As you may already know, Diamond, the alt-rock band that happens to include members of Trapped Under Ice, Down to Nothing and Terror, has officially changed their name to Diamond Youth. I chatted with vocalist/guitarist Justin Gilman and guitarist Sam Trapkin awhile back about the name change, why this band is not a side-project and their upcoming recording with Brian McTernan.
How long do think this name change has been coming?
Trapkin: It was just kind of something that was always in the back of our heads. When we started the band, we didnít Google and find another band called Diamond, but then there was actually this rapper that became kind of popular when we started called Diamond. Then another rapper, and if you go on Spotify thereís like five rappers called Diamond. So we also found out anyone thatís ever been called Diamond could sue us at any point if they choose to just based on some kind of common law thing. Weíre like, ĎOh man, we should probably change our name, but not too much because that would be terrible.í Thatís kind of when the whole process started, and that was like a couple months ago. We talked to lawyer about it and figured out what we need to do. Originally we figured if maybe we altered the spelling or whatever. Any way to make it a little different. But that doesnít work either [laughs]. The other huge issue would be that thereís a clothing company called Diamond Supply Co. And a lot of people would call us DMND too, but the clothing company that owns DMND for printing online clothes. But everyone that knows DMND knows that company now. So right when we started someone started a huge clothing line for skaters which is kind of our crowd too. Thatís not really an option either.
Aside from changing it for legal reasons, how does the change better reflect the attitude that you guys have as a band?
Trapkin: Diamond has always tried to be a bigger idea than just music. We wanted to approach everything from a different way. Like the way people like our band or the way our shirts look. We do everything for the band ourselves. We design everything ourselves, we draw everything. Itís all us. We want to take that mentality to the highest point possible because it doesnít have to be the way it has been in the past with the genre or whatever. Just like bands signing to labels and hoping theyíll pick up the slack everywhere else. We want people to understand that the idea is bigger than the band and that we feel like we identify with this idea of the DIY thing and not playing the whole bullshit industry game. I think thereís a lot of people out there who feel the same way. Thatís kind of where the Diamond Youth idea came from. We all consider ourselves Diamond Youth because itís a way of thinking that we have and a lifestyle that we have. Thatís kind of how it happened. We actually kind of like it more now than Diamond because it kind of speaks more toward what weíre about and I think thatís going to help people get on board with what weíre doing. Diamond is a vague name, and I think people are going to get that message more from Diamond Youth.
Gilman: we really want to push the idea of this DIY, stay young and punk rock following or movement. Just the fact that weíre not only musicians but weíre also designers and fine artists just as much as we are performing artists. I think Diamond Youth really expresses that sort of mentality. Like, be one of the Diamond Youth and live a life that is creating the best work you can possibly create all on your own. Stay young and stay youthful, sort of in the donít lose your cool realm, but like Slipknot, what did they have... the Maggots. Or whatís Lady Gagaís? But she calls her fans something and I think that that would work perfectly. Like... change the world [laughs].
Do you feel like the genre youíre in is a bit untouched by that DIY mentality?
Gilman: I havenít thought about that, thatís a good point. Iím totally down with being the first more mainstream rock band that also has a more artistic edge. Like we went to art school, and most of the bands were indie or electronic or punk rock and hardcore. Those are the DIY kids. Thatís a blessing though.
Trapkin: Yeah, I think thereís a lot of outdated ideas about the way bands work especially in that genre. You have people that grew up with CD sales and major labels and radio and none of those things matter as much anymore. I think thereís still people in my generation that expect those things to happen, they expect someone to come pick them up off their feet and do everything for them thatís going to make big. Thatís not how it worked anymore. I mean, this community of music doesnít play that game and they get it. The punk rock community, thatís DIY like hardcore. Itís kind of self-governed and people understand that thereís merit to doing things yourself. I donít think that that always comes across with different genres of music. I think itís important for a band of any genre to realize that no one is going to come and do this stuff for you. It doesnít matter if you sign to a major label, thatís not going to make your band big. It might for a second, but no one is going to care a year from now.
