Interview: The Rum Diary

interview by pete soyer

The four horseman of The Rum Diary (Daniel, Jon, Joe and Schuyler) have mastered the process of creating one solid sound out of a million different ideas. They are currently mixing their upcoming album for release on Springman Records and if their list of current influences is any prediction of the new album’s direction, be ready for a hilly ride in a car with no brakes, lots of gas and a loud stereo.

Your website is peppered with quotes from different musicians talking about different aspects of music. What is your favorite quote (music related or not) and why?
Jon: I really like: “While we had a reputation as rampaging sexual vandals, the truth is that most of the time we were looking for nothing at bedtime other than a good paperback.” – Robert Plant I think that quote says a lot about the whole being-in-a-band-image. No matter how much you tell people that being in a band and touring is a lot of hard work, they don’t want to listen. They only want to hear about drugs, groupies, and destroying hotel rooms. You know what I’m saying? It’s kinda like looking at a post-card from a tropical island. The picture represents true paradise, but when you get there you notice trash on the beach, annoying tourists, and some stupid kid trying to drag an endangered sea turtle out of the water. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be lying if I said we walked a straight line because we certainly don’t and we have been known to tango with the yeti and huckle the buckle from time to time. I guess I’m just trying to share some reality. It’s good for everyone in small doses.

Pete: What is the biggest huckle you have ever buckled?
Jon: That’s a great question, but one I’m not sure I can answer. A true huckle-buckle should never be measured in terms of size. Huckle-buckling ain’t like catching fish and that’s for damn sure. When one successfully huckle’s the buckle they achieve victory by enjoying those few short seconds of pure bliss.

Pete: What will be different about the album you are starting to record compared with your past releases? Will it feature any songs from “a key to slow time”?
Jon: Nope, it will not feature any songs from “a key to slow time.” I don’t want to jinx anything, but our next album will really be something good. We’ve spent a lot of time writing new songs and figuring out how to capture our sound and ideas on tape. One thing is for damn sure; we are all walking away from this trip to the studio with a much more satisfied look on our faces. I don’t think it will be our best record because I would like to think we have a couple more left inside of us, but it should be pretty damn good. There will not be a lot of obvious differences compared to our past releases, but the construction of the songs are much more to the point and a little more polished. There’s a pretty even split of loud rock songs and mellow double bass songs. Next week we head back into the studio to mix everything down. That will be the true test.

Pete: Speaking of “a key to slow time” what is behind some of the layout of the album? Everything from the disc to the book to the “bottle-popping” case is great. Any inspirations or hidden meanings?
Jon: Thanks! It’s always preferred to receive a compliment on the music, but it’s nice to hear some kind words about the packaging. There’s no secret behind the lay-out. Well, there is a little secret behind the “bottle-popping” case, but it’s best for the future of the band that I don’t discuss. We are going to start the lay-out on our next album pretty soon and that “little secret” is going to come in handy. Anyway, it’s basically group art. We all had a ton of ideas and photos which we wanted to work with. The finished product represents everyone. John Joh played a key role in making it all come together and our friend, Yoni, who takes a lot of great photos, was definitely an inspiration.

Pete: What is the creative process for writing your songs?
Jon: It kinda goes something like this: One of us will have an idea or a couple of parts and during the first 30 minutes of practice we will just jam them and naturally try to flush out drums beats, dynamics, melodies, and other parts. Our creative process has definitely evolved over the past three years. Basically, we’ve learned it’s best to write new songs while everyone is together and more importantly it’s best to just let things come naturally. We are a true band of four equal parts and that is the core of our song writing process. It’s something we all really value. It’s not very often you can sit in a room with three other guys and naturally write songs that encompasses four individual influences and ideas. It takes a lot of patience and trust, but the finished product will generally be something pretty original and the course of the song will always be unpredictable. Besides, who wants to be in a band where only one person is writing all the songs? That’s no fun.

Pete: How does your mix of instruments help your sound?
Jon: The mix of our instruments is definitely the heart and soul of our music. We all really dig the sound we have stumbled upon. It’s not incredibly unique, but it is a road less traveled. Our intentions were never to be different or anything like that. We just got kinda hooked on the sounds that we were creating buy utilizing double drums, double bass, Moog, Farfisa, percussion, etc. and kept working at it. Our sound is basically the true product of all our individual musical influences and wide array of instruments. It’s like a stew. We are all really attracted to sounds and noise instead of notes and chords. We understand the importance of the latter, but it doesn’t drive our sound.

