Jordan Smith was literally born to shred. “Ever since I was born, the only thing I’ve wanted to do is play electric guitar,” the frontman for Nashville six-piece Diarrhea Planet tells me over the phone from Los Angeles before heading out for some pre-show rattlesnake sausage with his band mates. “My parents weren’t into music at all. It’s funny they would have a son obsessed with rock n’ roll the moment he stepped out of the womb.” Later, Smith would find kindred spirits in the music business program at Nashville’s Belmont University, where he was one of only “two guys with blue hair who come out and do punk stuff.” A band with a joke name and a seriously rockin’ mission was born.
Diarrhea Planet play the Mercury Lounge Friday, August 30, with the So So Glos at 10:30pm. $12, 21+.
Smith and co. certainly sound and kind of act like a bunch of dudes that live, breathe, eat, and, yes, excrete rock n’ roll. Ever since Diarrhea Planet trolled a National comment party on Brooklyn Vegan with a link to their 2011 debut EP, Aloha, they’ve been melting faces and converting fans with their singular four-guitar blend of pop-punk hooks, hair-metal riffage, and Smith’s Tom Gable-inspired singing. They’re even better live, playing guitars with their teeth, climbing rafters, and headbanging in synchronized power stances like dive bar golden gods.
Though all that “showboating” won them critical attention at this year’s South by Southwest, by that point Diarrhea Planet had already decided to clean up their act. “When we started touring, we were like, this is turning into something people like and care about that we can actually do for a living,” Smith says. “We decided to start taking it seriously and stop goofing around.”
Last October, Diarrhea Planet recorded their sophomore record, I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams (out now via Infinity Cat Records), with producer Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, Swans) at his studio in upstate New York. He helped them focus more on songwriting than “trying to out-shred everybody” while preserving the dynamic of their live shows. I’m Rich streamlines all that noise into sugar-high melodies, more than a few falsettos, and quietly poetic moments like the rotating tick at the end of “The Sound of My Ceiling Fan.” It’s no “Ghost With a Boner,” that’s for sure.
“Now we don’t even post really gross pictures on Instagram or drop F-bombs on Twitter,” says Smith. “We were like, dude, let’s chill out.”
You said it’s been hard for you to get a booking agent because of your name, but now you have one named, amazingly, Jon Prine. When and why do you think the tables started to turn?
Not to toot our own horn, but we do a pretty decent job at our live show. A lot of people go, “Yup, gonna eat my words. You guys are a lot better than your name.” Jon, for one, he’s in Nashville, so he was able to see us a lot, and that helped us. We’ve been touring so much and more people have been seeing us, and their friends will come back from a show and be like, “Dude, I saw this band, their name’s ridiculous but you gotta see them.” It’s just a childish name, nothing you can’t say on the radio. Some parents might cover their kids’ ears, but little kids think it’s hilarious and the coolest name ever.
Do you ever get sick of explaining your name to people, or the endless puns that have been made in articles written about you?
(Laughs) Yeah. This last tour, I probably got asked that at least two or three times a show. We all have fake stories that we make up. Sometimes we’ll pick a band that’s bigger than us and we’ll say, “We had a coin toss with Wavves and whoever lost the coin toss had to name their band Diarrhea Planet. We lost the coin toss.” I told one that was really stupid, I can’t believe the guy believed it– it had to do with astronauts in space looking at the brown desert and thinking it was diarrhea.
Your sophomore album seems to be more nuanced than your earlier stuff.
Initially everybody was trying to shred the most and be the biggest showboat. Then last October, when we were touring the West Coast, we made an agreement to learn what our spaces were within the band and stick to contributing to the song as a whole. We started paying attention to small details so the song takes you from one place to another more fluidly. In college I was speeded out of my mind all the time, so everything I wrote was super pumped up and really fast, out of control. I’ve mellowed out a lot now, and the new album was written without any sort of drugs or anything.
Was it hard learning to write without those influences?
No. There’s this point where you realize you’re writing from one perspective all the time. People can talk all they want– “Dude, just get high and feel the music!”– but you play better when you’re sober. David Lynch talks about transcendental meditation, and like Haruki Murakami, the Japanese author, I get most of my ideas when I run. It’s a lot easier for me to be patient and pace myself and be smart about what I’m doing; when you’re high you get frustrated and coming up with ideas and then when you listen to them sober, they’re terrible.
How was recording I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams with Kevin McMahon?
Kevin keeps the process so pure. He’s not a super anal producer who’s like, “You need to go in with a click track and all you guys need to play the same thing.” He’s into getting the most organic sound out of a band, to the point where we didn’t use headphones. If someone messed up, he wouldn’t be doggin’ on you. And I was really sick when we were recording it, with a sinus infection. I owe getting better to the [Brooklyn] band Desert Sharks; they were like, “You need to get a straw with salt water in it”– like a poor man’s Neti pot– and drink this apple cider vinegar weird homeopathic thing.
Going back to Murakami, there’s a song on the record called “Togano,” you have a song named “Yama-Uba” after the Japanese demon [that has sex with men and then kills and eats them] and you’ve expressed interest in Japanese folklore in other interviews. How do you reconcile something like that with most of your lyrics, which are about fun things like beer and girls?
It’s weird– on the new record, there are no joke songs. You don’t always want to be the nerd making fart and poop jokes. As childish a band as Diarrhea Planet might sound, everybody has some depth. We went to college, for god’s sake! For me, the legend of yama-uba seems like a good analogy, like a sociopathic person who devours people socially. Same with “Togano”: that’s from a book I read about women manipulating all these men that don’t know if they’re using spiritual possession to trick these guys. The ultimate femme fatale.