Now that youíve had a chance to test the waters with Donít Lose Your Cool, whatís the mindset going into studio with Brian McTernan this time around as far as what you want to do with this EP?
Trapkin: I think on Donít Lose Your Cool, it was our second recording experience with Diamond but we still had stuff down. But, we donít necessarily have a whole lot of experience recording that kind of music. I mean we had this rough idea but we werenít really sure on how we wanted it to sound. We just donít know. We want it to sound good, but we donít really know what that means. We donít know what good means on a certain guitar part or what amp we should use on a clean part. I think this time around, weíve kind of gone through that a couple times now, and we have a more specific idea of how we want it to sound and things we do and donít want to do. But again, our thing is never gonna be what amps we use or what gear. Weíve always been about the songs and we still are, and thatís what weíre working on. Thatís why we like Brian, because Brian is all about songs. I think weíll be able to get the sound we want and still let it be about writing the best songs we can.
Gilman: This EPís definitely going to be more mature. Something that I love about Donít Lose Your Cool is that itís a bit more dynamic than our demo was in terms of different tones in each song or the speed or the melody. I think this record is gonna be pushing that a bit more. Each song is going to be a different world or a different movement within the same brand, including a chill song and a really upbeat rocker. Lots of harmonies, definitely going to be some three or four part harmonies. Also finding our sound still. Which is exciting. Weíve seen how weíve progressed as songwriters since we started and how itís evolved and what our main inputs have become.
Are we going to see some more a cappella material this time around?
Trapkin: You know what, weíve been talking about that. Right now, we have seven or eight songs that are written and pretty close to being done, and we donít have any overwhelming extended a capella stuff. And we all write a capella stuff, like I just busted out a solo a capella thing here. Justin and Brendan will send ideas. Like itís floating around, but I donít know if we will have one to have one.
Brian has kind of had the hot hand with producing records releasing, including the latest from Balance and Composure, Fireworks and Polar Bear Club. What kind of made this decision for you in terms of who you wanted to record with?
Gilman: His roster is amazing. And through friends and other people, weíre friends with a lot of the bands heís recorded, so the offer was on the table. Heís also really close with Paul Leavitt, who we recorded Donít Lose Your Cool with, who is also in Baltimore. That was a big one. What Iím excited about, we have an idea for this record to sound not so produced. Very DIY, straight microphones, not a lot of editing afterwards. What I like about Brian, each record is coined to that bandís sound and what they want to do, so weíre excited about that. Iím sure heís going to nail the Diamond aesthetic that weíre going for.
Trapkin: I think a big thing for us is feeling comfortable with the person that weíre going in with and that they truly understand what weíre going for. Weíre obviously arenít trying to follow the current model of how a band should be done or recorded or should sound. Brian is somebody who kind of grew up in a generation that influences our music a lot. He was in a rock band in the Ď90s that did pretty well. Heís also a guy that has punk and hardcore roots and understands where we all came from. I think he understands the bigger picture of what weíre going for. We didnít want to go with some hot shot producer dude that only does big bands. That doesnít necessarily mean that theyíre going to understand what weíre going for or even really care. I talked to Brian a couple times and Iíve known him for awhile. I was very specific about what weíre going for with this record and what weíd like to accomplish with it. A big thing about it too is he is really stoked to work with us and thatís a big thing that the other person is as excited as you are about the record. Itís not just a job to them. Weíre not just giving him money which weíre not necessarily giving him the most of because we donít have that much money. Heís really doing it because he wants to and thatís the best situation you could be in going in to record. His reputation is for being very candid with his observations and being a no bullshit kind of guy, which is what we need. We need to have that person that can push us. Weíre not the best musicians by any means and itís good to have this person that wants the best out of you. Sometimes, you donít know what that is, you know?
Some people would still consider that this is a side-project considering the fact you guys have other rather known bands in the hardcore scene. What do you say to that?
