Divers Talk New Album, Crowdfunding, and Their Dream Lineup

The good thing about Philly’s rock group Divers is that they play really good rock ‘n roll. So if you need a simple description of their music, that’s it–it’s rock ‘n roll, with a lot of different elements thrown in, although that doesn’t quite do them justice. To really get at the heart of what Divers’ sound is, there is no better description than the one that the group’s guitarist, Ross Bellenoit, gives: “It’s the rock ‘n roll we create, as the four of us people.”

That description is much more in tune with what makes Divers so special. Between the four of the group’s members–Emily Zeitlyn on vocals, Ross Bellenoit on guitar, Todd Erk on bass, and Tom Bendel on drums–influences are many and diverse. Somehow, though, all of those influences come together in Divers’ music in a way that not only makes sense, but perfectly reflects what happens when you put these four musicians together in a group. The result is rock ‘n roll that you can’t tear yourself away from, alternately driving and hypnotizing, and a true testament to the high skill level of every musician involved in the project.

Luckily for the general public, Divers is currently working to put out their debut album, and is crowd funding the album to make it happen. The crowd funding project, hosted on Pledgemusic, currently has only one week left and approximately 30% left to meet its goal. Just a few days after their show at Johnny Brenda’s, and on the eve of the album’s final recording session, Rock on Philly sat down with Emily and Ross to talk music, the band, and generally go off on chatty tangents.

 

Rock On Philly: Let’s go ahead and jump in–how did Divers start?

Emily Zeitlyn: I had a band called The Weeds for years, that ended for various reasons, and I decided I wanted to start a band where I didn’t play guitar, and where I just concentrated on singing. And I also really just wanted to have fun and not worry about any of the other aspects of music-making at all–which now I’m getting back into, it’s hard to avoid that. It sounds obvious, but I loved playing with The Weeds, it was amazing, but I would just get really stressed out about technical things on the guitar, and it kept me sometimes from really enjoying performing. So, I’d always wanted to work with Ross, everybody wants to work with Ross–

Ross Bellenoit: And I could see that, when I’d see the Weeds perform.

EZ: And I had a bunch of songs, and I’d always wanted to work with Ross, so I contacted him and we were excited to work together right away. I had seen him perform and I was like, “I want to be in a rock band with him, and I just want him to do whatever he wants to do with the two or three chords, and I know it’s gonna be good!” And Tom Bendel had played with the Weeeds a few times, so I was familiar with his talents, and then we brought Todd in a few months later.

RB: Actually, for a while, it was just me, Emily, and Tom, and I was playing bass, and Emily was still playing guitar. And then Todd was our immediate, like, “Let’s get Todd on board”–

EZ: Yeah, we weren’t sure we could get him. He’s very sought after. But then we did!

ROP: Where did the name Divers come from?

RB: There was a longer version of it, right? It was like, “The…the…Something? Divers”

EZ: We all sat around thinking of names for a few days, just thinking of bad names, good names, silly names…and then we were the Blind Divers.

RB: Yeah, and then Tommy started calling it Divers.

EZ: We were like “Divers practice”, we just started calling it Divers practice and then…it was kind of Tommy leading the way on dropping the “Blind”, and it just felt right.

RB: It kind of…historically, you think of bands sometimes struggling to find with a band name. For us it came together fairly quickly.

ROP: Where did “Blind Divers” come from? What was the inspiration behind that?

EZ: I think the idea of just going for something, going in deep, seeing what you find…

RB: Just jumping in and seeing what happens. Which is kind of how we approach the songs, a little bit. Like, Emily brings in the basic structure of the song, and we literally just sort of dive in! We go with whatever our first instincts are, while at the same time listening to each other and trying to make it all fit.

EZ: We don’t talk a lot…we just play. We just play it out.

RB: We rarely tell each other “Why don’t you play this, or why don’t you try this?” Which is actually liberating, and also challenging for me in a way, since my natural instinct as someone who produces records and even in other musical situations…I tend to be sort of dominant? But in this band, from the beginning, I decided I just want to see what happens.

