‘I Never Want To Play Those Songs’: Fabulous Diamonds Interviewed

Fabulous Diamonds' heat-hazed mix of punk, psych and dub ranks them among the most original acts in the Australian underground. As Steph Kretowicz discovers when they meet to discuss recent LP Commercial Music, their creative impulses are tempered by a contrary streak

"I’m self conscious about sounding too much like what everyone else is doing, even if I do end up sounding like other people." Hopeless contrarian Jarrod Zlatic, of Melbourne synth-drums duo Fabulous Diamonds, is talking in his typically disjointed, hypercritical manner over beer at a bar in Melbourne, Australia. It’s noisy and out of the way but his friends are working and that means the pints are cheap. Bandmate Nisa Venerosa has the occasional shift there too, but one gets the impression Zlatic has made sure she isn’t working this evening. It’s a suspicion that is confirmed at a show later that night when Venerosa acts surprised there was an interview at all. She threatens a reproachful text message before changing her mind: "I don’t want to start a fight".

It’s a shame she didn’t know, because there’s a special personal dynamic within Fabulous Diamonds that makes for some lively conversation. If you’ve read the Quietus interview with Venerosa’s other project Bushwalking, you’ll see she can be what tQ’s Rory Gibb once called "amusingly evasive". Zlatic, on the other hand, rarely holds back, having built a reputation among his peers for his lack of tact, often construed as arrogance.

Inevitably, that conflict runs into the creative relationship of Fabulous Diamonds. As a stylistic outlier among the DIY and punk circles with whom they associate, their post-minimalist and dub influences were barely realised in a jumble of exposed rhythm and vocals punctured by droning synth lines when they started in their late teens. Six years on though and, after a stint on cult US label Siltbreeze, an invitation to Belgium’s KRAAK Festival and an untitled album debut recorded by My Disco’s Ben Andrews, their third LP is not only the first of three to be christened with a proper title, but it also seems far less expressive of its volatile root.

With a more expansive vision than earlier records, Commercial Music presents six tracks, stretched across 40 minutes of unending repetition played at a torturous pace. Produced by Total Control’s Mikey Young, the track listing turns in on itself, squashing the listener helpless under a riptide of reverb and over-compression. Venerosa’s monotone chants about backstabbing friends, low-life acquaintances and impure thoughts only heighten that sense of desperation before ‘Downhill’ – a very literal track title – rolls out into an easy ten minutes before slipping quietly into nothing.

But if you listen carefully, that’s not necessarily surrender you’re hearing, but a dejected commitment to the creative tunnelvision that has made Fabulous Diamonds one of the least fashionable, yet most original acts on the Australian underground. In a conversation fractured by non-sequitirs, personal contradictions and general over-analysis, Zlatic articulates his near feverish dissatisfaction with his creative output, while basically explaining why Venerosa doesn’t wait for a reply when she asks, "Was he being really negative about everything?"

Fabulous Diamonds seems to have stayed pretty constant in its creative vision.

Jarrod Zlatic: Yeah, I’ve thought about that. We might not have progressed as much as I would like but there’s other reasons for that; there’s technical and time constraints. But that’s just the way Nisa and I function. Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t. Especially since we’ve been looking for someone to release the record overseas. People might have cared about it six years ago but less so now. It’s because [people are interested in] something different. Now it’s like some sort of ‘faux-house’ kind of thing.

That’s pretty trendy right now.

JZ: That’s what I mean. It’s kind of like we just do what we’ve done, in the same format, without much change. I have mixed feelings myself about it because, in some ways, I’d like to be a bit different. You see it as a craft and you work at something, honing it, instead of hopping.

I think we’ve become better; the compositions have gotten a little better, but at the same time I’m over it. I never want to play those songs. Every time I record songs, I’m over them. Maybe also because there are two of us, we’ve developed our dynamic from how we were six years ago. Technically it’s different and I suppose since the last album we’ve changed. It’s similar but different I think. Do you think it sounds more slick?

Yeah but I think that’s a good thing. I thought the previous album was too rough.

