When I first heard the name of the band Diarrhea Planet, images of mid-90s death metal filled my head. In this vision the band was an army of tattooed, gothic Viking-looking guys screaming inaudible battle cries into a microphone, while sweaty, equally Viking-looking dudes slammed into other on the dance floor.
Then you listen to their music and discover that the name of the band is merely a lure to get you in their musical world. This isn’t death metal at all — this is a sublime mix of punk and rock ‘n’ roll that feels as though the band fell through a rip in the space-time continuum that originated during the height of grunge. The four guitar attack of Diarrhea Planet provides a rich, lush alt-rock sound while lead singer Jordan Smith rips through songs with a fiercely plaintive and dissonant voice. Simply put, don’t let the name fool you, this band kills.
This weekend, Diarrhea Planet will take over The Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, NJ on Friday June 6 and then cross the river to Randall’s Island in New York City for The Governors Ball Music Festival. The band will take The Big Apple Stage from 12:45-1:30pm. The following day, Sunday June 8, they will be performing at an official Governors Ball after-party at The Glasslands in Brooklyn.
Pop-Break caught up with Diarrhea Planet’s bassist Mike Boyle to talk about the name of the band, their four guitar attack, how the Internet is a blessing and a curse for music and performing at huge festivals.
Pop-Break: When I first heard the name of your band I thought you guys would sound like the bastard sons of Napalm Death, you know like a real hard-edged death metal outfit. But obviously, that’s not even remotely true. So with that connotation in mind and the mere fact your band’s name is Diarrhea Planet, did you find it tough getting in the door to play shows in Nashville and when you hit the road and even getting ahead in the music world?
Mike Boyle: With some things. It took us longer to get a booking agent than it normally would have. A lot of our first tours we booked ourselves. A lot of people who knew of us and had seen us were totally down to help us out, but getting a booking agent initially was hard. Also, it’s the kind of thing where once people hear the name they aren’t going to forget the name. It’s helped us and it’s hurt us.
PB: The band formed at Belmont College which is located in Nashville. When I think of Nashville I think of country music. Was it difficult breaking into the scene down there with your sound or is the Nashville scene completely different than what many of our preconceived notions that city is?
MB: It’s much different than you’d expect. I grew up there, I went to high school there, half the band went to high school there. There’s a really good rock and punk scene that’s been going on there for a while. We all went to a college called Belmont that’s like a music business school. Belmont had a stigma on it where it was this school where music majors would go and create music like John Mayer would. They weren’t like Diarrhea Planet or any heavier rock bands. We didn’t really fit in with the music around here. Sonically we do, but we weren’t playing with those bands at the time. Now we do, and we’re great friends with them, bands like Jeff the Brotherhood and Pujol.
PB: One of the unique things about Diarrhea Planet is that you have four guitar players in addition to a bassist and drummer. It creates such a cool sound. My wonder is how difficult is it when you’re writing to make sure everyone gets their fair shake in a song?
MB: Initially, with the first 15 songs, they were written for three guitars. It was a couple of rhythm guitars and whoever would play lead would play whatever they want. Then we had Evan and Emmet who came in and wrote parts over what we had. Now we have been doing it long enough so everyone knows what to play when. When Jordan writes leads he says, “I know this guitar will play this lead because it’s their style.” We all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We know our place.
PB: Interesting. So my original take on this situation was “Wow, this must be difficult to get everyone involved.” Now after hearing this let me take the opposite approach — is there more freedom with this many guitars in the band? You have more creative minds involved and styles and you’re possibilities are infinitely more?
MB: Yes. Definitely. In the studio, bands will track at least four guitars to make it sound heavier or bigger, and that’s something we can do. We can harmonize leads. There’s more firepower here, for sure. With more players with more style, there’s definitely more options.
PB: The sound is so unique, where did it come from? Were there bands that you drew influence from or was the sound dictated by the playing of the people within it?
