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Didi prides itself on its diverse influences. Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Shimizu
Didi prides itself on its diverse influences. Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Shimizu

Columbus’ Own: Didi connects over differences

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A small shelving unit full of odd trinkets hangs in the living room in the house where Meg Zakany and Sheena McGrath live.

A lone Lego piece, four cassette tapes, a shrunken hand keychain, a frog figurine and an empty pill bottle are haphazardly mixed together.

A photograph of that shelf is the cover of Columbus band Didi’s self-titled debut album.

Like the menagerie on the shelves, Didi brings together the diverse aspects of each member into one collaborative, cohesive whole.

The home decor oddity developed gradually over time as a collaboration among guitarist/vocalist Zakany, drummer McGrath, and their bandmates — bassist/vocalist Leslie Shimizu and guitarist/vocalist Kevin Bilapka Arbelaez.

Zakany, Bilapka Arbelaez and Shimizu take turns as songwriter and lead singer, while McGrath fronts a hidden track from the group’s debut album. Band members add their own touches to each song that, collectively, result in the Didi sound.

“It definitely felt like we wrote (the songs) together,” said Shimizu, a 2011 Ohio State graduate in English and Japanese. “Even if Meg would bring an idea, just the way it would transform once everybody started playing it was like ‘that was Didi.’”

When writing the album, the members would bring in portions of songs to work on and often allow the other members to add freely to them.

“It becomes something so much bigger than just us individually coming up with a song,” said Zakany, a 2010 Ohio State graduate in women’s, gender and sexuality studies. “Once it’s all together we have such a different appreciation — it becomes our song.”

On first listen, the band sounds abrasive and dissonant, largely due to the contributions of McGrath and Bilapka Arbelaez, but further listening brings attention to smooth harmonies and intertwining guitars.

When Didi formed approximately three years ago, the members intended to blend their different musical tendencies. For example, Zakany grew up performing choral music through high school — thus the vocal harmonies. Bilapka Arbelaez takes influence from the complex rhythms and harmonies of math rock, bringing the dissonance.

“I really appreciate the progression of a really hard to listen to thing suddenly followed by a really poppy chorus or something,” Bilapka Arbelaez said.

Zakany said the group aims to capture the sound that naturally came from the collaboration.

“We just tried to make sense of each other’s styles,” she said. “It’s almost like a learning curve trying to understand the moves that each person’s going to make and understanding how to communicate that.”

After releasing the self-titled album in May 2015 and touring to both East and West coasts, the members of Didi are preparing to record the follow-up, slated for release next year. In contrast to preparing for the first album, the members are taking their time.

“The first time it was like ‘If we don’t finish songs we’re not going to get to play shows,’” Shimizu said.

Didi will be performing on Oct. 7 at Ace of Cups with Aye Nako and Betsy Ross. Tickets are $5.

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