In the midst of the hellaciously hot Riverfest madness, where I made locomotive decisions based on avoiding the very real possibility of passing out, the Stickyz stage was something of an oasis, where spots could be procured in reasonable shade and the bands were a steady procession of goodness. On Sunday, I caught the end of North Little Rock-based collective Knox Hamilton, who were gamely delivering their beachy rhythms despite the sun’s stage-focused assault; the ambient, vocally-driven sounds of Houston’s The Tontons, and also Nashville’s raucously delirious Diarrhea Planet, who were returning to Arkansas for the third time in recent weeks, having just played at both Stickyz and Hot Springs’ Valley of the Vapors Music Festival in April. Following their excellent show, I sat down with Jordan Smith (guitar/vocals), Emmett Miller (guitar/vocals), and Brent Toler (guitar/vocals) as they shed some light on the highs and lows of relentless touring, unlikely influences and imminent world domination.
So you guys tour a bunch. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Jordan: Last year we pretty much lived on the road, we did like 200 dates. It was nuts and we did all the dates pretty much from May on.
Brent: Which is pretty much what I think we’re going to end up doing this year; we have the first half of the year in Nashville and then the second half of the year we’re on the road.
Jordan: It is a really interesting lifestyle because your circadian rhythms get really strange, so you end up getting stuck waking up at noon and go to bed between 3 and 5 a.m. everyday. It kind of throws your body for a loop, and you end up eating a lot of weird food too. And you get in this sort of, this weird zone; I guess you would describe it as the most extreme aspects of your personality sort of getting smoothed out, they sort of drop off. If you meet anyone who’s been on the road a long time, it mellows you out a ton because you have to learn to be patient and you spend so much time in your own head and waiting.
Brent: And when we get to play it’s the one time we get to have fun, that’s like our lunch break.
So can you tell me about your songwriting process? All three of you have songs that seem to be written primarily by you [Jordan sings lead on most of the songs; but the guys mix it up, there are tracks fronted by both Emmett and Brent] and your lyrics have a lot more depth and introspection than they might appear to at first glance, which is really strange and beautiful.
Jordan: Typically the three of us write something and bring it to the band and sometimes some of the parts will be almost totally fleshed out and other times it’s like a skeleton; and pretty much the main thing that I think we all do is we make sure the song feels right for how we intended it. As far as lyrics, for me, and I catch it a lot in their songs too, you write a song that’s super serious but you’re always trying to play it off in a more lighthearted way instead of it being super depressing, whether it’s, like, creating a humorous term to drop in the song that’s an inside joke between us; even the serious songs have a joke behind them.
Brent: I feel like I can say this for all 3 of us as far as lyrics go, but as for me personally, i cant be comfortable with a song if a lyric sounds cliched or is a placeholder; it just ruins the song. I feel like a lot of songwriters are like, whatever it’s just a lyric, especially rock songwriters, but I feel like its a pretty integral part of the song.
So, do you have any incongruous or surprising influences?
Emmett: I don’t think you know what you just opened up.
Brent: We’re music nerds so …
Emmett: Prince, Steely Dan; Third Eye Blind is on the top; Oasis.
Jordan: Smashing Pumpkins is like my favorite band and a bunch of really weird bands like Bucket Full of Teeth and Daughters; a bunch of grindcore bands; there’s something about their songwriting that is primal and it is like the most elementary form of expressing emotions, especially with Smashing Pumpkins, they do loud and quiet a lot; and there’s something about bands like that that my brain lashes onto, and I’ve never been able to let it go.
I am curious what your mindset is when you play to a sparsely attended show, or a crowd that feels really cold?
Jordan: I’m playing for myself tonight; you turn up your amp and get lost in enjoying playing.
Brent: We’re getting paid to have band practice; maybe I’ll drink a few extra beers on stage.
Ok, so conversely, what’s your mindset if it’s packed?
Emmett: Awesome! If it’s ever really packed I tend to get kind of emotional at times, like I don’t believe this. It’s like you gotta take a second and take a really deep breath and look out at the crowd and, whoa dude.
Jordan: When its really packed too, I feel like in certain situations, it can be really relaxing. Like festivals for instance, you can get people to go kind of rowdy at them but it’s a different vibe than a venue.
Brent: Yeah they’re different, you feel a little distance from the audience.
What’s next for you guys? Any upcoming goals?
Emmett: Straight to the top!
Brent: More festivals.
Jordan: Touring a lot heavier for the rest of the year and finishing this EP. We’re close. I’d like to get an opening slot for a huge band. We haven’t been able to score that kind of thing. It’s really weird, nobody wants to tour for us, because it’s been a problem how rowdy our shows get.
Brent: We’re not an easy band to follow, not to toot our own horn. We’re not gonna hold back so that you look good, we’re gonna make sure everyone knows we’re the headlining band even if we are the opening band.
The guys are spending June on the road with dates in the northeast, but will be playing sort of close to our neck of the woods when they hit Bonnaroo, before dropping down into Austin and New Orleans later that month. If you haven’t seen them yet, you might consider a road trip: their live shows have prompted Pitchfork’s Jayson Greene to declare, “If Diarrhea Planet are playing in a 100-mile radius of where you are sitting, go there.” I would advise a more liberal stance with your mileage allowance and say, if these guys are within a 1 to 2 state radius, go see them. They aren’t tooting their own horn. Their shows are ridiculous and you should go get lost in the sweat, 4-guitar assault and joy.