MB: It’s a mix of both. Some of us have been playing music together longer than others. Most of us growing up to older punk stuff and 90s indie and alt rock. We have all gotten into Thin Lizzy and those guitar rock bands. It wasn’t necessarily something where we all wanted to sound “this.” It all happened as we kept adding players. We’re still trying to figure out what we sound like. We can do that more on purpose now than just coming into it as we play, naturally.
PB: This weekend you’ll be performing at two very different venues. On Friday you’ll be at The Asbury Lanes, a punk rock bowling alley complete with a tater tot bar and Saturday you’ll be at the massive Governors Ball Music Fest with the likes Skrillex and Jack White will be performing. Is this a culture shock going from an intimate club to a massive outdoor space. Do you perform or prepare your set differently?
MB: With a bigger stage it gives you more options to put on a wilder show. We’re right in the middle now, we’ve done so many shows like Asbury Lanes, rock and punks clubs, but now we’re starting to get the opportunity to do bigger shows with bigger stages. Both feel right at home right now. It’s so exciting to play Governor’s Ball. We just did Hangout Festival [in Alabama] and that was our biggest show yet. That was great warm-up for Governors Ball.
PB: It’s got to be crazy walking out onto a fest stage for the first time and looking at all those people out there. It must be jaw-dropping. How did walking out on the Hangout Fest stage for the first time feel?
MB: It feels great. It’s great to know there’s a bunch of people interested in listening to what you’re doing. For me personally, it has a similar feel — you’re still getting the same showtime mind set. You get pumped up and you think “Let’s do this.” But with those shows, when you get off stage you’re so energized and so pumped.
PB: The sheer amount of dates you’re playing in a row, it’s intense. What do you guys do to decompress and unwind when you’re going from venue to venue, to ensure piece of mind.
MB: We’re all in the same vehicle, but it’s like were in completely separate places. We’re all on our laptops or phones; reading about guitar gear (We’re all definitely big gear nerds); or watching whatever DVD.
PB: What is it about gear that you guys dig so much?
MB: Part of it is that there’s so many of us, we’re always talking about it. It’s an extension of endless possibilities — new tones which can lead to new ideas of what you’re playing. There’s so many of us, so we have to pay closer attention to our gear and how it works, otherwise we’d be playing on top of each other. We’ll be like, “My amp sounds like this and yours sounds like this, so I’ll play in this frequency range and you’ll play this [other] frequency range.” We definitely have to pay attention to that stuff.
PB: I was reading when you put your debut record out in 2009 you got 10,000 downloads. How important has social media and the Internet to this band? Now take yourself back a decade ago, could this band be where it is right now sans social media?
MB: That was huge for us. When we put that up on Mediafire. Casey our drummer was e-mailing everyone to download and get in touch with blogs. It made it so much easier to tour because so many people had heard it. That lead to that [EP] getting pressed on a 7-inch. That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.
PB: You would’ve had to use Friendster, and that would’ve been terrible. With that being said, does the Internet and social media make it easier for bands like yourself and your friends to make a living as a touring musician?
MB: It seems like it can be somewhat easier to a certain point. We can go out on tour, we can put out records, we can be in contact with all these people. But, as far as making a living at it, it’s made it somewhat more difficult. If it’s easier for you, then it’s easier for someone else. People view music differently. I can go listen to this online, and just listen to it. You can buy if you want. Buying music is an option now. It used to be, if you want to hear something you had to buy it. Now buying it is second.
PB: Any new music on the horizon?
MB: We recorded six new songs. We’re either going to one 7-inch or a couple 7-inches with those. It’s still being mixed and we’ll tour on that for a while. Then we’ll get going on a third LP.
PB: What’s got you most excited for the rest of 2014?
MB: I’m so excited to be playing these festival dates this summer. We did Hangout last weekend, Governor’s Ball this weekend and then we’re doing Bonnaroo next weekend. Those are things that are new to us. It’s just really fun to do that and play to a bunch of people.
Diarrhea Planet will perform on Saturday, June 7 at The Governors Ball Music Festival at The Big Apple Stage from 12:45-1:30pm.
Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and he highly recommends checking out Diarrhea Planet at Governors Ball this weekend. He has since changed his tune. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom