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Interview - Brandon Baumann (Diamond Lane)

Interview with Brandon Baumann from Diamond Lane
by Matt Coe at 20 August 2014, 11:13 AM

Through the good fortune of this magazine, I’ve gained the opportunity to expose my ears to fresh sounds from the independent / underground scene. One of the records that recently caught my ear in a great way is “Terrorizer” from Los Angeles Hard Rock/ Heavy Metal band DIAMOND LANE. Deciding it was necessary to learn more about the group, Matt Coe fired off some questions to vocalist Brandon Baumann, and here are his thoughtful answers. 

Hello Brandon! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview! How are things in your part of California these days?

“Hey Matt! Things are going very well. It’s always a lovely blend of beautiful chaos and everything in between out here… certainly never a dull moment!”

Tell us about your own personal story when it comes to hard rock/ metal – what were some of your first memories surrounding this music growing up, favorite musicians/ bands back then, and at what point did you decide you wanted to start playing in a rock/metal band?

“I’m very fortunate to have been exposed to a wide variety of music from a very, very young age. Growing up in a house with 5 older brothers, there was always something new to discover and get inspired by. Some of my earliest memories are hanging out in my brothers’ rooms listening to Metallica and KISS. It always seemed like they had an endless supply of really intriguing new music, which was completely fascinating to me. Living in Seattle during the incubation and explosion of the grunge movement, bands like Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden had a profound impact on me. The way the whole culture was embraced by the city was really impressive to me — it was all over the newspapers and on the television on a daily basis — I think that was the first time I realized that there was something powerful about what these guys were doing with the music that they created. With that mentality in mind, it just made me even more curious to discover what else was out there. The household certainly wasn’t exclusive to those Seattle bands, but like I mentioned, everything from Metallica to The Eagles to Skynyrd to NWA and The Grateful Dead—- all my brothers had different tastes, and I attribute that exposure to a variety of bands at such a young age that helped to shape my curiosity and thirst for discovery. I wanted to know HOW Layne Staley could sing like that, and how those Metallica riffs sounded so powerful. Safe to say, I was bitten by the bug early on, and I always knew that music would be a quintessential component to my life.”

At what point did Diamond Lane form, and what sort of experience had the musicians had through the years? Did you have a strong idea right away what type of direction you wanted to take with the music?

“When I was 13 my family relocated to San Jose, California and just a year or two after in high school is where I met Jarret Reis. We had a common bond and mutual respect for heavy music and were a few of the kids at the time wearing Metallica and Ozzy shirts at school. It wasn’t long after we started hanging out that we discovered we both played guitar. But let’s be clear – Jarret IS and always has been a guitar player, I could just strum a few chords and piece some songs together…by no means do I consider myself a guitar player. Hahaha! When we decided to form Diamond Lane, it was late 2001 / early 2002. It’s often a misnomer when people recount our history, because from the time we formed until the time we relocated to Los Angeles at the start of 2009, DL was a 3-piece band and I sang and played the bass. I call that era “the demo years”. In the process of writing songs, playing shows, recording a lot of material, we really honed in on what we wanted to achieve, and what we needed to get there, hence the need to move, expand the brand, beef up the lineup and really give this a fair shot. With that in mind, I feel like 2009 was a whole new part to the story where we took everything we learned over those past 8 years and applied that to a fresh start, with a clean slate and a little experience under our belts. To me, 2011’s “World without Heroes” is the first Diamond Lane debut album. Everything else was just dipping our toe in the ocean, figuring out what the hell we were doing as we went along with it. You can’t get to where you’re going without knowing what you’ve been and learning from those experiences, which we did by the boatload.”

Your first release “World Without Heroes” came out in 2011- what memories do you have surrounding the songwriting and recording sessions for this record, and how do you feel about this release after a few years of reflection?

“This record was incredibly important for us, because it was an opportunity to state our claim in the very competitive, very saturated Los Angeles music scene. Our mindset was that, if we can penetrate here, we can do so anyplace. This was our first album working with our producer Tom Chandler, and when we approached the songwriting for this album, we really wanted to try and truly find a sound that felt natural to us. Our whole lives we spent worshipping bands like Metallica, Black Label Society, Pantera and beyond. What we did was go into the studio with Tom and ended up recording 50 demos. No joke. We laid out every idea possible, and what we shaved down to really sink our teeth into are the 10 tracks that are on ‘WWH’. The recording process was incredibly comfortable. Tom is a very casual and knowledgeable guy — I mean, he knows music better than most anyone I’ve ever met. He’s got a sweet studio set up at his house, so it’s a low-pressure situation right out of the gates, as opposed to always watching the clock and making artistic choices based on how many hours are left in the budget. Looking back at that record, I think it’s a perfect snapshot of those moments in time — the thrill of living in a new environment, building new friendships and being exposed to a whole foreign set of circumstances and situations — of course, with hindsight I could name a hundred things I’d change now with the knowledge I’ve acquired since, but that’s just the nature of the beast. Good thing that’s just the starting point in a long line of albums to come.”

