For a band that draws inspiration from its surroundings, the Diamond Center's next album could very well bear the mark of the Fist City. Since moving to Richmond from Lubbock, Texas, in August, Kyle Harris and Brandi Price have begun work on their third full-length in as many cities and pieced together a seminew lineup. Drummer Willis Thompson, who also keeps the beat for Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, and bassist Will Godwin are from the area, while second drummer Tim Fallen was convinced to pack up and rejoin the group from Lubbock.
Their impression of Richmond so far has been nothing but positive. “The amount of bands and the amount of music and the amount of venues and things going on -- it's a nice change, totally different,” Price says. It's highly unlikely the Diamond Center will add breakdowns or group choruses to its haunting psych folk, or even stick around long after the new record drops. “We're pretty much ramblers and stay in places for about two to three years,” Price explains. “And then we have to shake it up.” Style Weekly was able to pin down the main members of the Diamond Center just before their holiday rush and a short East Coast tour in January.
Style Weekly: Introduce our readers to The Diamond Center.
Kyle Harris: (Brandi and I) met in Athens, Georgia and we started the Diamond Center around January 2007. We had both been in bands previously and decided to get together and start writing.
Brandi Price: When we first started the band, I said “I've been playing bass forever, I think I'm going to play guitar.” Kyle was just coming out of playing bass in a band, too, and was like, “I think I'm going to play guitar.” So we agreed. “Let's just play guitars.” For a long time, we didn't have a bass player at all. Coming from 5-piece rock bands, it was a bit of a (switch).
Harris: We wrote an album and recorded it in March with some friends at their home studio, really fast. At that point, we knew were leaving (Athens) pretty soon. We were just looking for something new. Brandi had a job offer in Lubbock and she's from Texas originally. I was like, "Sure, let's move to the desert. I'm ready." So, we moved across the country. It's funny, I don't think Athens wanted to let us go because the day we were moving, we had all these catastrophes. We blew out a tire.
Price: We blew out the back window on our Tahoe, then ran out of gas on the way out of town. Crazy stuff. We were supposed to leave Monday morning and we didn't get out of Athens until 9pm and drove all night.
Harris: In Lubbock, we didn't really think about playing that much. We were writing. We played a few shows as just the two of us, introduced ourselves to a few people.
Price: We play off of our environment and external things. Being in the deep South, in Athens, was an inspiration. It inspired a lot of what we wrote on the first album. It was nice for both of us to say, "This is my thing. It's my band, my baby. I can write and I can make the music how I want to." So for the first one, we had all of this stuff to get out.
Harris: It's what I'd been trying to do for fifteen years, I was just never able to write. In Athens, all of your friends are in bands and all your friends play all the time, which helped spur us to write the first album, too. But the CD is all over the place, style-wise. We still love it, but don't really play anything off of it. Moving to Lubbock, where there's not a lot of musicians to play with and not a huge music scene, not as many bands to see every night, we spent a lot of time in the atmosphere. We went from hills and trees and mountains in north Georgia to flat, desolate, desert. Tumbleweeds and prairie dogs, which I'd never seen either of.
Price: It changed our sound, the sparseness of it. Seeing the open sky and the desert really influenced the music on “My Only Companion.”
Harris: We were like, “This is cool. This is what we're going to do now.”
Price: In Lubbock, the musicians are just as good, but not as many of them are ready and willing to play.
Harris: After a few unfortunate practices and a few bad shows (with other musicians), we decided to ditch it all and forced her sister to pick up the drums.
Price: She played drums in high school and she's always down for whatever. We both love the Velvet Underground and Moe Tucker and are inspired by them. We saw a performance of The Raveonettes on television and they have a standing female drummer who plays a tom and a snare. We had this last practice with a drummer that just wasn't working right, so I called my sister and said "I'm gonna by you a tom right now. Are you in or are you out?" And she was in. And it clicked really fast. She hadn't played since high school, but there's this energy inside, you know? The way the music feels, the rhythm.
Harris: Her approach ended up changing the music for the better, the simplicity of the drumming. It's almost her naivete of not being in bands. One of my friends wrote a review for the album and said that the thing this album lacked, which is a compliment, is the mother's heartbeat. The 4/4, buh-boom, buh-boom, buh-boom, buh-boom. Captain Beefheart said most bands have the mother's heartbeat and when a band escapes that, they're doing good.
