Q&A: Garage Rock Godfather Jim Diamond Talks About Jack White's Friends, Blowing Off The Black Keys, and the New Love Me Nots CD

Inside a brick home in an old neighborhood just north of downtown Mesa a stout olive-skinned man with slicked-back black hair sits patiently, sipping a Corona while Michael Johnny Walker, guitarist for local garage act The Love Me Nots, re-records one last riff for his band's new record.

You've likely never heard of Jim Diamond, but it's no stretch to call him one of the most influential rock producers of the last decade. Based in Detroit, he's been doing garage rock since before The Strokes brought the genre to the mainstream. Would Is This It?Up the Bracket and B.R.M.C. have happened without what Diamond did in Detroit? Who knows, but, as the producer of the first White Stripes record, the first Von Bondies record, and a member of The Dirtbombs, he's certainly a big part of the puzzle.

His list of credits is extensive, impressive and constantly growing. From the old days -- when he worked with nearly every band on Jack White's legendary Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit compilation -- to his new gig an an international producer-for-hire, a sought-after name amongst aficionados of the trademark sound he brings to records.

Often, he'll work with bands at his own studio, Ghetto Recorders, as he did with The Love Me Nots on their last record, Detroit, but he'll also travel the world to work on someone else's board, as he did last week at Bob Hoag and Chuckie Duff's studio, Flying Blanket Recording, in Mesa, where we caught up with him to discuss The Love Me Nots, Detroit, and Jack White's move to Nashville.


UP: So is this something you do often, this kind of producer-for-hire, travel some place and record a band thing?

JD: Yeah, last year I did two records in Australia and did a record in Argentina. So, yeah, I go anywhere anyone wants me. Usually people come to Detroit, but if they come from somewhere nice, I try to discourage that. I go, "No, I'll go there."

UP: Why do you think you're in demand? What is it that they want from you?

JD: I think I come up with some good ideas, in the recording, and I get pretty organic sounds that are lacking these days in modern music. That's what I think.

UP: Well, I've thought about it, and I don't think it would be unfair to call you the godfather of the garage revival. I mean, you really had your finger on so many of those important and influential records at the beginning of the decade and the end of the '90s.

JD: Well, that just kind of happened. Like, I was in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing, apparently. I didn't set out and say, "Man, I'm going to make garage rock records!" I just had a crappy little studio and made sounds that sounded real and not overly processed because I don't really like that kind of music. I try to keep it somewhat authentic to people's live sounds.

UP: Do you feel like you just kind of caught lightning in a bottle with some of those Detroit bands, obviously with the White Stripes hitting it big.

JD: Oh, yeah, back in that day, everyone was just hanging out. They were all buddies, you know? So we'd hang out at this place called The Gold Dollar, that was the place in Detroit where everyone played. And it was a lot of fun. So, yeah, it just kind of happened. Bands were playing and I was recording and we all got together.

UP: So are you still suing Jack White?

JD: No, that's over. I lost on the statue of limitations. I waited too long, basically.

UP: Do you still feel like you had a legitimate claim there?

JD: Yeah, I should have got a royalty, I mean, I was credited as co-producer.

UP: But you even said you helped come up with the idea, the gimmick, so to speak.

JD: I didn't come up with the gimmick and if it was taken that way -- all I ever said was I should have a royalty, cuz I was a co-producer. I did not come up with their clothing, and I never claimed any of that.

UP: Would you have thought that band was going to become what it became. Of all the bands you worked with back then would you have said, "This band is going to become mega-stars and this guy, Jack, is going to have four successful bands, or whatever it is now."

JD: No, you never think anyone is going to become a mega-star. These are your buddies you drink with, who happen to have a band. I thought they were good, and I thought Jack was a very talented guy, and he probably had a greater sense of, you know, having a good look than anyone else in Detroit, and, you know, they worked really hard, they toured a lot. So, having some talent, having a good look, and touring a lot -- that's a big piece of the puzzle.

UP: Are there any bands from back then you think maybe have been overlooked?

JD: There were two bands I worked with: The first two piece I worked with, was a band called Bantam Rooster. They were the first band I ever recorded in my studio in 1996. First record I ever did. They were a two-piece, long before The White Stripes -- like Flat Duo Jets, and probably a handful of others. There was Bantam Rooster, and they did three records for a label called Crypt. And, yeah, I thought they deserved a lot more than they actually got. Another band, this guy named Troy Gregory, he was in a band called The Witches, he used to be in Prong -- he was the bass player in Prong -- then he did this weird, dark, psychedelic pop stuff and he and I worked on a bunch of records. He's one of the most talented guys I know, and I thought he was overlooked.

UP: You mentioned the duo thing. I think about the White Stripes, obviously, then there's The Black Keys, from my hometown, Akron, Ohio, and they're huge.

JD: I remember they sent me a demo in like 1998 saying, "We want to come up and record with you!" and I wrote them back and said, "You know, the stuff you're doing at home sounds great," and kind of discouraged it.

UP: Really?

JD: Yeah, I said, "Hey, you guys are doing great on your own, man." Basically, you don't need me.