Pete: What is your favorite instrument? In The Rum Diary or otherwise? I’ve always been partial to the oboe.
Jon: Well, I’m always going to find comfort in the bass guitar. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite instrument per say. Lately I’ve been really into playing melodica. I also recently purchased an old toy piano and we worked it into one of the new recordings and it sounds great! Within The Rum Diary, Farfisa is definitely my favorite. It just has a nice way of bringing all the instruments together.

Pete: Where is the Hunter S. Thompson influence? His personality compared to your music seems to be on an opposite end.
Jon: To be honest, Joe was actually reading The Rum Diary around the same time we were thinking of a band name. We all liked the way it sounded and it looked pretty cool on paper. It just worked. You know?

Pete: How do you bring the feeling of your albums to your live shows?
Jon: I’m not sure if we do. During our live shows we all really trying to deliver the best live show that we can. Similar to our recordings, our shows require patience. We really try to play off each other as much as possible and create a show full of dynamics, visuals, samples, songs, etc. We still get nervous and often lost in our own songs while we are playing, but I think the overall output is pretty entertaining and interesting to watch.

Pete: What are you listening to right now? What genres or bands would surprise your fans to find in your CD player? Any ABBA?
Jon: No ABBA here. I’ve been reading Shakey and listening to a lot of Neil Young. I’m actually trying to get the guys to agree to cover Transformer Man. I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Paul Simon records. We all really listen to everything. Recently before we went into the studio I asked the guys to write me a list of the top 5 albums they were listening to. I wanted to document what everyone was currently into while we were recording our next album. I ended up putting the lists on our website. I found it really funny that no two of us said the say album or band. It kinda scared me too because we were about to record our next album and everyone seemed on a different musical planet, but that’s just how we are.

Pete: What Shakespeare character or play best compares with the rum diary and why? I was a Shakespeare nut for a long time and my favorite play has always been Othello.
Jon: I wouldn’t compare our band to one play. I would say we are more like a bunch of sonnets because we are not consistent enough to be represented by one comedy or tragedy.

Pete: Any of the Paul Simon influence coming out in the new album? Graceland is one of my all time favorites.
Jon: Nothing to obvious. Graceland is a great album. I’m listening to it right now. The one thing that attracts me to artists like Paul Simon or Elton John is their ability to write an album consisting of 31 flavors. No two songs are ever the same, they manage to incorporate international styles into the music, and they keep a solid vibe through-out. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want our next album to have those attributes.

Pete: When will you be touring again? What is the best part of touring? Any great tour memories?
Jon: We leave for tour on May 1st. We will be touring up and down the West Coast for 12 shows. The best part about touring is being away from work, seeing the country, visiting old friends and making new ones. Oh, playing shows every night is really great too. We have plenty of great tour memories and hope to make plenty more. I think the best memory is just the act of doing. It’s great to look back on the last couple of years and think about all the places we’ve played. Good times my friend!

Pete: I saw on your website that you were featured in the Missoula, MT, Entertainer. Ever played in Missoula, MT?
Jon: We played in Missoula, MT last year. It was pretty interesting. The venue didn’t really like what we were doing musically. Luckily this local guy Chris and his buddy came out to the show and gave us a place to stay that night. Speaking of Montana, some asshole in Missoula recently broke into Xiu Xiu’s van and stole all of their equipment. Xiu Xiu had just embarked on a nation wide tour and this piece-of-shit-of-a-human-being put an end to it. Karma is going to catch up to that ass-neck before it’s all over.

Pete: I spent four years in Missoula and ran encountered quite a few “ass-necks.” It is liberal for Montana, but it has a ways to go. What venue were you playing? Was it Jay’s Upstairs? I saw quite a few bands come through Jays that were amazing. I wish I would have been around when you guys went through.
Jon: You know I don’t remember the name of the place we played, but I do know it wasn’t Jay’s and we sure didn’t belong their. We all kinda felt like Marty McFly playing guitar at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. The sound guy, “Louie”, seriously pulled the plug on us, told me to get my ears checked, shook his head in total disgust during our set, made Daniel use an “Axe Sack”, and had the bouncer, who had fire in his eyes, ask us to get off the stage.

Pete: Hopefully you haven’t written Missoula off your tour list for good. Jay’s Upstairs is a great venue and open to everything. What is the best show you have ever played?
Jon: To this day, I still think the best show we have ever played was at Koo’s Cafe in Santa Ana a couple of tours ago. It was during a warm summer night and we were playing on a total ska revival bill. Anyway, we had to stack our equipment up to the ceiling to fit into the space and Joe and Schuyler had to share a lot of drums. We all played really well and it sounded great. Loud as all hell! The crowd stopped skankin’ the old pickle and really got into it. We were also all sweating like whores in a church because it was so hot. Good times. GOOD TIMES!

The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary