Reflecting On: Daphne Loves Derby – On the Strength of All Convinced

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During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

Daphne Loves Derby was a band that I still find hard to describe. Calling them an indie band is a disservice; the intricate weaving of pop melody, harmony, deep echoing ballads and the croon of Kenny Choi’s delicate voice holding it all together always meant so much more.

On the Strength of All Convinced was a beast; the likes of which I had never known before. The production was just sharp enough to sound as though the band was playing live and the descriptive lyrics had the acute details of poetry. It wasn’t enough to just hear the songs, the hooks and the melody – you could actually see it. Ten years later, not only am I waiting for anything to come along even remotely similar, I’m waiting to just hear anything at all from Kenny Choi.

By the time On the Stregnth of All Convinced came out, DLD was already fairly well known as the first band to hit a million plays on Pure Volume. I happened to find them by accident: their album cover caught my eye in a record store and followed me wherever I walked until I picked it up. It’s the first album cover I can think of that, in retrospect, perfectly describes the record.

The light colors of Easter green slowly fading into an even lighter blue, like an aquatic sunset hid behind the image of a lighthouse hanging off the edge of the planet itself, is such a simple symbol for the theme of the album. Also, the flying whale skeletons help, too.

Thematically, the album is fairly simple when given a broad sense – wanting to see everything the Earth has to offer, but being too small to ever find it all. But the dream is alive and almost physical through lyricism that describes surreal settings (“You Versus the Sea”) and manifestations of emotion (“Sundays”) that most bands glaze over with sappy anti-love songs.

Musically, the diversity between songs is something that few bands would attempt, especially on their debut. When comparing the raging pop and stacked harmonies of “Hammers and Hearts” to the tender snare drum and hauntingly soft guitar of “You Versus the Sea”, or the lounge jazz pop of “Middle Middle” with the charmingly minimalistic cymbal taps and falling keyboard of “Debussie”, each song is a world apart. Everything from pop to jazz to folk flow together so sweetly and naturally that Daphne Loves Derby seem like a band that have been at this for decades, rather than the young upstarts that they were.

For everything the music is, though, it is Kenny Choi’s vocals and lyrics that really tie the whole experience together. His croon is nearly Sinatra-esque in nature, but manages to rise to proper singing or swallow itself into a tight whisper that dares you to listen closer. It’s an odd mixture of simplistic and elegant vocal range.

On the Strength of All Convinced is a totem of emo and poetic visuals. For each raw tug at the heart strings, such as “Birthday Gallery” (“I’ve been worn away by birthday memories and galleries / Of pictures in my head of you when I’m away / I’d do anything to keep this fear from flowing through my veins, oh / I’d stay awake and fret just for you”.), there is a highly detailed description of grandeur, such as “Pollen and Salt” (“I have been holding my breath, for too many nights in a row / And somewhere on coastlines unknown to me / You paint your dreams, with reds and blues and greens / Yeah you’re painting daffodils by the sea, without me”.)

The idea behind the theme of the album is still something that I fall in love with at each listen: The world may be far too big of a place to see everything it has to offer, but love will always fill the distance. Travel and coastlines play a part with centering the imagery, such as “A Year On An Airplane” as Choi sings, “I crossed some standard state lines and finally found myself so far away from home / And even though New England intrigued us, thrilled us, our bones were cold as sticks and stones / We flew over the cascades / Just to find ourselves in storms we’ve never known”.

Not everything is grand though, like any journey there are moments of darkness, such as “You Versus the Sea”. Choi describes a girl who has struggled with hardship for years, and the dream he has of her standing in the sea, walking further and further into the waves. “Was it hope that kept you alive through the years and / Should I even call it living?”

However, perhaps one of the greatest songs the band has written, is also their most simple. It’s just the rhythmic tapping of cymbals and the soft exploration of a keyboard in “Debussie”. It’s one of the softest songs I’ve ever heard, and one of the shortest, but it’s the lynchpin for the entire album. Everything before it danced a fine line between darkness and dreamlike wonderment, but “Debussie” puts perspective on the fact that the world is too vast, too large to fully comprehend the darkness, but the holes left by it, when filled with love, completes everything.

“Will my life be long enough to see the things I want to see? / I believe this world is just too big for me / This life is just a blink of an eye, a glimpse into a world we were never meant to see / So don’t hang on to anything at all / And all the things we have and all the people we have known / Will fade away so quickly into the deep / And memories of love will be the only warmth we have in the end”.

