Coming up on a decade of making music together, Alex and Chris van den Hoef of DVBBS have a shared language.
Since they were young, the two brothers found a love of exploration and curiosity through music. After school, they’d run up their winding driveway to thrash around to Nirvana and NOFX in their basement. Later, they’d discover Sublime and reggae. As Alex puts it, being exposed to all these different types of genres is what makes them excel as producers.
Yet, the fact that DVBBS have existed this long isn’t lost on him. He’s quick to show respect to bands who’ve largely remained together for over a decade — and aren’t even related — pointing to the Red Hot Chili Peppers as proof.
“Between Anthony Kiedis and Flea, I feel their brotherhood,” he says. “I feel their friendship is more than a friendship; it’s family. But you already know that it’s come with their troubles and tribulations. That’s just a part of life, and that’s just a part of actually making it as a musician.”
I wanted to start by getting a sense of the band because I know it’s you and your brother. So, what’s your role?
That’s a great question because the funny thing is, as DVBBS, we turned into these producers. By 2021, I like to say we produce genres all over the map, but we really did start in a band setting. My brother Chris is a drummer, and I started on the guitar, and I taught myself how to do vocals throughout the years.
When Chris moved away to go to university, he actually learned how to produce on Ableton. I would send him acoustic guitar hooks, melodies. He would take my vocals, and he started remixing them.
As the years progressed, we have a very split role where Chris is behind the computer producing on Ableton, working on the keys, on synthesizers. I would say that I’m working on melodies, hooks, song structure. We have a certain language that we speak to each other in the studio, and we’re very blunt and honest with each other. Sometimes a little too honest. I think that’s what delivers a product in the end that we’re truly proud of.
When did the new album start to take shape?
I would say Christmas of last year is when [we got] the first sense of, “OK, a new project is starting.” [With] the whole quarantine that was going on last year, we took off four, five months from even speaking about music. It was a lot of time to self-reflect. We just got off doing years of touring. At one point from 2013 to 2017, we did around close to 150 to 200 shows a year. So when COVID hit, it was a great time to get everything back in check, personally, mentally. We took some time off from working in the studio.
It’s really funny how a new project all of a sudden becomes like, “OK, we’re getting into it now.” It really just takes one session. It gives you this new direction, and it gives you a breath of fresh air. Because for me personally, when I have that time off, I’m not really working on music, but I’m thinking about it all the time. I’m thinking about where our next direction can go. I’m thinking about what a new sound can be, a new topic, a theme, where we’re at in the world.
Yeah, it sounds like instead of having a road map, you went in there and made sounds to see what would come of it.
It’s truly based on emotion. It’s truly based on where we’re at in life. The greatest thing that happened this time around is that we really did pick up a lot of instruments and stemmed a lot of songs off instruments, even our own voices. Because early DVBBS, we were still so familiar with being in a band setting that all of our early songs started on just a guitar and a vocal, a bassline, a melody on the piano. Then we had success with dance music.
With that kind of stuff, it put us into a whole new box. It’s almost full circle at this point. It’s about to be a decade, and it’s bringing us right back to where we started. That was the most refreshing part of [this album]. There’s something about it where it reminds us of why we got into music in the first place, and that’s just emotion, picking up an instrument and playing through it and seeing where it’s gonna go.
You mentioned becoming independent on the same day that your album drops. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?
I feel like we’re in a very comfortable place as artists and producers. To try now to take everything we’ve learned in the last decade, working with labels, working with people and applying it to ourselves, it’s going to be so much fun. We’re going to fully be able to have our own control on so many levels. I think having partnerships at the right stages in your career is important, especially in the very beginning where [you need] funding or guidance — you’re still learning. But we’ve had the same manager since day one, and we’ve learned a lot. I think we’re very confident to go into 2022 as independent artists and just explore that whole world.
How do you prepare for a live show?
We like to bring out a full band with us. We’ve had an orchestra onstage with us before. We program a pretty decent-sized show with a lot of pyrotechnic visuals and just really entertaining stuff. If we have a hard song like “Tsunami” and the crowd is going absolutely insane, I wanna be able to match that with a heartfelt song where maybe they’re not going ballistic on each other, but they’re screaming the vocals so loud that it almost matches exactly how hard a hard song would be.
So, it’s very important to us when Chris and I are programing a show that we make it a roller coaster. We may start off the show with 15 minutes of explosion, and then it might go down for another 10, 15 minutes of just, “Hey, feel the music. Feel the lyrics. Feel the energy of what this show is right now.” So, it’s a roller coaster of emotions. It’s a roller coaster of sounds.
This interview appeared in issue 399, available here.