I had the chance to interview Bill See of Divine Weeks. In this interview we talk about how the band reunited, new record, and so much more.
Rob: Who is Divine Weeks?
Bill: Well, Divine Weeks 2016 is three-quarters of the original lineup. Myself, Raj Makwana on guitar and Dave Smerdzinski on drums. Our bass player, George Edmondson, is now a rock star of the classroom, a very successful professor at Dartmouth. So, we brought in a guy called Steve Soto on bass, who unfortunately right after recording the new record had a terrible motorcycle accident, so for the live show our old friend Michael Lawrence is stepping in.
Rob: Where does your name come from?
Bill: We’d kind of racked our brains trying to agree on a name and then it got to one of those desperate moments where you’re so fed up you can truly understand how a group of otherwise sane people could throw up their hands and say in all seriousness, “Hey, how about Chumbawamba and call it a day?” Anyway, George was an English Lit major at UCLA at the time, and he kind of conned us by telling us Divine Weeks was a cool book from the 16th Century. As I recall he said it was like the “Catcher in the Rye” of the era so that sounded good to us. Of course, that turned out to be complete crap. Divine Weeks is actually the name of a book of poems by French poet Guillaume de Saluste Du Bartas which expands on the Book of Genesis. Not very rock and roll.
Rob: Why did you guys get back together?
Bill: I wrote a book a few years back called “33 Days” about the shock to the system of going out on our first tour and the whole 80s DIY touring-in-a-van ethos. I asked Raj (Divine Weeks guitarist) to do the artwork and took him out with me on the book tour where we played some Divine Weeks songs. That started the healing. Then we hatched this idea of playing a show of covers – songs that saved us and always gave us comfort. We tossed that around and then Raj said to me, “Why don’t we just write our own songs that save us – but not for looking back, but for the here and now.” So we started writing, just the two of us, every Sunday morning with no plans for it to be a Divine Weeks thing at all. We finished 10 songs and couldn’t stand it without drums or bass anymore. Started working up the tunes with the whole band and was about to record them all – again, still with no plans for it to be Divine Weeks. And then David Bowie died. And learning after he’d received his death sentence, he got busier than ever, and realizing his parting message was, essentially, carpe diem, seize the day, get busy…don’t waste another second not being who you truly are is the ultimate crime, I mean, that was the mandate – and really, should be to all artists. And that just really hit home, and we knew we had to be who we really are. And that’s basically what the whole record is about. Recapturing your true essence. And it’s funny because I’m pretty much a hard ass when it comes to reunions. I mean, if you’re going to come back you better show you have something to prove and you better play like your life depends on it, otherwise, please stay home. And for us, we took stock of everything, made sure all the boxes were checked and yep, we’ve definitely got a helluva lot to prove, and we’re definitely playing like our very lives depend on it.
Rob: Your new record “See Those Landing Lights” has come out. Where did the name come from?
Bill: See Those Landing Lights is taken from the last song on the record, “Big Sky” which is kind of the emotional centerpiece of the record. And in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, you get a song that just lands, kind of magically, and almost writes itself. “Big Sky” was like that. And so Big Sky is like this evocative wide open hopeful place for renewal and “See Those Landing Lights” is the beacon-like-lighthouse of sorts that carries you home again. But it’s not just making it back again, it’s about, once there, reclaiming your truest, best self. And for me, being an artist again, if that doesn’t sound too high falutin!
Rob: What are the themes on this album?
Rob: What are the themes on this album?
Bill: It’s about stripping away all the edifices and recognizing how crucial it is to get back to – or maybe for the first time – be who you really are. And it’s funny, as a writer, you don’t always know that’s where it’s headed. The first song we wrote was the first song on the record, “Here’s My Heart and Soul” which was this unknown voice calling me out and telling me to stop pretending I don’t need music because he (the voice) knows what I really am. And of course, that voice was me. So, that set the tone for the whole record. The second song, “Rise in Love” is this ah-hah moment of realizing for the first time you’re in a relationship with someone who’s not there to save you and who demands you to stay whole. And you’re like, “You mean, I can be that and you’ll still love me?” So, it’s this debunking of a life of thinking you have to fall in love, or be less than, and she says “No, you don’t have to be a martyr to get love.” And so on and so on to where you get to the end of the record on “Big Sky” and everything that’s ever held you back, your family of origin, religion, all those faulty survival tools are stripped away and there’s only love and purity and music and beauty, and you’re in rapture, chasing the muse, in blissful ecstasy.
Rob: What are you wanting your fans to get from this album?
Bill: You know, there’s enough darkness in the world. We just wanted to reach for the light and make some joyful and triumphant music. Our previous records have some good songs, but we were never in the studio at the right moment. Our best moments were out there in some dive on the road so we never captured the best of ourselves. I really feel like this record captures the best of what we are and what we can do which is project this kind of maniacal drive and obsession of ours to connect and give folks some uplift.
Rob: Who inspired your sound?
Bill: Well, we’re not easily swayed anymore. I mean, we’re not just starting out, and we’re all down the road a piece. But we’ve always had a Who complex of sorts. I mean, when we started out, it was early REM, some really early U2, Husker Du, Replacements, Minutemen, that sort of thing. When Raj and I started writing again for this record, I remember us talking about how we were both totally obsessed with Motown at the time, Smoky Robinson, The Supremes, Four Tops. But you know, you can’t hear that listening to this new record. It was more like it inspired a certain kind of discipline to the songwriting and stripping away all the flab. When we were writing, just the two of us, Raj would play these hymn-like chiming open chord progressions and leave me so much space to improvise and so vocally, melody-wise, I drew from a lot of gospel and church music – not lyrically, but just for that whole wide openhearted calling-up-to-the-spirits kind of approach that’s evident throughout this record.
Rob: What are your plans for 2016?
Bill: At this moment, we’re focused on the first show here in L.A. coming up on May 21st at Fais Do Do, our coming out party and first show in 12 years. It’s going to be free, we’re filming it, and so it’s kind of a big celebration for ourselves and for our fans. And it’s just the next natural step in this whole campaign of ours pay it forward and keep taking Bowie’s mandate and push it further, like, “Hey, we did this, and it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. Now go do it for yourselves.”
Go purchase “See Those Landing Lights” at CD Baby.