So, it's just the three of you on “My Only Companion”?
Harris: Yes, but there is one song on there that is an interactive, group song. For the recording, we had a party and invited a bunch of people over. I think there's about twenty people on it. We set up a bunch of mics and recorded them stomping and clapping and hollering. There's this crazy guy in Lubbock who gave me a tattoo, the tattoo guy is on it. And Dirty Charlie, you can hear his cowboy boot on it. Thank you, Dirty Charlie.
Price: We try to do that live - get a bunch of people up (on stage) for that song to clap. Before we left Texas, we had added a bass player and an acoustic guitar player and a second drummer. You can be an amazing kit drummer, play five million drums, but when you play with The Diamond Center, you play with a tom and a snare. Once you get that tribal beat and then have two of them do it, it's really great. We really enjoy that.
Tell us about that one song…
Price: The thing I really like about writing music in general and creating art in general and living life in general, is that you can do so many things, but leave something a little ambiguous. Then the audience, the person listening or the person seeing, can have their own interpretation of what it is. What the artist is talking about is not so laid out, so exact. We like to write in that manner, so it can be ambiguous. This song is called "Nemo," so when we play it, we're like “Nemo - you know, like the fish.” Which, of course, it's not. We actually wrote it right after Obama beat out Hillary in the primaries. I think it's a questioning - Is this going to be awesome? Are we going to do this? I don't know who you are, is this going to be okay? It starts there and takes a weird journey somewhere else.
Harris: We try hard to put together an album to be listened to front to back. We spend a lot of time going over the order and the sounds and the journey the listener takes. We have short attention spans and if we can grab you for ten songs, that's not too bad. The song before "Nemo" is a sweeter, poppier song, but still ridiculously reverb-laden because this is what we do. It ends on this positive major chord. And then "Nemo" comes in at d-minor, a sadder chord. It starts out sparse, with a guitar and snare drum, and just slowly builds until it gets to the chorus. Then this distorted guitar comes in, doing this other riff that crosses what she's playing and the drums kick in, and they're ridiculously loud. Then, we pound it home and it goes back and forth. It's a nasty recording, not lo-fi like we didn't have the means to make it clean, but it sounds dirty and fuzzed out. It doesn't necessarily encapsulate what we're doing, it's just one thing. It's nastier and dirtier.
Price: It's the last song on the album. We talked about [choosing] some of the other songs at the beginning, but this one doesn't seem to get as much attention. We think it's a great song, but it's on the end and needs a little more love. So we're starting at the end of the story and going back!
What has surprised you most about Richmond?
Price: Before we moved to Richmond, we asked people who had been around what the scene was like here. The d.i.y. (do it yourself) and hardcore scenes are what Richmond has been known for for awhile. I was surprised when we got here that there's a variety of things going on. Since there's a music school, it's cool to get to see so many other types of music, with different instrumentation. It's really awesome to go somewhere and the band has horns and strings, or a cellist. One of our favorite music nights in so far is we went to Cous Cous and it was live jazz night.
Harris: It's still small though. I don't feel like it's a huge town. I don't feel overwhelmed at all and I don't think bands get swallowed up. It seems healthy. I'm digging it. I also like that a lot of places that aren't traditional venues will have bands. It's great to have restaurant owners [supporting the music scene]. It's a cool way to see a band you like in a whole different setting or somewhere more intimate. And the kitchens stay open later!
What would be your most outrageous moment as a band?
Harris: We did a short Summer tour from Lubbock in early June. At the time, we didn't get a show in Richmond. We didn't really know anything about the area. We got a show in Charlottesville and the night before that show, we had a night off. It was our drummer Tim's birthday and his mom sprung for a couple of hotel rooms on the beach in Virginia Beach. We usually try to keep drinking to a minimum on tour, because you have to think about playing the show, you have to think about driving the next morning.
Price: You have to think about where you're going to sleep that night!
