Posted by: Necci – Aug 01, 2012
Seattle has grunge; the likes of Nirvana and Soundgarden define it to its rainy core. Omaha has Conor Oberst. Washington DC has Fugazi. Hell, even Oklahoma City has The Flaming Lips.
For Richmond, when it comes to being defined by the bands it has birthed, it gets paired with metal and hardcore. Over the years, bands such as Strike Anywhere, Lamb of God, and GWAR have toured the world and taken their 804 attitude with them, helping us become synonymous with a scene that lives for the breakdown. This musical identification has allowed dozens of bands classified in similar genres to easily gain a following and pair up to play shows. It has also produced the opposite effect at times--bands outside these tight-knit scenes find it difficult to fit in without compromising the music they are playing in the process.
Unless of course, the band happens to be The Diamond Center.
Despite having only called Richmond home since 2010, The Diamond Center have had no problem finding their musical niche and booking shows almost immediately. While such an easy transition could be credited to a variety of factors, guitarist Kyle Harris likes to think it’s just the good nature of Richmond folks that helped them with the quick adjustment.
“We had a really quick warmth that settled in,” Kyle tells me when we meet at a bar in April. “I just don’t know what to attribute that to besides the good people here.”
On his own, Harris is quite the figure. Towering over most, with a bear-like body and a beard that seems to go on for days, his appearance is unevenly matched by a down to earth personality and a soft spoken attitude. If you saw him walking down Monument Avenue, you might picture him as a painter. Or a bouncer. Or an IT professional. Anything but a rock star.
And while he may remind you of Joaquin Phoenix as you pass him on the street in the daylight, attend a Diamond Center show and the rap career jokes you initially wanted to throw out will suddenly disappear. On stage, Harris brings an undeniable presence, swaying back and forth as his fingers dance across the strings with poise and persistence. But while you may feel an air of elegance one night, you’ll get something totally different the next.
“If you go see Neil Young two nights in a row, it will be two totally different shows,” Harris says as he sips on his whiskey. “His shows are based off emotions, because he is a human like you and me. And I love that. Our band is the same way. You may get noisy and loud, you may get pleasant and calm.”
Perhaps it is this unpredictable nature that has helped The Diamond Center recruit such a large and dedicated fan base in its few short years as a band. Because it certainly hasn’t had much to do with the “practice makes perfect” motto.
“We practice as little as we [can] to do what we have to do,” Harris adds, laughing. “I don’t want [our show] to be so rehearsed. I think that’s where a lot of bands miss the boat about rock music - it’s all about risk.”
If risk is the name of the game, the band has been doing something right from the very beginning, when Harris met eventual lead singer Brandi Price while she was at school in Athens, Georgia. The two played in other projects together, all of which eventually fizzled, leaving Price and Harris to record songs together. It is these songs, first recorded in February of 2007, that would become the first tunes from the band known as The Diamond Center.
By March of ‘07, the duo had recorded their first full length and travelled for several small tours. They had friends fill in on other instruments for recording and touring purposes, so that the band could achieve the sound they were looking for. “It’s pretty much been an ever-changing lineup,” Harris noted.
With a full length recorded and positive responses developing, the duo went back to their roots by moving to Lubbock, Texas, where Price had grown up. Unlike Athens, Lubbock is large physically but tiny as far as culture is concerned. It was the sense of “nothing else to do” that allowed Harris and Price to slowly craft their signature creepy sound. “The land in Texas is mostly made up of plains and a lot of flat land,” Harris says. “I like to think that’s where our sound came from; this consistent, open, airy sort of sound.”
It was about this time that Tim Falen, the band’s eventual permanent drummer, entered the picture. Working sound at a club where the band was frequently booked, Falen was a natural fit behind Harris and Price. His effortless yet spontaneous drumming style meshed perfectly with the sound that had been so heavily influenced by the lone star landscape. And as history would later show, he even possessed the “risk” factor that Harris believes is the key to true rock and roll.
A few short months after the trio began writing songs together in Lubbock, Price was accepted into the VCU Graduate School for Design and Visual Communications. Suddenly, the band was faced with the impossible decision, described in the words of The Clash as “Should I stay or should I go?”
They went. And they conquered. Eventually joined by Kyle and Tim in Richmond, Brandi started the process of settling into grad school while creating a niche for her band, which was starting over in a completely unfamiliar city.
“To be honest, I didn’t know much about it,” Harris says, referring to his new East Coast stomping grounds. “I mean, you learn about the Civil War in school, and I knew about Lamb of God and Municipal Waste, but that’s about it. I didn’t have a lot of ideas about [Richmond] besides knowing that it had a high murder rate.”
Apparently famous in the Midwest for its heightened crime rates, this city has not only welcomed the band with open arms, but helped their sound evolve as well. Songs previously sculpted by the tumbleweeds of Texas became bigger and gained some serious depth thanks to a certain River City. This evolution may very well be natural progression. It could just be that the band members have gotten more mature; that their music tastes have evolved, and their collaborative skills improved. But Harris suggests that it may be something more than that.
“I attribute it to the layers of ghosts - that is, how many people have lived and died here over the years.” he says. “There’s so much here; it’s so thick, and I think our music has grown to reflect that. Our sound has gone from one guitar, maybe two, to this thick, thick, sound. It’s gone from being flat to [being] stacked.”
Tim chimes in: “When we were out in Texas and it was flat, the desolation kind of wore on your soul. I think you could hear that in the music. Here in Richmond, I think our sound is a lot bigger.”
With big sound comes big responsibility. That responsibility, according to the band, is maintaining their musical integrity - no matter what. No matter which festival promoter calls, or how big of a following they amass, the band is dedicated to remaining true to themselves. “I don’t want to be a huge rock star,” Falen declares. “If I have to work as a dishwasher for the rest of my life so that I can make music that I love, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Statements like this give local music fans hope that bands who wish to remain true to themselves are not a forgotten breed. In fact, they are rather close to home. “The fantasy days of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll are over - so you have to sit down and figure out what you really want to do with your music and why you’re doing it,” Harris adds.
In an Internet-driven generation that has allowed the line between indie and mainstream rock to become blurred, some of the art of rock ‘n roll has gotten lost. Instead, importance is often placed on what late night show a band is playing or how heavily they will hit the festival circuit. This allows the rock star to shine--but at the expense of the art he or she is creating. The musician prospers while the music suffers.
But the Diamond Center want nothing more than to create and share music. Unlike others around them, they are not the least bit concerned with the “psychedelic” label they are often identified with, or whether other music scenes within their city accept them. Since they arrived here two years ago, The Diamond Center has attempted to break the mold - concerned with few things outside of making good music and allowing it to evolve.
“We’re just a rock band,” says Harris. “We go out, we play a show and we play rock music. That’s about it. There’s nothing more to it.”
Words by Chad Brown
Band Photo by Brandi Price
Live Images by Carmen Jones