A Diarrhea Planet concert could be described as the platonic ideal of fan-pleasing pop punk. The energy is unrelenting, guitarists rock out in all sorts of power poses, band members venture into the crowd, and stage-diving is encouraged. Oh and the biggest cheers are for a song called “Ghost with a Boner.” It’s little wonder that Pitchfork implored: ” if Diarrhea Planet are playing in a 100-mile radius of where you are sitting, go there.” The buzz has risen to the point where you can now Google “diarrhea planet” and hold onto your lunch (for a few pages of results, at least).
One thing that may not be clear, however, is just how professional these guys are. Several members were music majors in college (Belmont University in Nashville) and their most recent album, I Am Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams, explores some esoteric themes (the song “Togano” is inspired by a Japanese novel that “is about forbidden love in feudal Japan”). Indeed, backstage before their February 16th show at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the band was busy tinkering with gear and going through vocal exercises without a beer (or any other vice) in sight.
I had the pleasure of sitting down before the show with guitarist Evan Bird. He was extremely gracious and gentle with his rookie interviewer. Its little wonder the guy is such a hot commodity on the dating scene.
Dead Curious: With six members in your band, what’s the songwriting process like?
Evan Bird: Typically in the past one person will have lyrics or a basic chord structure. A skeleton. They’ll demo that song pretty roughly on their own then bring that to a practice situation and we’ll add our own parts. Sometimes someone will have the song more fleshed out and it’ll be like –“I’ve got 4 guitar parts in mind and this is what I was thinking for bass and drums” – but by and large, it’s a skeleton and people then fill in the gaps. We all can’t necessarily predict what we’re all going to do but we know what to expect from each other.
DC: So it’s not some autocratic regime?
EB: Not at all. Jordan [Smith, lead vocalist] handles 85% of the songwriting in the sense of lyrics and a lot of the chord progressions but whatever anyone’s playing at any given time – its more than likely that they came up with their own parts.
DC: Do you still work at a Papa John’s?
EB: No. Casey [Weissbuch, drummer] did for a while. Mike [Boyle, bassist] may technically be on the payroll. None of us have really worked there for a long time – but when it was happening it was everyone but Emmett [Miller, guitarist]. Initially we were playing in town [Nashville] as often as we were out of town and sort of able to do both. But now we’re gone so much that we can’t really do it – it wouldn’t be fair to them.
DC: Are you working on any new material at the moment?
EB: We are. We were trying to have a couple of 7 inches and a full length written this year. The full length probably won’t be released this year but we should have some singles out. We’re actually going to play a couple of new songs tonight. It should be a treat. Keep the fans on their toes. Keep me on my toes a little bit.
DC: How has your life changed since you became a quote-unquote buzz band?
EB: That’s a great question, my man. There’s just unlimited women and drugs and my drinking has skyrocketed (sarcasm).
Actually, we are all such nerds that we don’t really party as much as people might think. On any given night it’s like – “Do you guys want to go get really tanked” – but we’re more than likely just going to read about guitars online and go to sleep.
We’re at a stage where there’s still not a whole lot of security in this. People have been very generous and receptive to us and we feel very at home doing this but we haven’t lost sight of the fact that this is a privilege. I think of this more as my job.
DC: I was going to ask – do you feel a lot of pressure to go out and get messed up just to live up to an image?
EB: Actually I don’t drink or smoke weed. Tobacco, maybe – I need something to do with my hands. Some of the guys may drink but no one ever gets drunk before shows. Afterwards its different if we’re in a city where we have a lot of friends or something we will have fun.
DC: Yeah I’m just comparing this to a lot of the punk artists who you see on Instagram going crazy every night.
EB: That’s ridiculous! That’s bad for you, it’s bad for the fans and it’s bad for your stagecraft. You can only suffer from doing that. If you take your eyes off the prize, there can be a lot of pitfalls. We’re all pretty old school with how we approach that stuff and run a tight ship.
DC: I’m going to get a bit dorky here and ask what it was like working with Kevin McMahaon [producer who has also worked with Titus Andronicus, Swans, Real Estate, and The Walkmen] on the last album.
EB: You know what, that guy was pretty mean to us and he wasn’t fun to hang out with. We didn’t like New Paltz [town in upstate New York, home of McMahon’s studio) at all. None of the bands he works with are friends of us or very good (sarcasm).
I’m totally kidding. I love that guy, we had a great time. It was a breeze, so easy. Really easy to communicate and work with. We didn’t give him the fairest shake in terms of trying to make what we do work in a recording setting – it can be challenging – and he was very professional. He was totally unflappable.
DC: How did you get set up with him?
EB: We are good friends with the Titus Andronicus guys and they have recorded everything with him. I think we were talking to Patrick [Stickles, Titus Andronicus vocalist] about recording our album and he said: “No question, you’ve gotta go work with Kevin.” We listened to what he’d done and liked it, at that point it was a no-brainer.
DC: It seems like there’s a cool community going on with you guys and some of these other bands like Titus Andronicus.
EB: Patrick [Stickles] in particular and all the Titus Andronicus guys have just been so good to us. Our first big tour was with them and we’ve learned a lot from them. We’re huge fans of them as a band and we’ve also gotten to be good friends. We respect them professionally so much that it was a match made in heaven. I don’t know what they were thinking when they decided they wanted to associate themselves with us but we do feel very lucky to be somewhat included in what they’ve got going on with the Shea Stadium stuff and the So So Glos.
We definitely feel part of that family and try to return the favor whenever they’re in Nashville.
DC: You guys went to college at Belmont in Nashville. What was it like coming from there and not being a mainstream country act?
EB: It’s interesting. At Belmont the emphasis is on pop country. It’s an incredible school but we didn’t really fit the mold they have. It was beneficial for us because it made us all stand out and see each other. At the same time not fitting that mold sets you apart but it makes it tougher to get attention. The thing about us is that enough people thought we were unique enough to pursue it on our own.
DC: If you have one question to eliminate for the rest of your career, would it be ‘what’s the deal with the band name’ or ‘why do you have so many guitars [the band has 4]?’
EB: The name question only because we’ve answered it enough times already [most notably in this interview] People could do their research and figure it out.