The second release in 2013 “Sapphire” is a 5 song EP – is there any specific reason why you went for something shorter, did you do this with the intention of shopping for a record deal or are you just very particular and meticulous when it comes to the art of songwriting?

“After rolling along, touring, and pushing ‘WWH’ for a solid year, we knew it was time to start thinking about a new record. I mean, there’s never a shortage of songs and ideas, but let’s consider that through those processes, you start to strengthen the team and refine the personnel. We met Ray Zhang (bass) a few months before we officially relocated the band in 2009, so he’s been locked in since the beginning of this journey. As we neared the end of the ‘WWH’ cycle, Frankie Lindia (guitar) got massaged into the equation. We were just trying new things. Our intention was never to replicate ‘WWH’, because repeating oneself seems short sided. With ‘Sapphire’ we stepped out of the comfort zone of Tom’s studio, and launched into a new recording environment. We didn’t have the luxury of a loose schedule this time around, so we demoed 9 or 10 tracks and went with the 5 standouts — at the time it felt like a nice collection of easily digestible songs, and the result was definitely a gearshift from the previous efforts. With every recording experience, all you can try to achieve is capture those moments in time that represent the mood and vibe behind the songs recorded.”

The new release is your second full length album “Terrorizer”, a very impressive 9 song release to my ears. What insight and experiences led to the recording of this set of songs, and where do you think this album stacks up in the Diamond Lane discography?

“When we strapped in the boots and decided to record a new album, the band finally felt truly complete with drummer Dave Vandigitty entering the family. No more was there a lingering question about a solid lineup, and I think that reflected positively in everyone's attitude and approach. The puzzle pieces were in place. We were able to lead with confidence and trust each other. From the get go we decided that our focus was to not have any rules or restrictions, and create from a free place. By not chasing something, but rather yielding to our instincts and what truly felt good to us, we were able to create honestly. I really dug the process and it truly felt like a team effort. In the grand scheme of things, I put this effort at the top of our stack of material, for all the reasons just mentioned, and the performances and songs that we're captured. We had no shortage of awesome material to choose from, so we're revisiting some of the gems that didn't make the cut as we look ahead to the fall and recording a new release. Time to up the ante once more. I'm very excited to see how we can top ourselves and put together a dominating collection of songs.”

Who worked on the album cover for “Terrorizer”? Was this a concept collaboration between the artist and the band, and where do you place the importance of artwork/ imagery in relation to
Diamond Lane activities?

“We were able to fortunately get dialed in with Casey Howard for the "Terrorizer" artwork. Casey has a storied history of doing great pieces and album work for Avenged Sevenfold, Slash and Mastodon among others. We started the discussions of concepts and really wanted to see what vibe he was picking up from hearing the tunes. He shot back several ideas and we just went back and forth and kept refining the focus. The artwork is totally bitchin’ and feels like it has an old-school vibe to the whole thing. I think artwork and imagery are huge things in the Diamond Lane camp. The reality is, people are likely going to SEE something before they hear it. If it's not enticing right off the bat, the music may never get an opportunity. We've certainly learned a lot about presentation over the years and continue to try and deliver killer and consistent representations of the DL brand.”

How did your album release show go for “Terrorizer”? Does Los Angeles still possess a thriving hard rock/ metal scene, or do you find the usual challenges as an independent band to create and building a following there?

“I think no matter where you go, there are going to be inherent sets of challenges. While LA is a music Mecca, the struggle is real for any band grinding it out trying to build from the ground up. We're living in a world with unlimited access and options, so to find unique and interesting ways to draw people over to your side of the line is tricky. I believe leading with honesty and quality is a huge factor. Our album release was a great success, and that's a testament to all the work we put it to spread the word and make it an event. Not just another show, because there's 500 bands playing on any given night out here, but rather an all-encompassing experience. Give people a REASON to want to spend their hard earned bucks. If you don't make what you do special, you'll just fizzle out in a sea of options.”

