D-Planet's Jordan Smith discusses their new record 'Turn to Gold,' the sonic logistics of having four guitar players, and the band’s unlikely dedication to physical fitness.
From where I’m sitting, there are two places in the known universe where you’ll see punks, metalheads, hipsters, and middle-aged dads co-mingling peacefully. The first is family therapy. The second is a Diarrhea Planet concert—the Nashville band’s four-guitar assault, wild shirtless lyricism, bong-rattling bass, and machine-gun drumming manages to hit the unlikely sweet spot between Slayer, KISS, The Darkness, Black Flag, Titus Andronicus, Jay Reatard, and Blink-182. And by the power vested in me as a dude who is writing about them on the internet, let me tell you the Diarrhea Planet are motherfucking sick.
Though everyone who’s seen them live becomes a turbo-fan basically immediately, D-Planet (as the squeamish may call them if they prefer) has struggled to drop a record that can quite match the second-for-second joy that their pube-growingly exhilarating live show offers. Or at least that was true until a few weeks ago, when they released Turn to Gold, their third and by far best album.
Turn to Gold is loaded with the same propulsion and zest for living as records such as Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, or My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves. And for a band that’s primarily known as a crew of rowdy, scuzzy southern boys, the record has an unexpected emotional heft—the cheesy, pumped-in motorcycle sounds on “Ain’t a Sin to Win” are counterbalanced by the gravitas of a song like “Lie Down,” in which co-vocalist Jordan Smith lays it all on the line over a bed of reverb that verges way the hell away from whatever you’d expect a band with the name “Diarrhea Planet” to be able to do.
Diarrhea Planet’s newfound ability to translate the primacy and intimacy of their live show into a record like Turn to Gold is the product of both relentless practice on the band’s part and the watchful ear of producer Vance Powell, a Nashville veteran who helped guide D-Planet into sounding like the arena-filling band they’re destined to be. “There was a lot of trust there,” Smith told me over the phone, calling from Nashville. “He understood everything that we said, everything that we wanted, and he knew what [the record] should be.”
Though he’s not their only singer and he’s by no means their only guitarist, Smith sort of functions as the public face of Diarrhea Planet. He does most of the interviews, he makes the most ridiculous faces while playing guitar, and he’s the one in the band who looks most like Jared Leto. He’s also Diarrhea Planet’s sweatiest member, and in fact sweats so much that it puts him in constant danger of corroding his equipment and also dying from dehydration. “I drink a ton of Pedialyte on the road,” he said with a laugh.
Over the course of an hour or so, Smith and I covered a range of topics from their new record, the sonic logistics of having four guitar players, to the band’s unlikely dedication to physical fitness. But if you have to get back to work and don’t have time to read the rest of this interview, remember this: Fuck what you heard, are hearing, or what you might hear in the future, because as of right now Diarrhea Planet are the best band in the goddamn universe.
Noisey: Pitch me Turn to Gold in six words.
Jordan Smith: Only arena rock out now… dude. [Laughs]
I get the sense that even though Turn to Gold sounds really big, it’s in a lot of ways the record you’ve been trying to make for a while now.
Yeah, we hadn’t necessarily made enough connections, met enough people, and toured enough before this to really to able to find and afford a producer like Vance Powell to make it sound the way this record does.
I was looking up on Discogs and I found that he worked on Jimmy Buffett’s License to Chill album. That’s sick.
Do you remember that song in the 90s by Jars of Clay? I think it was called “Flood” or something. It was this big Christian rock song—Vance worked on that too. It’s funny, he’s produced some stuff that’s totally different than what we do.
What kind of perspective did he offer you as somebody who’d worked with so many different artists?
I think one of the perspectives that he brought and one of the main reasons that we kept falling in love working with him was that he was very adamant that when we recorded, we didn’t change what we did for our live show. He had us set up in the studio how we do live because he wanted to try to capture a live performance. Whether he realized it or not I think we looked to him a lot for advice in the studio—he’d occasionally make suggestions like, “Hey that hook is really good, why don’t you repeat the melody of that hook with this line?” But at the same time he was never invasive or pushy—it was very natural.
Tell me a little bit about the title.