Capping off the album is a warm pop song “What We Have Been Waiting For”, welcoming the summer and saying goodbye to winter. It’s also a wish to relive and fix the days spent obsessing over the vastness and loss with the new perspective given by “Debussie”. Much like the warm green melts away the blue on the album cover, the new found positive attitude washes away the darkness, doubt and fear of not experiencing everything, as Choi pleas to the summer sun, “Save me from the worst I’ve known and let me relive the days I’ve blown away / Remember all the times we’ve wasted, drowning ourselves from foolish dreams / We were betrayed by our own hope, but the summer will be a sweet revenge”.

I may be reading way too much into this album, but it has never gotten old to me. It was pivotal, even as a symbol, of keeping my head above water during the darkest year of my life and not letting depression completely take me. Sitting alone in my car at 2 in the morning, this album would spin until the final note of “What We Have Been Waiting For” and always make me ready to face the next day with a positive attitude.

Daphne Loves Derby have long since disappeared (though you can still hear the magnificent guitarist Jason Call), but the message and passion of their work still lives on, as strong as ever. It’s hard to find an album whose theme and message don’t age, but when you do, it latches onto you for a lifetime. It’s the strength to keep you wanting to see everything there is.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and didn’t buy the purple DLD Zebra wearing sunglasses shirt when he saw them live years ago. Why wouldn’t you get it? They’re gone now, stupid.

Stalking Seattle: Exploring the Dark History of One City’s Rock Legends

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For years, it’s been a dream of mine to travel to Seattle and visit the old haunts of some of my favorite musicians. Like so many others my age, I was deeply impacted by the alt rock explosion in the early 90s – a movement that would forever alter not only the underground music scene, but pop culture itself and the philosophical trajectory of an entire generation.

It’s safe to say that It’s All Dead wouldn’t exist without this movement and the local sounds that sparked it.

As anyone that’s spent more than 10 minutes with me can attest, Kurt Cobain is easily my favorite musician. I’ve read nearly every book written about him, spent countless hours reading, obsessing and writing about the impact and arc of alternative rock, and argued relentlessly for In Utero’s superiority to Nevermind.

However, for all of this self-proclaimed head knowledge, I had yet to step foot in the city that spawned it or walk down the roads that told its stories. This mission was recently (and belatedly) accomplished, thanks in large part to Stalking Seattle, the city’s surprisingly one and only rock and roll tour.

Statue of Jimi Hendrix, unveiled in 1997

Statue of Jimi Hendrix, unveiled in 1997

In the early afternoon, we climbed into the back of a black minivan with a few fellow music lovers and a kind-hearted, sharp-witted tour guide named Charity. She immediately strikes you as someone who is friends with everyone. This likely isn’t far from the truth, as her knowledge of the Seattle rock scene is one born from having lived in it and amongst it.

Charity is a Seattle native who started the tour a few years ago after repeated urges from those around her to fill the city’s glaring tourist void. She’s fully equipped for the task, with enough charisma to match her vast knowledge and experiences.

Throughout the afternoon, Charity shares stories of laughter, tears, joy, amazement and solemn reflection of over a decade’s worth of proceedings. She and her friends literally watched the small community around them explode into a worldwide phenomenon, finding themselves at ground zero. Even years later, you can still catch a flicker of awe in her voice as she marvels at the events.

Among the many stops along the way are sites such as the apartment of deceased Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, the building where members of what would become Pearl Jam first heard Eddie Vedder sing their songs, venues where Nirvana first played in front of a crowd, settings for the seminal Cameron Crowe film, Singles, the sculpture that inspired Chris Cornell to write Soundgarden’s smash song “Black Hole Sun”, and the high school of Jimi Hendrix.

Black Sun sculpture that inspired Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun"

Black Sun sculpture that inspired Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”

Each stop includes a story told from Charity’s perspective, along with local lore and details to fill in the gaps. Even more intriguing is the speculation and questions that linger in the aftermath of so many of these events and settings.

Herein lies the most fascinating and disturbing reality about Seattle’s celebrated music scene. Just above the sparkling reflection of artistic talent and bold culture-shifting influence lies a dark cloud of grief. Moments I had long anticipated as being filled with joy and wonder were often full of sober reflection.

