The instrumental surf-rock noir of Seattle four-piece the Diminished Men plants scenes inside the mind's eye. It's a sonic form of psychic automatism, a surrealist pareidolia, like the man in the moon. Something you see or hear that's composed of disparate pieces of existing reality coming together to make a superior reality. The Diminished Men play, and the poised psychedelics of their spaghetti-western movements carry you to certain scenes. Their man in the moon is a man in the desert, and he's dying of thirst. Buzzards swirl slowly above his flesh. The music draws him perfectly. His name is Durante. He killed a man and is on the run. It's a scene taken from the 1936 Max Brand short story "Wine on the Desert." Durante has fucked over his one-legged friend Tony during a getaway, held him at gunpoint, and destroyed his water supply. Hours later, in the middle of the desert, it is revealed that Tony filled Durante's canteen with wine instead of water. Death comes to the outlaw surely.
The Diminished Men equation is equal parts Angelo Badalamenti and Philippe Sarde soundtrack filtered through Dick Dale conduction, the Cramps/Ventures reverb, and a jazz-groove samurai-film score. Guitarists Simon Henneman and Steve Schmitt, drummer Dave Abramson, and saxophonist Sam Wambach execute and plot their iguana motifs through deft use of dynamics. The arrangements' peaks and valleys volley through slower, dampened basins of adagio, then accelerate into tight, sliced climaxes—where the buzzard's beak tears the skin. "When you die of thirst in the desert," Tony says, "you think there's water if you dig down far enough. You start screaming. You wear the flesh off the tips of your fingers. There's a screaming look on your face when they find your body." Dave Abramson and Steve Schmitt spoke. We were not drinking wine.
Have you ever died of thirst?
Dave: No. Well... no.
You take LSD and wrestle large snakes and iguanas. How's that going?
The Diminished Men have a couple of albums—Six O'Clock Baby, which is out now, and Capnomancy.
Dave: Six O'Clock Baby is a collection of oddities and B-sides. Distortions of American and French film noir–inspired jazz/groove themes. Dark wiretapped melodies take a detour into Residents-spirited geography and get spit out into desert-surf meets electric Miles. It's all over the map. Capnomancy will be our third full-length album and is the starkest and darkest thing we've done yet. Heavy and hazy, slow and low. Dark '50s Americana vibe with a Giallo horror ransom note attached. This will be out in March/April 2012.
If Diminished Men were a hobby, such as building model tugboats or collecting bottle caps, what would you be?
Dave: We'd be metal detecting. It's sort of sleazy but at the same time kind of dreamy and cathartic to be at the beach.
What is Diminished Men's message to the people?
Dave: Live low to the earth in the Iron Age.
You all met a woman in Savannah on tour. She took you to the Bonaventure Cemetery, and there were bloody footprints? What happened? Does this have anything to do with Newt Gingrich?
Steve: Last year, we played the Wormhole in Savannah, Georgia. A woman wearing a corset and accompanied by the biggest Great Dane you have ever seen walks into the club. After the show, she invites us to stay at her place, an empty house completely void of furniture. Her huge dog is folded up like a piece of origami in the backseat of our minivan. We expressed our interest in visiting the Bonaventure Cemetery—fabled the most haunted cemetery in the United States. "I live two blocks from the front gates," she tells us. "We can go there tonight." We stopped to get beer.
This totally has to do with Newt Gingrich.
Steve: Then she gets a phone call and is getting irate. "Stay away from my fucking house," she yells to the apparition on the other end of the line. We went inside and had a smoke and a drink, then the dog barges through the garage door tracking bloody paw prints up and down the hallway of the house. She gets another phone call. Her tone has escalated to a fever pitch, and she's threatening them. She asks if the phone calls are worrying us and says she's just playing around. An example of fine American literature sits on the table—The Devil Dogs of Savannah. She says she's an out-of-work veterinarian. A while later, we enjoy a cigarette in the garage next to a sparkly new Harley, and the garage door locks behind us. The woman tried to open the door a few times with no success, and then with all her might had to kick the door down. Finally we make it to the cemetery. It was humid and languid with moss hanging long from the old trees. She instructed me not to touch the moss, for it had jiggers living in it. The woman—despite her eccentricities—was very kind, with an interest in watching people sleep.
Break down the pluses and minuses of playing with a fog machine. By the end of your sets, there's so much fog, you guys appear as amorphous, veiled shapes and blobs of movement. Does the fog machine always stay on the entire time?
Dave: The amorphous thing is definitely part of it. A cloak to disappear from and reappear, a reflection of our influences being filtered through the dark, hazy climate of the Northwest, not to mention the benefits to your constitution and soul of hanging out in smoke-filled rooms with low lights while a sickly reverb-drenched Fender rips through them.
Where did you record the new albums? Who produced?
Steve: Six O'Clock Baby is made up of various locations and recording styles. Some tracks were done at Aleph Studio with Randall Dunn (Sun City Girls, Kinski, Earth, Jesse Sykes, Sunn O))), Eyvind Kang) on two-inch tape with top-notch mics. Some pieces are live to two-track. Other tracks are more simple home recordings done at my apartment or Dave's place using odd engineering techniques, found objects, drum machines, and orphan riffs. Capnomancy is fully produced and recorded by Randall at Aleph.
How are y'all releasing the albums?
Dave: We self-released Six O'Clock Baby. Capnomancy was all lined up with a really great label out of Belgium, but they fell on hard times and unfortunately had to close up shop suddenly. We just found this out, so we have to scramble on this one. We will self-release it in April unless someone offers by then.
Talk about recording.
Dave: Recording Capnomancy was a tornado. We had decided to bring in very new material, and some of it wasn't even fully realized or arranged yet. We thought that a loose approach would yield the seedy results we were looking for on this record. Turns out, we were just naively unprepared. There was big aesthetic tug-of-war between Randall and us. On top of that, Steve was sick with a fever for the entire basic tracking, and Simon and I were both somewhere out in the solar system from beginning to end. The whole session was hazy, dense, and confusing, but after the smoke cleared, we realized we came away with exactly what we were looking for, and it was way sketchier than we had imagined. We all laugh about it now, but when we were recording, it was not funny at all.
What proved to be the most challenging part of making the album?
Dave: Paying for it.
What's next in the world of Diminishment?
Dave: The Capnomancy record will be released in March/April, and we'll be supporting that with a European tour in May, opening up for Master Musicians of Bukkake. Very excited and honored. We also just started recording another record that has pulled us down into some vortex of ring-modulator-induced gamelan rock, desert surfs, kabuki jazz, and even a ballad for Max Cady.