Harris: So we don't really tie it on too much, but we were going to Virginia Beach with the intention of getting smashed because it was Tim's birthday and it was our night off. Well, we get to the beach after dark, find our hotel, and then drive around for what seems like forever to find a liquor store. We come out of the store and we look like that movie “Leaving Las Vegas,” we had so much booze. We had handles to ourselves, it was so dumb. There's this one drink that I make and I only make it at the beach. It's basically rum, orange juice, champagne, coconut rum.
Harris: We got to the room, ordered some pizzas, and started drinking really fast, thinking we had to get down to the beach. We get down there and I guess we had consumed a good amount of this drink, amongst other drinks. This is where it gets a little hairy, because I don't know the order of things. I don't know what happened first. All I know is Allen, who was playing guitar with us at the time, his shorts came down. I thought he was saying this was a “let's get naked” party. Let's do it. So I just dropped my bathing suit, let it all go. They didn't really want to see me naked. Then an argument ensued as to who got naked first.
Price: It was late, there weren't children around.
Harris: (looking at Brandi) Should I go on?
Price: You've already started…
Harris: Okay. Brandi got partially naked and the other girl that was with us doing merch, she got down to her skivvies. The funniest part about that was she was running around yelling “I love naked!” but she wasn't. So, finally we come to our senses. You know, we really shouldn't be out here doing this. We decided to go back to the room and get all the sand out. I put my shorts back on, but Brandi decided she's not putting her top on. This girl gets fiery. She doesn't care, because none of the guys have their shirts on and that's that.
Price: It's really sexist to say, they can do this, but I can't.
Harris: We walk through the hotel and kind of forget where we're going. We had to ask where the elevator was. These guys were sitting there with their mouths open, stuttering and pointing “Over there.” Brandi's like, “Okay thanks. Appreciate it.” A guy and girl had just gotten off the elevator and as we're going on the guy's like “Oh, I forgot something!” and gets back on the elevator with us. That was a fun night in the middle of tour.
Besides the nudity, what else do you like about touring in a band?
Price: When we make money at shows, it usually goes to gas or food. My favorite thing is that every night, I have no idea where I'm sleeping. I think it's a great feeling. I gotta find something, I gotta meet somebody, I gotta talk to people. Awesome. I think if we ever got to the point where we could afford hotels, it take all the fun out. It's like traveling in a whole different way.
Harris: You're like a team. It's us against the world.
Price: We have a ton of crazy stories about the different places we've slept. Or people that we meet that put us up. Everywhere we go people are so kind and so nice. They'll say, "I don't have much, but I have a floor." I think it says something about humans in general. We go to places where we don't know anyone and we always end up with a place to stay. There's always that one person, or someone's Mom.
Harris: We got off stage and we're kind of tipsy. And this guy's like “Hey, you guys need a place to stay?” He comes back in a few minutes and said “Hey, I just got off the phone with my mom. She says it's cool.” It was funny. I was thinking, "I'm in my 30s, I'm probably not that much younger than her."
Price: When we woke up and came upstairs, it was like “Hi mom. I slept in your basement.” She made us eggs though.
What are your first musical memories?
Price: My first tape was Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl." I remember listening to it over and over. With my big neon belt and my big neon bow. Still to this day, if there's an album I want to hear, I will listen to it over and over.
Harris: I was pretty obsessed with my mom's records. She had a pretty good collection of classic rock, she was really into that. I would listen to Molly Hatchet with the giant headphones, with the curly cord. I was obsessed with the covers, too. Uriah Heep has an album called “Look at Yourself” with the reflective cover, I loved that one. “In the Court of the Crimson King,” by King Crimson, it has a close-up drawing of a red face. When you're little, it looks huge. My mom used to go to a lot of shows in Atlanta. Apparently, she saw The Who and Keith Moon with me in her belly. I feel like I was in the same room with them. In utero, but still. I like to think that had something to do with [me being a musician].
Price: And he saw “Tommy” when he was 8 years old. I thought “That's so fu**ed up.” There's stuff in that…well, not that I fault her for that. I love that woman.
The Diamond Center and David Shultz and the Skyline play a benefit for Save the Trash, Richmond's Non-Profit Recycler, on December 20th at the Camel, 1621 W. Broad St.. For more information, call 353-4901.