Baltimore, Maryland quartet Diamond Youth recently released a new EP on Topshelf Records. Titled Orange and released via Topshelf Records, the group most recently wrapped up a tour with Make Do and Mend and Cheap Girls… Definitely a quality showcase of talent you hopefully got a chance to check out!
Fiercely DIY or Die, the group seems to take care of most of their business in-house, and that is a laudable and often necessary trait to make it happen for yourself in the music business these days. I was impressed with the EP, so I got in touch with guitarist Sam Trapkin prior to their performance at Gorham Brothers Music in Syracuse, NY to talk about Orange, their DIY ethic, and what it takes to make it in the crazy game of music.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! How’s the tour, man?
S- So far, so good man. It’s a beautiful day here in Syracuse and just having some fun around here in the sunset, skateboarding around the parking lot and waiting for some Chinese food to get here.
G- Right on. Where’d you go skateboarding? Did you make it down to the Everson Museum today, the EVS spot?
S- Uhh, I don’t even know what that is. We’re just shredding in the parking lot, dude.
G- (laughing) Ok. Not too many obstacles to jump off of… Maybe the dumpsters over there?
S- We’re flat ground. It’s nice, smooth pavement, so that’s all you need.
G- Dig it. So, this will be my first time seeing you guys, and I’m sure some of our readers may not know who Diamond Youth are yet. If you could, introduce everybody in the group for us.
S- Well, we’re from Baltimore, Md. Our singer Justin is originally from Baltimore, but from Chicago now. He sings and plays guitar. I play guitar, drummer Brendon and bass player Daniel are both from Maryland, as well. Baltimore area. So, we call ourselves a Baltimore band even though we’re all spread out now.
G- Is that where you guys primarily practice?
S- When we practice, which is like twice per year, we’ll do it at Brendon’s house.
G- (laughing) Alright. So tell us… How long has Diamond Youth been around and when did you first say ‘This is good. We’re gonan take this on the road and have some fun with it?’
S- We’ve been a band, I guess, like 3 years. It was an idea before it was really happening. It just took a long road to get to the point where we were recording, because we went from basically being, like, ‘That would be cool’ to 2 years later where we were recording new songs. It just kinda took a while to figure out what we wanted to do, figure out how it was going to sound, and do the things that we wanted. We’d write a lot, and go through a lot of versions of stuff, so it just takes a while.
But God, man, I don’t know. I think we spent so much time on those first couple of songs we recorded that by the time we were ready for it, it felt like it’s own kinda thing. Before that, it’s a big challenge, genre you might say. It’s not like making a punk band… This is a rock n roll band, or whatever you want to call it. There’s lots of different ways you can approach it, and we had an idea of what we wanted to do, but translating it and having it come across as actual music when you hear it is easier said than done. So, it took a while.
G- For sure. Apparently it’s worth it, because you guys are on the road right now and you have this new EP out. It’s called Orange and it’s been out for a couple of months, so why don’t we talk about it a little bit. Tell us where you recorded it, who was behind the boards this time around, and how long did the release take to record it and get it prepped?
S- We recorded with our dude Brian McTernan…
G- Salad Days?
S- You know. He’s the man. It took us about 2 weeks or so last Summer.
It was great, man. This was our first time recording with him, and probably the nicest studio we’ve ever hung out in, so that was cool. We got to stay in the studio and we had been writing for a year at that point, so even then we were finishing up last second in the studio, tightening things down.
I guess I especially am a little bit crazy when it comes to that. I always pursue every option and scene…
G- OCD guitarist?
S- I try not to be, but then it’s ‘Can we try something cool here?’ We’d all be up late working on melodies and harmonies. But yeah that was last summer, and I can’t believe it’s almost been a year. (laughs)
G- Right on. So tell us… Any fan favorites off the record at this time?
S- Well, we’ve done videos for “Cannonball” and “Orange,” which are both songs off there that people like. I feel pretty cool about all the songs. We haven’t done a full-length yet because we just write the most and best songs we can, for as long as we can, and when we’re ready, we’ll just record the very best that we have. So when we record, it’s generally just the best. It’s not like we have a single and 5 filler songs. I feel like we definitely love all of the songs that we’ve recorded so far.
G- Cool. So Diamond Youth is also very well known for your super DIY ethic. You do your own merch a lot of the time, your own videos, and things like that. Tell us about why you decided to do it like that rather than outsourcing, and what positives and negatives do you see from it?
S- I think, I mean… Justin and I met in art school. We’re graphic designers, so that’s what we did in school and we both do that still, besides the band. So for us, I think it’s just something exciting for us beyond the music. We get to thinking about what our record is gonna look like or what the theme is going to be and those visual things while we’re working on the music. It’s part of our project.
I kinda think that, when a band will do a record and the record is awesome, and there’s no consideration put towards any other part of the, how it looks or what the packaging is or whatever you want… I feel like there’re a lot of places to be creative and tie it all together. So I think that is a positive, being able to have that 100% under our control and have the final say on what everything looks like and how it works together.
I guess the downside is that we are very busy. And even though you wouldn’t think so because we’re a relatively new band, we are so fucking busy, it’s insane. Like, you’d never guess, because we haven’t toured that much, but it’s like dude… When we’re home, we’re either writing, or fucking making things like merch because we do all our own merch, or record artwork or promo photos. So all of that stuff combined is a pretty full plate.
G- Well that’s good. You hear this, kids? They’re on tour and still doing all this stuff, proof that you can’t take any days off if you want to make this work. So, if you want it, put some time into it.
So, this will be my first time seeing you guys and I’m pretty excited about it. What should I expect from your performance as a first time listener?
