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Diarrhea Planet: The Best of What's Next

December 10, 2013  |  9:00am
Diarrhea Planet: The Best of What's Next

Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
Members: Jordan Smith, Emmett Miller, Brent Toler, Evan Bird, Mike Boyle, Casey Weissbach
Current Release: I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
For Fans of: Titus Andronicus, Fucked Up, Thin Lizzy

Please stop. Stop right now, and abandon any assumptions you might have about a band that would call itself Diarrhea Planet. First, let that sink in.

Diarrhea.

Planet.

We know what you’re thinking, because we’ve thought it. Numerous media outlets have thought it. A stream of declining tour managers have thought it. To a certain degree, even the very individuals in Diarrhea Planet have thought it. Yes, it may be hard to take any commercial entity seriously that would represent itself with a title that recalls the stomach flu and Taco Bell binges. But when a four-guitar garage-rock hurricane welds anthems as melodic and feral as these six gentlemen do, please ask yourself: what’s in a name?

Lead singer and guitarist Jordan Smith is certainly over the commotion. “If you see us once and ask who we are, you’ll never forget. You see a band and ask who it is, and it’s ‘Sinners or Saints’ or ‘Ashes in the Wake.’ You’ve heard so many band names like that before that you’re just not going to remember that at all. I like the fact that somebody definitely won’t forget Diarrhea Planet.”

But Smith and fellow bandmates Emmett Miller, Brent Toler, Evan Bird (all guitarists), Mike Boyle (bass) and Casey Weissbach (drums) have done much more to distinguish themselves than craft a potty-mouthed moniker. Born on the Nashville campus of music-industry incubator Belmont University, Jordan initially formed the group with friend Evan Donahue (who’s since moved on to solo projects) as a “living cartoon” full of squelching feedback. And to a certain degree, that vision came to fruition.

“Our dream was to scream over tons of feedback and make the most abrasive noises possible. Our first show ever that we played was just us playing ‘Ghost With A Boner’ and ‘Where Are You?’ and ‘Get Stimulated,’ which were three songs from our first EP. We ended up not doing what we set out to do, just writing songs that we thought were funny, but still catchy. “

The aforementioned “Ghost With A Boner” stands as a thesis statement from the band’s debut EP, Aloha, a biting lo-fi descent into sing-shout indie rock oblivion. Irreverent and blunt, the 163-second onslaught tells the story of a stranger at a party (the titular “ghost”) who finds himself obliviously stimulated in public by a new friend. “It was just amazing, because all of these people were walking through the room taking pictures of this guy on their cellphones,” Smith recalls. “It was the weirdest thing ever. I just think this dude was really drunk and didn’t realize what was going on. He was just sitting there with a super obvious, in-plain-view boner that everybody in the room knew about.”

The thing most people wouldn’t find super obvious about a band with a parent-prodding name and its tales of NSFW undergrad debauchery is that it’s deceptively good.

It’s actually very, very good.

The four axes behind Diarrhea Planet unleash a litany of virtuoso rock moves reserved for the most accomplished guitar hero. Fevered triplets, elegant arpeggios, air-tight harmonies and good-ol’-fashioned shredding belie talent that borders on savant (Emmett Miller studied Classical Guitar Performance at Belmont). The band’s motto “Shred till you’re dead, or go to hell” is not spoken in vain.

This rare combination of humor, energy and chops solidified Diarrhea Planet as the premier house-party enhancer that could turn a room full of disaffected kids into a slam-dance maelstrom where the crowd echoes every lyric back. The shows even turned destructive. “I personally have only lost one pedal, which cost me probably around $90 bucks. The thing about house parties is that we end up having to defend our gear the entire show instead of being able to focus on playing. Brent has had people knock his head off of his (cabinet) before. We all have chipped teeth at house parties as well. It is a lot of fun but most of the time you are bracing yourself for “the punishment” at a house show.”

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that DP has slowly evolved past house parties and paranormal erections to bigger venues and more thoughtful fare. New album I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams not only deepens the group’s sound with lush production from Kevin McMahon (Swans, The Walkmen), but Smith infuses his tracks with a vulnerability that speaks to universal growing pains.

The album’s name was inspired by a destitute trip to the grocery store where Smith and drummer Casey Weissbach reflected on the hardships of 20-something poverty. “We had just had a hard month, and we were out and totally broke, making jokes about how we’d been so hard up for cash. I told Casey, ‘Whatever man, we’re rich beyond our wildest dreams, just not in money.’ The title came from being really poor and we were coming back from buying some really disgusting food that we both couldn’t believe we were stooping to eating. We had no money.”

Even today, Smith still works as a manager at Papa John’s, where he’s been for five years alongside Boyle and Toler. “Our boss made it clear; she said, ‘You guys have been here forever, you’re family. We’ll hold your jobs for you while you tour.’ They’ve been really cool with it.” 

I’m Rich still revels in the raw bacchanal sing-along camaraderie shared by friends Titus Andronicus and Fucked Up, but there’s a new weight that accompanies the introspection. Opening track “Lite Dream” describes a summer where a blazed Smith watched the cult fantasy cartoon movie Heavy Metal daily, while follow up “Separations” doubles as both a song about long-distance relationships and complete departure from the couch-surfing shenanigans of years past. “For me in my writing, I always hid behind sarcasm and humor. If you don’t like it, you probably don’t have a sense of humor and leave it at that. In this record, I wanted to be really earnest about how I was feeling about a lot of things, and so the songs are much more serious.”

Standout track “Kids” presents the most sobering example of this new direction, with the chorus confession “I’m a sinner / I’ve got no self control / I’m just a dog / So ugly and so old.” Smith is mum on specifics, but says the track is a reflection on “the most horrible moment” of his life. “It’s a song about your circumstances forcing you to grow up. You still feel yourself fighting it because you’re not ready for that yet.” 

As seen in a YouTube performance taped by Titus Andronicus lead singer Patrick Stickles at a recent Brooklyn gig, “Kids” and its surrounding material also make for a brutal live experience, funneling a cascade of distorted strings and relentless percussion into a cathartic explosion of ’80s hair-metal riffage. If there was any question whether Diarrhea Planet’s embrace of larger venues and adulthood would diminish its mythic presence, recent gigs have put all concerns to rest. “We are a band that thrives on playing live. The bigger the crowd, the more fun it is to play,” Smith explains. “So naturally we want to play for as big of crowds as possible.  It would be sweet to play arenas and theaters all the time. Like Taylor Swift or something [laughs].”

The most revealing statement from Smith arrives at the tail end of our interview, though, when he candidly ends the conversation with the statement, “Thank you for caring.” It’s an unexpected sentiment for a band that built its foundation around sarcasm and flagrancy. It’s an unexpected statement from a band that wrote songs about aroused strangers and drinking beer “until the sun comes up or at least till there’s no beer.” It’s not an unexpected statement from a band that transformed a live performance prank into one of the most refreshing, talented brotherhoods in indie music.

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