Chicago has one of the world’s most vibrant garage and psychedelic music scenes, and Diagonal is one of the city’s greatest ambassadors. The sextet just returned from an East Coast tour to support its first full-length album, Tomorrow, and performed many of the tracks from that LP when it headlined CHIRP Night at the Whistler on October 24th.
The band features Dan Jarvis (guitar and keyboards), Alex Brumley (guitar), Andy Ryan (vocals), Dale Price (bass), Silas Mishler (guitar/keys/noise) and Chris Detlaff (drums). Tomorrow features 11 reverb-soaked tracks that feature touches of garage, shoegaze and psychedelic music. Several CHIRP DJs, including me, list Tomorrow among our top albums of 2018.
Dan Jarvis will guest DJ with me at 2 pm on Friday, Nov. 2. We will play some of his favorite cuts from Tomorrow, as well as some of his favorite cover tunes.
Q How was your East Coast tour?
A We just got back a week ago and had a great time. One of our best shows was at the Grog Shop in Cleveland. It’s a pretty legendary venue. The White Stripes played several shows at the Grog Shop early in their career and Cursive is playing in November. We had a solid show and after our performance, the manager, owner and bartender came over and bought tapes and shirts from us. That was a good sign.
Q Tell us about the origins of the band.
A Diagonal grew out of a project a couple of us were working on. Chris, Alex and I started a Joy Division cover band, and we began creating original material. Slowly, but surely, we picked up Andy, our singer, and then we convinced our buddy Silas to play bass. Silas now is our third guitarist and our good friend Dale, became our regular bassist.
Q Wow, it sounds like you guys play a lot of different instruments. Are you one of those bands that trades instruments in the middle of a show?
A We haven’t yet, but we have that capability. Our bassist, Dale, who also plays in Fauvley, is a great guitarist, and just about all of us can play guitar, bass and drums. Our drummer, Chris, by the way, is a great guitarist, too, so we have discussed the possibility of moving things around during a show. It would be a lot of fun.
Q Describe a Diagonal show. What should concert attendees expect from your band?
A There’s six of us and went tend to play seven to eight songs per set. You might hear some short garage-styled numbers, or longer psychedelic jams; it really depends on how we’re feeling and how the crowd reacts. One of the things I like about this band is that our recorded songs are loose enough to give us room to improvise on stage. The songs sound a little different each time we perform, and that’s what keeps things fresh.
Q The new album is terrific. How long was it in the works?
A The band started recording Tomorrow last February. We worked with our buddy Brian Fox, who runs Altered States, a small, private recording studio located on Chicago’s northwest side. We recorded 18 tracks over a long weekend and ended up releasing 11 of them on Tomorrow. Andy, our singer, has worked in bands with Brian, so they have a lot of chemistry. We recorded most of the tracks in two to three takes, with some overdubs, tape echo and weirdness added later.
The whole thing came together rather fluidly, because we didn’t track things separately. We spend a lot of time working on new material during our weekly practice sessions and live sets, so by the time we enter the studio, we have a good idea of what we want to accomplish. We completed the album in May during a 13-hour mastering session and released it in July.
Q Were there any surprises during the recording sessions?
A The biggest surprise was our opening number, “Find the Sun,” which began as a little jam session that came out of nowhere. Andy added some lyrics and we realized we had spontaneously created a great song.
Q What is your typical songwriting process?
A I will record guitar riffs and share them with the band. Other band members will share a bass line or a beat, and this often leads to a jam session. Another song might start as a 15-minute cellphone recording, which we winnow down to four of five minutes, but lately, a lot of songs have been created when someone starts playing a riff during a practice and the rest of us start playing and see what happens. It’s a very organic process, but I think that is why our songs are so much fun to play live.
Q Do you have a favorite cut from the new album?
A It’s a toss-up between the title song, “Tomorrow,” and “True,” a longer track in the middle of the album. I’ve enjoyed hearing so many tracks from Tomorrow played on CHIRP. I’m pretty sure at least nine of the 11 songs have been played.
Q How did the band get its name?
A We were inspired by a track called “Diagonals” from Stereolab’s Dots and Loops LP. I dropped the “s” to create Diagonal.
Q Are you receiving a good response when you play tracks from Tomorrow live?
A Yeah. After the album came out, we had a big release party in July at the Empty Bottle, and a lot of people came out. We were on a five-band bill and the evening turned into a mini psych fest. By the time we went on our East Coast tour, we felt like we had played just about every venue in Chicago. A lot of people seem to be digging the new album.
Q Why is Chicago such a hotbed for shoegaze and garage music?
A Shoegaze and garage have been a big part of the Chicago scene since early 2000. Maybe it’s the dreary weather, but whatever the reason, there are a lot of great shoegaze and garage bands coming out of here and we are grateful to have the chance to play live shows with many of them.
You can listen to Mike Nikolich every Friday from noon to 3 pm on CHIRP-107.1 FM.