S- You know what, man? Just a lot of unapologetic, free-flowing raw output, you know? Just raw emotional output.
G- Dig it.
S- Uncensored, unbridled, just complete and true output.
G- Now, it’s a small venue… You’re not gonna be jumping off the glass counters or anything right?
S- Well, you never know.
The thing is that our songs are really hard for me to play and I can’t always do as miuch as I want to do because I’m doing little leady things and hitting pedals and all that, so it’s hard sometimes to get crazy. But I feel like Justin is a good frontman and has a good voice and is good live, and Brendon takes his shirt off when he plays drums…
G- OH SEXY!
S- Yeah, and he has a pretty hot bod, so…
Daniel keeps his shirt on, but he has a great body, too. Yeah so, that’s what you can expect.
G- Fair enough. Naked men onstage with lots of energy. There should be more girls here for this.
S- They’re already inside.
G- I’ll have to go show them MY ripped physique (at 5’10” 220lbs.) I’m gonna take them away from the band.
Now, 4 albums every fan of Diamond Youth should know about and why. Go!
S- Oh fuck! Oh God.
G- Or just give me your favorites or 4 albums you’ve been rocking lately.
S- That puts a lot of meaning into these, but lots of the ones that come to mind are just ones I listen to a lot and that are some of my favorites, so maybe I’ll just do that.
S- Well, Metallica is my favorite band ever, and my favorite record by them is …And Justice For All.
S- So that’d probably be my first one. I am a huge Foo Fighters fan, and I would say my favorite record by them is… God this is tough… I guess The Colour and The Shape.
S- That’s just, for me, something I’ve been listening to since 8th grade and that’s a great one. Oh my God this is brutal.
G- That’s 2.
S- Green Day is another band that is one of my favorites to this day and, I know this is an obvious one that everyone will say, but Dookie is just, you know, insane.
G- I had the album in 9th grade. I’m 35 and it still gets plenty of rotation.
S- I listen to it all the time. And, God, I want to do a Rancid record or something…
G- You’re allowed.
S- Maybe And Out Come The Wolves by Rancid. That’s a good cornerstone for me. It’s just great. And I’d say Blue Album by Weezer.
G- 5 solid albums, for sure.
S- Those aren’t the best or most important records ever, but those are just 5 of my favorites.
G- And that’s just what I wanted to know.
Now I’d like to know, out of your entire catalogue, do you have a favorite song you have ever written or if you could only give 1 song to someone who’d never heard of you before, to try and make a new fan, what song would you give them and why?
S- Umm, I’d probably give them the song “Cannonball” just because I think it kinda of represents a lot of things about us in one song. I mean, it’s pretty groovy and has some heavier parts. It has some poppy, sweeter parts, and that’s just a fun one to play. I think it’s a fun one to listen to, so I’d say that.
G- Dig it. Now, you’re on a good tour right now with Make Do and Mend and Cheap Girls, a good 3-band bill right here, but are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future? Or if you could curate a feasible 3-band dream lineup for Diamond youth to be on, who would you want to go on tour with?
S- Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, and Nirvana. None of those are feasible.
G- Well, one of them definitely isn’t feasible, but 2 of them are.
S- Ok, I’ll add something to that. Maybe Tegan and Sara or something like that.
G- That’s an interesting lineup.
S- No wait… Suicidal Tendencies!
G- Alright! I’m with that. That’s the polar opposite of Tegan and Sara,
S- Well, you have the punk/funk bands, and The Foo Fighters which is a little more in our dimension. That’d bring out all the best people.
G- That’d be a fun tour, man. I’d go to that!
Now, for this run or in the past, tell us about your favorite show memory. What is the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
S- With this band? I think our record release in Baltimore in January. We played a venue which is very much like, for us, the heart of all the venues in Baltimore, a DIY space our friends all operate. We did the release there, and it’s not the sexiest looking place in the world, or with the best sound, but having nothing but friends there, no venue people or anything… Our record release was just a cool show! If anything, it was just a party. We had it packed out with people from all over and everyone was there having fun and enjoying it, so I’d say that was probably my favorite.
G- Right on.
And lastly, to finish up today, as a touring musician and a band that does things DIY, there are a lot of people that want to do what you’re doing. What advice can you give to those who want to help them out a little bit?
S- I would say the biggest thing is just be prepared for a lot of work and don’t be discouraged based on not getting an immediate reception or being exactly what you want immediately. The truth is, even before this band, we were in a thousand bands, and we’ve been doing this as people for a long time.
Let’s say your band is awesome and people like it. Even after that, it takes a lot to get it out there and get it rolling. There is so much that goes into it, and if you think that, if you haven’t been in a band before, people don’t realize how much you have to give towards it, sacrifice up front. People think it’s just give-and-receive: You go to school, get a degree, get a job and make money. It’s not like that being in a band. You almost have to be kinda crazy to do it.
Even if you as lucky as we are to have friends that can bring us on tour and have a manager we like, and find a booking agent and have a label that’s cool to us, even with all that, there is a ridiculous amount of work. I can’t tell you how long we’ve sat in our rooms by ourselves just trying to figure it all out; Hundreds and hundreds of hours just writing songs and making a plan and figuring out how the band is going to work.
It’s a ridiculous undertaking and it’s really fun and beautiful, but it’s hard and you have to put a lot on hold because of it.
G- Is it worth it?
S- It is to me, man. This is the only way I can do it. I tried the normal job thing, and it’s cool, but I’m not a normal job kinda person, and you can’t get a normal person to do this. If you want to live a normal, balanced life, it’s going to be hard for you to do this kind of thing.
G- And vice versa. Look man, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today and travel safe. I hope you guys make it!
S- Thank you for having me, man.