Diamond Rugs' Hardy Morris Talks Up The Importance Of Pre-Gaming Before A Show.
Last time Deer Tick was in town, we decided they were, for us, the quintessential bar band. We mostly stand by that assessment, too. John McCauley and his bandmates make a brand of drinking-man's rock that seems to appeal to just about everyone.
But perhaps our choice to place Deer Tick alone atop this booze-infused heap was somewhat shortsighted — if only because, well, Deer Tick isn't McCauley's only project.
Since 2012, McCauley and Deer Tick multi-instrumentalist Robbie Crowell have periodically combined forces with Ian Saint Pé of The Black Lips, Hardy Morris from Dead Confederate, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and drummer Bryan Dufresne of Six Finger Satellite to blow off steam under the name Diamond Rugs. Together, the collective's output has, more or less, resembled the same vaguely Americana-tinged bar rock of those other projects, but with an even greater carefree spirit than managed by these players elsewhere.
It's a party band, sure, but one with chops and some serious pedigree. Or, as McCauley recently put it: “If you want to get smart, read a book. If you want to have fun, go see Diamond Rugs.”
Before we do just that tomorrow night when the band performs at Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill, we caught up with Morris over the phone to talk about how Diamond Rugs came to be and just how long its members plan on keeping the party going.
So, it looks like this is one of the first stops on the last leg of your current tour in support of February's Cosmetics LP. Will this, do you think, be the last touring you'll do for the new record?
It's kind of up in the air at the moment. It's one of those bands where everybody has a lot of other stuff going on. We're trying to make it work out. Hopefully, we'd like to go to the west coast if we can, but at the moment, this is all we've got. You've got to, kind of, catch it while you can.
How do you all find time to get together to record or rehearse for shows? It seems like you guys are all so busy — and spread out all over the country, to boot. How do you make it work?
Well, we kind of use Nashville as a home base for the band. It's where we've done all our recording and rehearsing in the past. That's why it took two years to do another record. We just waited around until it made sense for everybody. We take it seriously, but we also treat it as what it is and we just try to have fun. The whole idea of the of the band is a way to let off steam, and do what we want to do, and the write songs real quick and make rock 'n' roll for the sake of making rock 'n' roll. It seems to work out pretty good so far.
How do you know the rest of the guys? How'd you all come together?
My band Dead Confederate, we've done some touring with Deer Tick in the past. I've known John [McCauley] for a pretty good while now. We've been pretty good buddies and toured a lot. I knew Ian [Saint Pé] — y'know, The Black Lips are based out of Atlanta — for a long, long time. That's right down the road [from our home in Athens], so Dead Confederate and Black Lips have played together in the past. I've just always kind of known Ian; we didn't know each other well. It's just kind of a community of music relationships, dudes in bands. We all had some downtime with the first record, so we decided to get together. John and Robbie [Crowell] from Deer Tick kind of corralled everybody together. Some of the guys, like Steve [Berlin] and Bryan [Dufrense], the drummer, I didn't meet until I had got there to record.
I was reading somewhere that two of the guys in the band didn't even meet until the first gig?
Nah, I think we had all met at the studio, the first time we recorded at the studio. It was kind of interesting to be making a record with people you had never met before.
Was everybody fans of each other's bands before, or at least somewhat aware of everybody's other projects?
I think everybody was familiar with everybody's bands. We all have a pretty good peer camaraderie.
It seems like the first record came together really quickly. What was that process like? Did you guys already kind of come in with songs that you had written for you other bands that didn't end up fitting?
There was a little bit of that with both records. Some were written on the spot, a lot of them were finished on the spot, like ideas that people had that they hadn't turned into full songs yet. So, a lot of that, a lot of finishing songs, writing new songs and, every once in awhile, somebody had a back-pocket song they didn't know what to do with, so we'd turn into a Diamond Rugs tune.
With the second record, was it a similar process? Were there times like the first go-round where a lot of you weren't at the studio at the same time, necessarily?
Yeah, the same kind of thing, a lot of coming and going. The foundations of all the songs are tracked live, pretty quickly. Sometimes Steve would have to come in later and do horns and stuff. It's a really small studio, so you kind of have to do some overdubbing.
Is the first band you've been in with horns?
Yes, it is for me. It's a lot of fun.
After you put out the first record, I think there were probably a lot of people that were surprised the band was actually going to tour and whatnot in addition to making records. And I think it surprised folks even more when the second record came out. Do you think you guys get credit for actually taking this project as seriously as you do?
When you get all of us in the same room, it works for some reason, even though we all come from very different bands, from different parts of the country. For whatever reason, it kind of works. We like to get together and do this as much as we can, because it feels different than any of our own bands. And we all get along really good and laugh it up. There's not the cloud of strategy and bullshit that goes into most bands. We've all done this for the better part of our lives. We've done rock 'n' roll. It's a really pure outlet for us to do what we always really wanted to do.
Was the intention at the jump just to blow off some steam as has been said, or did you guys know all along that you wanted to be, like, a real band?
When we did the first record we didn't know who all, exactly, was going to show up. We didn't know we were making a record. We didn't have a band name. Once Ian showed up, and we had three or four songs under our belt and more coming, we were kind of like, “I guess we should think of a band name for this album.” We didn't know what we were doing at first. I think that the way it started is kind of what has kept the band going, because it started so innocently and as off-the-cuff, as having fun. And then it turned into something bigger than each person. I was like, “Holy shit, this is a band!” Then we came up with the name Diamond Rugs. Now it is what it is — whatever it is.
It does feel like a band. I hate the word “supergroup,” but this feels like a separate thing apart from any other groups you guys might be associated with. Not to jump the gun or anything, but do you think you'll make a third record at some point down the road?
We've already talked about it, at least recording. Yeah, we've definitely talked about it. We haven't booked any studio time or anything like that. I'd call it, maybe, a 50-50 chance. But there was about a one percent chance that there was going to be a band to begin with, so 50-50 is pretty good for this band.
So what is it like touring with this bunch of guys? You always hear stories about Deer Tick and Black Lips tours being kind of nuts, in particular.
I mean, it's fun. It gets crazy from time to time. There's a lot of stories you can't tell, but there's plenty that you can. I think a lot of us have gotten a lot of that out of our system. I mean, we still have a good time. Playing those kind of songs, you have to be in the right spirit. You can't fake it. You have to have a good time to make everybody else have a good time. But we don't break too many laws anymore.
Like, to do a song like “Gimme a Beer,” you've got to have a beer — but you don't necessarily have to piss into each other's mouths.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We live it up pretty good, but it's not as crazy as the kids get, probably. We have kids of our own and shit now.
That said, what should people know before heading out to the show on Tuesday? How does a Diamond Rugs live show differ from that of you guys' other projects?
Tell them to make sure to pregame and be ready to have a good time. Pretend it's not Tuesday. Every day is Saturday with Diamond Rugs.
Cover photo by Dave “Smoota” Smith. Diamond Rugs performs Tuesday, May 5, at Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill. Find more details and ticket info right here.