An Interview with Fabulous Diamonds
by Kevin J. Elliott

Notice that this week’s Primitive Futures is not an “introducing,” but simply an “interview,” programmed in order to catch up and reveal the secrets and methods behind the hypno-rhythmic urbane dub of Melbourne, Australia’s Fabulous Diamonds. By now you should know the duo of Nisa Venerosa and Jarrod Zlatic; their first record for Siltbreeze should be burned into your subconscious, and if you had the opportunity to see them live on that first American tour, you’d likely consider it one of the more transcendent moments of your life. Yes, there’s a soft spot in our little Agit hearts for the fab duo, especially since the release of their anonymously untitled sophomore album, a record filled with wide, deep expanses and chasms of chaos and calm. With no song titles, it’s sometimes hard to separate any one piece from the whole, but you get the notion through this second record that they are veering closer to melodies more approachable and brighter sounds, even as they still operate under the strict minimalism of drums and organ. Their best weapons are reverb, space and time. As you’ll learn from my recent interview with the duo, their magic is not crafted from a telepathy formed out of the ether as much as it is a very natural, exploratory form that is cyclical and regenerative, comfortably repetitive and eerily precise.

For the most part would you consider what you record more “jams” than actual “songs”? How much of it is planned out beforehand and how much is just live improvisation?

Nisa Venerosa: None of our songs are improvised. They are all very structured and planned out. The only thing improvised in our live shows and recording is that sections of the songs may go longer or shorter, only ever by a few minutes, than the last time we played them, so technically we do not improvise at all because we already know what we’re playing.

Is what we are hearing edited pieces of longer movements?

NV: What you hear is always in its entirety. As I said before, the minutes may vary a little, but I wouldn’t want to edit anything. If we make a song that goes for 40 minutes, which will probably happen in the future, it will be 40 minutes. The only time we would really ever edit would be if we were playing live and had a strict time limit and couldn’t fit everything we felt like playing in. Then maybe we would do a shorter version of a longer song.

Given that repetition and long-form dub are key elements to what you do in Fabulous Diamonds, does making this music require a certain telepathic connection between the two of you to know when to hold back or when to let go?

Jarrod Zlatic: To be honest, we never really hold back or let go per se because our music doesn’t really reach crescendos; it morphs or just changes onto the next part.

Is there a reason you only assign your compositions numbers and not names? Is it just a continuation of the mystery that surrounds the recordings?

NV: It’s as simple as Jarrod and I not being comfortable with the working titles that we have. We have titles for all our songs for us, but we put them on the back of an album and it kind of looks and feels a bit shit, and we are far too lazy and not really into the idea of coming up with random titles that aren’t just words of the chorus of the songs. I think the fact that a lot of our songs have very little words has a lot to do with that. We would kind of have to call “Weeping Willow,” “Weeping Willow” because I can’t really come up with something better.

How was your approach to this album different than the debut? I’m hearing the synthesizers getting busier this time around, making their presence more known as opposed to the organ drones keeping the flow? Maybe more layers?

JZ: Well we weren’t using the synthesizer last time around so that did provide a new texture, though in the end it isn’t particularly prominent. I didn’t even do any overdubs with it and it is blended with the organ. Our main approach this time around was to document us as a “live” band with a “live” sound, as the first album was very much a product of overdubs and extra instrumentation rounding out the arrangements in ways that weren’t possible live, a more “studio” version of us.

Is this the music you’ve always wanted to make or were you previously in other bands that were less fulfilling?

JZ: Fabulous Diamonds isn’t my first band, my last band or my only band at present. While it was Nisa’s first band, it hasn’t been and isn’t her only band. Obviously, Fabulous Diamonds is the band that’s snowballed the most for both of us, but speaking for myself, aesthetically and conceptually I have other interests outside of what Fabulous Diamonds do to explore sonically.

I have a hard time comparing you to anyone contemporary. Do you think there’s anyone you share a spirit with or are you more in tune to those records Tom Lax used to introduce you, Young Marble Giants, Suicide, and Augustus Pablo? There’s definitely a particular Velvets raga to what you do.

JZ: Young Marble Giants and Suicide are favorites of mine and were groups I listened to a lot, especially when I was 17 to, say, 20, so their influence has been sort of internalized with what I do. But at the same time they are like the classic-rock bands of the experimental cannon, and I don’t listen to them as frequently now as I might have in the past. In terms of the “Velvet raga,” well... I can’t deny the Velvet Underground influence. They influence most things I do.

I think, in the last few years especially, there have been quite a few bands which have had similar influences to us and been exploring similar sonic terrain, but I don’t always feel connected to them. Actually a lot of the bands who could be considered “similar” to us I don’t often like. I find that a lot of contemporary music, especially in the “cosmic” or “kraut” vein, is heavy on shtick and cool influences, but light in terms of actual substance, just lots of jamming and very tired tropes. Our “kindred spirits” are our friends’ bands, who don’t necessarily sound like us.

Touring America in 2008 was a first for the two of you. Was there any wisdom that you picked up from being on the road across our country?

NV: America was fun and crazy. In Australia you can’t really “tour” because you only ever end up playing maybe five to eight shows over weekends in about two months. So not only was this our first time playing overseas, but it was also our first proper tour. It was just as tiring as I expected. The drives were long, sleeping on floors was uncomfortable and it was the middle of summer, but all the same, everyday seemed so carefree. All I had to think about was eating, driving, playing a show and then sleeping a little bit. The freedom of that was incredible and that’s something you just can’t do in Australia.

You’re the third Australian band I’ve written about in two weeks, so I have to ask if your environment has any influence over your records. Is there anything that you feel is quintessentially Australian that makes it into your sound?

JZ: There is nothing particularly Australian about the way we sound, beyond the accents. I’m not sure if the environment has an influence on our sound as, uh, we consider ourselves an “urban” band, which is a pretty general, nowhere specific kind of thing—anywhere with concrete. Fabulous Diamonds are metropolitan in outlook, and the characteristics of Australia by outsiders is of large expanses of nature and nothing—the outback, the bush, etc, which has nothing to do with us. I like to think that our Australian-ness is reflected in our cynical outlook.

So far you’ve been pretty stringent in what you use to make your records. Not that that is formulaic, but you do have parameters in place with just drums, effects, and keys? Do you have any aspirations to expand the sound beyond that and if so, what’s your dream recording for Fabulous Diamonds?

JZ: Those parameters are practical considerations for us. It is hard enough carrying around two 20-kilogram keyboard cases between two people let alone carrying anything else. We’ve kind of decided not to have any guitars in our bands so that cuts out lots of possible people for us to play with, though, I wouldn’t say no to a pedal steel player. I would like to collaborate with extra/other percussionists, horn players, sound generators, etc. I’m hoping to explore more concrete approaches to making music in the future too.