you the most?
Have you been in jail?
But you should’ve been?
No! No no no, I hope not.
What music was playing the first time you made out with someone?
I can’t remember the first time I made out with someone. I think the soundtrack was the fear of getting caught by our parents in the next room.
What are you best at cooking?
Tofu vegetables, soy stir-fry. And vegan cakes. I can cook a good vegan cake.
What’s the secret?
Applesauce instead of egg.