Picking the easy targets since 1993
Interview by CHRIS AUMAN
The Blasted Diplomats play a boozy, lo-fi brand of straight-ahead rock and roll that conjures up memories of the late great 90s band, Grifters. Weld that sound to the brains of the four record store workers (and record collectors, no doubt) who comprise this quartet and you have a band that plays songs that are almost instantly familiar and demand to be heard live and buzzed in a dive bar.
I met up with guitarist, Dan Worland and bass player, Greg Hamilton at the Charleston in Bucktown on a frigid Wednesday this past January. Blast Mat pal, Eli "Smoking Pope" Carterer, was spinning and beer was pouring... into glasses... and being drunk. The bar got increasingly louder and several interlopers sat down at the table for a spell, the most entertaining of these guests was a very intoxicated Austrian hairdresser who used to cut Cory Rusk's hair, as she claimed repeatedly. The following is a transcript of what I could decipher of a frequently sidetracked conversation and the ends when that conversation eventually blurred into the background of whatever it was that was going on at the time.
RW: How was your day so far?
DAN: Well, I worked at the store for ten hours then I went straight to practice and practiced for like two hours and then came here.
RW: And you, sir.
GREG: Radically different.
(The tape has apparently stopped at this point, but I don’t remember if this was on purpose or by accident.)
GREG: That would be kind of cool to have other bar conversations come in on the interview.
RW: If it does, well then, pretty much anything goes. All right, so what’s the history of the Blasted Diplomats?
DAN: We’ve been doing it for two years now, is that right?
DAN: Greg and I have been playing in a band together for years, like a long time.
RW: Was there a band before Fast Product?
DAN: There was that (Fast Product), before that we had a band called Blower. We did that for four or five years.
RW: You did Blower for four or five years?
DAN: Yeah, that kind of petered out. Greg had been playing with Cindy Eliot in Fast Product kind of at the same time. Cindy had a lot of line-ups for that band, that was sort of her thing, and Greg had been in it for awhile. Once Blower petered out, I was invited to play bass. I did that for about a year. I was one of two people in Blower that was writing songs and we were really pushing it and working hard and trying to get that band going and it never really took off, I mean, we did ok, so I thought if I’m going to play music now, I want play more of a support role. Greg was like, do you wanna play bass for us? They had no bass player.
GREG: I was playing bass pedals like Geddy Lee or something. That was pretty hilarious.
RW: That was Fast Product.
GREG: That was Fast Product.
DAN: In my mind, I just wanted to do a support role, I wanted to be in the back seat—I don’t want to write songs, I don’t want to book shows—this is Cindy’s baby, perfect. So we did that for about a year and then I felt like I didn’t want to play music at all. I was really tired.
GREG: Which made total sense.
DAN: Yeah, I was just kind of over it.
RW: So you retired on your earnings thus far.
DAN: Yes, my merits.
RW: And reaped the rewards.
DAN: Well, I didn’t play music for about a year, and then—you know I’ve been working at Reckless for years and years and my coworker James (Deia) was not in a band and we talked about how we wanted to do some stuff. Greg talked about how he wanted to start a brand new thing from scratch, so we had the three of us and a mutual friend recommended our co-worker Christian (Brandt). So we asked him, you want to start this band with us? All’s it’s gonna be is just us getting drunk one night a week and maybe playing covers just for fun. Maybe play a show here and there. And he said, I don’t even have a drum set, and we said, there’s a drum set in the room, you can play that, and he said, I’ll help you for awhile until you find somebody else.
(Greg Ratajczak, an old friend of Dan and Greg enters the Charlston and recognizes them. Greetings are exchanged.)
GREG R: Holy shit!
RW: You’re on tape.
GREG R: Awww, no.
RW: How do you know these guys?
GREG R: We worked together at Tower.
GREG: We all worked together at Tower in the late 90s. I used to manage the classical department. He (Dan) worked in pop and he (Greg R.) worked in pop.
DAN: Greg is in the band Plague Bringer.
GREG: Good to see you, man.
GREG R: Great to see you. I don’t ever go out unless I’m playing a show, but my friends are traveling to Argentina for six months, so this is their going-away party. To get here tonight, we took the bus—I don’t take the bus, I have a bus phobia. Trains ok. Bus, I won’t do. My roommate convinced me to take the bus. I was assuming we’d be on the bus most of the night—so I didn’t bring gloves, I’m not wearing a big enough jacket—so we get off the bus at Damen and Diversey and I had the address of this place written down as 2701, and if you know anything about Damen, you go one block west and get to Hoyne and you’re in the fucking ghetto. So Josh makes the left onto Hoyne and I’m standing on Diversey going, no, no I’m not walking down that street, no way, not doing it, no! He just starts going and it’s two white boys that have no business walking—the only business we would have in this neighborhood is to buy drugs.
