Fabulous Diamonds Uncut
TIM SCOTT talks to Jarrod Zlatic and Nisa Venerosa, the combustible pair behind Melbourne’s Fabulous Diamonds.
Jarrod Zlatic says he’s a better cook than Nisa Venerosa. She doesn't agree.
“I never cook you dinner so how would you know what kind of cook I am?” she asks incredulously.
“I've had your leftovers. I know I'm a better cook,” Zlatic insists.
I'd heard that interchanges between Zlatic and Venerosa – known collectively as Fabulous Diamonds – could be feisty. The record label one-sheet for their latest album, Fabulous Diamonds II, says they’ve been “playing and arguing together for more than five years”. I’d also been told that the undercurrent of tension in their music was partly due to their sometimes ornery relationship.
“You only ever make peasant food anyway,” continues Venerosa from Zlatic's living room, where they’re both seated.
“No, it's just because I vow never to cook Asian. I make European food,” he answers.
“It's European peasant food!”
The band’s second album begins, predictably enough, with Venerosa yelling at Zlatic as he counts in the first track. And yet it all appears to be a ruse. “It's all a bit of shtick bought upon by our label [Chapter Music],” she laughs. “We don't argue as much as people think.”
Negative or positive, civil or disharmonious, there’s certainly a unique dynamic between the two. It positively simmers beneath each untitled track on their new album, where reverberated percussion adds a sense of mysticism and mystery to vocals and synth. On the opening track, which runs from more than 12 minutes, Venerosa's isolated vocals don't appear until the seven-minute mark. It startles the listener like the discovery of someone sitting unnoticed in a room.
“Unlike the other vocals, I recorded those live,” she explains. “I found that song too weird without drumming at the same time. My voice seemed different and not the way it should be.”
“I like the idea of a long song to start [the record] because it's like a test,” adds Zlatic. “People have to work for it; to get through 13 minutes and wait seven minutes until the vocals. It's not a challenging listen – but it will test your patience a little bit. I hate the term 'journey', but it's a bit like that over the whole record.”
Recorded by Mikey Young and mastered by Cornel Wilczek (aka Qua), the new album is more live sounding than the first, says Zlatic. “The first was more amorphous. We were writing songs before we had an organ. There are some really old songs in there, whereas this time around it was songs we wrote with a keyboards and synthesiser set-up. It's more solid.”
The songs on Fabulous Diamonds II are not new. Some of them have been around since 2008, and if Zlatic had his way they’d no longer be playing them live. It sparks another argument.
“But we have to play some of them,” insists Venerosa.
“Why?” asks Zlatic.
“Because people want to hear them. Unfortunately that's always the way. Things just take so long to do and put together we just have to accept that it's the process we work in. I'm OK with that.”
Fabulous Diamonds' 2008 self-titled album drew positive reviews both in Australia and overseas with the revered UK mag The Wire placing it in their top albums of the year. It also received glowing reviews from the likes of The Fader and Pitchfork. And yet Zlatic says he doesn't particularly care what the online media has to say. “The whole things with blogs is they self perpetuate. They need to give themselves a reason for existing, so it's in their interest to hype a band because it makes out like they’re performing some kind of service.”
“It's all the same,” adds Venerosa. “Every blog that we have been on mentions the same things. It gets pretty boring. With blog posts someone will match us with a band like Young Marble Giants, which we don't really sound like, and then next thing you know three more are saying the same thing.”
A big talking point was the album’s cover image, which featured a hirsute Zlatic embracing Venerosa with his back to camera. The blogs also compared the duo’s stark instrumentation to the likes of Suicide, Augustus Pablo and, yes, Young Marble Giants. They found it perplexing. “Suicide I can kind of understand,” says Zlatic, “but I remember we were once compared to a ‘non-shit High Places’. I don't think we have anything in common with them – whether it's sound, influences or anything. The only thing is that we are a boy and girl creating experimental music together.”
Girl grew up in the inner-western Sydney suburb of Leichhardt. Boy in Northcote in Melbourne’s inner-north. They met when the former would make forays down to Melbourne with her friends in Kiosk: Angie Bermuda and Jack Mannix, who now play in Circle Pit. They decided to form Fabulous Diamonds at a party. Zlatic had played in bands before, but Fabulous Diamonds was Venerosa's first. While Zlatic's analog synth is central to their sound, it's Venerosa's simple snare, floor tom and hi-hat set-up that draws the listener in. “Yeah, I've developed as a drummer, but there’s still a simplicity to my playing,” she says.
Both play or have played in side projects: Venersoa in Downtown and Zlatic in a number of bands including Free Choice Duo and more recently Interzone, a Melbourne noise “supergroup” made up of members of Repairs, Splitfoot and Chrome Dome. He describes it as “kind of Velvet Underground or Hawkwind, ’70s gloomy art rock”. Still, it’s in Fabulous Diamonds that the two are most comfortable creating and recording music in.
I ask if they would ever consider including other members. “We have done it in the past. We collaborated with others. A couple of times we have played with [Chapter boss and solo artist] Guy Blackman where we play our songs and his songs,” says Zlatic. “We have spoken of a Fabulous Diamonds big band and have heaps of people play, but then we are full of shit. Whether we actually do it or not is another thing.”
Talented, intelligent and stylish, Zlatic is candid and forthright in his opinions and ideas. He’s someone Venerosa describes as “not afraid of stepping on toes”. In an interview with a fanzine earlier this year he answered a question with his trademark directness.
“I was asked who I thought were the worst bands in Australia and I said there were some bands that I found aesthetically and intellectually bad. I did it in a very glib and sarcastic manner. It was an email question and I was like, ‘Fuck it. I'm gonna answer truthfully.’ I have a problem with people who expect people who make music to be very courteous and not have an opinion.
“I think that in a place like Melbourne,” he continues, “if you piss in the pond everyone is like, 'Why the fuck are you doing that?' People can give shit, but if you are making music you are not supposed to have a voice as to what you like or don't like. Am I supposed to like everything? And then if I don't like something I'm not supposed to say anything? People think I'm a pretentious wanker because I have an opinion. I wasn't try to be a prick about it. If I wanted to be a prick I could have been a prick. I was just candid.”
Again, it's something Venerosa doesn't' agree with. “Personally I wouldn't do that. Even if I agreed with Jarrod, I wouldn't be able to answer a question like that. Being honest is good. Yeah, that's fine. But when you go and bag people out you have to remember people think it's 'us', Fabulous Diamonds, and it's not just your opinion.”
Like their debut album, Fabulous Diamonds II will be released on vinyl by venerable US label Siltbreeze, and having recently received a $10,000 touring grant the two will soon return to the US, where they toured with Psychedelic Horseshit in 2008.“We are really looking forward to getting back there to play shows,” says Zlatic. “I know it probably comes down to time or money but I don't understand why people go on those promotional tours where they play LA, San Fran and NYC. Why bother?”
“Or those bands who just go for South By Southwest and they come back,” adds Venerosa. “I want to play in places like Salt Lake City.”
‘FABULOUS DIAMONDS II’ LAUNCH DATES
Saturday, August 7
The Metro, Adelaide, SA
w/Fair Maiden + Bad Habit
Friday, August 20
The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart, TAS
Friday, September 3
Burst City, Brisbane, QLD
w/Blank Realm + Slug Guts + The Deadnotes + Feathers