written by Mary Kluck
You never know what you’re going to get with Diego’s Umbrella – and that’s the point. The motley quintet from San Francisco surprises their audience night after night, playing with youthful vigor grounded by expertise onstage that comes from nearly 17 years playing together. Diego’s Umbrella revels in the opportunity to create a unique experience for the attendee. It has clearly paid off. One night is all it takes for someone to become entranced by the unique blend of sound; elements of rock, string, klezmer, a hit of polka, all combine to make it irresistible to stand still. Their unique ability to marry seemingly discordant sounds into bewitching harmony brings crowds all over the world. Diego’s Umbrella proselytizes this genre, gypsy rock, and capitalize on their ability to excite the audience. They too know they need just one evening to create a convert. No stranger to the road, their passion for the music and the thrill of live performance keep them on a heavy tour schedule. Lucky for us, they show no sign of slowing down.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Vaughn Lindstrom of Diego’s Umbrella about how he prepares for each show, his song writing process, and the band’s upcoming show at Kaaboo…
Mary Kluck: How’s your summer been?
DIEGOs UMBRELLA: Hi Mary! The summer has been keeping us on our toes! Nightclubs in churches, coked out chauffeurs in Bentley’s, tours, slow-motion videos, dancing on trash can’s and trying not to get hurt, chopping wood and carrying water mostly trying not to get hurt.
MK: You’re a band well known for the live experience of your concert. How did you decide that you were going to emphasize the live show, and how do you continue to evolve it?
DU: We made the decision when we began to make the live show a central and innovative part of the brand. Growing up we had seen so many great acts and so many great showmen that we wanted to emulate that, we wanted to be something that people walked away from being like “Holy hell, what was that!?” I know that personally if I go see a show and the performers aren’t honing that part of the craft, or aren’t putting their all in, I become disengaged a bit, I lose interest. It’s a two-part thing playing live. If people just wanted to listen to the music they could do that at home. I wanna see and be a part of a show. I want there to be a chance somebody’s gonna spill blood.
MK: Any other acts that you look to for inspiration?
DU: Absolutely! Evil Knievel, Bruce Springsteen, Foxy Shazam, System of a Down, Garrison Keillor, ahhh did I say Evil Knievel already?
MK: How did you guys get together?
DU: Through a Mystic Astral Prudentologist. Yah, she cooked up a fire in the backyard, started howling and brought us all through some sort of portal. Hurt like hell and the neighbors complained but hey, here we are.
MK: What are some of the differences between US and European fans?
DU: I’ll never forget a festival we played in Belgium where the crowd started chanting: “Diego’s has a small one! Diego’s has a small one!” Truly made me chuckle and brings a smile to my face to this very day. Honestly, we love to play (almost) every show we do and the fans in both the US and EU have been great…. but there is something special about Europe. Hard to put a finger on it but it holds a special place in our hearts.
MK: Describe your sound – what exactly is gypsy rock?
DU: I think if somebody came and listened to a set, or got an album, they would pick out a bunch of things that they themselves gravitate towards. People come up every night telling us different things they picked out: Balkan music, heavy metal, gypsy jazz, Gordon Lightfoot, baroque, Muse, Pre 70’s Bee Gees etc. And honestly, there’s probably a little bit of all that in our music, but rather than explaining all that we just go with gypsy rock.
It’s basically music that you would hear at a Croatian dance party. Have you ever been to one of those? My god, the shit that you see.
MK: You’re playing Kaaboo Music Festival, which combines music, art, comedy and cuisine, what else are you looking forward to checking out there?
DU: Dave Grohl, Iliza Shlesinger and the ice cream truck.
MK: What can fans and newbies expect from your set at Kaaboo?
DU: A well honed and crafted set that I will scribble down with a sharpie about 12 mins before we go on, then lose that setlist when somebody asks me to get the guitar stretcher from the van, at which point I will be running around looking for that setlist and have to head to the stage with a vague memory of the songs we are planning on playing. You will then see us kick into action and basically blackout for 30-40 mins in a beautiful haze of musical fury, and if you look deep enough into my eyes you will see the lingering thought: “seriously where the fuck did I put that setlist?”
MK: Talk us through your songwriting process.
DU: I’d love to say that I have it down to a science after all these years, but it is still as strange, bizarre, difficult and beautiful process as ever. Some songs come up from the ground like rhubarbs and all you have to do is pick em. Other songs are like catching live birds with your hands, you just chase them for years. Then there are the ones that you work and grind, then send them out of the nest. Some of them fly right out of the gates and some plummet straight down to earth. Of those there are some you pick up, fix up a wing, duct tape the tail-feathers and send em back out. Some eventually soar and some just face-plant their way into extinction.
The actual building and foundation is a hard thing to explain. I mean here’s an example… a cornerstone song of ours is Thrash Mexican Budapest. Oddly the title came first. It was an odd juxtaposition of words in my journal that I just loved. So from there I just worked backward. I built a working structure, I pulled the arms off a song I had in the woodshed and stuck em on the body of this one, added a head and voice. I found the emotion and story I wanted to tell, then made the language and soundscape to help it along.
I feel like so much of what I write is based in visual mediums. I always write with imagery in my head and more often times than not I have my studio TV on with great visual movies playing with no sound. Movies like Slow West, Valhalla Rising, Pan’s Labyrinth, Grand Budapest Hotel….It’s like visual white noise. I need it, and love it, constantly.
You know what I’ll just say to wrap a bow tie around this. It just takes work. A lot of fucking work. It’s just like any craft, you gotta put in the hours, you gotta spill paint, cut your hand, ball and crumpled pages from the typewriter. You gotta go to work.
MK: How did you come up with “Edjka” for your latest album?
DU: I’ll explain it like this. You know what one of my favorite things is….when a woman re-appropriates the saying “suck my dick” as a dig. I don’t know why but that really works for me.
MK: What is your pre-show ritual?
DU: The pre-show ritual is fun, and we learned this from Gene Hackman…we gather around in a circle, right foot in so nobody’s left out, put our hands in the middle and chant “Grundleplith, Grundleplith, Boat in a Tree!”
Nah, I’m kidding, we say something different every night but it’s our little moment to come together, look each other in the eye and basically say ‘Here’s a sword, pal. Go kill some dragons and bring us back the skins.’
MK: What’s next for Diego’s Umbrella?
DU: Probably one of us mistakenly sleeping with somebody’s sister.