To know of Debbie Diamond’s eclectic upbringing is to understand where her band, The Januaries, is coming from musically.
The groovy ’60s-styled singer-guitarist grew up in Los Angeles with her brother and Danish-born parents. In her wild youth, she hung around backstage at rock concerts, more out of the desire to be in a band than to be a groupie.
“When you grow up in a family with foreign parents, you can get away with murder,” Diamond said recently. “They just don’t know what they’re doing. There’s no curfew. My parents didn’t even know what ‘grounded’ meant. They’re like, ‘Why don’t you call Joanne and hang out with her?’ ‘She’s grounded.’ ‘Grounded, what’s that?’ ‘Uh, you know, she just doesn’t feel like going out – you know, grounded.’ I had never been grounded.
“The one time they said ‘Go to your room and come out when you think you can behave,’ I did the old walk-in, walk-out, and my dad had a good sense of humor, he started laughing.”
Try as they might, her parents couldn’t alter Diamond’s rock ‘n’ roll destiny.
“My parents gave me piano lessons, ballet and tennis and wanted to make me into this little lady,” she said, “and then I turned out to be a punk rocker and I got voted weirdest in high school. My parents were like, ‘What happened?!’ I’m half-Jew and half-Dane, and Danish people are weird and Jewish people are artsy, so what do you expect?”
Like Diamond’s diverse (and comical) background, The Januaries’ self-titled debut Foodchain/Lightyear album – released Sept. 12 – is full of pure-pop sass and unpretentiousness. Critics have had a field day trying to describe them, likening them to a cross between Brigette Bardot and the Doors or Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and Garbage.
Vocally, Diamond resembles a mixture of Deborah Harry, Chrissie Hynde and the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser. Her years fronting the indie group Giant Pink Fuzz and a stint with England’s Duritti Column did wonders.
“We didn’t want to sound like anybody else,” Diamond said, “but it’s also scared a lot of people because it’s different. A lot of the record companies we met with really liked it, but they were freaked out because it was different. They were like, ‘It’s really good.’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘But I have to say it’s different.’ I said, ‘Well, you know what? If I were Perry Farrell and sitting here with the first Jane’s Addiction demos, you’d tell me to get the fuck out of the office.’ ”
Diamond credits an A&R rep at Foodchain for hooking her up with guitarist Rick Boston, formerly of Low Pop Suicide.
“He used to see my old band, Pink Fuzz,” she said, “and he really liked the way I wrote. I was signed to Giant; when we broke up, he said, ‘I’m getting an A&R job with this label and I’m going to sign you.’ I said, ‘Good luck, because I’m moving to New York. I’m going to try my fortunes there.’ He hired me as a scout so he could keep tabs on me.
“When I came home for Christmas from New York, he said, ‘Hey, go over to this studio at this guy Rick Boston’s house.’ Then we wrote ‘The Girl’s Insane.’ I had been into this whole ’60s thing from living in New York; I was into the go-go clubs, so we decided to write a ‘Girl From Ipanema’-type song, a song Stan Getz would do – only now. We were like, ‘Whoa, our song came out pretty good; we wrote pretty good together.’ Then we wrote a couple that weren’t on the album and then ‘All Systems a Go-Go.’ ”
Keyboardist John Nau, trumpeter Mitch Maker, drummer Petur Smith and bassist Tobias Kroon round out the lineup.
“We named the band the Januaries because January evokes this mood, at least with me, of the new year being here and you’re going to have a brand new start but you still have all the crap attached to you,” Diamond said. “Just because you switched years doesn’t mean it’s not there anymore.
“I wanted it to be a hopeful record, rather than a record about some woman who’s been dumped by some guy and she’s out for revenge. PJ Harvey might go that route. I didn’t want to go that way; I wanted to make a record that was fun but still made you think. If you really pay attention to the lyrics, there’s meaning to them. I had one interviewer say that my songs were shallow, and I said, ‘A simple mind will take it a simple way.’ I just wanted to have my own style.”
Diamond says The Januaries are an underdog band, without a big-money label behind it. But she’s buoyed by fan reaction to their live shows and a recent nomination for best indie album by New Times magazine in Los Angeles.
One battle she wishes she didn’t have to fight is for her name. She’s often confused for a porn star named Debi Diamond.
“I’ve worked my whole life,” she said. “I played with the Duritti Column on Factory Records. I’ve had record deals, I’ve done all this stuff, and because there’s a porn star with the same name, I have to get slammed and I’ve never been photographed naked. She stole the name from me.
“My name was in little tabloids in L.A., and she saw it. I used to spell it Debi, and now she spells it like that. She stole my name; I should’ve gone after her, but I just don’t sue people. It’s just stupid. I knew there would be some backlash, but I just figured my band would do well and people would forget the porn star and know me.
“Do you think I should change my name, or is it too late?”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “I bought two at one time at a garage up the street from our house – ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and the ‘Hair’ soundtrack. By then, I already knew I wanted to be in music; I knew ever since my parents put a big mirror in the closet in my room. I would stand in front of it and pretend to be Jim Morrison.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I think it was Devo. Believe it or not, I saw them play at this house party when I was really young. This guy Andy Hewett’s house; he used to book the Palladium. I don’t know how, but when I was younger, I used to know everybody. Nobody tried to pick up on me and my friends because we were really young, but they thought we were so cute, they’d give us backstage passes. I had backstage passes to Devo; we were running around the Forum. Then Andy invited us to his party, it was New Year’s Eve. I was standing there watching Devo, and Danny Bonaduce from ‘The Partridge Family’ was standing next to me and it was getting near midnight and I could see him eyeballing me. I’m like, ‘Sorry, gotta go.’ I hadn’t even kissed a boy at that point, and there was no way I was going to kiss Danny Bonaduce.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: ” ‘The Best of Cream’ and The Dandy Warhols’ new album. I’ve been plugging that one a lot.”
ON THE WEB: www.thejanuaries.com.