An interview with Fabulous Diamonds

, 22 August 2012

Jarrod Zlatic of minimal synth-drum duo Fabulous Diamonds says “we’re too pop” like he really means it. Sitting in a bar in Melbourne a few months before the release of their third full-length album Commercial Music (out on Chapter Music August 3) it’s as if the self-proclaimed “music nerd” rattling off ultra-specific band references like they’re even-numbered times tables, has no idea that his band is as ‘experimental’ as you’re going to get.

As a creative peculiarity from the diverse Australian music community, Zlatic and band mate Nisa Venerosa have treaded the fine line between music and art, for roughly seven years, and it shows. They’ve released two albums and an EP, toured the US with Siltbreeze and been invited to Belgium’s KRAAK Festival. Before that, Zlatic had played with puerile punk band Oh! Belgium, while Venerosa had never been in a band, nor played drums, before taking up with Fabulous Diamonds in 2006. Now, with the release of their two untitled long-players and a handful of side-projects between them, they’ve recorded a third installment of minimal beats and endless build-ups with eminent local producer Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control) and while it’s not as rough as before, you’d hardly call it ‘slick’. Sure, Venerosa’s drumming has settled into those idiosyncratic minimal beats, Young has made more of an effort to go from the ‘lo’ to the ‘mid’-fi levels of production and a hyper-critical Zlatic hasn’t stopped setting impossibly high standards for himself. But don’t be fooled because this is not pop.

Fabulous Diamonds. Image courtesy of Chapter Music.
Fabulous Diamonds. Image courtesy Chapter Music.

With Commerical Music, it seems that, where you started out with a sound that was a really minimal and naïve with your early stuff, maintaining that when you’ve learnt your instruments would be difficult.

Jarrod Zlatic: Yeah, I suppose we’ve gotten a little better. Nisa’s obviously gotten better at her instrument and, also, you get older. I’m 26 now, as opposed to 18 or 19 when I started. I’m a different person. It sounds kind of like pap but I’ve considered those things. I suppose that last one was a little bit under-produced, I thought, but at the time that’s what I was going for and now with the new one it’s like ultra-produced.

Considering his garage background, I was surprised when you said it was Mikey’s influence that made this latest album sound more produced.

JZ: Partly and partly not. Since he last recorded us he’s actually just gotten better at recording and obviously how he makes up the drum, I don’t have much power, or willpower, to fuck around with him. When I heard it, at first I was kind of weird about it and then I was like, ‘I don’t give a shit. I’ll just run with it because it’s taking me out of my comfort zone. I actually like the recording now because it’s a fine line between… I like the idea of ‘mid-fi’, where you’re not just recording at home but it’s not completely slick. I think it’s like a sophisticated recorded sound, maybe. I don’t know how it sounds to someone else.

You tend to be super-critical of everything you guys release, are you over the band or something?

JZ: I’m not over it. I’ve got material for maybe one and a half more albums. From some of the newer material I’ve written, I’ve got a couple of songs. I don’t like drums, which makes it hard when half the band is drums.

I’m not speaking for Nisa but its like, with some of the new material, I’m trying to be more self-consciously less pop. Obviously, now that I’m older, my interests are different to when I did the other stuff and with this current album most of the songs are like two or three years old, so they’re all dead to me.

Do you and Nisa still have the same tension you used to? Because it kind of sounds like you just don’t give a shit.

JZ: I’m not over it but it’s just difficult because there’s two of us. I’m always doing little bands because I have a short attention span; I can’t focus on something too hard. I feel like I get a concept, I want to explore the concept a couple of times and then move on to another idea.

I like recording. Recording is actually heaps of fun. I don’t like jamming. I just wish it could be like the 70s, where you’d show up to the studio and be like, ‘I’m going to do this’. Because I don’t bother finding microphones to record myself, which I probably should do because that’s what I want to do but I’m too lazy.

Again, because in Australia no matter how much of an artist you are, it still has to be auxiliary to real life. I don’t have any illusions about going over to the UK or ‘making it big’ in America. I know what it’s like. There’s no point. We’re too in between poles, so it doesn’t even matter anyway.

Fabulous Diamonds. Image courtesy of the artist.
Fabulous Diamonds. Image courtesy the artist.

You seem to have not so much of that creative self-branding that you get from other scenes that are getting more global exposure, in the US especially.

JZ: That’s what I hate about it. I played shows with those people and I’m aware of what’s going on. That’s a very American thing. I just find it pretty gross.

It’s quite a Capitalist mentality, living the ‘American Dream’ under the pretense of living outside of it.

JZ: Yeah. Only in America could you do that though. But on the other hand the American Dream is all about being Bohemian because it’s about living how you want with no compromise, so it’s amazing that they can be popular. But the problem I have with that kind of music is there’s no subtlety involved. It’s very clear; ‘we’re doing hippy techo kraut’, in some sort of tie-dyed, neon early 90s video effect or whatever and then you can follow the label changing. You see it’s one thing, then they exhaust that and find a new concept to strip mine.

Like, Not Not Fun and 100% Silk.

JZ: Exactly, that’s a perfect example. It’s like, ‘OK, we’ve done this hippy psych noise thing, what’s the new thing we can work at? I mean, I’m sure they’re genuinely into that music…

What are you referencing when you write?

JZ: For the newest album? Well, I’ll have to go back in time there. There’s what I listen to and what actually influences me. There’s a disparity there because I may listen to Steely Dan and some sort of noise but what I enjoy listening to has no relation to what we produce.

I’m trying to remember but each song’s different. Because obviously we do what we do with a variation on a theme and that variation is what I’m trying to think of… Anyway, I have pretty specific references in mind.

Do you not feel like writing critically is a very contemporary thing to do?

JZ: Well actually, that’s my problem with a lot of American bands. It’s like there’s no craftsmanship, which in a lot of ways is a really daggy thing to say but fuck it. Again, it’s that Capitalist thing: high output of generally lower quality. People release things all the time and with us there has been two albums and a seven-inch in six or seven years. For an American band to do that, with one or two exceptions, it’s unheard of. They release a new album every year.

Live recording @ PBS FM

But then, like it or not, you’re still a product of your cultural context. If you’re writing something at a specific point in time and then releasing it four years later, it becomes irrelevant.

JZ: Yeah and that’s our own fault. We shouldn’t be so lazy. But it’s difficult because organising to record an album is a lot of work; to even have enough material. Also we’re slow writers. We have ideas and then forget them.

We actually recorded one song for the album and we were like, ‘what were we thinking, how did we even play that song live?” So it was scrapped, never to be heard again. We’re low output song-writers so that doesn’t help. To release a lot of material, you have to have low standards in a lot of ways.I kind of have to go to the toilet.

Fabulous Diamonds’ Commercial Music was out on Chapter Music August 3, 2012.