Now/It's: An Interview with Diamond Carter

A recent theme in a number of interviews on the site (as well as Nashville as a whole) is the concept of realism. Or reality. Or realness. Whichever way you spin it, the validity of one’s artistic credibility has long been a point of emphasis in town (and around entertainment in general). Obviously, this isn’t the first time someone has entertained the idea of artistic fidelity (doing everything within my power to avoid using any version the word “authenticity”), but it’s a dilemma that continually fails to find a resolution. Some people harp about personal truth’s, while others obsess over integrity. Realistically, those are two of many vague and continually poorly explained concepts thrown into the bona fides argument. But in that strange world of entertainment, where one can see so many failed attempts at cementing one’s own artistic credibility, every once and a while, you’ll interact with someone who is the utter and total opposite. Someone who has so deftly carved out their own niche, or curated the proverbial “beat of their own drum” so deftly, you can help but relish the opportunity to hear more about their “way.” Such was the case in talking to Diamond Carter, someone who fully embodies the “realness” that so many others search for in vain. On the heels of his Moon Paradise: Volume 2, Carter is not at a crossroads, but rather, a side road, exploring nuance and eccentricities in production. He’s no slave to a genre (like many in town are), but a pioneer on a new plane. He shares some unshrinking perspectives on many things, all further substantiating Diamond Carter as one of the “realest” there is in Nashville.

Now/It’s met with Diamond Carter at his apartment off of Gallatin Avenue, in East Nashville.

Diamond - There’s beer in the fridge if you want. Miller Lite.

N/I - That’s fine by me. What have you been up to?

Diamond - I got up at six in the morning and walked up and down the street listening to the new Kurt Vile.

N/I - What do you think of it?

Diamond - It’s fucking awesome, dude.

N/I - I’m super pumped to see him get back into the solo stuff after the Courtney Barnett record.

Diamond. Oh yeah. That shit was cool, though. It definitely isn’t a vibe. It seemed like it was more them just having fun.

N/I - I would agree.

Diamond - “We’re two lazy, ranting singers - we should do an album together.” That’s a Pitchfork boner right there.

N/I - Exactly. How are things going post-release?

Diamond - The same as things pre-release had been [laughs].

N/I - And how was that? Just kind of here and there?

Diamond - [Laughs] Basically.

N/I - Was there any sort of approach to releasing it? Or was it just that you had Volume II and you were ready to get them out there?

Diamond - No [approach]. I’ve had these tracks for a fucking minute. I’ve been spending a lot of my time producing other artists right now. I already have two other records I’ve been sitting on that are full lengths, and I just didn’t want to sit on this. But I also don’t want to play any fucking shows. I want to play shows, but I want to do them right. I made the mistake of misrepresenting the tracks by playing some bullshit version of what I would like it to be. So I’m not going to mess with that until I can afford to pay for a full fledged show. But I also don’t want to sit on the fucking record.

N/I - Alright. So the other two records you’re sitting on - are those extensions of the Moon Paradise stuff?

Diamond - No. I’ve got one that’s straight up 70s Americana.

N/I - Really?

Diamond - I can play you some. It’s fucking trash dude [laughs]. That Nashville Americana scene is whack as fuck. It’s so fucking circle-jerky.

N/I - Very much so.

Diamond - It’s all costume punk shit.

N/I - There are certain entities within it that come to mind when you mention the circle-jerky nature of things, but that’s the low hanging fruit here in town, right now. Anyone that doesn’t have much of a grasp on their own sound or style can easily lean into it since it’s become as prevalent as it has, at least in Nashville. If you ask almost anyone outside of Nashville who John Prine is, they probably won’t know who he is.

Diamond - I fucking love John Prine and all that shit, but I kind of hate that everyone is trying to rip off his music.

N/I - And then people will deify John Prine or Joan Baez one way or another, though they wouldn’t be able to tell you all that much about their history.

Diamond - They wouldn’t have hung out with the motherfucker in his prime. He would of drank too much or would have been too crazy for them. Frauds, bro. Fucking frauds.

N/I - That’s always kind of been the criticism of Nashville to various extents - if someone is doing something like you’re doing, the “tropical vampire music.” I don’t know how much credence you give to that genre or classification….

Diamond - It’s a joke [laughs].

