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Diamond Thug: Exploring their interpretation of the cosmos

The band provide a large degree of insight into their well-produced and conceptualised full-length debut album.

9 May 2018 / Interview / written by Saul Nossel

Diamond Thug have put two years of hard work into a brilliant full-length release. I wanted to discuss in depth, their processes, inspirations and opinions throughout this journey, as they strive for succeed independently in South Africa.

Saul Nossel: Talk us through some of the production processes you guys went through on the album? Any memorable moments in studio discovering new sounds or ideas?

Danilo: We recorded the album at Digital Forest Studios. Adrian and I co-produced the album with Andrew Rawbone-Viljoen who was also the sound engineer on the album. We wanted to keep control of the direction of the music, but wanted someone we really trusted to provide a fresh ear, Andrew is just that. He’s really approached the album with a ‘Whatever you want to do, let’s get it done attitude’, no matter how crazy our ideas were.

Adrian: One of the most interesting things we did production-wise I think, was running some of the drum stems through our phaser and flanger pedals and re-routing the audio back through a big old speaker to a bathroom mic to capture a unique reverb sound.

Danilo: That was a late and exciting night, we really didn’t want to leave the studio. Another moment that stood out to me was when Adrian and Chantel recorded the vocals to ‘Pale Blue’ together in separate rooms, I just sat in awe as the two of them took the rest of us on a wild trip, nailing the duet.

Chantel: There are parts in each of songs that were so raw and rightful to those moments, that when I listen to them I can still feel the vocal take I did. Also being able to watch and be part of an aspect of what each member was recording was also so exciting. To really observe and hear the individual “sounds” of each song, before the whole song was put together made me so excited for what was coming

Ted: Hearing Chantel sing on “Sakura” was also very special to me. The words she came up with instantly connected with the feelings I was experiencing at the time I came up with the synth part, moments like that are special.

SN: What albums did you guys take influence from when writing the songs and producing the album? Each band member give an album and sound they were looking for please.   

Chantel: I was absolutely into: Foals “Total Life Forever”, Amen Dunes “Love” and Beach Fossils “What a Pleasure” at the time. All of them have this fluidity and space in their vocals which can at times sound haunting, even if the song is upbeat. The music also lends itself to a balance between noise and space which can consume you in the best way and their melodies pour out the lyrics so smoothly.

Adrian: At the time I remember listening to a lot of “Currents” by Tame Impala as well as Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool”, which probably helped influence the subtle psychedelic undertones throughout the album.

Ted: STRFKR’s “Miracle Mile” and “Awake” by Tycho were the two albums I’d been listening to most at the time. They definitely influenced my drumming on songs like Sakura, The Descent, Choo Choo and Eclipsed.

Danilo: I was also very into “Currents” by Tame Impala. I think the melody Kevin Parker has in his basslines are so beautiful. I was also listening to a lot of Beach House’s “Depression Cherry”. I love the space on that album, the soundscapes they create and the way they’re able to create chaos in noise, but still have a sense of calm to their music.

SN: What made you guys want to work with Hannah Shone on the visual aspect of your album?

Danilo: We made an Instagram story asking our fans to submit work to be considered for the album artwork. I think are very lucky because we have a super creative fan base: artists, illustrators, designers, musicians, writers and more. We wanted to tap into the creativity of someone who genuinely enjoys our music and wanted them to be a part of the album’s creation. We received some really great work from fans from all over the world and the band sort of ooh’d and aaah’d for a while before we all decided Hannah’s work felt right. I was super stoked she was chosen. I’d been a fan of her work for a while, particularly her illustrations.

Chantel: I had done a drawing with hands reaching towards each other and a symbol in the middle to depict the idea of an Apastron, reaching out but not touching, wanting to move closer but being apart. And when we met with Hannah for the first time, she showed us the sketches she’d been working on. All of her sketches related to the initial idea I had had without her ever having seen my idea, we knew then she was on the same page and her creations were going to be something special.

Ted: Her style is unique in its simplicity and playfulness and we really liked that. She gave each song a life of its own.

Adrian: Her work has been incredible and she really showed a lot of passion towards the music. I think her artwork helped us tie the album together.

Danilo: It was as though we had picked up an extra band member, Hannah would send me messages in the middle of the night explaining her nightly progress and the ins and outs of the entire process. For the actual album cover, she held her breath as she painted each line. The lines are so close together and detailed, and her breathing caused too much movement, so she pretty much just decided that in order to do it right, she wouldn’t breathe much that night. There’s something special about someone who can get so involved in a project. She immersed herself in it and we’ve made a new friend for life.

