Jason Balla and Emily Kempf, two-thirds of the Dehd trio, meet me one afternoon on Zoom, just before starting rehearsals for their first full-scale tour since the pandemic began. They hit the road to support their new album, blue skies, which features more post-punk music (or is it post-post-punk at this point?) to their recent signing with famed indie label Fat Possum. For two months they will be touring the country and the UK before returning home for a show on June 4 at the Metro.

This afternoon, however, Balla, who plays guitar and sings, is still at his Logan Square apartment, while Kempf, the band’s bassist and other lead vocalist, is staying with drummer Eric McGrady at his home in Humboldt Park, new tattoos dotting the sides of his face to join a body that, from neck to ankles, is famously (at least in DIY rock circles) covered in them. She had arrived in town the night before from Los Angeles, where she now lives part-time; his other home is no longer in Chicago, but in a durable, off-the-grid adobe “earthship” in the high desert of New Mexico. “It’s called the Greater World Earthship Community,” Kempf explains. “I watched a documentary about the main architect 10 years ago and I never forgot it. Then I did an academy where you learn how to build the earth ship and how to live on the earth.

As for McGrady? He hates interviews, as everyone tells me, but I see him in the background as he reminds Kempf: It’s time to finish talking and go rehearse.

blue skies is the band’s most expansive music to date, often danceable, with joy emanating even from the songs of seeking and unfulfilled love. “It’s kind of about the conflict between being optimistic and just trying to put your head down and go through the world,” Balla says of the lovely slow-paced opener, “Control,” but he could easily describe the album as a whole.

Dehd performed at the Green Door Store in Brighton, England in March. Photography: Hedley Marks

Dehd was born out of Chicago’s fertile DIY music scene in the mid-2010s. The three began performing together at unlicensed venues, such as the now closed Animal Kingdom, a private home in Avondale. “I had just moved to Chicago, so I was trying to meet people and going to all the shows, so I was there in social butterfly mode,” says Kempf, who grew up in Atlanta. “Jason was playing a show and Eric was keeping the beer. This is where we all met.

At the time, Balla was part of the popular indie band NE-HI. He had grown up in Buffalo Grove, doing an empty bottle internship in high school. “After school, I immediately drove into town,” he says. “I would sit in crazy rush hour traffic and blast CDs in my car, then hang posters for a few hours.” Along with starting Dehd around 2016, he and Kempf began a relationship. It would end, but the band continued, with the breakup fueling much of their 2019 second album, Water. But it was their third album, devotional flower, released in the summer of 2020, which met the moment. Even though the song “Loner” isn’t pandemic-specific, it was cathartic to hear Kempf sing over and over, “To be a loner, oh, oh, oh.”

As well as devotional flower was received – an 8.3 rating from Pitchfork and a place on Squirefrom the list of the 30 best albums of the year – the inability to tour slowed the band’s momentum. Now they’re headlining their biggest shows yet; the week after their show in Metro, they will play at the Governors Ball music festival in New York. But Kempf says part of Dehd’s success comes from remaining somewhere between pragmatic and zen about his fate: “We treat our band like we treat our songs — like a very baggy garment. “Well, we hope that will happen, but it may not.” We’ll just keep showing up.