N/I - Exactly, it’s a joke. But people can get very holier than thou here to the point of which they’re not even willing to poke fun at themselves to the point that if a John Prine type were present today, they wouldn’t dare take the time to fraternize. It’s an interesting perspective. So with that Americana record, is it intended as tongue-in-cheek?

Diamond - No man! Are you familiar with this mother fucker…. Jim Sullivan? It’s a lot from that and Light In the Attic. He also put out that Cosmic American Music record….. I was working at The Groove back when Louis and John owned it, and I just really wanted to make a 70s Americana record. You know Gray Matter Studios? Dude was willing to make a record for free for me, so I just gathered some of my friends and we set up old school style, everyone in the room. Showed up at nine in the morning, drank some beers, smoked some weed, and then recorded. I just wanted to make a record in the “classic” way. But then when it was done, I was like “this is cool, but I have no fucking intentions of sharing bills with these bums.”

N/I - So will it just be a “put it out there” type thing?

Diamond - Oh man, I don’t know if I’ll ever put it out.

N/I - Just a nice one to have locked in the vault.

Diamond - I think I needed to get it out of my system before I moved on to other shit. And whether or not anyone ever actually fucking hears it, outside of just chilling in my apartment, I don’t know.

N/I - You don’t really care.

Diamond - I feel bad for Matt - the guy who recorded it for free - but it’s cool, I brought him other work too.

N/I - So with your producing, how long has that been going on? At least as a primary focus?

Diamond - The producing started with the Moon Paradise shit. My homeboy, Josh Barber - he just moved back to Australia - but I was just sick of waiting on bands and shit like that, so I just started recording myself in my bedroom, and he was mixing it, and he was teaching me how to mix it. So by Volume II I was doing a little more of it by myself, and I realized it was way fucking better than going to shows and finding someone to convince to record it.

N/I - That’s totally fair.

Diamond - For the record, I’m not a hateful dude….

N/I - No need to defend yourself. I understand the sentiment. I am in a similar, but different situation - I’ll talk to a lot of musicians and people in and around entertainment. When you interact with enough people - not to say I’m some sort of clairvoyant or hyper-perceptive person - you can become a little jaded. Not in the sense of “fuck everybody,” but more like “Oh man, I thought this person would be different.”

Diamond - But I got a core group of homies that I enjoy hanging around.

N/I - I’m the same way.

Diamond - And venturing outside of that is just awful.

N/I - And you meet every iteration of the same person - and not to generalize - but once you’ve met a certain Americana artist, you’ve met everyone one. But there are pockets where you find ways out, like the R&B, hip-hop, and pop communities. Because they’re relatively young, at least in Nashville. There’s a glimmer of hope that it wants to embrace and uplift its members the way that Americana has arbitrarily made Nashville it’s epicenter of.

Diamond - The sessions are just way more fun, too. Those artists are way more willing to just try shit. In the beginning of getting to play music all the time, part of it was just because I loved smoking weed with my friends and making noise. That’s all they want to do - smoke a bunch of weed, sip our beers, and get into a vibe. It’s just way more fun not having to go and talk to a group of fucking people. Just come to my crib.

N/I - So has that become the standard approach to how you produce other people’s music now? Do you have to measure or feel things out when you’re getting a vibe for someone else’s music outside of your own?

Diamond - I get fucking tanked when it’s my music. I’m in the process of starting to drink when I’m just beginning to lay shit down, and then I’m fucking annihilated where I just hold the mic and improvise some lyrics. Then I’ll wake up in the morning and cut it down. But with other artists, I’ll still smoke with them. [Hip-hop artists] smoke an absurd amount of weed. They don’t drink as much. So I have my twelve pack in the fridge that I’ll sip on, but I still get pretty toasted with them while they’re here, while we’re doing the session. But I’ll also have my morning coffee while I’m pre-editing. The atmosphere is there when they’re here, and we’ll catch a vibe, but I’ll get an adderall from someone or drink some fucking coffee to do the annoying editing.

N/I - That’s like that beatnik mentality of “write drunk, edit sober.” Are you able to say who you’re working with?

