Intricately layered, the Rum Diary's music creates a melodic topography of strident, staccato peaks and mellifluous, melodic valleys that can bring about any emotional reaction. It wouldn't have been at all surprising if while playing live, these guys did something like facing the floor the whole time, too involved in their brooding to only acknowledge the audience with a brief 'thanks' after each song. So, it was really refreshing to see them joking and smiling between songs. After the show I listened to one of their albums realized that the Rum Diary are a band who care about making moving music, but don't take themselves too seriously. The Rum Diary carry an organic sincerity with them that is devoid in many of the popular bands of today. Their music will continue to fascinate and hypnotize listeners and their upcoming album Poisons That Save Lives will probably garner the band even more followers than did their past releases. Honesty can take a band a long way and for this, I know the Rum Diary have a great trip ahead of them.
As a band, do you guys aim to deliver a political, social or personal message through your music (i.e. in lyrical content) or do you play music with the sole intention to create a purely aesthetic experience? Could this be why you don't publish your lyrics?
Daniel: There are political, social and personal messages in our music but we don't mean to preach them. They are very much a part of the aesthetic you ask about. I guess I would compare our lyrics to a type of abstract poetry. We can say something in a song and someone will listen to it and get some entirely different meaning out of it, and that is fine with us.
Do the videos you project while playing live have any specific meaning? Why do you choose the clips that you do? Where did you get this idea?
Daniel: The visuals do have a meaning. Mostly we try and present something that won't take away from the experience of the live music but is still visually stimulating. They serve as more of a background to the performance, and that is what the visuals usually are. We try and project scenes that lack characters or story, things that lie in the background of movies. The things that people usually ignore but have just as much life. We try to present a nice balance between these backgrounds and our music.
With several bands that are similar to yours receiving more media attention (Sigur Ros signing to a major label, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's appearing on a movie score, etc) have you seen a growth in the attention, and change in response The Rum Diary has been getting?
Jon: I'm not sure. Basically our first two years as a band sucked in regards to 'attention and response', but we sucked too. It took us a while to harness the concept of being a band with four equal song writers, lots of sounds, and no limitations on what type of songs to write. We like the noise, the drone, the metal, the rock, the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads, etc. etc. Anyway, after we figured out what we were doing everything started to come together and some people started to take notice. This year has been really good to us, but I'm not sure it's because of the increase in popularity of other bands making similar noises. I think we just take some getting use to before people start warming up to what we are doing. Kinda like when you first meet your college dormmate who only cares about pounding brewskis, chasing tail, and cranking up the Aerosmith. After a while you start to enjoy 'Miller Time' and you realize that 'Dude (Looks Like a Lady)' is actually a pretty good song'
On that note, where do you guys get the best crowd response? What has been the worst crowd reaction?
Jon: We've been lucky to get a good crowd response from lots of places, but that depends on who you're talking to. We are pretty excited when there are a handful of people hanging out, enjoying the show, and maybe one of them buys a CD or steals one off our merch table while we are playing. We've played hundreds of shows to just two people - usually the bartender and our dear friend Todd Lay. Our biggest concern at the end of the night is whether or not we played well, were the volume levels good, or did we improvise something really cool between songs. I'm not going to lie to you. It's awesome when we get to play in front of a big responsive crowd, but it's not everything and it doesn't necessary make a good show. It can be just as nice to play well to a small crowd, meet some nice people, and find out two months later that someone wrote a favorable review from that night and posted it online.
Did you guys start out with the intention to create the sound you do, particularly in using the unusual combinations of two basses and two drumsets or did you achieve the sound (and idea to expand percussion and instrumentation) through experimentation and a progression from something else?
Jon: Good question. A lot of bands write songs around notes and chords and some write songs around sounds and noise. I think we naturally prefer the latter. Probably because of the lack of talent and skill with our instruments. Our sound is derived from writing songs that keep the four of us entertained and musically satisfied. Double bass sounded good so we went with it. Schuyler really wanted to play drums too so we started to write it into songs.
For a band with just four people, you achieve a pretty 'big' sound, but have you ever wanted to expand the size of the band by experimenting with strings, horns, or some other added instrumentation?
Jon: Expanding the size of the band would be pretty challenging. Anyway, it's already a pain in the ass to lug all of our equipment around. Not to mention, we can barely fit everything in the van as it is and it's a pretty big van. That's not to say we don't want to do it. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before you start to here string arrangements on our recordings. It would be really fun and at times during practice when we are writing new songs you can almost hear where they would be. We are also scavengers for old instruments and we love to make homemade instruments and they all seem to make it on to our records.
How will your new record sound in comparison to Noise Prints or A Key To Slow Time?
Jon: Better, but not as good as the one that will come after that'
What are The Rum Diary's plans for the near future?
Jon: I'm not sure if anyone will believe it, but we never intended on being a band that gets interviewed, tours, releases CDs, or anything like that. To this day we all still think it's nuts when we get emails from fans in different countries or when we see ourselves on the cover of a magazine. It's really cool and we are all having a great time enjoying things as they come to us and watching the story of this band unravel. Our future plans are to keep on truckin. Our new CD 'Poisons That Saves Lives' will be out in November. We have a couple of mini tours planned for the fall and then next year we plan on doing some touring in other countries. I would really like to see what the indie-rock scene is like in Cartagena and Istanbul and Joe and Schuyler keep talking about playing a show in Bangkok . Who knows where we're going? I guess time will tell. Oh, Daniel is in the process of building a home studio and we plan to use it as soon as it's ready.
Interview: Robby Morris
Photos: Ben Caprile