Dehd make songs for dreamers and sufferers alike. The Chicago trio’s moody, landlocked surf rock gained a national platform after the well-deserved but unexpected success of their third album, 2020’s Flower of Devotion. Rather than using their modest fame and fortune to move somewhere with waves, they stuck with what they knew, re-booking the local studio that birthed Flower for triple the time and allowing guitarist Jason Balla to step into the producer role.
The result is Blue Skies. Out today via Fat Possum, it’s an album of crushing lows and soaring highs, but ultimately more of the latter. Dehd’s last two records (Flower and 2019’s Water) found the group’s fronting duo, Balla and bassist Emily Kempf, working through their difficult breakup on wax. But the new LP introduces them as independent entities, finding new love and fresh heartbreak on their own. Soft-spoken drummer Eric McGrady, too, projects a newfound romantic confidence on his only lead vocal performance, “Hold.”
Days before its release, Dehd broke Blue Skies down for The FADER track by track. Some responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Jason Balla: I found this piano melody and the first words of this song while fucking around in the studio. Later that night I had a panic attack, biked home and just laid on the floor with my girlfriend until I got back control. The next morning I came into the studio early and the rest of the lyrics just fell out of me.
Emily Kempf: “Bad Love” is about recovering from love addiction and making a decision to stop choosing and aligning with people who aren’t your energetic match. I wrote it for myself and for everyone who needed to hear a song about choosing new forms of love. It’s about chasing a relationship with oneself rather than an unhealthy one, one that just doesn’t quite fit, or a codependent one. Everyone experiences loneliness and everyone needs connection. I wished to reclaim loneliness for myself and others as something not embarrassing or [a] dark secret. I wanted to embrace loneliness and being alone, alchemizing it with friendship and behaviors with self that don’t involve romance or sex.
JB: This is the garbage pizza of the record. It’s got every topping and flavor held together by the cheese.
EK: “Bop” is playing around with the idea of danger and doing things you know you’re not supposed to do! Sometimes it’s more fun to be a troublemaker than to play it safe or play by the “rules.”
EK: “Clear” is about having a new crush and the feeling of relief and hope that a new big relationship is on horizon. The excitement that comes when you admit deep feelings and it is reciprocated. I find these times to be actually quite rare!
JB: I love this intro because Eric and I are just pounding away on the floor tom together. The song started out as a guitar song, but it felt too flat and we got stuck. At some point I had the idea to deconstruct the first half of the song and make it all about the drums and Emily’s voice. I think it’s so cool that my guitar doesn’t even come in until half way through the song.
Eric McGrady: The song “Hold” is about keeping things around you, like special moments with friends or a memorable moment you spent alone where you felt a flick of a spark and everything was good.
JB: Some days Eric texts you a song, and when that day comes along, you better stop what you’re doing and listen. From the first line of his vocals, I knew it had to be on the record.
JB: The last couple years have seen a string of people dear to me leaving this world. This song is about being chased by and trying to hold onto the past. I have a shit memory and I feel like a lot of my memories are stuck behind this wall I can’t get behind.
EK: “Memories” is the song where I channel Abba.
EK: “Window” was written over the span of a couple albums and years. We kept picking it up and re-writing. I like this song because it encapsulates many moments in a timeline and many of my past selves in different stages of said timeline. I am writing about letting go of a great love lest i destroy myself and lose everything. I am writing about the hope of a blue sky and that no matter what, more gifts always come, and I just stick around and try harder to receive them. Pain is temporary and can always be overcome.
JB: This one was in the trash can after trying to record it once unsuccessfully. We took it out and shook off the banana peel. A new guitar line, new drums, and the vision of a blue sky after a hard 1.5 years saved this song.
EK: Pretty sure “Palomino” is for JB’s partner, Jess! Everyone please stop confusing me and Jess, we are two different people. AND she is in a really sick band called BNNY. Give a listen, it’s been a long-standing fave Chicago band of mine. Jess’s twin Alexa also does most of our press photos!
JB: Even if you can’t make out the words, I hope it feels like this song is about sex.
EK: [”Waterfall”] is about being obsessed with true love and with the construct of “the one.” I wrote it to address my addiction to the terrible and wonderful pursuit of perfect love.
JB: Last year I spent a lot of time reading about history and seeing it repeat itself, and part of this song is about the frustration of pushing against the system and trying not to feel powerless.
JB: There are so many simple facts in this world: the sky above our heads, gravity. How is it that I’m surrounded by such certainty and can feel so unsure?
EK: “Dream On” is about playing music, especially in the live sphere. I frequently reference being on stage as falling into a sort of void. It is my favorite place to be, a place where I can fully self-forget and find perfect euphoria and perfect calm.
“Empty In My Mind”
EK: “Empty In My Mind” is about being in the floating mindless space when around a new crush. I was trying to write about the fuzzy, buzzy, spaced-out feeling i get when I am in pursuit or being pursued by a lover. The sort of high that occurs, the spinning, the detachment and the feeling of ungroundedness. All of these things being either very fun or absolutely dreadful.
JB: I went hard on the drum programming for this one. We originally tracked this one as a live band, but it just didn’t hit right like it did in the practice space, so we wound up synthesizing a lot of the drums to give this one a pulse.
JB: When I get too overwhelmed and I feel like my heart’s gonna break from all the sadness in this world, I go for a walk. The familiar streets of home pull me back to earth.
EK: “Stars” is about having fun and reaching past the boundaries of understanding or personal comfort, and about keeping friends around you.
JB: I’ve been increasingly interested in the concept of geological time and find a lot of comfort in the fact of the insignificance of my individual existence relative to the lifespan of time. The world is impermanent. What was once an ocean is now a desert. What was once a seed is now a forest. My life feels more doable when it’s framed against this constant force of change. This is also the only Dehd song ever to have a cymbal on it!
EK: ”No Difference” is about being on the road, and being alive for long enough to basically accept life on life’s terms in a radical and vaguely tired way.