Diamond - Some of them! There’s one kid that I’m really excited about working with, his name’s Khari. He’s this twenty year old kid from Memphis who goes to TSU. I met this dude Que Parks through him giving me a Lyft ride, and Que is the shit, then he brought Khari over, because I saw Khari playing guitar on his Instagram, and I was like “Get that fucking kid over to my crib.” He was playing this really good R&B riff. It was cool, he’s this really great R&B guitarist, but he didn’t sing, and then he was really persistent about coming over a second time to the point that he sent me a text saying “Dude, I’m outside.” I brought him in and he sang and I was like “Fuck everything I’m doing, I’m producing you.” He had met Que through Que giving him a Lyft ride too, I think. Khari came over and sang and played guitar to a click, and then I went out to California to see some friends and family, and while I was out there, I made the whole production behind it. Then he brought over these rappers from Atlanta - Junior, Red, and Jam.

N/I - Junior, Red, and Jam?

Diamond - [Laughs] It was going to fuck with me if I couldn’t remember their names. They’re fucking awesome.

N/I - So when you work on a song with someone like Khira or the dudes from Atlanta, what are they coming in with? What do they give to you?

Diamond - So they just came over, brought an absurd amount of herb…. And dude, they also brought like ten fucking friends.

N/I - As one does…

Diamond - But it was seriously just a good fucking hang. Then Khari picked up the guitar and played two chords…..

N/I - So when everyone’s here, how long is that session?

Diamond - That really just depends. I had fifteen beats that don’t have a home right now, and we were just going through, and they liked a bunch of those. So they started freestyling over a bunch of that, and then Khari picked up the guitar playing that lick, and I think that was while Red was laying something down. Then I brought out my other midi controller to create a little beat, and then they were all writing stuff over that. They laid all their verses down and then when they left, I deleted everything I made.

N/I - And started over from scratch?

Diamond - Exactly. I threw chorus, half-timer, a gate, and equalizer on the guitar. It wound up sounding like some moody fucking synthwave shit. Throw on Khari’s voice and it’s tripped out. Just built it piece by piece.

N/I - So someone like Khari, that was just serendipity?

Diamond - Yeah man. He’s young. He’s like twenty years old. Que brought him over and Khari trusts me with his music, one hundred percent. I love his music, and I think it’s a great starting point to build off of. He has a good attitude, and I feel like I can save him a lot of time in terms of avoiding getting fucked over.

N/I - Sure. It is normal for a twenty year old to wholeheartedly trust and believe in the first person that believes in their music, but to have some perception to avoid getting “fucked over” in the way that can happen in Nashville, that’s pretty substantial.

Diamond - On Volume II, I’m sure you could hear it - I’m already using autotune and 808s, trying to head that direction. I don’t particularly know how I’m going to sing over that style of music just yet, but it was great having him come over, because now….

N/I - It’s helped bridge the gap a little bit.

Diamond - So now I can figure out the music part of it, because I know anything that comes out of his mouth is going to be fucking awesome. That dude just shits out incredible melodies. He’s just so relaxed about it. He’s just like “Sure Diamond, let’s do it.” He’s so cool. So that allows me to figure out the music behind him. Now I’m looking at boom bap and everything. I’ve got all this 90s style equipment that I keep in the other room so I don’t touch the computer while I’m working on them. The MPC was how they made beats in the 90s. I spend a few days with records and make music on the MPC.

N/I - Do you draw a lot from that era of hip-hop and production. Ultimately, I would love to blend it. When I was playing in bands like UZi and the Americana shit, I felt like what I was playing was very different than what I was listening to, and that fucking sucks. So I’m just trying to find a way to blend all the shit I listen to into what I make without it sounding corny as fuck and obvious that that’s what I’m trying to do. So in order to do that, I feel like I need to work with the tools and in the way it happens in most of the genres I listen to. So then I can figure out my workflow amongst all of them and then it’s cohesive amongst all the tools. The way I approach the MPC has a similarity to the way I approach the guitar, and Ableton, and then I can start to see what it is that is my identity that exists through the creation of my music as opposed to just the tools that I’m using.

N/I - A little different than the Americana approach. It’s imitative. Like if someone sees a picture of Townes Van Zandt, they’re going to emulate what they think that spirit might be.

Diamond - I still fuck with the clothes and stuff, man.

