It wasn’t all that long ago when the four guys in Division Day were sitting in a bar trying to figure out their next step as a band—or if they were going to remain a band at all. They had toured the country, played all of the right musical festivals and were even name-dropped on the new version of “90210.” But they had also split with their label Eenie Meenie Records, and after nearly a decade in the game, were lacking momentum.
Also, even though the dreamy pop of 2006’s Beartrap Island was praised for its dense harmonies and sultry simplicity, the guys felt the disc’s varied song styles didn’t represent where they were musically anymore.
“That period was disheartening. I think a lot of bands would have called it a day. But we were determined,” says guitarist Ryan Wilson, who along with Rohner Segnitz (keyboards/vocals), Kevin Lenhart (drums) and Seb Bailey (bass/vocals), make up the Los Angeles band (some members have known each other since childhood).
“On the last record we tried to appease everyone—to mixed results. For this record, we decided to find one thing we all agreed on and push in that direction as hard as we could,” adds Lenhart. “We needed to sound like us, and boldly so.”
The guys took a year to narrow their musical lens, explore new ways of recording, and hone in on a directive and focus that they could all get excited about. Or as Segnitz puts it, “do that Division Day thing of fucking talking a bunch, equivocating and deliberating.” They came out the other side with Visitation, an album which finds the band steering confidently into darker territory, marrying synthetic and organic textures in songs about death, transformation, and the devil.
Album opener “Reservoir” sets the subterranean tone with textured drums and serpentine guitars. Throughout the disc the band explores solid, skuzzy alt-rock with “Chalk Lines” and distorted shoe gaze haze with “My Prisoner,” while the delicate beauty of “Azalean” and the austerity of “Planchette” let Segnitz’s vocals shine over any studio wizardry. Grandiose in scope, yet cohesive and definitely boldly their own, the album has the eerie allure found in the music of Gary Numan, early Peter Gabriel, Magnet, and the darker side of Radiohead and the Pixies.
To those scratching their heads to classify what it’s all about, Wilson offers this assistance: “We’re calling it post-industrial blackened romantigaze.”
The guys self-funded the recording (signing to Dangerbird after all was said and done), so when they were looking for a producer to join them on this new musical path, they needed someone who got it.
They found Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Nine Inch Nails, Beck), also a session bassist, who was drawn to an early demo of “Malachite.” Relatively speaking, their time in the studio was a sprint. Armed with nearly-completed songs, they holed up with Meldal-Johnsen and engineer Todd Burke (Ben Harper, The Kooks) at The Bank in Burbank, where they tracked the lion’s share of the album in just 10 days.
“He made us feel that he was a believer in what we were doing, which was really important because we were making this record just because we wanted to do it,” says Wilson. “He knew all of the references we were going for.” The guys discussed musical waypoints that included Harvey Milk, David Sylvian, Cocteau Twins and Pink Floyd. “It wasn’t about genre, but it was more about sounds. And he was able to ascertain what about those elements were important to us,” says Segnitz.
Visitation is the complete opposite of Beartrap Island, which was recorded completely in analog. Sure, the guys captured initial sounds and beats with traditional instruments, but they also added a layer of technology, processing the guitars, making a single keyboard sound out many things, and essentially tweaking it all so everything’s not so readily-discernable. It all works to retain the interest of the listener upon multiple plays.
“Ryan and Seb went off the deep end. They bought a lot of gear. Everybody hit this new aesthetic and we all went with it,” says Lenhart. “It’s a more difficult direction for us for sure, but it’s more exciting too.”
Primary lyricist and avid black metal lover Segnitz also took a fresh approach to the recording, largely focusing on the kind of stuff that gives you nightmares over the dream-focused content of the past.
On Visitation, Segnitz adopts a new lyrical voice, leaving behind much of Beartrap Island’s impressionistic conjuring in favor of often unsettlingly clear depictions of the unnatural encroaching upon every day life. Listen closely and the title track is about getting a visit from Satan or something worse; “Chalk Lines” draws a story of an occult ceremony in a suburban kitchen; “Malachite” is about a horse statuette coming to life. But below the stories there is a stratum of metaphor.
“To me it boils down to breaking down experiential boundaries,” says Wilson. “Just that thing that pokes itself into your head and makes you uneasy,” says Wilson.
Given the ambitious nature of the musical direction, Segnitz wanted to make sure the lyrics stood up. “That’s one of the things I’m most happy about,” he says, “is that we’re really honoring the musical material by having lyrics that are a compliment to it.”
In finding their focused musical direction, Division Day also rediscovered that making music for the sake of making music is what it’s all about. And whether greater success comes of it or not, the accomplishment of Visitation is one to be proud of.
“By going through this whole process, we ended up doing something for the love of doing it and coming up with something that I think is pure of heart and intention. I think that’s the coolest thing to come out of it,” says Wilson. “If we would have never signed with a label after making this record, yeah, we would have been bummed, but we would have still had this document, and I think it’s awesome.”