Let’s address the elephant in the room: Diarrhea Planet’s name is indeed — many would say regrettably — Diarrhea Planet.
In the annual tournament for South by Southwest’s most ludicrous name — a race that also includes Cerebral Ballzy and Death by Unga Bunga — Diarrhea Planet is a solid choice for No. 1 seed.
"There are times where the name is a hindrance," frontman Jordan Smith says with a laugh, by phone from Nashville during a break from touring. "But in the end, if someone sees you once and asks who you are, they’ll never forget the answer."
It is a weirdly appropriate moniker for the Nashville six-piece. Diarrhea Planet is not a band of half-measures. If the band is to have a ridiculous name, they want the most ridiculous name possible. And if they’re to be a guitar rock band — and they’re a rollicking and propulsive one — they’re going to have a grand total of four guitarists, cranking out a six-string wall of sound loaded with mile-high riffs that would make Ace Frehley proud. Their second LP — last year’s "I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams" — is a stadium-sized, Thin Lizzy-evoking explosion of a rock record with only two songs that cross the four-minute mark.
In other words, Diarrhea Planet are serious about what they do — just not, necessarily, the way they do it. It wasn’t always that way. The band started as a joke. In 2009, Smith, a longtime rocker who was, he claimed, infatuated with the electric guitar very nearly from birth, formed the band with friend Evan Donohue while studying music business at Belmont University, a Christian liberal arts college in Nashville.
"Belmont is very commercial. They want to teach you how to craft commercial music. So it was really hard finding opportunities on campus to put a rock band together and actually practice. The school didn’t let you do that. So we were kind of ticked off," Smith says. "We felt stifled. So we kind of started joking about making the most extreme, irritating band we could think of. Because we had a dumb sense of humor."
But the concept of a purposely obnoxious rock band proved funnier than the reality. As the band played more shows, and acquired more members, they gravitated toward party-oriented rock, and quickly acquired a reputation in Nashville for songs that were almost as memorable as their name. Smith’s fondness for earworm-y pop songs asserted itself over time — and the band’s dynamic, beer-soaked live shows earned Diarrhea Planet a place in the pantheon of great contemporary underground Nashville rock bands like Those Darlins and Jeff the Brotherhood.
"One thing that all Nashville bands have in common, that you don’t see in other cities, is that the focus of every band, be it a metal band or a country band or a punk band, is this weird focus on hooks," Smith says. "So every band is catchy. Everyone who’s immersed themselves in the scene, including us … you just gain this weird understanding of pop, and it creeps into everything."
Their first LP, "Loose Jewels," caught the band in the weird transition between conceptual joke and proper rock band. But "I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams," thanks in no small part to production by Kevin McMahon of Titus Andronicus and the Walkmen fame, is an assured, striking rock record. It doesn’t quite capture the band’s combustible live energy — their shows at SXSW last year garnered wide acclaim as kinetic, joyous free-for-alls — but attracted praise from Pitchfork and Spin.
Not bad for a band that started as a joke. And, again, a band with that name.
"It’s really hilarious. Man, we’ve always thought it was really funny, because so many of us were in all these other bands, these serious ‘This is going to be our career!’-type bands," Smith says. "And yet this is the one still standing. It was supposed to be the stupid one!"
Diarrhea Planet plays at 11 p.m. Wednesday at Lamberts and 1 a.m. March 14 at the Parish.
More rock at SXSW
Cloud Nothings: The indie-rock band born of the fertile mind of Cleveland, Ohio’s Dylan Baldi is the perfect melding of snotty, frenetic youthful energy and a weirdly winning charm. 2012’s "Attack On Memory" was stacked with standout rockers. With production from indie superstar John Congleton and a pair of promising advance singles, this year’s upcoming "Here And Nowhere Else" is sounding even more anthemic. (1 a.m. Thursday at the Parish.)
La Luz: How, precisely, did such a sonically Californian band emerge from the rain-soaked dreariness of the Pacific Northwest? It’s a mystery, but Seattle’s La Luz do surf-soaked, ’60s girl group rock better than any band out of the Golden State. Move over, Best Coast: you’ve been out-Best Coast-ed. (9 p.m., Friday, Hotel Vegas Patio; 1:15 a.m. March 15, Hotel Vegas at Volstead.)
The Pack A.D.: This Vancouver, B.C. garage rock duo — singer/guitarist Becky Black and drummer Maya Miller — have spent more than a half-decade flying under the radar, crafting rock-solid … well, rock, with a pinch of the Kills, a bit of the Runaways, and a dash of the Breeders. This year’s "Do Not Engage" is their most perfectly assembled batch of tunes yet. (Midnight March 14, Maggie Mae’s.)
Parquet Courts: This band emerged, as so many instantly addictive high-energy quasi-punk rock bands do these days, from a cassette tape — their 2011 debut, "American Specialties," which later migrated to other, more easily marketed mediums. Their 2012 follow-up "Light Up Gold" was a stellar blend of catchy punk rock nuggets and a slight tinge of laid-back country. (11:30 p.m. Thursday, Bar 96.)
Radkey: Three home-schooled brothers, all under 21, from the small-ish town of St. Joseph, Mo., form an internationally buzzed-about rock band. It sounds like a spiritual sequel to "School of Rock" — which is appropriate, because that’s exactly the film that inspired the fraternal members of Radkey to pick up guitars in the first place. And they’ve taken the movie’s infectious joy to heart, crafting righteously awesome nuggets of bounding, enthusiastic melodic rock that’s made fans of outlets like Spin and USA Today. (Midnight March 14, Mohawk indoors.)
Solids: Like fellow Canadians METZ, Montreal’s Solids specialize in slightly fuzzy, entirely booming post-punk rock. This year’s debut album, "Blame the Confusion," is a monument to the power of combining adolescent angst with the guitar, and one of the year’s best rock records so far. (Midnight Thursday, Maggie Mae’s.)
Temples: Loaded with reverb and sunny melodies, the striking songs from English psychedelic pop rock band Temples could easily pass for the best 1960s-era seven-inches you’ve somehow never heard. No lesser authorities than Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr have called them Britain’s best new band. (11:30 p.m. March 14, Bar 96; 11 p.m. March 15, Latitude 30.)
Those Darlins: Nashville’s Those Darlins — and especially tough-as-nails lead singer Nikki Kvarnes — started as a slightly cheeky blend of rockabilly and alt-country, but each passing year’s found the band polishing their classic rock bona fides, culminating in last year’s "Blue the Line," a perfectly saucy, spiky rock ’n’ roll record with grit to spare. (Midnight March 14, Shotguns.)