Squirting Out Sparks

Diarrhea Planet makes a grand statement with its explosive third album, Turn to Gold

click to enlarge For its latest album, Diarrhea Planet took time off from the road to write for the first time.
For its latest album, Diarrhea Planet took time off from the road to write for the first time.

I

t’s conceivable that Diarrhea Planet’s name inspires the same offbeat justification as Smucker’s jams and preserves — “With a name like Diarrhea Planet, it has to be good.” More to the point, guitarist Evan Bird offers the perspective that his band’s sobriquet — which began humorously but ended up, shall we say, sticking to the rim — has also been an exercise in character-building.

“It started as a joke, but fast forward to now and it’s harder to change the name of an LLC than any of us imagined,” Bird says from his Nashville home. “The band was started to prove to ourselves that you don’t need to take your band as seriously as you think. The school we met at was really big about pushing out John Mayers and Coldplays and Needtobreathes; I’ve got all three on my iPod, but I don’t know if I could be in one of those bands. This band was kind of a response — to know that I could play, have fun and spend time with my buddies and not have this music-business elephant in the room. Having the name is a blessing and a curse. Professionally, maybe it’s slowed us down a little, but Jordan (Smith, guitarist/vocalist) has said, ‘It’s nice to know that we weren’t handed anything.’ We had to work and put in the time. There’s something rewarding about being able to look at what silliness you’ve made that’s turned into your career.”

For evidence of just how far the four-guitar attack has taken Diarrhea Planet, Exhibit A would have to be the band’s imminent third album, Turn to Gold, slated for release on June 10. A potent blend of Queen-via-The-Darkness Glam riffage, the Dictators’ bulldozing anthemics and a Ramonesian Punk swagger, Diarrhea Planet has effectively captured its live mayhem in a studio setting.

“One of the strengths we have as a group is that everybody’s music background is different,” Bird says. “We all agree on Classic Rock and Pop, and classic Country has been rearing its head in peoples’ solos. We’ve been joking about putting out a Country EP as a ‘Gotcha, suckers.’ We’ve always talked about DP being like a Pop song played through a Heavy Metal filter, and it winds up in multiple places
in between.”

After their 2009 formation, Diarrhea Planet gained a healthy Cincinnati following based largely on the presence of former Pinstripes drummer Casey Weissbuch. Weissbuch had already vacated the ‘Stripes drum chair when he met up with his fellow Planeteers, serving as the band’s hammer for five years before his departure in 2014; he’s relocated to New York City and is recording under the name Slanted.

“We had decided we were going to take some time off, and that was about the same time we decided to part ways (with Weissbuch),” Bird says. “It was just about moving in separate directions. He’s an incredible drummer, singer and guitar player, and he’s got an incredible thing going with his band now. There was no bad blood. I think everybody’s skills were better served.”

After hiring new drummer Ian Bush, the reconstituted Diarrhea Planet — Bird, Smith, guitarists/vocalists Brent Toler and Emmett Miller and bassist Mike Boyle — began working on the material that would comprise Turn to Gold.

The band had never taken time off the road in order to write, logging 200-plus shows in each of the two previous years, and the idea of woodshedding seemed foreign. But based on Turn to Gold, it was the right idea at the right time.

“We didn’t necessarily run out of steam, but we reached a point where we very consciously allowed a little time to focus and write this new record,” Bird says. “This is the first time we’ve spent a serious amount of time to purposefully try to write an album, versus the last two full-lengths, where it was like, ‘Here are these songs we have that work as an album, but that wasn’t the intention when they were written.’ That’s not a slight on those records, but this time we wanted to make sure the songs felt like they were written with the same intention and flowed together really nicely.”

Diarrhea Planet’s new writing process was further complemented when the musicians took their material to Nashville’s Sputnik Sound and worked with co-owner Vance Powell and engineer Mike Fahey. Powell’s veteran ears and instincts were the elements that pushed Turn to Gold to the next incredible level.

“We pulled a CCR — we locked ourselves away in our rehearsal space for months and got really comfortable with certain arrangements and playing the song in a certain way, and that’s a slippery slope for some bands,” Bird says. “But working with Vance and Mike, it was so seamless. Vance has been doing this forever, and he’s the best in the business. It was nuts how little we could say or how complex our metaphors were for guitar sounds and he would immediately know what to do. There were times he would chime in with, ‘Hey, try it like this.’ Then he would say, ‘Yeah, play the song.’ It was cool to do both and have that level of trust; there are a couple of kooky overdubbed instrumental spots and ideas we could never have thought of or executed without Vance intervening. But for the most part, what you hear is what we had.”

During recent press rounds for Turn to Gold, Bird made the comment that the new album could be construed as Diarrhea Planet’s Back in Black, and he’s not wrong. The problem, in his mind, is the rather monolithic legacy of the referenced AC/DC album, the Hard Rock legends’ first with new vocalist Brian Johnson, after the death of singer Bon Scott.

“As soon as I said that in the interview, everyone looked at me like, ‘What? Really?’ I read that and thought, ‘Ah, blew that,’ ” Bird says with a laugh. “What I meant was we were switching a member after this long and re-signing to (the label) Infinity Cat and consciously taking a long time to write as a band. We wanted to say, ‘Sorry it took this long. Don’t forget about us, we didn’t forget about you. We’re still the same band. We have just as many guitars and gratuitous stage antics.’ And we wanted this record to have some transitional intention. I’m not likening our drummer swap to a member dying, but that was the most appropriate album I could talk about when it came to transitional records.”


UPDATE: Turn to Gold can now be heard in its entirety via NPR here.

DIARRHEA PLANET plays the Bunbury Music Festival Saturday at 9:15 p.m. on the CVG River Stage. Tickets/more info: bunburyfestival.com.


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