The three Chicagoans that make up Dianogah were joined onstage by their wives for the opening song, making up a brass and woodwinds section and exemplifying both Dianogah’s new approach at the studio and their direction as a band.
Working with John McEntire at Soma allowed the band to bring in many textures, get it all on tape, and then let the producer “try to carve something out of it.” Drummer Kip McCabe explains it as an approach that was more adaptive to the types of songs they wrote for this new album. “That and the addition of other musicians to add textures. John can really incorporate those sounds and make them sound really different. For example, on our last record, Rachel Grimes did a lot of piano and John did a lot of work changing her tones. Bassist and vocalist Jay Ryan adds, “He did things we would have never thought of. He had her play on a keyboard and later ran the sound through basically a Leslie speaker and created whole aspects that she already played that we wouldn’t have thought of. When we work with John, we go in looking for him to be more of a producer than a documentarian and we’ve encouraged John to speak up and add his crazy ideas. And 95% of the time we’ve gone with it.”
With a release date set for May and a show at The Hideout on May 31st to prove it, I asked bassist Jason Harvey to verify if this record was their best yet: “We have that feeling after every record. I think the one feeling of satisfaction with this one that’s a little different [from previous records] is we feel like we went in and set the bar really high, at least for ourselves. There were many points along the way we were worried we would fail miserably, but I think in the end we were very happy with the results because of our expectations.”
Specifically, they mention that the new songs are more immediate and distinguishable from anything they’ve ever done in part because of an increase in the complexity of their songwriting as well as the addition of female vocals, a first for Dianogah. I was hard pressed to pick up on the various nuances in songwriting at the Empty Bottle, but the addition of female vocalist Stephanie Morris was more apparent because she joined them onstage for a few songs and then jumped back on during their closing song. She was able to add a subtle delicacy that played well against the heavy distortion that was “invented for the new album.” Given that their last album was absent of any vocals, it is interesting to note that half of the 12 planned tracks feature some vocal element. Also featured on the new album are collaborators Mark Greenberg from the Coctails, Billy Smith from The Traders and Hubcap, and Andrew Bird.
About that Andrew Bird collaboration on Daytrotter, Jason had some air to clear. “A Breaks B” is a song Dianogah worked on for a long time and the oldest song to appear on the new record, but Bird never got his hands on it until long after the band had already solidified it. “We started [A Breaks B] right after we finished the last record and finished it within the last year. We played it for Andrew and he liked it and that Daytrotter thing was just on whim. We knew we were playing his songs and he was like, ‘Let’s play that one song,’ which he knew was going to be on our new record. And he said, ‘Let’s just mess around with that,’ and so we ended up liking what he did at Daytrotter and his part more or less ends up on the record, but the version on the record is a little bit different. He is on four songs total.”
Dianogah has two shows scheduled at the moment, Feb 9th in Milwaukee at the Cactus Club and the aforementioned record release party at The Hideout in May. Don’t expect many additional tour dates due to their various responsibilities as homeowners and husbands, but keep an eye out for festival slots at two prominent Chicago festivals. Lastly, check out Jay Ryan’s artwork at SXSW’s Flatstock and the Screens ‘n’ Spokes show as well as Jason Harvey’s book art at his website.