Posted May 6th, 2015 (8:30 am) by Sean O'Leary

It’s no mean feat to have critical acclaim and the press buzzing even before your first full length comes out. Diamond Youth have done just that.

On the backs of several EP’s worth of well-crafted grunge, rock, and power pop tracks, the Baltimore quartet have carved out a space for themselves in the alternative rock scene. With their debut full length Nothing Matters coming out via Topshelf Records on May 19th, that space is only getting bigger. IYS got a chance to talk to singer Justin Gilman about songwriting, recording, and which Beatle looks the best in a ridiculous cloak.

So a lot of the material out there on you guys talks about you having members in three cities. How did you come together to form the band?

Well Sam and I went to school together, college, at the Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore. And he and I were actually interns at the same design studio, and we were friends. He was doing a hardcore band, Trapped Under Ice, and I was doing some indie stuff in Baltimore. We were talking about our love for the 90’s and grunge, and decided to start a band in that aesthetic, based on the roots that made us the musicians we are. Nirvana, Foo Fighters kinda stuff.

With that in mind, what’s your songwriting process like? Did you feel writing for a full length was different than writing for an EP?

Our songwriting process has been the same since day one of us being separate. We all come up with ideas individually and share them via voice memos, or Dropbox, things like that. And then we get together before a tour or some sort of event and hash ‘em all out. As far as the full length, I don’t know if it was that different since we’re pretty much constantly writing songs individually. It’s kinda just what we do in our free time.

You’ve had a pretty distinctive sound. Do you feel like that changed at all for Nothing Matters? Did you have any new inspirations?

In terms of influence we were listening to a lot of The Nerves. Have you ever heard of them?

I haven’t.

They’re just a simple… Kinda retro rock. Garagey kinda vibe. Their songwriting is super simple. Stuff like The Beatles but a little more edge to it. Otherwise, we grew up listening to grunge, and I think that’s always a part of it. At the same time, we all listen to, y’know, hardcore all the way to Motown. I think we’ll constantly be influenced by multiple genres, but as far as the full length… Hmm. It’s hard to say. We’re constantly writing.

It’s a constant process.

Yeah. I mean maybe the songs changed a tiny bit here and there, and I think the full length is a nice showcase of the different styles we like to write in the rock genre. Some are more mellow and nostalgic, other songs are bangers, fastpaced and grungier. We just like writing good, simple songs. That’s always what we have in mind when writing.

I saw a video recently where you talked about the vibe at Hurley Studios, and how the record couldn’t have been made anywhere else. I think New York was the example you used. Could you expand on that a little?

Yeah. Basically, being at Hurley Studios in Costa Mesa was incredible. I think it definitely affected the vibe of the record in a good way. Being at their headquarters was inspiring. ‘Cause they’re just like skateboarding around, there’s just cool graffiti everywhere across the campus. And working with Davey Warsop, the producer, he’s just a great guy and super talented. The overall experience was fantastic. It definitely affects the aesthetic of the record. Y’know, like if you’re stuck in the dark, cold New York City in the dead of winter... We recorded it in January so it could have been a completely different vibe, based on the environment.

It could easily have been the dead of winter somewhere else.

Yeah, just being miserable in like the snowy, sleeting city of New York or something. Maybe the songs would be a lot darker, and sad, I dunno. [laughs] Who’s to say? But we did it in the sun, so… I think subconsciously it affects us as creatives, y’know?

Yeah, definitely. So sonically, you guys have a pretty overdriven, wall-of-sound guitar thing going. For the guitar guys, what kinda gear were you using in the studio?

Well Sam has a PRS and we actually used that a lot. We used Fender amps for that crystal clear, hot, reverbed out, kinda vintage sound. We also used a Hammond organ for some elements here and there which was fun. Some piano. Tons of pedals. I can’t even begin to name the pedals we played with.

Is that the same stuff you’ll take on the road?

Yeah, Sam and I both use PRS right now, and we each have an array of pedals that we play with. Lots of reverb, surf-y kind of tools.

And vocally, did you feel like you had to push yourself for the record? Or did you feel that it was solidly in your wheelhouse?

