Q&A: Diarrhea Planet On The Nashville Scene, Their Memorable Moniker, And Their Awesome New Album Turn To Gold
The final day of SXSW can be the sort of thing where you’re too burnt-out, sunburnt, or both to care about seeing anyone. Sometimes there’s someone playing that’s so exciting — that’s so much of a “moment” — that you can get a second wind. But on a more earnest level than chasing the “event,” sometimes you just find yourself someplace that leaves you truly reinvigorated, reminds you amidst the big tangled mess of SXSW that, yes, music can be a raw and vital and joyous experience still. This year, for me, that was a Diarrhea Planet set at Barracuda, for Do512’s daytime showcase.
OK, yes, if you read this site then at this point you have probably already come across Diarrhea Planet, and you are probably already aware of the severe implausibilities that the metal-influenced pop-rock sextet with four guitarists and a name everyone hates seems poised for further ascension when their forthcoming album, Turn To Gold, arrives in June. But it’s an increasingly tangible reality. Announcing your album through a lengthy Buzzfeed feature, after all, has to be some kind of signal that you’re developing footing outside the DIY rock circles. Maybe there is some counter-intuitive power to that name, which ensures you will never forget the band once you come across them; and the thing is that they have proven about as hard to resist as they are to ignore and/or forget.
Turn To Gold represents a more muscular, confident Diarrhea Planet. It’ll come out almost three years after their last full-length, 2013’s I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams (an album title that proves Diarrhea Planet can also come up with great names), which means this Diarrhea Planet is an older, maybe even wiser group of dudes still wielding the ridiculously over-the-top power of chunky riff-rock running on four guitars. At one point, DP founder Jordan Smith (vocals/guitar) tells me how much he likes the new Bleached album, and comments on how he feels some kinship with a wave of garage-rock bands growing up and realizing, well, this could (actually, somehow) be a career, and start to take the idea of a future seriously, expanding and exploring beyond the more modest ambitions they started with. Turn To Gold does that for Diarrhea Planet, and it isn’t hard to imagine that the album will bring the group even more attention. Or, as our own Tom Breihan put it when Diarrhea Planet released their new single “Life Pass“: “If Diarrhea Planet don’t blow the fuck up this year, something is seriously wrong with the world.”
The only other time I saw Diarrhea Planet live was from a distance, but this time, crammed into the outside stage at Barracuda, I could fully take the whole thing in, personally get a sense of the band’s infectious, undeniable live show. There is something still inherently ridiculous about seeing it in action: The way these riffs move, and the way they occasionally, accidentally stand in some kind of formation makes it feel as if you’re in front of some breakneck rock ‘n’ roll firing squad. Their set didn’t let up at all during its duration, always making you feel as if you were getting hit with the musical equivalent of a hurricane, but in a totally life-affirming and exhilarating way. By the feverish end of the set, guitarist Emmet Miller wound up hanging upside down from the rafters while soloing. How is that a thing you can still see in 2016? How does that work? The mood of the crowd, though, was more elated than any other I encountered at SXSW this year.
Diarrhea planet shredding from the rafters! I have no clue wtf I just saw. pic.twitter.com/RCPHncxCYp
— DoTheWriteThang (@collintrobinson) March 19, 2016
While in Austin, I also met up with the band at the Bud Light Factory at Brazos Hall, where Stereogum had our official showcase on Wednesday night. All six of the group’s members — Smith, Miller, Brent Toler (guitar/vocals), Michael Boyle (bass), Evan Bird (guitar), and Ian Bush (drummer) — came by, which made for a somewhat frenetic and amusing conversation that was always in danger of devolving into several of the members cracking jokes over each other.
STEREOGUM: Ian, you’re the only new member for this album, right? I saw you guys once at Bonnaroo and you had like, nine or 10 people onstage. Then again, I couldn’t really tell who was playing and who was just on the stage.
BRENT TOLER: Yeah, we were kinda rolling squad deep at Bonnaroo.
EVAN BIRD: We did have Melissa Etheridge in the band once, but it wasn’t really working out.