N/I - Of course, of course. I don’t mean to sound hyper-critical of that, because I shouldn’t be doing this type of work, but at the same time, you get a little jaded…..

Diamond - Just to pretend you only do one thing…. But 2018 is existing around you, my dude. 2019 is coming up. The shit you’re rocking was all done in the 70s. It’s cool. boom bap was all done in the 90s, yeah let’s do it. But also, you can do the other things, bro. I know you like a Kanye and a Drake song.

N/I - Absolutely.

Diamond - And these Americana motherfuckers who are only rocking the straight era stuff, it’s like man, you know you get down to a Kanye track.

N/I - Or Lil Uzi Vert….

Diamond - Exactly! Don’t pretend some Young Thug doesn’t get you hype. Dude, Sheck West…. You ever heard Sheck West?

N/I - “Mo Bamba?”

Diamond - Yeah man. I love him. He’s got me rolling on that boom bap shit. I love pulling all these different sounds from records. It’s OG style.

N/I - So how long does it take you to get all of that ready, or sampled and run through?

Diamond - The MPC is definitely an old piece of equipment.

N/I - Labor of love?

Diamond - For sure. But most beats are maybe two hours or so? I don’t really just sit down and decide I’m going to create for two hours - I’ll pace around, drink my beers, smoke a little with the neighbors and shit. Periodically, I sit down for fifteen, thirty minutes and lay stuff down and then walk away.

N/I - You’re snacking instead of binging.

Diamond - That way, the idea stays fresh the whole fucking day, and I’m not afraid of deleting shit after sitting for three fucking hours.

N/I - That’s fair. That’s how the boom bap and the early 2000s scene operated - Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Black Star….

Diamond - Pete Rock….

N/I - Their whole thing was spending a week piecing things together, and maybe when it came to the verse, they’d write the whole thing out, but again, that’s after marinating in the production and finally getting a feel for it.

Diamond - Right. The emcees and the singers I’ve found right now are looking for the heavier, trappier shit. Got a lot of singers and emcees for the R&B shit, but I would like to see if there are some out there for the boom bap shit. A lot of the people that claim they can hop on and go it ends up “Yo, you got to shut the fuck up.”

N/I - Too chatty?

Diamond - Just too obvious that they’re trying to sound a certain way.

N/I - Ripping off someone’s flow?

Diamond - A boom bap emcee to me, that’s the one thing you do. And you do it fucking amazing. Do you listen to Westside Gun at all?

N/I - Can’t say I have.

Diamond - Dude, he’s a newer artist. You got to listen. He’s fucking great. I don’t know if Nashville’s the spot where I’ll find my boom bap emcee.

N/I - Where do you think you will? Atlanta? Memphis?

Diamond - Atlanta’s kind of king of trap… Probably fucking Brooklyn or Cali. But I don’t know man, I’m just now finding all these artists, and every one of them seems to know another one. It’s cool, because I’ve only been producing for a year. The mixing and recording top quality audio…. I mean, Khari bringing all those kids from Atlanta, and Que bringing all these other artists - there’s this awesome thing happening under everyone’s noses that for whatever reason isn’t getting the same attention as other shit. I’m sure that will change. That’s just natural.

My forte is not mixing or recording the best vocals. I know the vibe of it, and I can get all the cool fucking sounds and the direction, but now I got a partner - this kid Edsel.

N/I - Holden?

Diamond - Yeah! He’s agreed to just be my fucking go to mix engineer, and he’s got a portable vocal rig, so now I can get full products done. I’m kind of focusing on finding those cats to produce. I feel like I’ve got a style of production.

N/I - I’d say so.

Diamond - I feel like Volume II is leaning into it. I’m sure it’ll loop back around - I’ll [produce] for a year or so, only, and then I’ll take a bunch of shit I learned from that and just naturally make another record.

N/I - Is that kind of it? As far as the next year is concerned? How much time do you have to work on your own stuff in between?

Diamond - Well it’s all I do, it’s not like I have another job or anything.

N/I - Sure, sure. I’m adjacent to that world, but I don’t fully understand what type of time commitment that world requires.

Diamond - It takes a lot of time to do, but I don’t fucking do anything else. Even if I’m going out socially, it’s related to this shit.

N/I - It’s like we were saying earlier, you do bits and pieces.