Oh, totally. It was definitely the most challenging record I’ve ever done vocally. There was a lot of meticulous practicing and sort of getting a feel for what tone and energy we wanted for each song. I didn’t just go in there and lay it down without thinking about it. We worked together as a band to really nail the energy for each vocal piece.

It’s always funny hearing someone say they went into the studio and nailed it in one take. You just know that’s not true.

[laughs] Yeah, that’s the easy way out. I mean, a part of me wanted to do that, cause it’s like, “Let me just do my thing”. But it’s all about editing and editing and editing, to make it great.

Would you say the whole band has that same sort of perfectionist drive?

The entire band are super talented musicians and songwriters, and, y’know, we question whether we’re using the right amp or guitar or microphone for everything. We were all equally a part of the creation for sure.

Every choice is conscious.

Yeah, totally. We played for half an hour or more on just getting the right squealing distortion before a solo. Trying different pedals, holding the guitar up to the amp... “That’s not right, let’s get this crappy amp and turn up the distortion”. Everything was thought about, for sure.

So this is your third record with Topshelf, right? How has your experience with them been? How did you guys decide to sign with them?

Yeah, we’ve done two EP’s and a full length. They’re just a great record label, they’ve been so cool with us for the past few years. Our friends are on their label, and they are our friends now. They’re just a good group of guys, the best label out there right now I think.

Who else are you close to on the label?

Well, we went out with Great Big Pile of Leaves and Prawn a few months ago, and they’re super nice, very talented guys. We all became friends and had a blast. It’s like a good family.

Before signing, you guys had a pretty intense DIY ethic, as far as designing your website, your merch, and your videos. Did that change,
or how did it change, when you signed to Topshelf?

They actually let us do the same thing. We still design all our album artwork and our merch, and they let us do pretty much whatever we want with our music videos. They’re very trusting, which is great. They’re supportive of us as artists, not just in the musical realm. We actually just collaborated with Max Moore who directed a video that should be coming out soon. And that was a straight up collaboration. We’re still very much in charge of the visual aesthetic of the band, just as much as the music.

And you’re also headed out on the road pretty soon, you have a pretty rigorous touring schedule. What goes into translating songs from a studio to a live environment?

Well we kind of choose songs that will translate live well, and will also represent the album and the band in the best way possible. So I don’t think we’re playing the deep cut ballad on the first tour, before anyone knows it. We’ll choose the more energetic songs to add to the set.

So you’re not bringing the organ out with you?

[laughing] I wish. That’d be great, lug the giant Hammond organ and the Leslie speaker. Someday.

So you guys have a bunch of your stuff available on vinyl. What with record store day having just happened, what makes you guys decide to press a record in addition to CDs?

Well I think there’s a huge world of people that are super into vinyl. I personally collect vinyl, and love throwing a record up on the turntable and experiencing the music that way. It sorta makes it more legitimate in my head. It’s tactile, it’s real.

That makes sense.

Yeah. I mean what’s a CD? That’s weird, I don’t even have a CD drive on my laptop anymore [laughs]. Maybe one day we’ll just stop making CDs, and just make tapes and vinyl.

Tapes are making a comeback, too, I hear… So did you go out on Record Store Day? You pick anything up?

We went down to an antique store in Baltimore, and I picked up a George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”. It’s like a four vinyl set with this amazing insert that folds out into a giant poster of him. It’s like the most Gothic, smoky, dark photo of him in this weird cloak, with this giant hat. It’s amazing. It’s not a record store though, it’s an antique store, so… [laughs] Maybe I should actually have gone to a record store.

Still counts. So for the obligatory industry question, do you have any thoughts on TIDAL? Or streaming in general?

On what?

TIDAL? The Jay-Z streaming service.

Oh, you mean in terms of like Spotify?

Yeah. Well Jay-Z recently teamed up with some other artists for a streaming service called TIDAL. The emphasis is on hi-fi audio streaming.

[laughs] I don’t know anything about that... Shit.

That’s a totally fair answer.

Yeah... I’m gonna have to do my research.

How about steaming in general? Do you feel that Spotify has helped you as a band? They’ve been in the news recently.

Yeah, I just feel like it’s the way that industry is headed, so why fight it? May as well just embrace it. I love Spotify, I use it constantly and I think that if you try and fight it it’ll only hurt you. Especially as a smaller band, you just wanna get your music out there.

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