When you boast a name like Diarrhea Planet you’re bound to get a lot of questionable chuckles and WTF faces, but that’s nothing new for this Nashville band.
Prior to their recent performance on Late Night with Seth Myers, the band talked about how they wanted a name that was just the right kind of awful, a name that showed they really didn’t take themselves seriously. Imagine Finger Eleven had kept their original name, Rainbow Butt Monkeys. Unlike Finger Eleven, Diarrhea Planet are sticking with their wretched-sounding moniker and have just released Turn to Gold, their third full-length album and follow-up to 2013’s I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams.
Over the years the band’s line-up has changed multiple times, and just this year a new drummer, Ian Bush (a.k.a. Tough Gus), was added to the mix. With the switch-ups, Diarrhea Planet’s sound has been hashed and rehashed, with this album being the most focused on songwriting, rather than booming with a “shock party band” mentality. The guys also worked alongside acclaimed Grammy-winning engineer and Jack White confidant Vance Powell who surely added to the directional focus heard on the 11-track release. Powell dubbed the new album “stoner ear candy,” which begins with the brooding instrumental anthem of “Hard Style 2,” the only somewhat recycled song.
Turn to Gold may be a departure from the early harder-hitting punk jams found on their 2011 debut Loose Jewels, but you’ll still find hints of the past with songs like “Ain’t A Sin To Win.” What you’ll also find on the new album is a welding of rock ‘n’ roll songs. Here are some sample lyrics from the song ““Announcement”: “Man I get so sick of everyone shouting and trying to tell me how I should live live my life / I just wanna cruise and if I lose control / I’ll find a better way to make it right.” This sets the tone for an album that steers with positivity, something vocalist and guitarist (one of four) Jordan Smith says music needs more of.
I chatted with Smith about this new foray in their catalogue, how confidence has played a part in DP’s trajectory, what it’s like balancing four guitar players, and why they’re just a band wanting to rock your face off. Read on for our interview.
AUX: Your previous album (I’m Rich…) was recorded pretty fast, which is intense, whereas with this album you’ve taken more time to get it out there. Are you happier with the result?
Jordan Smith: The last record we crash recorded the songs in a span of like two or three weeks. I’d get off work at Papa John’s and be at home writing. We went from me and Brent sending demos to all the guys in the band to the final product in three weeks. We all had the demos for like a week, went to New York, recorded and didn’t really have time to think about it. Honestly, with this record we were kind of heading in that direction and then we were like ‘nah we’re not going to do that’ so we postponed recording and took three months off the road to really tackle it. We wish we could’ve had even more time in hindsight.
You can notice a shift in the tempo on your last record too; the sound has calmed down, and that seems to be further explored on Turn to Gold. What are you trying to achieve? Does it really matter if you’re being classified as “DIY punk-rock” or “noise rock” or “alternative rock” or whatever?
What we’re doing, some people are totally getting it, others it flies over the head. I think at the end of the day we are trying to serve the song and be more purposeful with our writing. When you think of let’s say a Tom Petty for example, the band’s very songwriting focused. We started out having a more textured focus, like ‘alright let’s hit them with something heavy or crazy’ kind of shock thing, then switch to something pretty, you know? There’s still that old mentality there, but we are trying to transition into writing actual cohesive, great rock ‘n’ roll songs.
And I bet having four guitar players makes for some adjusting.
Exactly, there are four guitar players in the band who all have diverse backgrounds and play differently so you get everyone’s vibe peppered in because there are so many different styles of influences amongst the band. We may think a part needs to be this beautiful, soaring atmospheric sort of feeling but you say that to four different guitar players and you might have someone thinking a style like Explosions in the Sky, then another band member may be thinking a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon vibe. There are different interpretations.
We’re just trying to make four guitars deliver a song that people haven’t heard but at the same time retain some of the familiarity of the classics.
Four guitarists in one band and three vocalists switching it up sounds like it could be a battle of egos. Like who gets to lead? Other bands have openly voiced that frustration, what’s it like for DP?
I definitely understand those viewpoints coming from bands. I totally get it, and sometimes I feel the same way, but it’s not about being the guy that gets all the recognition. We all recognize that we are talented and have learned to become comfortable with the fact that we each have our unique gifts and if one of us has a certain talent that sounds better then we’re cool with saying ‘let’s make this song kick ass’ as opposed to ‘well I want the attention’.
I get what you’re saying, but it’s about balancing everything. We try to push that ego thing out of the band because that’s one of the things that in the end will destroy us.
You guys have switched up members a bunch. Is this the final line-up you think, or like, next year will you be the one out of the band?
[laughs] You never know I mean I like to think this line-up will be the one that lives for a long time. Us four guitar players have all gotten so used to playing with one another now. It’s been like at least four years together so I can’t imagine us really needing anyone else or it changing.
And now you’ve got a Ian Bush replacing longstanding drummer Casey [Weissbuch].
