Black Diet: We're some kind of bastard children

Black Diet
Black Diet
Caleb Timmerman

Black Diet vocalist Jonathan Tolliver claims that he came up with the name during a dark period in his life, as a reference to his fear of death. The term "black diet" refers to the torture and punishment of a prisoner in the form of starvation and water deprivation, ultimately leading to their death. While the name does not necessarily reflect the Minneapolis band's garage/indie/soul vibes, it is an apt demonstration of their spirit of uniqueness.

Gimme Noise caught up with Black Diet as they shot the music video for their new single, "Unbroke," and prepared for their performance at First Avenue's Best New Bands of 2013 this Thursday.

Garrison Grouse and "Mugsy" Keller at the Black Diet shoot for "Unbroke"
Garrison Grouse and "Mugsy" Keller at the Black Diet shoot for "Unbroke"
Jew Dreamfirstborn

Black Diet is: Jonathan Tolliver, David Tullis, Garrison Grouse, Margaret "Mugsy" Keller, Sean Schultz, and Mitch Sigurdson

Gimme Noise: How did Black Diet begin?

Tolliver: Essentially I found most of the people on Craigslist. That's a really lame story, but everyone outside of Garrison we found just by posting an ad. The internet, you know?

Grouse: Jonathan found me on Facebook. He asked me if I knew any bass players. He didn't know I played bass, so I was like, as a matter of fact...

Keller: I peruse the musician ads on Craigslist just randomly, all the time, whether I'm looking to do something or not, just 'cause I want to know kind of what's happening out there. So one day I saw this ad, and it just seemed right. And that was that.

Tullis: I walked into Jonathan's apartment and there was a drum set in the living room, and keyboard, and I said, that sounds pretty good. So, I moved in with Jonathan. It took me six months to join the band. We were really drunk one night, and I said, you know Jon, I'll play in your band if you want. I think he just was like, "Oh, right, I never actually thought about that before." So it just sort of happened.

And now you're a band.

Grouse: We have a system. I feel like everyone kind of has their role, and we work together as a band to get stuff done. We all do different things to contribute and work together to create the overall experience.

Schultz: Mugsy makes the whole band work. We would so hate each other without Mugsy.

Mugsy, how does being the sole lady of the band feel?

Keller: I have to say, I sort of muscled myself into this matronly position. I like to take care of everyone, make sure everybody has what they need when we're out on tour and stuff like that, try to keep most things organized. I love it. I've always been that person that hangs out with guys, and is the token girl; it sort of seems natural. We all get along super well. Its like a family, and I'm sure our other significant others in our lives are sort of jealous... I personally spend a lot of time thinking about and working on Black Diet stuff. Like Garrison said, we have our spaces in the band, and we fill them up as best we can. I'm a little nervous about going on tour though, I have to be honest.

Black Diet: We're some kind of bastard children
Jew Dreamfirstborn

Jon describes your shows as a Baptist church service at a punk house. When you started out, did you have that kind of vision?

Schultz: I think it was a more subconscious kind of thing.

Grouse: We bring very high energy. I think when people go to see us, they expect a high energy, fun, soul dance party. They expect a party, and I think that's something that people come back to and look forward to when seeing us.

Tolliver: I went to a lot of church, my father is a pastor, and all that good stuff... so all of that comes together in our sound. I think the idea for our live show is that it's participatory just like a Baptist church -- there should be a call and response, there should be some clapping and moving your body and all that kind of stuff. And the punk aspect of it -- which, we certainly can't claim to be a punk band -- but the idea of it being a rockier version of that, being influenced by the Strokes, is what we were going for.

How have you guys evolved from when you first started to this album that you're finishing up right now?

Tullis: When I joined it was Strokes-y, and the dynamic level wasn't up, and I wanted to take that and stretch it out and make it really sparse. Then I wanted to make it really intense and make it really fucking loud, and kind of give Jon room to sing by himself, give Jon room to work the crowd a little bit... give everybody their space, because everybody seemed to be playing on top of each other a lot -- giving it some breath, letting the songs breathe a little bit, and not worrying so much about what style it fits into... We fight, and we've made up...

Grouse: We've learned. We can work together now as a unit, and we understand how to communicate with each other way quicker than ever before, and that's a huge thing as far as getting stuff done.

Tullis: Yeah, not getting our feelings hurt so easily, accepting that other people have valid criticisms.


When you found out that you were going to be playing at the Best New Bands show, what was your reaction?

Tolliver: I got the e-mail, and was very confused by it. I thought it might be a trick. I sent out a mass text, and e-mailed everyone with a lot of expletives, go check the band e-mail! Check it, this can't be real! So, I probably should have played it cool, but I didn't at all... I'm still pretty excited. I would say I felt elation. I was pumped... It came out of nowhere.

Keller: There was like a four-day period between the first e-mail and the second e-mail where we were just convinced that it wasn't real.

Grouse: We've been playing fairly high profile shows, and now people are starting to pay attention and know who we are, which is cool because we've been really working hard trying to get our name out there, and, you know, it's been tough, but that's part of it.

Which artist are you really looking forward to sharing the stage with?

All: Allan Kingdom!

Grouse: I think we all love him. His videos are great, and his personality that he portrays is really interesting and unique, so that's something we're excited about.

Schultz: It's a really solid lineup, and I feel really good about it. It's going to be fun, and we're going to fit well.

Sigurdson: We have a few tricks up our sleeves. We've got some surprises. It's going to be chaotic.

Black Diet: We're some kind of bastard children
Photo provided by Black Diet

What's your most memorable show that you've played thus far?

Keller: I have to say, for me, it may not have been a really successful show where we sold a lot of tickets or merch, but we played a show at 331 that was so exciting. Afterwards, I just had this feeling...there were a lot of people there, it seemed packed, I was wearing a crazy was just a super fun night.

Grouse: We opened up for Tickle Torture, and we played with Psymun, which actually started a relationship with those bands for us, and now we're all good friends. That was definitely one of our favorite shows. A lot of people who had never seen us before saw us at that show and got into what we're doing.

Keller: Even hecklers. There was this guy like, heckling Jon up there. It was awesome. It was so much fun.

Sigurdson: I enjoyed the Memory Lanes block party. That was one of David's first few shows, and then Southside Desire, our label mates, also played that night after us. Most of us all got up there and played a Black Diet song with them, "Unbroke." It was like a big soul revue.

Where do you fit into the Twin Cities music scene?

Schultz: We're some kind of bastard child.

All: We're the bastard children!

Grouse: When we're not playing a show, we're going to a show.

Tullis: Every one of us is in another band, and Mugsy is in a burlesque troupe, so that doesn't seem to detract, it only seems to add to us. We know more people, we go to each other's shows. It seems to build a community.

First Avenue's Best New Bands of 2013. 18+, $7, 7 p.m., Thursday, January 30, with Black Diet, Allan Kingdom, GRRRL PRTY, BBGUN, Frankie Teardrop, Southwire, and Fury things. Tickets.

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