JZ: I think that now as well. I do regret that I didn’t [produce it more] a bit because you’re in a fucking studio, why not? But I was kind of interested in doing the raw thing right there and then. Maybe in 20 years time I’ll do an overdub. At the same time a lot of the songs are pretty long. I’m not sure if people who don’t already like us, will like it.

Obviously, I read about what other people say about us because I’m curious. I don’t take it on board or anything but I’m interested to see if people even bother reviewing it. Depending on who releases it, it might just disappear.

I’d never seen you or Fabulous Diamonds play in Melbourne, except Free Choice.

JZ: I don’t do that anymore because every man and his dog has a synthesiser and delay pedal project. I don’t want to ever hear a delay pedal ever again in my life. I think it’s the most reprehensible form of music. I still have the Free Choice duo but our preoccupation is more like… because Jess [McElhinney] is into classical, she reads music, she’s more interested in more like continental café compositions or something. No arpeggios and synthesisers.

So you’re reactive. Like those guys who don’t wear top buns anymore.

JZ: Yeah, top buns aren’t cool now. You need to keep ahead, you know. I’ve been trying to think, my concept of the least hip thing ever is like filing cabinets, Irish jigs and maybe a little bit of turbo-folk or something; a combination of something that will never be cool.

It’s weird that people have to change their band name with every project. You could reinvent yourself and use the same name, couldn’t you? Instead of being known as ‘Jarrod Zlatic as…’.

JZ: I’d probably prefer to use my own name. It makes sense because I keep meaning to make an artist CV. I feel like I should collate it or whatever. If I felt like applying for a grant under my own name, I’d prefer to be ‘Jarrod Zlatic’, as an umbrella. That’s better for me in the long term. With Fabulous Diamonds, I’m going to see what happens with this record. Not that I care if people don’t care but it’s just like, I’d just do something different.

It’s only natural that if people were getting more excited about it, you’d probably be more inclined to put more energy into it.

JZ: Yeah, which is kind of fucked, because I’ve already put my own energy into it. I don’t care about validation, but maybe some form of validation would – not legitimise, but give me a reason to bother, as opposed to doing something else.

In comparison to other major cities in the world, where you’re coming from musically seems fairly distinct from your peers in Melbourne but you all seem to collaborate nonetheless.

JZ: It’s a smaller city. There’re less people who are into what you’re doing too so I guess it forces you [to interact]. Everyone just kind of knows everybody. I don’t want to say it’s provincial or ‘small town’ because I actually think that a lot of what goes on here is pretty interesting but because of the distance, the hype generation thing, the market, it’s located mostly in America and, to a degree, the UK and Europe.

In Australia, unless you’re maybe Eddy Current Suppression Ring, you don’t really have a chance at really going anywhere. Only the really terrible bands are the really driven people that try to market themselves…

Even when I was younger, when I was first meeting a lot of people, there used to be all these weird scene integrations where you’d play weird crusty punk squat shows with hardcore bands. My old band would play and it would be like this weird noise thing with this weird cross-pollination. It’s not so much like that anymore.

When you’re in a small scene you’ve got no choice but to integrate with styles and people you wouldn’t ordinarily seek out.

JZ: Yeah, obviously there is a degree of separation. It’s not like everyone is hanging out at all times, twenty-four seven.

Does Fabulous Diamonds play live much?

JZ: Oh, we never play. I hate playing live unless we’ve got some new material. We don’t rehearse very often and we’ve got the same equipment, which frustrates me. I should have bought heaps of new equipment to manipulate how we play sound but at the same time we’ve got a drum kit and I don’t like drum kits. I hate drum kits.

What would Nisa do otherwise?

JZ: I like her singing. Some of the newer material has had a bit more organ-affected vocals. I’ll send you the link to it:

Live recording @ <a href="http://www.pbsfm.org.au/" target-"out">PBS FM

But that said – this is a very ‘artist’ thing to say – but I think the newest material is the more interesting material for me. But then even fucking Mick Jagger would say ‘the next stuff is our best stuff.’ Not that I’m comparing myself to him but, you know, I’d say our newest material is a lot more interesting.

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