UP: All the dollars not grabbed: Do those come back to haunt you at some point?

JD: Of course, of course. It's funny, the duo thing is back. The last record I did in Australia was a duo, and now they're getting huge in Australia, but they're not like The White Stripes. Maybe they're Australia's Black Keys, but they're very good. They're called The Fumes.

UP: Even like Matt & Kim, obviously pretty much straight-up indie rock, but they've got the duo thing going.

JD: Yeah, it kind of died, but it's coming back in the last year or so, which is interesting.

UP: I guess I'm curious what your philosophy about this whole garage rock thing is, as far as, do you think it's something that'll always be around and just kind of bubble up every once in awhile.

JD: Yeah, I mean, I always hate the term "garage rock" but I can see where people say, "Oh, that's garage rock." To me, garage rock is like The Chocolate Watchband and The Standells. That's garage rock to me. The stuff I do, I always just refer to as rock 'n' roll. I've had very few bands that came and said, "We want to sound exactly like the '60s." Cuz, I mean, I don't know how -- I mean, those are my influences but I don't know how to copy it. But, yeah, I mean, it's just straight ahead rock 'n' roll, like AC/DC could be considered garage rock. That was just stripped down rock 'n' roll.


UP: So what do you see yourself doing in the next 10 years?

JD: Obviously, still doing this. But I've done some songs for films and stuff like that and, you know, I like doing composing and that kind of thing and it's not all necessarily like a garage rock sound. I want to branch out in to other areas. 

UP: I know this is an not opinion shared by a lot of people in Phoenix, and probably not The Love Me Nots, and maybe not you. But do you feel like people from places that are very, very different from Detroit seek you out because they want a little bit of that flavor?

JD: Oh, I'm sure, yeah, definitely.

UP: I mean, Phoenix is kind of the anti-Detroit. I mean there's a little bit of an urban core that's decayed, but I mean I've spent a lot of time in Detroit.

JD: So, yeah, you know what it's like.

UP: I feel like sometimes with band it's like "Let's find Jim Diamond let's see if he can make us like a Detroit band."

JD: I wouldn't know what to do to make someone be like a Detroit band. You know, I had a band come once from out of town -- I'm not going to name any names -- but they were directly  aping. Like they were trying to be the MC5. And it's like, "Come on, man, someone's already done that really well. They did it first and they thought it up on their own. Don't copy it exactly. That's silly. Why bother?"

UP: But I don't think bands are ever going to stop wanting to sound like the MC5.

JD: I don't think so either.

UP: I guess it's just putting a twist on it.

JD: I mean, if you can put a really good twist on it, great.

UP: I'm pretty sure you're going to scoff at this question too, but I've always thought there's a certain energy in Detroit that produces great music of every type, and successful music . . . There are so many cities the size of Detroit -- I mean, you look at a city like Phoenix, it's a lot larger than Detroit -- that never put out that many successful acts.

JD: Yeah, that's true. I always think it's, like, Detroit is really easy to live there, and it's kind of like there aren't a whole lot of rules and the rent isn't expensive, so people have time to screw around and play music, and it's pretty easy. And I've said this before a million times: People there always have a really good knowledge about musical history, for whatever reason. Like there are a lot of really big music fans. And no one's really concerned about making it there. I guess they have this really downtrodden spirit like, "Fuck this. We're not going to make it; let's make music." So once they get back and think they're not going to make it, that's when they probably make better music.

UP: So what else you want to talk about?

JD: Well, I'm having a great time here with The Love Me Nots. This is the third record I've done with them. You try to make it so something's a little different every time, because you you can't just repeat the same record.

UP: Give us a preview, what's this Love Me Nots record going to sound like? 

JD: Well, Nicole came in with this song they haven't really played, and I said, "Slow it down, let's slow it down, this is going to be your Netherlands rock sound." You know, The Shocking Blue. So I kept referencing The Shocking Blue. And another one I wanted to make very poppy, and you know they're not the poppiest people, but I kept saying you know we've got to have the big, major chorus with the tambourines and acoustic guitar and stuff. I like to try to expand things like that as we go on.

UP: Do you ever think at some point you might work with someone who just becomes, like, a megastar and just needs you around and you're going to become, like, their George Martin or something?

JD: Yeah, I hope. I wish.

UP: I guess The White Stripes is kind of that.

JD: Yeah, they became huge.

UP: I mean, you worked with them on White Blood Cellstoo, didn't you?

JD: No, I worked with them on the first two. I don't know where they did White Blood Cells, where they did that one. I think they did one in London -- maybe that's Elephant -- they did one in Memphis.

UP: And Jack White moved to Nashville?

JD: Yeah, he moved to Nashville.

UP: Why the hell did he move to Nashville?

JD: I don't think he had many friends left in Detroit. I think he alienated a lot of people.

UP: Yeah, no one cares for putting on airs in Detroit.

JD: Exactly. You're absolutely right, no one puts on airs. Yeah, that's one thing about Detroit, most people are pretty genuine, I've found... When they're not genuine, they move to Nashville.