Our guitarist Evan Bird suggested it. The whole thing with our EPs and LPs is we always try to have a title relating to wealth or power, and it just kind of fit with our theme. To us the phrase “turn to gold” meant that we were aging like fine wine. It’s kind of one of those things that has to do with maturing gracefully and maturing and getting better with age.
My favorite song on the record is “Headband,” which is nearly eight minutes long. That’s the first super-long song you guys have ever done, right?
So obviously the title comes from headband marijuana, which I’d been smoking a lot of at the time. I could just work on it really well, so I wrote most of the song on it. The idea came from this old punk band, Ivy Green. Two of their best songs do this thing where for the majority of the song they just play one chord, which gets really heavy. I wanted to do that, and at the same time I wanted to make a song that sounded like Bruce Springsteen leading you through a nightmare.
I read somewhere that “Bob Dylan’s Grandma” is a Jimi Hendrix reference. But I’m not sure I get it?
I think the joke behind it is Jimi Hendrix used to poke fun at his drummer’s afro. He’d say he looked like Bob Dylan’s grandma.
What are your hopes and dreams for Diarrhea Planet as a band?
At the risk of sounding like I’m selling out I’d really like to have more financial stability. Half of us are approaching 30. But more than anything I want Turn to Gold to warm people up to a band called Diarrhea Planet. I hope that people like the songs and the name will become less of an issue. I hope people listen to it, and I hope people enjoy it! I hope people spend the summer making out and smoking Js to it.
It must be weird to be at a certain point in your music career only to realize, “Oh fuck, this is my job. My job is to be in a band called Diarrhea Planet.”
It’s like, “Oh shit, I’m far enough into this I can’t give up. I have to see this through now.” All of us never thought we would leave the basements of Nashville. The funny thing is our name has kept us humble. And then there’s this certain idea that Diarrhea Planet must be some band full of crazy party guys, but we’re really mellow. Nobody in the band has a crazy drug problem, everyone is pretty in control of themselves, and most of the pressure I think comes from just trying to figure out a way to be better. Like, I walk around and constantly think about how I can be better.
I feel like some of that must have to do with the fact that because your band has a bazillion guitarists in it, you have to plan things out more.
With so many guitars in the band we can’t have someone fucking around because it’s going to bring down the mood. Everyone realizes, “I have to play clean, I have to share the spotlight, I have to make sure when I’m playing it fits my bandmates.” It’s a team effort.
On top of that, I think it’s so much fun to push yourself. After your first tour you realize that the only thing that keeps you interested, that keeps you actually entertained, is the actual craft of your instrument. The more you push yourself and effectively communicate what’s inside and be yourself on stage every night, the more you keep coming back for more.
How much do you sweat onstage? I watched y’all live recently and you were just drenched.
It’s fucked up, dude. The biggest challenge on tour is dealing with sweat. It’s kind of a huge plain in the ass. I’ve gone through a couple of guitars because of sweat. A while ago I sweated this supposedly indestructable jack out so many times that my guitar tech gave me gun barrel cleaner. I get sweat on everything, and it ruins everything to the point where I’ll wear those weird UnderArmour shirts onstage. Next tour I’ll probably be bringing those back the mesh shirts.
It’s funny. I only ask for a few things on our rider, and one of the main things I ask for is Pedialyte.
Do you sweat a lot on a day to day basis?
Once I start moving, I’m done. Yesterday I went running and it was like 85 degrees. My girlfriend picked me up from the trail and when I was done she was like, “Oh my gosh you look like you just jumped in a lake.” I can play guitar and not sweat, but as soon as I start singing it just flexes your core.
I’ve heard of rappers prepping to play live by rapping while running on the treadmill.
Imagine having to constantly yell while you’re running. It’s unbelievable how much it wears you out—you’re literally flexing your core every time you’re singing, and you hold that flex for the entire show. I stretch out and do jumping jacks before we play. A lot of us run on the road, too—our bass player ran 100 miles in a week the last tour, so if you go backstage everyone’s doing push-ups and jumping jacks.
Nike actually offered to sponsor us if we wanted to run a marathon. We’re thinking about taking them up on that offer and getting Nike to sponsor an EP while we train and run a marathon.
Drew Millard is starting a fitness blog for musicians. Follow him on Twitter.