Diamond Thug have been chosen as Apple Music’s New Artist Spotlight for the month of April, a huge honour for the Cape Town based Alternative Pop band. We caught up with them to chat about the opportunity, their music and more. Band founder, Danilo Queiros, answers our questions…
For those that don’t know Diamond Thug, give us some insight into the band?
We’re four ambitious music lovers living in Cape Town. We’ve been making music together in various forms over the past four years or so, starting as a duo, then a trio and have now been a four piece for the last two and a half years. We try to write music that drifts across genres, drawing influence from as many sources as possible in an attempt to find our own sound.
Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to have travelled across South Africa, Europe and America performing our music. In 2015 we won a competition called the Converse Global Takeover and recorded an EP in Boston, MA, which was an unbelievable experience. In 2016 we did a collaboration we did with Goldfish called ‘Deep of the Night’, which went multi-platinum and from there it’s been a wild ride of learning and pushing ourselves to be the best we can.
A quick introduction to each band member?
Chantel Van T is our singer and she plays synth too. Adrian Culhane plays guitar, synth and backing vocals. Ted Buxton is our drummer and I (Danilo Queiros) play bass guitar and synth. You may have noticed that we have a lot of synths on stage, we find it allows us a whole lot of versatility in our sound.
How did the name Diamond Thug come about?
When Chantel and I started the band, we were aiming to make alternative hip-hop. I have a hand-poked tattoo of a diamond on my foot and being 19, we thought the name made a lot of sense. Since then the music changed, but the name remained and we love it.
Your debut album, Apastron has just been released. What can we expect from the album?
Well it’s basically an adventure through space-time; a German blog recently called it ‘Astro-Pop’, we like that. The ‘Apastron’ is the point in a binary star system, where the stars are furthest from one another. The whole album concept draws comparisons between the invisible forces that pull you towards and push you away from people on a micro level with universal laws of gravity, planetary motion and the vastness and solitude of space.
Sound-wise we’ve been influenced by Dream Pop, Space Rock, Folk and Psych Rock and tried to sort of throw it all together to make our own sound. We drift between time signatures and write in a way that’s probably a bit structurally unconventional. I guess the best would be to expect nothing and rather just hear it for yourself at www.diamondthug.com.
How many tracks does the album feature and which would you consider your favourite?
There are 12 songs on the album, it’s so hard to pick a favourite and I think we all have our own favourites. For me it’s Moon Call, Adrian plays the mandolin and I love the sound of it. Other favourites are Sapphire, Pale Blue, Sakura, Apastron and Choo Choo. We did cut a whole lot of songs, so I don’t think there’s a single track on the album that any of us don’t love.
How would you best sum up the experience of recording your debut album?
It can only really be described as a deeply emotional and intense experience, one of the most intensive things I’ve ever been a part of. We started recording it in December 2016 at the beautiful Digital Forest Studios, situated on a wine farm in Constantia that was the fun part. We recorded about 20 songs and over time cut it down to the 12, it was a super difficult process, you have to be hyper-critical of your art and being critical of anything you’ve created feels as though you are criticising yourself, your confidence really takes a whack. But as it went along, things started feeling right and falling into place, we worked with the incredible Vicente Espi of Songololo Music on the mix and Pablo San Martin of Esoteric Sound Studios in NYC did an incredible job on the masters.
We wanted to get it out in June 2017, but when we went to SXSW in March 2017, we spoke to a bunch of record label managers and they all suggested stretching out the release plan to make sure it was done properly. We’re an independent band too, so financially it’s also been a necessity to stretch it out and save up the cash to do it properly. We had a fantastic artist, Hannah Shone, work on the artwork for every track on the album as well as the cover. We decided to start our own label too, called Kudukudu, so the entire process has been a concoction of creativity, emotion and business strategy that has really helped us grow as musicians and professionals.
What have been some of the band’s career highlights?
Touring overseas is always a highlight for us, playing to people on the other side of the world is a stressful situation, you’re not sure if they’ll relate to you, to what you’ve made. We’ve been lucky to have travelled across Europe and played at SXSW in the states. Those are definitely highlights. We just played a show in Soweto for the first time and that also blew us away. I guess anytime your music crosses perceived cultural boundaries, there’s a sense of connection to other people that we feel, that we’ve never really felt in any other way.
What does it mean to you to be featured in Apple Music’s New Artist Spotlight for the month of April?
It’s a huge honour, our name is now on a list of new bands and artists that we really have looked up to over the past year or so. To have your creations validated by an industry leader like Apple Music is massive. What’s greatest about it is how open Apple Music are to building relationships with artists. They’ve helped us reach so many people over the last two years, since we started releasing music digitally. We can’t wait to see what this month brings to us, the results of the first weeks have already been amazing.
What was your first reaction when finding out about this amazing opportunity?
Well we first found out about it when we were invited to a Apple Music dinner in Cape Town. We were sitting in a room with artists like Freshlyground, Karen Zoid, Dope Saint Jude, Moonga K and a bunch of Apple Music’s top brass. They wanted to know how they could help South African musicians grow and increase their earnings, they listened to our thoughts and since then we’ve seen them implement a lot of what the artists asked. At the end of the night, they told us that our album release would be supported in the New Artist Spotlight and it really blew us away, it was something we never expected.
Which gigs are you looking forward to most in 2018?
We’ve been on tour for the past 3 weeks and have had some real good ones. We just played Lush Festival in Clarens and that was incredible, then as I mentioned, our show in Soweto was very special, we can’t wait to head back. Later this year we’re planning on touring overseas again. We’re talking to people in the UK, EU, AUS and US about potential tours and are excited to see things starting to come together.
For music lovers wanting to find out more about Diamond Thug, where can they look?
Our website, www.diamondthug.com, which we’ve designed especially to aide your listening experience with beautiful artwork by Hannah Shone, lyrics and Apple Music streaming links. It’s sort of like an old lyric book you’d get in a CD. We’ve missed those and in a digital world you have to find creative ways of making your album more special to people. We’re starting to find them, Caitlin Weare also did little animation videos for each track on our YouTube. Otherwise if you want to get hold of us, drop us a message on our Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
What’s next for Diamond Thug?
Well we’ve just finished our tour and we have a few days off, a performance on The Expresso Show on Thursday 19 April and then a few days off before we start writing again. It’s been too long. We’re also still doing our album launch in Cape Town in early May.
To everyone who worked with us, collaborated with us, helped us strategise and learn and put up with us playing the album on repeat over the past year and a half. They’re all listed on our website too.