It wasn’t easy for Diarrhea Planet singer/guitarist Jordan Smith to gain access to punk rock.
As a child coming of age in a conservative Christian household in Tennessee, Smith was generally reared on mainstream worship-music crossover artists like Michael W. Smith and Phil Keaggy. But as Smith tells it, his life changed when he came across the punk bands Slick Shoes and MxPx, two outfits that had Christian themes to go along with aggressive instrumentation.
Maturing as a guitar player, Smith began playing with punk and hard rock groups, always searching for faster music and diving deeper and deeper into the punk rock wormhole. Eventually, that path led him to form Nashville’s Diarrhea Planet, a six-piece outfit known for its ferocious four-guitar assault.
Fender.com recently caught up with Smith to talk about all things punk.
Fender.com: How did you arrive at punk music, having such a conservative background?
Smith: At 9 or 10 years old, I was at a Christian bookstore with my mom and I would always look for more alternative forms of music that my parents would let me buy. I found a band called Slick Shoes and another called MxPx, and I had never heard anything like that. I didn’t even know what punk rock was. I’d seen people into that, but I didn’t know there was a name for it. There were pop-punk bands, but these guys were so tight and played so fast.
I immediately found myself really hooked on the speed that they had. One of the things initially that I took away from those bands was how fast they played. It was a different sound, and they were super, super tight. I thought, “This might be something I want to do.” I was just so excited about it. It’s kind of funny that my exposure to punk was MxPx’s At the Showbox. It was the first punk record I ever got.
What about punk rock makes it unique to you?
A lot of music right now has the sound of desperation permeating through it because nobody knows what they’re doing. The industry doesn’t understand how to make money anymore, but bands want to be successful and make money so they can relax. So there’s this sort of searching sound where everybody is changing what they’re doing. The thing about punk that is so rad is that it’s the antithesis of that. It’s like, “This is the one thing we do really well, and we don’t want to change it.” I really love that confidence. Punk rock is a genre of confidence. It’s a sound that people commit to and refine as opposed to feeling pressure from the outside world to be doing something that might only make you money.
What was the first punk song you ever learned to play?
I got my first guitar when I was 12, and I had a little band with my friends, but we couldn’t really play anything. The first one I ever learned was an MxPx song. We were all super young – all from those Christian backgrounds and didn’t know anything about punk – and I really liked “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” At the time, I had no idea the Ramones wrote it and that MxPx actually covered it. But, we printed off the tabs and all sat down together trying to figure [the MxPx version] out.
Who are some of the punk rock artists that come to mind when you think about your influences?
My favorite guitar player is Johnny Ramone. Really, the Ramones in general. Joey Ramone is my favorite rock vocalist. So I love everything about that band. But the thing about Johnny that continually impresses me is that he completely took a very basic form of guitar playing – something that anyone who plays guitar could do – and took it one step further and turned it into a mastercraft, something that took a lot of practice. The progressions are easy to wrap your head around. They make sense, they’re pleasing and they resolve the way you want them to. The thing that’s tough about it is that you have to play them at like 250-300 bpm. And it’s all downstrokes. It’s so hard to master that level of play and be able to sustain that using just downstrokes for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s like they could just step out on stage and if you’ve ever watched live footage of the Ramones, they’re not taking breaks between songs. They’re not making jokes. It’s just “Take it over Dee Dee! One! Two! Three! Four!” I can’t imagine the amount of muscular stamina and endurance those guys developed. Their songs are a lot harder when you play them like they did.
The Misfits are another band I love as well. I know that’s cliché, but for me, they also stand out to me. The Misfits were so good at capturing a feel on a record. You enter their world for the 30-40 minutes you’re listening to it. They play everything at a slower speed and put a lot of really weird, ugly sounds on top of it. They’ll be playing a progression and you predict it’s going a certain way, and then they throw in a half-step chord that sounds really ugly but in a cool, mean way.
What would be the one or two punk albums that you must have if you were stranded on a desert island?
I have to say it would be a toss up between [The Misfits] Static Age – that record never gets old – and the Ramones’ self-titled. I love the production on their self-titled album because I really like the stereo panning of the bass guitar. I might lean more towards Static Age just because it’s got more of a variety on it and it’s just meaner.
Are there a few young, unheralded punk bands that you believe people should seek out?
It’s tough because there is a lot of great stuff going on in punk right now. Lately, two bands in particular have stood out to me for doing great jobs. No. 1, the band that I would consider at the forefront of punk in the truest sense of the word – because they’re doing stuff that no one’s ever done – is Iceage. Their new record is not my favorite. I liked the two before it better, but I still have to agree with everyone who’s writing about them. They are just experimenting and doing things that make you say, “Man, this is weird.” They’re pushing the limits.
Another band that I’ve been listening to a lot is Destruction Unit. The last record they made was pretty drugged-out, just very heavy, kind of psychedelic punk. When you see them live, it’s a lot of noise, but it’s awesome.
And I have to throw in Radkey. The speed that they play at coupled with their guitar player’s tone sounds so much like the Bad Brains. It’s kind of muscled and dark. Their singer is so young and sounds like Danzig.
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