SN: Visuals play a big role in your live performances and recorded music, so explain why you think it is important that your music is conveyed visually?

Danilo: Well I think that the animations Caitlin Weare did of Hannah’s work that we’ve used on Youtube and the live visuals Thom Dreyer put together for us, serve different purposes. The animations are for the same purpose as the website we coded for the album. It’s to create an immersive experience that helps the music guide listeners towards certain feelings we want to convey, without being too literal.

Adrian: The visuals we use for our live shows try to give audiences an understanding of the relation between the cosmos and our music and daily human experience.

Ted: Having visuals to go along with music creates another aspect of our performances that immerses the crowd that much more.

Danilo: I think as bands we sometimes forget that there’s more to a show than just playing the music as best we can. That’s still a super important aspect, but people want to have all their senses stimulated, sound, lights, smoke, visuals, movement on stage, it’s all part of a show. The beauty is you get to create your own show. The show isn’t centered around the visuals, but the visuals really help, as does the choice of the colours and brightness of the lights on stage, how much smoke you want from the machine and so on. We’re very fussy about all of those things, if you care about what you’re putting together, every single detail is important because it really helps set the mood. Our dream at the moment is that a festival gives us budget to put on a special show this year. We’re assembling a creative team in the hope that they do.

SN: With track titles such as “Cosmic Dreamer”, “Moon Call”, “Eclipsed” “Pale Blue” and “Apastron”, its clear themes of space and the cosmos are important to you guys. What lead you to find inspiration and connect with these elements of the universe?

Chantel: I first came about the word Apastron in an article I was reading on a day where I was feeling highly strung by emotions in the fear of what it would be like to loose someone I love deeply. I knew I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, in any way, and I didn’t know if I ever would be.

Danilo: That connection really resonated with Chantel and when she explained it to us, I think we all felt it, the Apastron is the point in the orbit of two planets or stars where they are farthest from one another, feeling so far away and wanting the orbit to go on and to feel the return and coming together. We’re also all big fans of the series Cosmos too and are fascinated with space.

Chantel: There is a beautiful metaphor in the way nature continually expands and contracts, the relationships between separate celestial beings in their orbits. It just felt so relatable.

SN: It is clear you guys are determined to prove independent artist can thrive in South Africa. Where do you see yourselves in the South African music realm? 

Danilo: Being independent is rarely a choice a band makes, I think if any label had come along 2 years ago we’d have jumped at the opportunity, but I’m not sure we’d have grown as much if we had been with a label. Being independent has forced us to educate ourselves on the business side of being a band. We create our own strategy, conceptualise everything ourselves, market, tour and write at our own discretion and we get to select the album tracks according to our own feelings and as an artist, there’s a lot of freedom in all of that. It’s hard to record and produce an album on an independent budget, but we did it, we saved up and we actually spent more on our album than most SA labels spend on the albums they produce. We’ve seen our music reaching more and more people around the world, last I checked our streaming listenership was around 350k unique listeners a month, which makes us one of the most streamed South African bands at the moment, which is crazy because for the last 5 years it felt so slow.

Chantel: I think we are slowly showing independent artists in South Africa and ourselves how to do things differently and independently while still making it a success. No one gives you a roadmap or a strategy here that would set you up internationally, we need to find our own way. Hopefully we can inspire other artist to take on the unknown and find a unique approach to what is known here.

SN: Do you have any interest in record labels or other types of similar infrastructures in the industry?

 Danilo: Well about a year ago I started a Record Label called KuduKudu to release our music through, I’ve been helping some of the artists I really believe in through the label too and hope to expand it to cover more and more independent artists and help them with release strategies and so on as it grows. The whole concept is that artists keep their rights to the music and I get commission off of their digital sales, it stems from passion and is really about growing the alternative music industry and helping establish a distribution network in South Africa, because radio really doesn’t support alternative genres. My number one focus with the label is teaching artists the strategy we’ve learned and making sure they are ticking all the boxes to maximise their revenue streams, something a lot of local bands don’t do or know how to do. We need to breed a professional culture in the independent scene to make it a viable profession.

SN: Who would be your dream label would be to work with?

Danilo: I think we’re on a good path and we’d really need to see a big opportunity to sway us to course.

 

Follow Saul on Twitter.

Read our review of “Apastron”.

Check out our exclusive gallery from this album launch.