JORDAN SMITH: She couldn’t get the wah pedal down.
TOLER: We had her audition at SXSW two years ago…
SMITH: Melissa’s tone was just too big.
IAN BUSH: The acoustic didn’t play as well as [you’d think] in theory.
BIRD: [She was] super-sweet, but you know….no love lost, no bad blood, but creatively it just wasn’t really working out. She understood, I think.
TOLER: She’s doing very well for herself now.
BIRD: Yeah, she’s got her own thing now.
STEREOGUM: So, where did the title Turn To Gold come from?
BIRD: I kinda threw it out as a joke, actually, but I liked the idea of a transitional thing and I kept joking about how I wanted this album to be our Back In Black, not necessarily — well, sales-wise, that would be ideal. In my mind, we had taken so much time off since recording a full-length record, gotten a new member…I wanted it to be the same kinda statement, like, “Hey, we didn’t go anywhere. We’re still the same band, everything’s good. Fear not.” But I also wanted to acknowledge that we’re in a transitional phase songwriting-wise — dare I say, maturity-wise. We were all saying we wanted to keep the “riches” theme going, and it struck me like a…solid gold lightning bolt. I was laughing, but the more I thought about it was like, actually, I feel pretty good about that, and everybody seemed to like it.
BUSH: I was pushing pretty hard for The Wealth Of God but…
STEREOGUM: What were some of the other discarded titles?
SMITH: It’ll Be A Damn Shame If We Don’t Win. But it was super-long.
STEREOGUM: That feels like an extension of I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams.
BIRD: And like a Panic! At The Disco song title.
STEREOGUM: What led to this being a transitional phase? Just having some more time together as a band?
TOLER: It’s all a transitional phase.
BIRD: Yeah, I dunno, how do you answer that? It’s like, how iconic do you think your own work is? I don’t think we were all like, “Hey, this is the album where we’re going to do this big watershed thing.” It was more like, we spent the most time writing together and arranging together. I think it shows sonically. Recording-wise, it’s the best we’ve ever sounded. And I think across the board, without us really planning too much for it, it turned into this more….putting a little bit better of a foot forward.
TOLER: At the peak of our powers, until next time.
SMITH: I think it was transitionary because it was a move to come together more as a band as opposed to, in the past, it was single songwriters on each song, and this was more of us working together and rounding out our sound, just looking for different ways to challenge ourselves and to play different kinds of songs. Not just sticking to a super-DP classic thing. There’s a lot of that on there, but I think it’s surprisingly more mature compared to what we’ve done in the past. It’s a lot more thought-out, a lot more purposeful.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting you say that because I feel like with so many artists I talk to these days, it’s the other way around. They maybe had the band dynamic when they were first starting out but then they move away and kinda start living separate lives. The idea that you guys have grown up into more of a functioning gang seems pretty unique for 2016.
SMITH: One of the things I was really stoked about on the record is that we’re working on bringing in more singers, instead of me singing on 10 songs. I love this idea of the Band or the Eagles, where — those aren’t my favorite bands by any means — but I think it’s amazing how you never know who’s going to take the lead on a song. Every guy has a unique voice and can bring these different songs to the table. And every one of them’s amazing. That was one thing I think we talked about, trying to move in that direction where it’s just a bunch of dudes who are all working really hard to push themselves, and excel, and work together, as opposed to having one definitive like, “This is the frontman, this is the main voice.” It’s spreading it out so it’s more of a team.
STEREOGUM: What did the split wind up being on the record?
SMITH: Three — there’s three singers. But there is only one time on the record where there are two songs in a row with the same singer.
STEREOGUM: That’s like Fleetwood Mac, too. So this transition to more of a team dynamic, how did that go? Were there ever growing pains moving away from people working alone?
BUSH: It was still kind of like that. [Smith] would bring stuff, [Toler] would bring stuff, [Miller] would bring stuff. Some were really fleshed-out, some were full skeletons. And then we’d kinda all together pack the meat on.