Diamond - Right. Volume I & II were done in the same few month span. And I didn’t know what the fuck it was. I got put on probation and couldn’t leave my fucking apartment. My homeboy is one of the owners of Bearded Iris, and I went over there and helped them can for like a fourteen hour day, and they sent me home with four cases of their IPAs and a whole bottle of vodka and shit, and I was just like, “Well, I don’t want to go back to jail,” so I locked myself in my room recorded all of Volume I & II.

N/I - It was a product of circumstance.

Diamond - I was just fucking wasted and felt like making music. Then I hit up my homeboy John and asked him to mix it that way I’d know if it’s trash or not. So I just put it out. I’d imagine it’d kind of work out like that.

N/I - I figure it probably helps when you’ve got someone like Roland backing you up on projects as well.

Diamond - [Laughs] Definitely.

N/I - Honestly, I didn’t even know they had a Roland presence in Nashville. Like how does that even come about?

Diamond - It’s brand new. I got a lot of friends over at the Grammy Association, because a couple years ago, I just went into their offices during lunch and played some songs for them. It’s this office full of babes, and they for some reason liked me. They’re the fucking sweetest ladies, dude. They just want to help me in whatever way they can. So they put me on a Third Man showcase where they paid me an absurd amount of money to sing three songs. And then they said they would pay me, “but it wasn’t much,” I was just like “Yeah, sure.” [laughs].

N/I - It’s all relative when it comes to money and entertainment.

Diamond - But like a dumbass, I spent most the money on flowers that I can throw around the stage, not even realizing that depending on where you were standing, you couldn’t even see the floor of the stage [laughs]. But I played that Grammy Association gig at Third Man for NAMM, and I was there with one of my best friends, and there was this kind of older - in his forties - slightly nerdy, but cool as fuck dude who was telling us he really liked it, but my friend and I were super hammered, and my beach metal band UZi were playing across town. You remember UZi?

N/I - I think I’ve been to a couple of your guys’ shows.

Diamond - [Laughs] Right on. We were playing at Dee’s - which whoever booked us on that is a fucking idiot.

N/I - Dee’s will do that every once and awhile.

Diamond - They should not have put us on that, especially because volume is a concern for us. We’re a beach metal band, dude. But anyways, my friend and I grabbed that dude and had him hop in the Lyft with us and he was like “I can’t I have work tomorrow!” and we were like “Why’d you get in the music industry, to be a fucking pussy? Get in the car!” So we have no idea who this dude is, and he gets in the car and we play at Dee’s and the sound guys within the first five minutes, the sound guy is like “You go to turn down!” and my drummer asks “What’d he say?” and I’m like, “He said you’re not hitting hard enough!” So we kept doing that until the sound guy just walked away and we were cracking up. We ended up getting kicked out of Dee’s. The bartender kicked us out, and then we took everyone over to Mickey’s. When I’m getting drunk with UZi, dude, there is no respect to be given.

N/I - Sure.

Diamond - So this dude leans over to my homeboy, and he’s like “This is the most rock n roll shit I’ve ever seen.” So he comes with us to Mickey’s and come to find out, he’s like “I run A&R over at Roland.” So I was leaving - and I was drunk, so the alcohol helped - I was like “You’ve known me for three hours and I’ve shown you two dope styles of music, imagine if you knew me in a year. Give me some free shit.” And let go of him, and almost a year later, I was playing hockey, got back and I had a phone call from him and he was like “What do you want, gear-wise? I’m about to send it to you.” So he sent me the DJ-505 and the TR-8S, and gave me all their plug-ins for free. Then he flew out here, and they opened up a studio over at Big Machine and he brought me to that party. He said “Dude, I was going to open this in New York or some shit, but hanging out with you convinced me to open it up in Nashville.”

N/I - Damn. That’s pretty huge.

Diamond - [Laughs] No kidding. So now we have our relationship, and through a separate contact, I saw someone post about the cloud and trap music plug-ins, so I reached out and said I worked with them in a different capacity, but if you’re getting in to trap music, I want in on it. This girl Lisa called me and we started brainstorming ideas, but the guy we’d be pitching to is the guy who brought me on. It’s this awesome fucking thing, for them to be like “Let’s fuck with this lunatic.”