Trapkin: Lots of people canít comprehend the idea of being in multiple bands or ventures at once. Weíre all used to that. I have a full-time job. Iím in two bands, both of which tour and play shows and record records. I think itís honestly just because thereís so many bands where itís just the band is the identity of the people, like they would be nothing without that band. The dudes in that band, thatís all they are ever going to be. We have a lot of other stuff going on, but that doesnít mean Diamond Youth isnít a full-time priority for us, because it is. I spend more time doing Diamond shit than I do anything else. I work here eight hours a day and I go home and Iím up until 2 a.m. working on videos or recording songs. We make time for it to happen. I think people that canít comprehend that itís because they donít know what thatís like or something. Maybe theyíve never had to juggle multiple things at once, but itís definitely possible. Just because youíre in two bands, it doesnít mean oneís a side project or oneís more important than the other.
Considering that, have you experienced any backlash from fans who might not want you taking away time from Trapped Under Ice?
Trapkin: Iíve never heard any negative feedback from anybody, but Iím sure itís happening somewhere [laughs]. Iím sure people say things, but I donít think itís really hurting Trapped Under Ice in any way. The cool thing about it is Trapped Under Ice is known for the way we do things is the way we want to do them. Thatís kind of our thing. Weíve never tried to be something weíre not. I feel if someone like Trapped Under Ice theyíll probably understand that weíre not the kind of people that do what a hardcore band is supposed to do. We do what we want to do, and enjoy doing and thatís part of it. If anyone has anything not nice to say, they havenít said it to me. But thereís lots of people that like both bands. Thereís people that like hardcore bands that grew up listening to rock music or whatever and they still like it and they like Diamond. Thatís cool to me. I think when youíre younger you have a very specific way of looking at the world and you have to have things very strongly categorized. I donít know man, I think as you get older you start to come into your own and realize what you really like and what itís really all about. I get excited when people listen to weird shit or are doing something out of the ordinary. I want to hang out with them and take it in. I donít want to hang out with people that are walking stereotypes, like ĎIím a fucking hardcore dude that only listens to hardcore and I only wear band shirts and I only have skin with tattoos and I donít have skin with tattoos.í You know what I mean? Thatís cool man, but I grew up listening to some real kind of not-hardcore shit. I grew up listening to country sometimes when I was working in the yard. I listen to Taylor Swift, I listen to Beach Boys. I listen to Blink 182. I listen to whatever the fuck I want to. I think that some people canít comprehend that. Theyíre like, ĎWell, youíre in a hardcore band, so this doesnít make sense. How come you look normal? How come you have a normal job and youíre in a hardcore band? I donít get it.í Like thereís these weird stereotypes that people want you to fulfill and you donít fulfill them and then it completely blows their mind now.
Tell us a little more about how the four of you originally got together for this band.
Gilman: Well, Sam and I met in art school in Baltimore at MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art. We were both graphic design majors. We both had an internship at a local graphic design firm in Baltimore together. So weíve been really close. Both watched each othersí bands flourish. Mine was sort of just in the Baltimore scene and in the indie rock scene, and his obviously with Trapped Under Ice. But, just one day we had a conversation and said, ĎLetís start a back to roots rock band thatís inspired by all the stuff we grew up on.í You know, weíre both doing things that are so specific to one genre or scene. Letís just make a simple rock band, this feel-good, harmony driven, back to roots sort of project. We just started jamming songs in Garage Band. Sam already had the idea to bring on Brendan and David because theyíd been friends for years. So, Iím definitely the wild card. Sam and I just knew each other through different outlets. But I think at that point, one of the best things about that is weíre all from different places.