Andy Wood’s heroine overdose, Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Jimi Hendrix’s mysterious death, Chris Cornell’s crippling substance abuse problems, and the tragic murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata are just a few of the events that cast a dark shadow over the city’s streets that, to this day, are still plagued by heroin use. Be not mistaken, there is beauty here, but it came at a cost.

In no moment is this more apparent than while standing outside of the home formerly owned by Cobain and Courtney Love, located in the ritziest neighborhood in Seattle. During their time there, the house is described as being nearly dilapidated, with peeling wallpaper and water leaking in from the roof.

Outside the home, now completely restored, lies a small park with a single wooden bench, which has become a shrine for Cobain. It’s covered with song lyrics and pictures, and on this afternoon, is dressed with an old sweater and a few wilting flowers.

A bench located in the park next to Cobain's Seattle home

A bench located in the park next to Cobain’s Seattle home

As each of us approaches the bench for a picture, Charity quips, “Don’t smile, but don’t look too sad.” We all chuckle at the notion, finding it difficult to find the appropriate response for the moment. It is truly one filled with a deep sadness and a healthy reverence.

In so many ways, that lone bench embodies not only the life and lasting impact of Cobain, but of an entire generation of the city’s music and culture. Unique, yet hauntingly out of place. Inviting, yet starkly alone.

My experience of Seattle wasn’t as I expected, but was instead profoundly more impactful. Walking these paths and listening to these stories is humbling in the most unexpected of ways. We find ourselves forever grateful for the music and voices that impacted our lives so deeply, while simultaneously learning from and feeling a deep sting from the events that came in their wake.

Visiting Seattle soon? Be sure to check out Seattle’s premier rock and roll sightseeing tour – Stalking Seattle.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

When a band breaks up – starring Daphne Loves Derby

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When a band breaks up, there is a sense of disillusionment and abandonment that can be heartbreaking. It invokes the same type of emotions as losing a dear friend: All the memories of each song, the time it took to learn the lyrics and the meaning that you found in the music. They’re powerful attachments that don’t leave easily.

Depending on what the band’s work meant to you, it can either be an inconvenience or utterly heart wrenching. More often than not, the band members just disappear for the most part, unless they start up a new project. Seeing them leave the scene can be hard, but it’s not too often that you get to know that in the end, they are happy.

The disbanding of Daphne Loves Derby hit me extremely hard. The trio was a group formed out of Kent, Washington in the early 2000s and quickly rose to recognition by being the first band on Purevolume to hit a million plays of their music. This led to the release of their first CD On The Strength of All Convinced in 2005. The band could play an incredibly catchy pop song, but what stood out about them was the ability to play slow melodic songs draped with acoustic strumming and the deeply poetic croon of vocalist Kenny Choi. Love songs were standard of course, but lyrically the albums felt like dream-filled poetic verse sung in hauntingly simple melodies.

After the release of 2007’s Good Night, Witness Light, I spent years waiting on the band’s next release. Somewhere in the haze of social media, I’d read that Kenny Choi had decided to go to college amid the release of his solo material under the name Wolftron and rumors that DLD’s third album had been recorded. And then they all just seemed to disappear.

Truthfully, I’m still waiting for an actual release of some sort from the band, even though I know it’ll never appear. Being left with that type of anticipation feels almost unforgivable at times when you think about how much you truly love the music that only a certain group of people can make. Every now and then, I Google the group members just to see if anything new has happened. Kenny released a few Youtube songs and ex-member Jason Call released a solo album, and then it appears that they went on with their individual adult lives, leaving the life of being a touring musician.

It’s easy to feel left behind, as though one of your best friends moves away and your only remaining contact is old photos. It can make you selfish and wonder why anyone would give up the musical life. But it’s that type of thinking that hinders your ability to remember that people move on and change their lives for the better. I recently saw on Twitter during one of my yearly investigations that Kenny had gotten married and seemed to be doing rather well for himself in a professional job. Jason Call seems to have moved on to bigger and better things while retaining his love of music.

The music industry is a tough one and is oftentimes a young man’s game. Seeing a band fall by the wayside is so common that we shouldn’t be affected when a group disbands. But the connection that we make is so strong and intimate that to accept the fact that their time in the scene is done is to let a small bit of yourself go that bonded to the work of someone else. Receiving no closure on what eventually happens to them only makes it all the harder.

Every now and then though, you get the chance to see that after they’ve left and been forgotten by the scene, they’re all the better for it and happy on the other side. Just getting hints towards that makes it all worth it in the end.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.