EZ: Also, Ross has a lot of structure and the producing ability, and I’m really loose and intuitive, and I feel like we play really well off each other that way. And with the rest of the band–Ross and Tommy and Todd have worked in a lot of other iterations together, so they don’t even need to talk! It’s really neat. I’ll bring something in and usually what happens is–this is just my personality–they’ll start playing something and I’m like “What? No! No! Oh….yeah…that’s not really how I was thinking..” But it just takes me a few seconds for me to catch up. Like, Tommy will start putting down a rhythm that I would never have thought of.

Here was one of the many times we trailed off on tangents, in this instance, talking about our preferences, biases, and experiences with rhythm sections. Then we moved onto discussing cover songs, how best to do them, and specifically the covers that Divers like to perform in their sets.

ROP: So, speaking of covers: do you guys already have all the tracks picked out for the album? Are they already recorded?

RB: Yeah, actually, we’re finishing up the recordings tonight, so it will be finished soon. And then it’s just gotta be mixed, and mastered.

ROP: So, why did you decide to go the crowd funding route? Was there any sort of motivation besides minimizing the financial risk?

EZ: (thinks) No other way to pay for it? (laughs)

RB: Yeah, it being really the only option we had. There aren’t any of us in the band, y’know, who have that sort of…we’re still a pretty new band. It’s really the only option for us. But at the same time, it has a lot of pluses, too. It feels like we’re sort of consolidating our fan base, but we’re also reaching out to other people and saying “You might dig this,” and they check it out and they wanna hear more.

EZ: The organizing part is really amazing, too. The way it’s set up–and I’m not a particularly organized person–it organizes all the emails and the addresses, and when you send one email to the thing, it sends it to all the different places, which is good for me. I like it, too, because it’s a platform to get little news bits about the process, and then after the album comes out, it continues to be a platform that will reach out to the same audience who pledged, to let them know when we’re going on tour, and that sort of thing.

RB: Yeah, you can keep reaching out to those people. This is particular to Pledgemusic, too.

ROP: That was my next question–why Pledgemusic over Kickstarter or Indiegogo or anything?

EZ: I do like that if you get over the amount, you can pick an organization to give 10% to, and that goes back into something local, like a part of your community. I volunteer a little bit with Girls Rock Philly, and I LOVE them and I wish they had been around when I was young, so I think it’s cool to be in any partnership with them at all.

RB: They also keep you accountable. I’ve seen a lot of different Kickstarter campaigns where they raised a bunch of this money, and then something happens–life happens, who knows what–and then the product never gets made…that kind of thing. That happens. Then the people are just left wondering. There’s no, y’know, oversight, where with Pledgemusic, they keep you in check and make sure you’re getting things done, making it happen.

EZ: Also, you can’t just ask for any random amount. They force you to budget really clearly and they approve your final budget, what dollars go where. It forces you to be really organized about all the monies and where they’re going to go, so we had all that organized before we even started the campaign. Also, I like the fact that–for instance, Chris Kasper’s album, I pre-ordered it, and I feel like I was a little bit part of that project! I do feel when I listen to the album, it does kind of make you feel like you’re part of that project a little more, and in general I like that idea. That idea of buying into art and the cycle of supporting each other, and I think that’s a good thing. Also, you’re buying the album. Like, it’s just doing that transaction ahead of time, it’s not just giving money for a charitable purpose. I mean, we’re making music that we’re gonna give you, and you’re buying it from us.

ROP: I agree, I think crowdfunding is great for art and artists in that way. It’s a very up-front relationship between contributors or donors and the artists. You feel more directly connected than you might giving money to a faceless arts organization. I know that, specifically, my $10, has gone to pay for printing the CD that I’m holding in my hands. It’s just doing that transaction that you would probably do at a later date anyway, and doing it sooner!