Trapkin: Brendan and David are people Iíve known for a long time, they are people Iíve been in bands with and been friends with. They didnít know Justin. I told myself I wanted to be in a band with Justin and have them be in it, and it would be awesome. That was it kind of. One day up at work, I work at Under Armour, and we have like an annual little celebration thing and people come in and talk. Deion Sanders came in and he did a speech and I was getting pumped up. I was like, ĎThis is fucking sweet, I need to start Diamond right now.í I got back to my desk, fired up instant messenger, and was like, ĎDude, we need to do this. Iím gonna talk to Brendan and David tonight.í It was my birthday that same day coincidentally. I go out to dinner with Brendan and weíre at dinner, and I say, ĎJustin, Iím friends with him, weíre gonna start a band together.í We started writing songs and it took a really long time, but then we eventually started to. We recording and everything started happening. It took awhile. Justin and Brendan and David became friends through that. Thatís what kind of makes the bandís dynamic unique is that we all come from different places. What made it awesome to me, and it makes no sense to Justin and vice versa, is we would get excited about different bands and different music.
So how did that relationship manifest itself in the writing process?
Trapkin: So remember how I said we started the band and that was awesome? As soon as we decided to do that, Justin said, ĎHey guys, I got a job in Chicago, see ya!í And we were like fuck that, weíre not going to let that stop the band from happening. Thatís just been a dynamic for the band from day one. We never had many practices in person, but basically the way itís always worked is weíd write on our own and send it to each other. I talk to them about every day. Justin will send me a voicemail of him humming or Brendan a sketch of him... he sent us a video of him the other day playing acoustic guitar on his roof and he gets stung by a bee [laughs]. Thatís what we do, weíll write sketches and then go back and forth. Weíll video chat sometimes. Justin will fly in once a month and weíll spend a week doing Diamond shit, like designing stuff and writing songs and hanging out together. Obviously itís great to write songs in person and we have the privilege of doing that sometimes, but when we canít weíre still able to be productive when we are not together.
Gilman: I think the best thing is weíve gotten really good at jamming together when we have time and weíre all in the same city. So Iíll be in Baltimore for five days, and weíll just jam constantly. Like itís a job. Weíll get amped on Starbucks, like three venti Americanos [laughs]. Get wired and just crank through songs. Iíll come back home, weíll listen to it for a few weeks and tweak from there, passing the files back and forth. So I guess what has evolved is the way we create the songs and then finish them. Weíre really getting the hang of that. Since weíre not the normal setup having weekly band practices. Thatís just not an option. Especially because David tours with Terror, Sam with Trapped Under Ice and me being in Chicago. It hasnít really been a hurdle at this point. If anything, itís been a blessing because we each sit back alone in solitude, which for me is the best place to create. No distractions. We can just put our flavor into each song.
Has this band kind of been like a reset button then in terms of your abilities as a musician?
Trapkin: The way I look at it, is itís such a bigger world in so many ways. Musically, thereís so much more that you have to think about. Itís not just, Iím going to write this sweet riff. You have to... I donít even write anything without a melody anymore. Iím writing a guitar part with the vocal melody in mind because thatís the whole priority. The way you look at songwriting is different. When we started Diamond, all I knew how to play was powerchords pretty much. So, itís kind of been a fresh start in a lot of ways. Iíve had to learn how chords work and where chords are. What guitar to play and what to not play. How to not play shitty on stage. How to not look shitty on stage. Kind of like sing on stage. Weíre all learning things as we go. I never had to learn to sing while standing on stage with people. Thereís a lot weíre learning. I didnít grow up playing in bands like Diamond. It was something I always wanted to do but I didnít have that kind of experience.
What are some of the things outside of the musical realm that are influencing what you do with Diamond Youth, whether it be music or the designing aspect?
Trapkin: Almost all of us skateboard. We all enjoy being outside and just doing stuff together. I think we just try to bring all those ideas into the band and make it feel like us so when people see a Diamond picture or a video or they hear a song, they know where weíre coming from as people and what we do. Not just as a band but as people.
Gilman: I donít skate anymore, so Iím again an outcast [laughs]. Iíll cruise around on the board and be the one that films them skating. Like for an upcoming video I filmed a bunch of them near the beach skating. I was the one with the camera, they were the ones doing the tricks. But thatís just one of the ways we relax when weíre not creating. Itís something that goes hand in hand with the music world, just another way of making friends growing up. Those friends were skateboarding and then we went to punk shows. And why not? We want to stay young and healthy and fresh.