What are five albums that you can’t live without hearing, either in the hard rock/ metal genre or possible left field surprises? Also, what have been some of the best concerts you’ve witnessed through the years purely as a spectator?

“Wow — I’m fortunate enough to have seen a ton of live shows, and there are absolutely a few that decorate my hall of fame. Certainly one of the most impactful, and definitely the biggest, was seeing Metallica at Candlestick Park in San Francisco for 96,000 people. Whoa! Just the sheer numbers alone was beyond impressive, let alone a completely monstrous performance. That will always stick with me.

In terms of albums, let's see here. In no particular order: - Alice in Chains: Unplugged — this album has so much soul, it physically and emotionally moves me every time I hear it.

- Metallica: Metallica — this album ostracized a lot of their hardcore fans who think they "sold out", but there's simply no denying the impact this album had on the music world. This pushed Metallica over the edge and cemented their legacy as the biggest metal band in the universe. There's so many awesome things about this album.

- The Eagles: Live – I'm not sure if there is a band that exists with more talent. Every player is top notch and they can all SING. Plus, any time Don Henley gets on that mic, all is right and well in the world. Such a smooth gorgeous voice.

- ZZ Top: Duguello — the song "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" is simply amazing. Love me some ZZ!

- Soundgarden: Superunknown — this album has so much depth and really captured the essence of what they were doing and what was going on in the whole grunge movement. Chris Cornell has an otherworldly voice. Aside from the singles, the deep cuts on this album stand tall. "4th of July" is a personal favorite.”

How do you balance out the band duties with maintaining a personal/ social life? Are you able to make a living with the music at this point, or do you and the other band members have to have day jobs to support yourselves (and if so, what do you do for a living)?

“Teamwork goes a long way. It’s important to set goals and prioritize. Time management is paramount, as there are always 100 things to do on any given day. In a perfect world, we could just focus on making music, but the reality is that we’re living in a time that requires you to be accessible and on top of the ball 24/7. There’s no room for slacking on punctuality, as that can literally cost you opportunities. We’re not able to completely kiss our day jobs goodbye quite yet, which is another monkey wrench in the balancing act. Music is and has always been the priority, and as a band of blue-collar hard working guys, we do what we need to do to keep the ship afloat and in tip-top shape.”

What type of goals do you set for yourself and for Diamond Lane in general? Are there particular places you would love to visit/ tour?

“There are always a variety of targets and focus points on the map, but the great success comes in setting small, short-term achievable goals. It’s very easy to get demoralized by setting very lofty goals and not reaching them within the imaginary timetable set in your head. The big goals are important in the grand scheme of things, but celebrating the small victories along the way helps to keep the momentum rolling and the attitudes positive. I want to tour the world, but I know that’s not going to happen tomorrow. We want to take our music as far and wide as possible. There’s so much ground to be covered and a world filled with rock and metal enthusiasts, it’d certainly be a privilege for us to expose ourselves to those new faces. Personally, I’d love to not only take our music through the entire US, but internationally as well. I’ve heard nothing but overwhelmingly positive experiences about the rapid fan culture overseas.”

How do you view the hard rock and metal scene in 2014? What areas or aspects need to be looked at and improved upon to make the scene that much stronger and better for all involved?

“I think we’re in a very exciting time for rock music. The culture has been dominated in the mainstream by pop and hip-hop for a strong part of the 2000’s, so there’s certainly a bubbling undercurrent that’s ready to explode. There’s so many great bands sitting right on the precipice, I know it’s only a matter of time until the worm turns. The definition of what people consider to be “rock” music these days is completely backwards to me. How in the hell is Lorde going to win ‘Best Rock Song’ at the Billboard Awards for her song “Royals”?? That is the complete opposite of what should be representing that category and does not make any sense. It’s kind of pathetic really. All that does it motivate me to want to create better music and bring it to more people. If all the hard working, kick ass rock and metal bands that fight the struggle together continue to put in the work and unify, we can take this whole thing over. I think the ‘go it alone’ mentality is very a very defeatist attitude. It’s all about unity, teamwork and strength in numbers. The quality will rise to the top, and we’re more than ready and willing to be a contender.”

Any final thoughts for the Metal Temple readers?

“I just want to say thank you for taking the time to learn about me and Diamond Lane. Our fans and supporters are like family to us and it’s nothing but love and respect across the board. You make what we do possible, and not only is it a gift to us, but to the entire music community. Support begets support and I believe in the lasting power of heavy music, and know, that together, we can take over the world and spread our music to the masses. It’s time to bring back heavy metal and hard rock to the forefront. A thousand cheers!!”


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