Q&A: Robbie Crowell Of Diamond Rugs
When music snobs hear the term “supergroup” nowadays, the usual reactions range from stern looks of disapproval or obligatory mild interest to extreme disappointment when the band doesn’t meet fan expectations. But Diamond Rugs doesn’t need to be labeled as a supergroup to inspire stern looks of disapproval, which is why these scraggly rockers are perceived as more of a party than a group, and possibly why their reception has been so warm. (Snobs at least know when to lower their standards so they can kick back and enjoy a good show.)
The wayward ambitions of band founders John McCauley (Deer Tick), Ian St. Pe (Black Lips) and Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite) hardly could’ve been heeded as a solid foundation for the band’s realization, leaving Diamond Rugs as both will-o’-the-wisp and an accidental master stroke — the masters, in this case, being the aforementioned three, plus veteran Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Robbie Crowell (Deer Tick) and Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate). After blasting their primo debut LP (Diamond Rugs) all summer long and attending the Nashville stint of their successful supporting tour, the notion of evaluating Diamond Rugs from a band member’s point of view was appealing. Bassist Robbie Crowell offers his insight in an interview via email:
Diamond Rugs covers practically every element and time-worn sound of classic rock. How did you guys manage that? What was the conceptualization of the album like and how was it handled?
I’d like to say that it was carefully calculated, but that would be pretty far from the truth. Originally it was to be John, Ian and Bryan making an album about the things that stoner roommates fight about, called Stoner Drama. Then more people came on board, and it accidentally turned into something unexpected. There wasn’t any real conceptualization, just six guys hanging out in a studio and recording what we felt like recording. The first few days were just John and I and Bryan putting down bed tracks to some songs John was writing, and then as the others arrived, working on their tunes and getting them to layer what we had done already. Funnily enough, folks’ arrivals and goings were so staggered that it wasn’t until our first gig that we were all in the same room at the same time. In fact, that was the first time Steve and Ian had met, as Steve left shortly before Ian got there, then returned after Ian had left to finish his tracks.
How did you convince Steve Berlin to hop on the Diamond Rugs train? Besides badass horn arrangements, did his presence add anything magical to the experience?
Steve was a Deer Tick and Middle Brother fan, so when he met John and caught wind of a new project he was immediately into it. Steve’s the guru of the band. Full of great ideas, a great player, funny, and can find a great whiskey bar anywhere, even on a Sunday in Durham!
VICE Magazine called Diamond Rugs “the soundtrack to beer,” but it is so much more than that. What would you call it the soundtrack to, if anything else?
It’s the soundtrack to any sort of good times you want to have. We had good times making it, and I think that it shows!
Since “Gimme a Beer” was written, have you gotten a pet tiger, a fancy watch, or any of the other stuff you wanted? (Hopefully someone has at least given you a beer?) Do audience members throw beers at you when you’re performing it?
Well, we actually may have the fancy watches on the way, but no pet tigers yet, which is a bit of a bummer. We haven’t been pelted with beer yet, but we’re not ruling it out. No bottles please–those can be a bit difficult to deal with. If you actually throw drinks at the band, I recommend the drugstore margaritas that come in the soft pack.
You guys obviously took turns with vocals on the album, but the voices still seem unique overall. Are there any particular influences on your singing style in this project? Is there anyone in particular being channeled, (for example on “Hightail,” “Blue Mountains,” “Totally Lonely,” and “Country Mile”)?
I think that everyone just did what they do naturally. There wasn’t really any talk of going for any specific vibes on this record–it was pure fun–and doing what seemed right for each tune.That being said, I kinda think Ian may have channeled a Muppet for “Blue Mountains.”
What / who is “Big God” about? Did this really happen to one of you? If “Big God” isn’t autobiographical, which Diamond Rugs songs are especially personal? Is there really someone in the group who had to spend Christmas in a Chinese restaurant because he was drunk and told his kid that Santa isn’t real?
“Big God” is Hardy’s tune, and I do believe it’s semi-autobiographical at least. I don’t want to really address that too much, as it’s Hardy’s baby and I’d rather not speak for him. Some songs are universally autobiographical: who hasn’t been hungover and horny or wanted a beer? As for the Christmas story, none of us are fathers yet (that we know of) except for Steve, and he seems like a pretty great dad, so no, that one’s pure conjecture.
What made you decide to cover Mandarin Dynasty’s “I Took Note” for this album? Are you guys pals?
Mike [Sherk] and John have been friends for quite a while, and he hangs out with all of us in Deer Tick when we’re through town and at Sasquatch. John wanted to give that cover a shot, and we all thought it was pretty wicked. He’s a great songwriter.
If you could tour with any artist/band, dead or alive, from any era, who would it be? What about currently?
Given those first options, how about a dead Pablo Picasso? Currently. I think it would be pretty great to tour with all of the bands that we came from. Diamond Rugs, Los Lobos, Deer Tick, Black Lips, and Dead Confederate would be a pretty great show. Oh, and add David Cross to that mix too because he rules.
What has been Diamond Rugs’ favorite show and venue on this tour?
Fun Fun Fun was probably my favorite, but if we had kept on going who knows? The shows were getting better every night, so the last show was the best one so far.
Who’s the biggest troublemaker in the group?
That depends on who’s consumed what on any given night. Everyone has their own brand.
What was your reaction to discovering that Diamond Rugs could stand for “Damn, I am on drugs?” Or was that intentional?
I have no idea what you mean by that. People have very twisted minds.
Drug of choice?
Gimme a beer…
Is there anything in the future besides partying?
Whose future? That’s a scary question. As for us, there’ll probably be a few other things, but who’s to say really?