Reel Time: John McCauley on Recording with Diamond Rugs
A few hours prior to their first performance at The Earl in Atlanta, Diamond Rugs frontman John McCauley is feeling more confident than he was a few days ago. “We’ve run through the set five times in the last two days,” he says. “I think any mistakes we make tonight will be easily forgiven. I think a lot of people are coming out of curiosity.”
Comprised of McCauley (who fronts Deer Tick), Robbie Crowell on bass (also from Deer Tick where he plays keys), Ian Saint Pé on guitar/vocals (The Black Lips), Steve Berlin on keys (Los Lobos), Hardy Morris on guitar/vocals (Dead Confederate) and Bryan Dufresne on drums (Six Finger Satellite), Diamond Rugs—like Middle Brother featuring members of Deer Tick, Delta Spirit and Dawes—is the latest Frankenstein-like McCauley creation that has the indie music world buzzing.
Their debut album is slated for release this spring.
You’re a big Los Lobos fan. What do you find appealing about them?
They are one of those bands that I grew up listening to along with Tom Petty and The Beatles. Los Lobos was the shit for me. It was also the first concert I ever went to.
What was it like to have Steve Berlin in the band but not taking on additional production duties?
It’s not like his opinions were brushed off. Usually when he had something to say— when the producer in him would come out—we usually ended up going with his idea. Adam Landry and Justin Collins were definitely the producers of it but everybody in Diamond Rugs [helped].
Is it true that Steve worked with some of the material after it was ostensibly finished?
He did that with a few songs. He had to leave a few days early before we were done with the sessions. He happened to be in Chattanooga, Tenn. a couple weeks later and he changed his plane ticket, went up to Nashville and did some work in the studio with Adam and Justin, and added some parts to the newer songs. I’m not sure he touched anything that he had already played on. It was cool to think that we had a complete record and then a couple of weeks later we got Steve on every song.
Will we see more collaboration between you and Steve?
Steve is producing a session we’re doing in Portland, Ore. in February with Deer Tick.
Was this originally going to be a solo project with these guys supporting?
It wasn’t supposed to be a solo project. Originally, it was just going to me, Bryan [Dufresne] the drummer and Ian Saint Pé. Rob was in Canada and going through a hard time and I was like, “Aw, dude, you should come down and play on this session. I don’t know what we’re going to do but it’ll be fun.” And then I met Steve and I told him about it and he was like, “I love Deer Tick. I love The Black Lips. When are you doing this? I want to do this.” And I was like, “We’ll do it whenever you’re free.” [Laughs.] That’s how he joined. The first day we got there and started messing around, Hardy [Morris] called me just to say, “Hi.” He was in Athens, Ga. a few hours away and I was like, “What are you doing this weekend?” He showed up the next day with a few songs. We didn’t know what we were going to do.
Did all six of you contribute material?
We wrote most of the songs in the studio. Ian brought one, Hardy brought two and I had one or two. The rest we wrote while we were there. When we finished a song and had no more material, we’d all go sit down with a pen and paper, and 20 minutes later, we’d have a song and we’d do it.
How would you describe Diamond Rugs’ sound?
It’s pretty heavy. It’s pretty rocking. It’s a little psychedelic. It’s got great horn sections. There’s one song with dueling pedal steels, hard pans left and right—that was with Bucky Baxter and Spencer Cullum Jr. in Nashville. We were trying stuff that we hadn’t really tried before. It’s got a lot of familiarity to it, but it also sounds original without sounding annoying or trying to be extremely original or something.
Are there any songs that you’re particularly proud of?
Ian’s got a song on it called “Blue Mountains” that I can’t stop listening to. I’ve listened to the record a bunch since we finished it but [for] that song, on my iTunes, the play count is at least quadruple from anything else.
Do you have any touring plans?
We’re working that out. We are going to try and do as many festivals as we can this year. We’re thinking about a time where we can do a proper tour because all of our bands are so busy. Everybody is excited about it. We’re going to make it happen even if it means none of us get a week off in the next year.
Where did the group’s name come from?
That was all Ian. We were tossing around some ideas. Some of them didn’t seem to fit the music or they were already taken by other bands. We had a good band name that everybody agreed on—Drags. And then Ian was like, “Wait, no. That’s a punk band. I’m friends with them. We can’t do it.” Stoner Drama [was another option]. I’m going to hang on to that one for a future project.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
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The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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