Friendly foursome didi uses its tight bonds to embark on a quest to redefine pop.
On a recent weeknight, the bandmates in didi gathered in a booth at an Old North diner. To say the four friends, who met in the DIY music scene, are close-knit is an extreme understatement. In conversation, they relentlessly build each other up, talking about the indispensable contributions each band member makes and the key roles they play. The discussion feels like a big, long group hug.
From didi’s inception, which began a few years ago when singer/guitarist Meg Zakany got together to jam with drummer Sheena McGrath before and after McGrath moved to Columbus from Bloomington, Indiana, the bandmates were giddy with excitement. The bond only grew tighter as didi toured and released an eight-track, self-titled album in 2015.
“We started going on tour, and it’s like, I don’t even know how we met, because it feels like I’ve always known you — like siblings,” singer/bassist Leslie Shimizu said to her bandmates.
Didi has been difficult to categorize from the get-go, taking inspiration from favorite ’90s bands like the Breeders while carving out a sound that blends fuzz and discordance with catchy pop melodies.
“I think songs are cool when it starts out kind of complicated, and it’s hard to catch the beat, and then it explodes into this chorus that’s melodic and simple and poppy,” said singer-guitarist Kevin Bilapka-Arbelaez, who likes describing didi as “noisy pop” or “post-pop.”
“I feel like pop implies something that everyone can digest or listen to and get something out of, and it shouldn’t be limited to love songs,” he said. “So post-pop or noisy pop, I’m interested in taking that — changing what pop means and making it broader and more interesting.”
Didi recently spent several days at legendary local studio Musicol recording the band’s forthcoming follow-up. “The first album was us exploring our sound together, and I think we’re a lot more comfortable with how each other plays [now],” Zakany said. “We know how to push each other. We know what to expect of each other [and] we still find that we’re exceeding each other’s expectations.”
Like the band’s debut, the new album will feature lyrical and vocal contributions from Zakany, Bilapka-Arbelaez and Shimizu. “I think we’re all ambitious and have big songwriting personalities,” Bilapka-Arbelaez said. “We all love each other, obviously, and we just have to make room.”
Two of Bilapka-Arbelaez’s songs find him coming to terms with his Latino and Polish ancestry, and on another track he sings entirely in Spanish. One of Zakany’s tunes uses moon jellyfish to explore ideas of beauty, power and identity. “I try to compare the strength and the mystery of jellyfish, and how they seem delicate and beautiful, but they can sting you and kill you,” Zakany said.
“I love this song so much,” Shimizu said. “The example she gave is when someone else is controlling the conversation because they’re assuming they have a certain amount of power over you, and you’re just along for the ride. And then you’re like, ‘No, I will sting you.’”