Death From Above 1979's sound is mainly made from Jesse F. Keeler on the bass and synths. His set-up is as follows: Rickenbacker 4003, Dunlop Tortex 0.73mm triangle-shaped picks, Vintage Peavey and Acoustic heads with two Traynor 8x10 cabinets loaded with PA speakers (output of 1,200 watts), ’80s Ibanez SC10 Super Stereo Chorus pedal and Dunlop GCB-95 Crybaby wah-wah pedal. He describes the sound as, "My sound partly grew from not being able to afford anything new or ‘vintage-cool.’ It had to be ‘vintage-nobody-wanted-it.’”
He then went on to explain his set-up a little more, "Since it’s just two of us on stage I need a full-range sound. Using two 8x10 cabinets and putting out about 1,200 watts helps have a big sound. My rig gives me about as many speakers as a guitarist’s full stack plus a bass player’s 8x10. I also like to use amp distortion because it gives me more dynamic response than a pedal.
Instead of stimulating output with preamp gain or a pedal, I prefer to get maximum output from the instrument. I rewired the Rickenbacker so that nothing impedes the pickup’s signal. I only use solid-state amps because the attack is instant—it’s much quicker than a tube amp. I also put PA speakers in my cabinets because they have better top-end response than bass speakers."
A common misconception of how Jesse F. Keeler get the distinctive sound is that he uses pedals. Jesse does not use pedals or effect pedals at all. He uses controlled feedback from the amps by playing close to it and he wired the amp to a way that it makes the sound it does. If you have ever seen them play live or listened to my Live Bootleg CD you might have noticed that Jesse's sound is consistent all the way through the whole show. This is because of the no effects pedals he uses. The sound in the studio is a little different on some songs but is basically the same too. The only effects "pedal" Jesse uses is for synths.
The reason why it is just a drum and bass combo is...
“The idea was designed as a challenge: To set boundaries, and be creative [as much as possible] inside those boundaries.” “What we’re doing now is closer to what we’ve been wanting to do all along,” said Grainger. “We still haven’t achieved what we set up to do. Every record so far has been a snap shot of our learning process. Not only of writing songs but also how to record our band. There’s no protocol for recording bass and drums. It’s still a learning experience.” And no matter what convention dictates, they’re not about to cave and allow guitars to infiltrate their sound. The drum-and-bass set up is “still challenging us and invigorates us,” said Grainger. “There’s no point in stopping now.”
Keeler goes on to say, "We both played guitars, drums, and keyboards, but this is the first time I’ve ever played bass in a band. I started playing drums when I was three, and I think that has bled into every other musical thing I’ve done. I also play guitar, but when I had the idea for this band, I found that I couldn’t get the sound I wanted from a guitar, but I could get it with a bass and an amp."
Formed in 2002, disbanded in early August 2006, Death from Above 1979 was a Toronto-based Canadian indie rock duo. Members were Jesse F. Keeler (~30 years old) on bass/synths/vocals and Sebastien Grainger (27 years old) on vocals/drums. The "F" in Jesse F. Keeler's name is for the middle name of Frederick.
Originally named just "Death From Above” after Jesse F. Keeler shopped in an Army Surplus store and noticed the motto the U.S. Paratroopers, the duo changed their name after a legal dispute with New York City’s dance-funk label Death From Above, now named DFA Records after the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York city. An explanation of their trunks is that they want their music to have the same effect as if there was an elephant in your living room.