Dead Serious About Dehd: An Interview with Jason Balla


by Erin Christie

Veterans of the prolific Chicago DIY scene, Dehd—Jason Balla (vocals, guitar), Emily Kempf (vocals, bass), and Eric McGrady (drums)—have drawn comparisons to the likes of the Velvet Underground, the Cramps, and even the B-52s. Hazy with reverb and chock-full of lovey-dovey lyricism, Dehd takes listeners on a ride with their eclectic discography, including sounds that draw on anything from new wave to surf rock to classic indie to even post-punk. Currently, the band dons the cover of the “Post-Punk 2k” playlist curated by Spotify, highlighting the best of the best in terms of the current post-punk revival.

What makes Dehd worthy of your attention, though? 

Alongside their killer discography, Dehd’s conception story is straight out of a fairytale. In 2015, the three joined together as a sort of excuse for Kempf and Balla to explore their blossoming romantic relationship. Their early discography reflects the emotions felt during that pivotal time (note the Fire of Love EP which contains lyrics such as “Do you understand / I just wanna hold your hand” and “Everyone knows that I won’t stop / watching you take off your clothes”).

As time passed, the two decided to put their relationship as bandmates first and called it quits in 2017. Though this easily could’ve been a recipe for disaster, the band emerged unscathed (with time), and even stronger with the release of their record Water in 2019. With track inclusions such as “On My Side” (which is one of my personal singles of last year!), this record makes it clear that Dehd is thankfully just as, if not more powerful than they were before.

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In anticipation of their upcoming spring tour supporting Vundabar and whatever else 2020 might have in store, I caught up with Jason Balla via email about Dehd’s growth, their local roots, and their role in the post-punk resurgence.


To begin, for anyone who is unfamiliar with you guys, how would you introduce them to Dehd?

...Uh, ever heard of the Beatles? The band is Eric McGrady, Emily Kempf, and myself. We’ve been making music [for] a couple years now and really, from the start, it’s been about exploring our instruments, songwriting, and joy. People have said post-punk, pop, garage, surf (gross), but at the end of the day, it’s about the songs for us. With each song, we try to catch a little glimpse of ourselves that someone might recognize in themselves. 

P.S. I’m taking a risk telling you this now, but my deep dark secret is I hate the Beatles and now I’m ready for the world to know!

Having roots in Chicago and having such vast experience within the local DIY scene, how did beginning your musical journey there affect the way Dehd came to be?

Starting in the DIY world really just gave us an attitude of hard work and an example of just doing something because you care about it. We’re not making music because it’s cool to be in a band (even though it kind of is too ;-)) We’re making this stuff so it exists! Because we have to. The world needs this stuff—especially music with heart, especially now. The Chicago and national community were really the first people I met who lived and breathed that. 

The backstory behind the conception of Dehd is a love story as old as time (that I’m sure you’ve talked a ton about)! When you started working together in a professional sense, what were your main motivations aside from doing something that you enjoyed doing, together?

Like I mentioned earlier in the first question, the motivations have stayed pretty much the same since the beginning. We realized the three of us had a special bond when it came to making music and so we stuck with it. I wind up channeling my 14-year-old self in my room sometimes to remind myself why I started making music in the first place. It keeps me grounded and curious. 

It’s probably weird to talk about something so personal in interviews but since ~everything that went down~ prior to the release of Water, have band dynamics changed in any noticeable ways? Of course, it’s different, but I suppose that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

The real big difference is how much our communication has improved within the band. It’s really just made the writing process better and I think we’ve just learned how to better give each other space to be creative when we’re writing music or coming up with music videos or visuals. 

In terms of artists that have inspired the direction your sound has gone down since the beginning, who would you name? Who are you guys really digging right now (from an inspiration standpoint or just based on your personal taste)?

Our tastes span a lot of ground, but for me right now, I’m really inspired by people who have really found their own voice and make decisions that surprise me. It’s not always even so much about a sound or an aesthetic, but a spirit of making stuff. Some people that come to mind right now are Alex G, Tim Presley, Cate Le Bon, Mitski, Cindy Lee...whenever I hear a song by any of them it’s instantly recognizable. 

You guys are featured as the cover artist for the “Post Punk 2k” Spotify playlist which is kinda wild! In regards to defining your own sound, would you say “post-punk” is an accurate descriptor or is genre too limiting? Any opinions on the current “post-punk revival” that’s happening right now?

It is pretty wild right?! It’s hard to say just where we fit in sonically, but I do think post-punk is one of the worlds that we straddle. It was definitely a formative sound when I moved to the city, especially listening to Wire. I even got to play on stage with them once a couple years back! As for the revival, there’s a ton of great stuff that’s come out that that’s made an impact on me: Naomi Punk, Protomartyr, Women, Crack Cloud...our label mates and buds Patio and Deeper. 

Lyrically, a lot of your discography is brutally vulnerable—in the same vein, your latest release, “Letter,” goes in that direction as it’s very self-confessional and honest. Is it difficult to be so open in regard to your emotions when you think about the fact that thousands of people are basically listening to your personal diary in song form?

I think we try to write about stuff that we see and feel and I bet a lot of other people also see and feel. It’s really about addressing the human experience that we all share so I guess it doesn’t seem so lonely or vulnerable knowing there are other people out there in the same boat. 

A new single from Dehd. Apple Music: Spotify: artists/dancers: emily kempf jason balla cristina schlesier...

Of everything you’ve released thus far, is there a song/s that stand out to you as something that you’re particularly proud of? In other words, if you were to point anyone who hasn’t listened to you guys yet in the direction of one or a few songs, where should they start?

I’d say listen to “Letter” and “Thousand Times.”

I was also curious as to who designs/conceptualizes your album/cover artwork!

 I’ve done the art for the first tape and for Water. Me and Emily also trade off doing the merch designs. It’s a fun challenge to figure out what your band looks like and we try to approach it with the same openness that we do with writing. I personally try to push my sensibilities of what’s “correct” and like to be a little messy. 


Make sure to stay updated with Dehd via their social media and catch them out on the road with Vundabar this spring (including a stop at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club on Friday, April 24th)

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