Diacon Panthers’ “Make It Feel Better” was the 16th best album of 2008. An extraordinary debut, and there’s no use arguing with me. Just ask my wife.
The band is back, with the aptly titled, “Ride Again,” recorded over just three days back in December 2008. It is (or will be soon) available on Bandcamp as a pay-what-you-want download, and all of you should show the guys some love. Seriously. You won’t regret it.
The Diacon-Panthers need a big break. I hereby call upon all my fellow bloggers to write about this band. They are very friendly. If you need it, I’ll send you their e-mail address. These guys have rocked me to my core, in a way few band submissions ever do. Truly.
I’ve done a brief interview, but before we get started, let me introduce you to who they are and give you a few tastes of their music:
Natan Diacon-Furtado – vocals, guitar
Greg Given – guitar
Jeremy Given – bass, Fender Rhodes (Jeremy and Greg are brothers)
Charlie Henschen – drums
From “Ride Again”:
From their debut, “Make it Feel Better”
Now, let’s talk . . .
BP: First,congratulations on a great second album. Often, a sophmore release shows off a band’s weaknesses, but this one is a tremendous improvement over “Make It Feel Better” which was, itself, awesome. Any Lennon/McCartney type feuds going on? If not, are there at least a few Takei/Shatner feuds?
Greg: Well, as Natan is the principle songwriter, there really isn’t an opportunity for a Lennon/McCartney kind of thing. However, we are starting to work in some of Jeremy’s songs, so this could emerge…
Natan: If we have any feud, it probably looks something like the feud between Jared and Michael Phelps. (Attaches link.)
BP: Overall, this second album seems more primal—and far more emotional—than your first. Your first was basically a collection of strong songs, but this feels like an album. Did you conceive “Ride Again” as Big Idea, or were the songs written individually?
Natan: These songs did all come about during an emotionally intense period for me which resulted in (what I thought at the time was) really crippling writer’s block where I would just work on one line of one song for months at a time. In the end though, it seems like that payed off as I think you can feel every hour in every line. That being said, this block resulted in us going into the studio with really compressed, thoroughly worked out bits that the rest of the boys helped expand. In that way, I hope you hear just as much looseness as intense detail.
BP: There is definitely an improvised feel, in addition to the precision. That probably comes from you guys being a well-knit band. How did you record it?
Greg: Natan basically presented us with the main line to each song 3 days before we began recording, and the rest of us worked with Natan on fleshing out these lines into complete songs. With the exception of “My Friends,” which we had begun working on while we were on tour in support of “Make it Feel Better,” this EP was built from basic ideas, rehearsed, recorded, and done in about 6 days. So, in a sense, while Natan spent a long time conceiving these songs, each came into its own all at the same time, as we were there in the studio, putting the tracks on tape. I suspect this incredibly compressed writing and recording process results in the unity of the record.
BP: The jammy end of “Curses” almost sounds like you were making it up as you went along. Until the magnificent bridge into “My Friends.” Did you construct the songs as a pair, or did you just found that they fit that way?
Natan: That was all Scott in the studio–he paired the songs like that. But again, I was already a guy who sticks to keys and progressions he knows. I think this record does that to an extreme in a way that works. But yeah, total accident, which I hope we can promise more of.
BP: Are any of you fans of the Grateful Dead, or any other “jam” bands?
Natan: I am a huge fan of American Beauty, but an even bigger fan of Anthem of the Sun. Growing up, my dad had pretty much every Dead record on Vinyl and I slowly began to steal them from him. Besides that, I have an undying love for bands that are ok with devolving into ambiance, where there’s a certain comfort in allowing a constant pulse to form from which the listener can fade away. Bands like Codeine, and styles like Chopped n’ Skrewed. I think they’re much closer to the work the Grateful Dead did than “modern” Jam bands– that I can’t really handle.
Greg: Man, you have an ear. Natan neglects to mention that the rest of us in the band were in a jam band for 4 years through high school. While most kids our age were putting together shitty pop-punk and hardcore bands, we were trying to decide which Widespread Panic song to cover. I think we’re all glad that we moved on from that phase in our lives long ago, but it did teach us a thing or two about improvisation. Most importantly, how to hide the fact that you’ve screwed up when you’re playing live. Natan has yet to develop that, as he normally just says “Oops, I messed up” into the microphone. But in all seriousness, I think we’re really influenced by Crazy Horse-era Neil Young, which could get pretty damn jammy at times.
Natan: I think it adds character… Though we’ve discovered that when I’m drunk I just rattle off a whole paragraph and then ask Jeremy to play whatever I messed up on Keys.
BP: Theh album almost seems to tell a story, but I’m not sure about what . . .
Natan: It’s all in the frustration of knowing what needs to happen and only being able to get your one line out for each song (or in the workings of my day to day life). If the record sounds frightened by itself and/or concerned for its future I’m right there with you. Hot Gray Lips is a good example, it’s a song that’s afraid of everything it’s made of.
BP: Speaking of that song . . . What made you name a funereal marching song “Hot Gray Lips?”
Natan: Well, I like ghosts.
BP: Natan, your vocals are more Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-sy than the last one—rawer and more impassioned. Did you study anyone in particular, or were you going for a specific sound?
Natan: On a technical level, all the vocals were recorded with truly amazing microphones that really did their job. On my side, “did their job” meant I thought I sounded like a gravely mess the whole time this record was in progress. I’d be lying if I was going for a real sound. After going on tour for “Make it Feel Better” I found my voice getting more comfortable in a range that sounds more aggressive. However, I didn’t really feel comfortable in that range until we finished this record and went out to play again. To me, that hesitance shows a lot in the way I chose my wording and movement in maneuvering through the songs. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. However, I also think the vocals show that they know their way around every line of these songs, another happy accident of terrible writer’s block.
BP: Who are your dream bands to tour with?
Natan: I can’t imagine a better show than us and Antlers on tour. An amazing band with an amazing record that I think treads around the same ground as ours.
Greg: Well if I’m dreaming big, it would have to be “Second Helping”-era Skynyrd. As for bands that actually exist, I’d really love to tour with Lucero, Low, or Magnolia Electric Company. Don’t know how that would ultimately sound back-to-back, but whatever. Good bands.
BP: They are good. I was thinking you’d do well to open for Pearl Jam. You know, Adam Duritz just did an amazing show where he toured with two other bands and they all played together for the whole night. I’d love to see you guys doing something like that. And speaking of touring, any chance you’ll be out in Virginia ay time soon?
Natan: In my dreams, at night.
Greg: Unfortunately, as we spend most of the time on opposite ends of the country, we only get a chance to tour once or twice a year. It could well be next summer before we make it back to Virginia country again, but you’ll be the first to know if we book a show out there.
BP: Can’t wait. Now, dear readers, GO FIND THIS BAND’S ALBUM AND BUY IT! They deserve your support, big time.