Yeah, Tough Gus. Well, that’s what we call him. Everyone gets a DP rock ‘n’ roll stage name. We were really nervous about switching drummers so far into us as Diarrhea Planet and one thing we’ve learned is that Ian’s drumming has really opened up the band toward the sound. The guitars are a lot more stripped down and we all like it.
On this record you also got to work with Vance Powell, which must have been seriously rewarding. What was that like?
It was wonderful, man. Vance is literally the epitome of a professional producer. He is a wizard behind the board. He’s also got great engineers like Mike Fahey, who’s his closest understudy that works with him. They’re the guys that you’ll have a sound in your head and they’ll tell you to go away and give them five minutes then you come back five minutes later and the sound is exactly what you wanted. It was all easy, seamless and they’re really encouraging.
So you basically just let them take the reigns. Or did you have your own vision that you hoped would work itself into it all? How open to change are you?
I definitely go in with a very open mind. One of the things that’s really great about working with Vance or someone like him is you know he knows what he’s doing so you think ‘I should probably trust him more than I trust myself’ on a lot of things. It makes it a lot easier to listen to someone when you know they have a lot of experience you know? Plus, a lot of times he’ll hear stuff that we don’t.
So, it’s a balance, yeah?
A balance between both worlds, yeah. You gotta make sure you keep you artistic vision in tact but at the same time you should be open to someone helping and showing you how to improve on things.
On the album there is a real dynamic between each of the vocalists – I really like that variety. I find myself listening to each song closely to distinguish voices and styles. That’s not always easy to execute I’d imagine.
Yeah, some bands do it really well. I really like how Twin Peaks does that actually. I also really like the Eagles, the Band, you know how they switch it up and each singer has a different voice?
We’ve been focused on this idea in songwriting. It’s kind of like having an extra paintbrush. We’re like ‘OK we’ve established this part of the song and it’s strong now it’s whose voice is going to establish the final vibe.’ We’re looking at who’s going to make it even stronger. I really like having different singers because you can change the feeling of the song based on who’s singing it.
You’ve mentioned the songwriting on this album and it looks like there’s been some serious growth in that department.
Yeah, before I used to just sit down and whatever came out is what I what went with. Now it’s much more purposeful writing I find. I will literally take all the music off my iPod and only listen to like four or five artists that are playing the specific type of music that I’m trying to write at that time. I will only listen to that kind of music, you know?
You’re more focused, it sounds.
Yeah, I do way more stuff now to influence myself to get into a certain headspace. It’s like learning a language. Before I’d just do randomly whatever I could and now I spend the time, learn the language a bit, the ins and outs of the songwriting and then it becomes something.
I mean when you guys first started the band was kind of a joke. Like, not a joke, but it wasn’t something you were taking real seriously, right? Do you have more confidence now?
Definitely more confidence, and yeah, like you said we kind of began as a shock, party band aesthetic. Then it’s like ‘Oh my god this is actually turning into a real band.’ So then it was time to switch gears and start writing something serious.
I’ve noticed you’ve been leading with “Ain’t A Sin To Win” in performances and spotlights like on Seth Myers and KEXP, for example. Is it safe to assume that’s the lead single of the record?
Not really. A lot of the songs on the album sound bigger than what we’ve done before, a little more transition-like and “Ain’t A Sin To Win” is a song that kind of felt like it was the best representation of classic DP. We wanted to show people who are new to us what we’re about. It’s a song that’s in your face and at the same time it’s a fun song for people who’ve listened to us for a long time.
Before we just assault them with this brand new material that sounds way different than what we’ve sounded like before, we want them to hear this song. And, we wanted to put a rocking foot forward on Seth Myers, obviously. The first thing we wanted to show people is that we can rock.
That’s something you guys are pretty known for, especially when it comes to your live shows. Critics and fans alike rave about your live shows.
Yeah, that’s pretty cool. We just like to have fun, you know? It’s kind of the opposite of what everyone else is doing right now. Everyone is going small and all low-vibey, more controlled. We’re like ‘Nah man we want to go back to the rowdy, loud shit.’ Like, why is no one trying to rock hard anymore? I didn’t expect rock ‘n’ roll to fizzle the way it has and we’re hoping others will see us rocking hard and do the same thing.
There’s definitely a shift in the way music is breathed, I agree on that. Blame social media?
I don’t know if people have realized how it’s kind of taken the fun and excitement out of life. Everything is so screen oriented, it’s not human-based reality oriented. It’s just so easy to get depressed and bummed out. I feel like even being an overly optimistic person in this day in age is enough to get you criticized constantly. There’s just so much negativity and no one is saying ‘OK guys we’re all sick and we need to fix this and be happy again’.
Ever think about pushing a political voice into the dialogue?
I’m a very outspoken political person but I try to keep that separate from the band because its not territory everyone is game to venture into. Especially with public shaming and how people on the internet will just take something that you say and totally manipulate it into something else and before you know it you have like 2 billion people on Twitter trying to bury you.
But it’s like even with this election right now, why has no one stepped forward and been like, are you kidding me? This is
America and these are the options we have? Go back to the drawing board and bring us some real leaders. It’s like why is that opinion not being talked about in music and in the media?