Diagrams Diagrams… Venn-erated on these pages

Interview: Diagrams

Published on April 3rd, 2012 | Jonny Abrams

Rocksucker was sufficiently bowled over by Diagrams’ debut album Black Light to describe it in our recent review as “tremendously original, full of surprises, lyrically entertaining and catchy as hell…an absolutely dazzling declaration of intent”, so we fired over some questions to Diagrams head honcho (and former Tunng front man) Sam Genders in the the hope of finding out a bit more about the whole operation. He kindly obliged…

How’s the tour going? What’s the band line-up at the moment?

It’s going really well. We’ve just finished a two-week Europe and UK stint and have a short break before we spend a week supporting Gomez in the UK and then more European dates in May. We’ve had some nice crowds and nice venues and it’s been much more enjoyable spending six hours a day in a van with nine people than you might imagine.

I can’t wait for your gig with Gomez at KOKO on the 23rd. Are you a fan of theirs?

A big fan. I think they’re underrated in this country because they don’t really fit in with any scene. And they’re amazing live.

Congratulations on a fantastic debut album. How much of its instrumentation did you handle yourself?

Thanks! I’m on guitars and vocals, Mark [Brydon, producer and one half of Moloko] and I shared bass and keyboard duties and then all the brass, strings and live drums are played by friends.

What was Mark like to work with? What would you say he brought to the record that it mightn’t otherwise have had?

A lot of the clear, precise production sound came from Mark and was the main reason I was keen to work with him. When we tried a day out together that sound felt very different to what I’d done before and I was quite keen on the idea of doing something different. He’s a great arranger too so there’s a lot of Mark in the record.

Are you singing “ghost lit fight night” on the chorus of “Ghost Lit”? If so, is it a reference to televised boxing? I kind of hope so.

Kind of…that’s the image it’s meant to bring up in your mind, but it’s a song about arguing with your lover about things from your past…so it’s not actually about boxing. Although if Sky ask then yes it is and please do make it the theme for all forthcoming title fights! Drinks will then be on me.

Are you a fan of Gruff Rhys? His voice and yours are at times strikingly similar. (That’s very much a good thing, by the way.)

I don’t have any of his records but he’s great live and I really should get hold of some because I’m sure I’d like them. I really like his down-to-earth persona and the fact that he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

How did you meet your band?

After Mark and I had finished the album I was on the lookout for some people to play it live. I knew Tom (drums/vocals) and Astra (keys/vocals) a little bit so gave them a call and then sent an e mail around to everyone I knew asking for players…apart from Emma (bari sax) who I found by google-ing ‘baritone sax player’. Her name was the first one that came up. That and the friends of friends network bought us all together.

You said to Amelia’s Magazine in this interview:

“My experience of the last couple of years has been one of becoming more confident and of developing a more positive view of the world and myself and I think that more positive slant is apparent in the new songs. Perhaps doubt as a theme has been replaced to an extent by possibility.” 

What would you say has led to these changes in your outlook? And what do you think was holding you back before?

I’m not naturally the most confident person and I don’t always find the day-to-day task of being in the world and interacting with people that easy, but I find it much easier and enjoy things much more than I used to. I think a big part of that is down to the three years I spent working in an inner city primary school in London after leaving Tunng.

In a nutshell, you can’t really succeed in that environment if you don’t find some confidence within yourself. For various reasons I didn’t want to leave and so I gradually became more confident (with the support of some really great co-workers). I think I was held back before because, without realising it, I would always let someone else take the lead in any given job or situation. It’s almost impossible to do that in a school.

Have you got much of an idea yet what your next project might be?

For now I’m keen to make another Diagrams record. I love to collaborate and co-write on different projects, and in the future I’d like to do more writing for other people, but right now I’m really enjoying Diagrams. I’m keen to start as soon as I can so I’ve just started writing songs and as soon as I’ve got them together I’ll start making plans. We’re pretty busy with touring this year so realistically it will be next year before I have the chance to get in the studio.

Do you know yet which festivals you’ll be playing this summer?

We’re doing Port Elliot, No Direction Home, and then quite a few others that I’m not sure I’m allowed to announce yet. Really looking forward to them.

Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?

I always have to mention Serafina Steer here – she’s one of the best and most original songwriters ever. Here’s a link to her wonderful song “Tiger”. The video is made by her also massively talented brother Sam Steer.

I think the Cheek Mountain Thief album is going to be really good when it comes out. At the moment you can only really find a couple of clips on YouTube but certainly one to watch out for.

Erland & The Carnival are destined for big things.

And I’m a bit in love with Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell; they play very simple songs and arrangements but with a huge amount of senstivity and style. They’re really fantastic live.

Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?

The Beatles, Tune Yards, Faure, Jackson Browne and Paul Simon.

Sam Genders, thank you.

Diagrams - Black Light

Black Light is out now on Full Time Hobby. Please visit diagramsmusic.com to order your copy and see a list of live dates.

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About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.