So we get three car lengths down the block and there's a security guard for the neighborhood hanging out, two of them in a car and we walk by and they are eyeballing us. We get to the end of the street and I see that it’s kind of curving and dead ending. I’m like, here’s a dead end, now we have to turn around, this looks like we just bought drugs. We turn around and I see what looks like a police car coming up to us—we’re getting searched at the very least, but fortunately there was that security guard we passed on the way in. I just walked straight out into the middle of the street and stopped him and was like, my roommate is an idiot, he wrote down the wrong address to this bar, I know we’re not supposed to be here and they look at me, like, yeah, you shouldn’t be here.
They gave us directions and then followed us out of the neighborhood and put us right at the top of that bridge and we still had another twenty blocks to go. So finally after waiting for the Damen bus, which stops running at ten, we decided to hop in a cab and here we are. And here we all are and here I am in your fucking interview...
RW: But we got the story. Have you seen Blasted Diplomats?
GREG R: No, I haven’t seen them since Blower and I want to say, that the last time I saw Blower play, that was at the Big Horse.
GREG: Ancient history.
DAN: That was a long time ago.
GREG: It’s been awhile.
(Greg R. departs)
DAN: So Christian’s like, I’ll play with you a little while to get the ball rolling, so we get everybody together and start playing and everybody has, like one song and a bunch of covers—like I said, we’re just supposed to get drunk and blow off steam one night a week, but the weirdest thing happened because almost immediately it was the best thing and the easiest thing we had ever been involved in. All these other projects were like pushing a boulder up a hill and this was just like rolling it down the other side. This was not supposed to be an official project, it was just a party and all of a sudden we had songs that we were really happy with really quickly. People started giving us opportunities right off the bat that we used to have to work for and people started reacting to it a lot quicker and easier than any previous projects. So the thing that was supposed to be blowing off steam once a week, kinda became the best band I've ever been in, and the easiest.
RW: How did the Plustapes thing come about?
DAN: That was another guy we worked with at Reckless, Mike Ardaiolo, and he’s partners with Dustin (Drase) in Plustapes, and now Addenda Records, and they started that by just putting out reissues of weird world music and Vietnamese all -girl psych bands. They were putting out all these weird tapes of oddball, arcane mondo bizarro music. After awhile they were like, we’re gonna start putting out tapes by our friends' bands too. They were getting all sorts of attention from other outlets, and doing limited editions of a hundred. They built up this whole following and they started putting out their friends' bands and people reacted to that too. They said, we’ll put out a tape of you guys, so we cobbled together a tape.
RW: Was some of that tape live?
DAN: Yeah, some of it's from a party we played, and we got into a studio and recorded a handful of tracks there, slammed together that tape and most of those tapes got pressed to one hundred. When they sold out we got a second pressing, so there’s two hundred of those tapes flying around.
GREG: Back in the early 90s everybody had tapes but if you had a CD, that was a rarity and now if you have a tape that’s a rarity.
RW: It’s upside down. Yeah, it won’t be long before CDs are cool again.
DAN: The other thing we have on Bandcamp is basically an online only single and that’s more recent. As far as recording goes right now, we are still working on an album in fits and starts, when we have money and time.
RW: Where are you doing that?
DAN: Phantom Manor with Mike Lust. It’s sounding good. I wish we could work on it more frequently. All four of the guys in the band write songs so there’s never a lack of material. As far as recording, the main incentive is the avalanche of material— everybody’s always got a new song, so it’s like once we get something right, we’re like, we gotta record this because it’s gonna be old.
RW: You guys remind me of the Grifters.
DAN: I’m glad you said that, Greg and I are huge Grifters fans and Christian is too.
GREG: We were just talking about "She Blows Blasts of Static" earlier today.
DAN: I love Crappin' You Negative.
GREG: One Sock Missing.
RW: That’s a great record.
DAN: It’s not even a conscious thing. You know, I start listening to our stuff and I think, this reminds me of the Grifters.
RW: Well, the way that it’s recorded, obviously and, I don’t know, there's some beer drinking going on?
DAN: Yeah. You know, working at a record store, nobody comes into the store looking for Grifters records. You had to be listening to a lot of indie rock in the 90s to know them. If they were to play a show somewhere, not a lot of people would go or care. I fucking love ‘em.
(Another acquaintance approaches our table.)
DAN: We’re having a lot of people come up and sit down.
RW: Is this a friend or a band member?
DAN: This is Dan Malone, he works at Reckless too. His band is called Death Ships. They’re great.
GREG: We have a revolving door of hangers-on here.
DAN: Actually, this guy fits into the story, when we were just starting to put our thing together, this guy’s band, Death Ships, had a show at Subterranean and he’s like, why don’t you guys open for us. At that point we probably didn't have quite enough songs for a set and no name, but we took it. A few weeks away from the show he’s like, what’s your band’s name? And we said, we don’t know.
RW: That’s a good way to get your shit together.
DAN: Yeah, you gotta have a goal.
RW: How did you choose Blasted Diplomats?
DAN: We don’t remember.
(Enter the intoxicated Austrian hairdresser whose strange monologues were barley intelligible except for the fact that she was fond of the American Pie line "this one time at band camp" and she was Cory Rusk's one time hairdresser. She even offered to cut the hair of everyone at the table. The interview became impossible to decipher above the bar noise after this point. Sometimes alcohol wants to get in the way and sometimes you have to let it.)
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