EZ: Also, we all have jobs to make our livings and have expenses…and, y’know (laughs) we’re all pretty much living the hand-t0-mouth beautiful artist’s life. It’s not like there’s really an extra pocket of money somewhere!

RB: Also, as a full-time musician, with the free streaming music services and all that, the opportunities for income for musicians are getting squashed, sort of. Normally, you could get a little bit of something from those avenues of income to put towards a record, but even those are just being squashed by people who just get things for free these days.

ROP: Just as far as the album goes, do you guys have specific goals in terms of what you want to put out there, artistically and for the band?

RB: Well, before we started seriously talking about making a record, we would just play shows every few months and get this great response. So we all started to just feel like we had this sound, this “Divers” sound. So we decided we wanted to make a record that just captures that, the four of us in a room, and not, y’know, layers of tambourine tracks and strings and stuff. Just straight ahead rock ‘n roll.

ROP: Are you guys tracking everything live?

RB: Pretty much everything was tracked live. Because of logistics, Emily’s re-cutting some of her vocals–some of the vocals she’s keeping from the original live takes. But there’s just some–y’know, we were recording for a whole week, and after 6 hours of singing, you’re gonna get a little tired. But most of it is honest-to-god live, there really haven’t been any overdubs of anything. It sounds great.

ROP: So that’s really reflective then, of the idea that you just want the record to sound like Divers.

RB: Yeah, exactly. If we feel really good about our live dynamic, we want the record to represent that.

ROP: Alright. Something fun–if you guys got to put together a show and share the stage with any bands you wanted, at any venue in Philly, where would it be and who would you play with?

RB: I’m gonna say Nick Cave. I could line up a festival right now for everybody! Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen

EZ: Oh! Yeah, Nick Cave! We just saw Nick Cave this summer, and we were inspired. I would enjoy that.

RB: He’s a phenomenal performer. Not just as a songwriter and an artist, but engaging with the audience and communicating the music, because that’s just what it’s all about. It’s theatrical, but basically it’s like he’s trying to convey something to his audience and he’s very effective at it. And he makes people feel something, and that’s what’s important–y’know, that’s why we all do this.

ROP: Where would you guys play?

RB: (laughs) If we name a venue, is that going to put us in hot water?

EZ: I wanna play with Nick Cave at BOOKSPACE! If Bookspace was, y’know, a real venue…I LOVE the interior of that building. With Nick Cave, it would be perfect, because there’s trapeze, all sorts of swings  hanging down…it’s beautiful inside. It’s so beautiful! If you could light it and make it sound good, it would be perfect. I love alternative venues! Who else would we invite? Who else would fit into that show? Like, Diamanda Galas?

RB: I would want to invite Here We Go Magic, or just Luke Temple solo.

EZ: Oooh, Here We Go Magic! Okay! I think Here We Go Magic show, because then it would fill the space with…it would be great. And we could have really good food, free food, for everybody! And good drinks. And free books! Free rollerskates…I can’t rollerskate, but that would look awesome. People rollerskating in and out of these big stacks of books everywhere.

ROP: Yes! I would see that show, definitely. And we could put you guys on rollerskates, too!

RB: But how would I work my pedals if I’m on rollerskates?! Oh, okay, if this is, y’know unlimited whatever to run this show–I would have someone else to switch my settings at all the appropriate parts in the songs. I think St. Vincent did that on her last tour, like, she’s just got one guitar. Because she gets all these crazy sounds out of her guitar, and it’s just all programmed so that she can just press a little button on her guitar, like boop! and then she can just play. (laughs) I think THAT’S making it, right there.

ROP: Yeah! I think that’s a fair measure of making it. Thanks for talking with me, guys.

 

It’s clear that this band is full of talented and thoughtful musicians. If you want to support their project,  but haven’t yet taken the plunge, don’t dilly dally. There’s only a week left, so dive into the music of Divers and help make their album a reality!

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