When you have a phone interview with a band on tour, there are about fifty different ways that the conversation can derail. Typically, your interview subject is tired or hung over and has about twenty minutes of quiet in a packed day that has now been sacrificed to talk to you. Even worse is when bandmembers are in the middle of something — driving or grabbing coffee — and you, the stranger suddenly trying to pick their collective brain from a thousand miles away, are the lowest priority. So when calling Jordan Smith, lead singer and guitar player for party-punk band Diarrhea Planet, I expected a brief, tepid conversation with a frontman worn down from a week at SXSW. Instead, twenty minutes in, he’s talking about production value and laying out the band’s big plan to shed any image the group has of being a scatological joke with too many guitars.
“We’re really trying to make something that’s viable,” Smith says. “It’s not for an esoteric, closed group of indie-music bloggers who can look past the fuzz of a lo-fi recording to discover a great song. I think all of us are striving to go past that and see the bigger picture.”
Smith is talking about the band’s newest release, Turn to Gold, which is due out in June. He’s aware that DP has long been a blogger’s band. The ridiculous name and nature of the group — six guys, four guitars, infinite noise — guarantee that the band pops up regularly in Twitter conversations among journalists, but it’s not one that you would immediately recommend to your casual-listening friends. The rumblings in the greater blogosphere, though, have deemed the new LP “mature,” which could mean a mainstream break.
“I think the thing is, a lot of the immaturity stuff stems from our band name,” Smith says. “We’ve written a lot of satirical songs, and we joke a lot. It’s funny, because as much of a joke as the band has been, all of us have gotten increasingly more serious in the pursuit of our own individual instruments and our songcraft.”
Most garage-rock bands about to put our their third LP would probably identify problems like a lack of tuning, or out-of-control partying, or a tour van that keeps breaking down. But Smith is focused on the challenge of matching the live and recorded experiences of DP’s music. The first move in becoming a serious band was a producer switch. The 2013 album I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams was produced by Kevin McMahon. It’s a solid album, but it wasn’t good enough for DP. For Turn to Gold, the band hired Grammy-winning producer Vance Powell.
“It’s very difficult to capture that controlled-chaos aspect of the show,” Smith says. “Essentially, you’ve got four guitar players all playing their own interpretation of the song, and we’re all playing in the same key and stuff, and it all fits together. But you can’t capture how strange it is.”
Smith is spot-on about how “strange” DP’s live shows are. When the band hit the hi-dive in 2014, its six members could barely fit on the venue’s small stage. It was a blitzkrieg of blaring, and the fervent crowd was rioting more than dancing. The floor was a war zone, but one in which you couldn’t help but chug cheap beer, smile and join the fight. Smith says the band used to “strong-arm” people into liking them, and, yes, the live show is such a sensory overload that you have no choice but to let it consume you. Yet it looks like that aspect, too, might change.
“[It’s gone] from being a ramshackle, balls-to-the-walls kind of barroom-brawl set to a much tighter, almost choreographed kind of show,” Smith says of the evolution. “And I feel like all of us, as we’ve gotten older, have really grown to love just trying to entertain, and coming up with ways to entertain the crowd instead of just shocking them.”
Mature album? Choreographed show? This can’t be the band I fell in love with — the band that said “fuck it” to norms and turned the amps up to eleven, tearing through sets with the raw passion of a Von Trier sex scene.
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But then Smith starts talking about how Diarrhea Planet is no longer a DIY band but still maintains a DIY mentality.
“We’re out of this DIY kind of band circuit or scene, but in terms of a band, we’re still very self-sufficient,” he says. “We do a lot of things ourselves and keep things very close.... The only thing I can say about [the big-label] sector of the industry is that it’s very depleting. They are not loyal people, they are people that are loyal to trends, and with that being said, you can’t trust them.”
Yep, Diarrhea Planet may be growing up, may be on every critic’s SXSW must-see list, but at heart, these are still the same old Nashville punks.
Diarrhea Planet plays the Marquis Theater at Thursday, April 14.