SMITH: The last record, we had demos, and we rehearsed them for a week, and we went straight from demos to final product in like, three weeks. We rehearsed everything and didn’t have time to think about anything. Recorded the record, then came back, and this time it was more like, “OK, this song is cool, but we’re really missing something, let’s go back and actually make this song worth putting on a record.” As opposed to, “Let’s just make tracks to fill up space.”
STEREOGUM: I feel like I’ve been hearing about Diarrhea Planet for a very long time, but a lot more recently. Do you guys feel like there are more eyes on you, or any pressure from increased attention?
BIRD: I think I’ve made the Back In Black reference enough times that it’s starting to kind of bite me in the ass. I’ve talked about Steely Dan enough where it’s starting to bit me in the ass. We’ve let the guitar-hero fantasy play itself out now that it’s starting to kind of bite me in the ass. Across the board, I’ve been writing checks I can’t cash, and now it’s all coming to roost. [Everybody laughs]
STEREOGUM: So as your Back In Black moment approaches, or at least as you’re getting some wider attention, do you guys feel any pressure or responsibility in terms of representing the Nashville scene?
TOLER: I wouldn’t say it’s pressure, but it’s something we all want to do.
EMMET MILLER: If this album comes out and it bombs, which I don’t think it will, nobody’s gonna say, “Oh, Nashville lost it, guys.”
BIRD: The thing we have going for us is, at this point, Nashville as a city…the DIY scene and every component has had such a surge in the last two or three years. I mean, if you think you’ve been hearing about Diarrhea Planet, Nashville is not even on the same radar anymore, which is a blessing and a curse. The good news is if we do really well and we’re really killing it, it’ll be that much easier for us to try to incorporate all our friends and our city. I feel like we’re usually not very bashful about trying to fly our flag. If it does tank…like Emmet said, nobody’s gonna be like, “Diarrhea Planet’s the reason.” Nobody’s going to stop moving to Nashville.
STEREOGUM: There is an insane amount of people moving to Nashville –
SMITH: Like, 90-something people a day or something.
STEREOGUM: My roommate’s about ready to bail on Brooklyn for Nashville.
BIRD: Tell him, “No thanks.” [Laughs]
SMITH: Yeah, tell him it sucks, dude.
BUSH: Columbus, Ohio is gonna be the next one, I can already taste it.
SMITH: Athens, Georgia.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, bring Athens back. Anyway, with the amount of people moving there and Nashville shifting, how is the DIY scene changing? Is it surviving amidst that?
MILLER: It’s kind of just massive.
BUSH: It’s not as concentrated as it was when magazines were looking at it and stuff. It’s interesting being down there because people are like, “Oh, the house show circuit is dead.” No, it’s just younger kids. It’s probably 10 times bigger than it was.
TOLER: It’s hard to keep track of, honestly.
BUSH: It’s insane now, as opposed to when it was getting started and it was four or five houses that were always doing it.
SMITH: It was like 12 bands. Now, it’s the first time you’ll see these bills where you’ll know one band. It’s the most bands you’ve never seen playing in a city where before you were like, “Oh, yeah, I know everybody in these bands.”
STEREOGUM: Do you still feel any affinity with the stuff that’s coming up?
BUSH: Yeah. Every once in a while, it’s cool going in and having no clue what a band is and being like, “Whoa, this is really cool,” and then I see the guy working at the deli down the street. That’s kinda refreshing. You’re not getting sick of seeing the same bands all the time.
STEREOGUM: I’m sure you guys get this a lot, but I feel like you’ve gotten a lot further than most would’ve assumed with a name like Diarrhea Planet –
BIRD: Oh yeah.
TOLER: A lot further than we would’ve assumed.
BIRD: Talk about checks I can’t cash. [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: So, taking that into account, where do you guys want to see it go beyond here? I guess part of this remains to be seen depending on whether the album tanks or is Back In Black.
TOLER: Early retirement. Beach house.
STEREOGUM: If people couldn’t handle Arcade Fire, that’ll really break the internet, when Diarrhea Planet is onstage for a Grammy.
SMITH: I think that would be hilarious. The biggest practical joke on the music industry of all time. Turn To Gold is out 6/10 on Infinity Cat.