Even in its 31st installment, South by Southwest is still a big deal for many music artists, especially to those invited for the first time.
For indie rock band Diamond Thug, there was no doubt about traveling to Austin, Texas and performing at SXSW. “We had to do it,” emphasized lead singer Chantel van T. Even before confirming the trip was logistically feasible, the four bandmates agreed to perform and ironed the details out later.
The quartet won a competition from pack and outdoor gear maker JanSport to perform at a special SXSW showcase.
“[It was] a surprise,” explained bassist Danilo Queiros. “When you enter these things, you always enter and then forget about them because you don’t want to be disappointed when they announce the winners and it’s not you.”
But because showcases like these are unpaid and with restrictive United States visa requirements, the band had to partly self-finance. This included the decision to try crowdfunding through a successful Indiegogo campaign.to alleviate some of the financial burden by asking fans to help.
“It was the first time we’ve asked fans to contribute toward something that we’re trying for,” Queiros humbly acknowledged. “It was just really cool to get a good response for it.”
Generosity is a recurring theme in the band’s history. Almost two years ago, Diamond Thug applied for and won the chance to record for two days at the famed Converse Rubber Tracks Studio in Boston with dozens of other music artists from around the world.
“It’s just been really cool to see [how] the American music market looks outwards and tries to bring different voices into it,” said Queiros.
SXSW has only added to that positive stateside experience. The band traveled for almost 24 hours from Cape Town, South Africa to not only perform in Austin but also soak in sights and sounds of both the city and the legendary festival.
“We came early to adjust,” Queiros said. “It’s also nice to get your bearings before just rocking out and playing. It’s our first time here, so I think for us it was about as much attending the festival as it is participating in it. We’ve really enjoyed our time here.”
“My favorite part has been the solid diversity in general,” said drummer Ted Buxton. “There’s a lot of bands you can see just [by] walking down Sixth Street [in downtown]. You walk out past a bar and hear [something] cool.”
Although at times, SXSW reminded the foursome just how high the festival’s learning curve can be for first-timers.
“I looked up beforehand [and] I was super excited about this [interactive tech] talk,” Van T bemused. “It was like, ‘Guys, I promise you it’s about keeping it simple, even in the music.’ It ended up being purely coding.”
While coding probably isn’t in any of their immediate futures, the band discussed the long process of readying a full-length album. Van T deadpanned an emphatic “undecided” as she and the others squashed rumors of a June 2017 release date floating around the Internet. (I personally couldn’t find where I previously read that potential debut date prior to the interview.)
“One thing we learned at this festival is it’s about the team as well as the product,” said Queiros. “You can make something good that no one will listen to, or you can make something really bad that gets pushed onto you.”
We’ve been speaking to some labels and publishers, and they’re all suggesting [some date] like February of next year so you can get more of a lead time to push [the album].”
While posting additional singles might be in the works for later in the year, the band shied away from the possibility of publishing another EP despite the uncertainty of the debut album’s future release date.
“For us, the album is still important,” Queiros explained. “The album is our portfolio of what we’ve worked on for the past one or two years. We’ve recorded about 15 tracks and another four demos. We’re performing most of those songs now live.”
“The songs mean something together because they were written within that same space,” van T added. “Delaying the album gives it the time it needs.”
“We also write a lot,” confessed guitarist Adrian Culhane. “There’s no stopping.”
“I think that’s why releasing this album has been quite hard because we have a bunch of songs that we’re happy with,” Buxton vexed. “Then, we decide to write one or two more songs, and we like them more. And then we have to decide if it works or not.”
But that’s a good problem to have: to be frequently inspired.
Look out for new music from Diamond Thug in the near future. In the meantime, please check out the band’s SoundCloud page for a listen.