Warchalking – Diplomancy

Diplomancy cover art

Free download: warchalking.bandcamp.com

Having previously impressed us with two original one-man-acoustic-rock-soundscapes, 2007′s self-titled and 2008′s much loved “Stratum”, Warchalking seemingly vanished from our airwaves. Now, five years on, he’s back, and this time he’s got a backing band behind him. The driving forces behind the songs are the same – sagacious wordsmithery for the mind and boozy guitar riffs for the body – but the volume has been cranked up to the maximum. Essentially this set-up sounds like potential fulfilled, foot to the floor, windows down, squeezing every last drop of daydreamer gasoline from the tank. It could quite conceivably have been a third in a trilogy of acoustic masterpieces, but instead “Diplomancy” pushes onto the next level and hopes it doesn’t crash off a cliff. Simply put, you sense that this is one record that had to be made. Perhaps not as radical as Dylan going electric, but the same idea, the same thirst for experimentation and development.

There is much to love about it, from reworked old songs to polished new offerings. It is as much a dazzling geographical journey through the new world swamps and bars of Missouri to the old world of Europe, as it is a dark psychological journey across continents of thought. Like all Warchalking records, it is chasmically and fluently deep and yet at the same time it is deliberately dumb and swaggering. I suppose it’s really up to you whether you want to dive down or else dance on the precipice.

But enough of me rambling on in metaphors. To find out what the record is really all about, I caught up with Kris Baranovic and asked him everything you need to know about it:

It’s been a while since the last Warchalking record (Stratum, 2008). What took you so long?

Life happened. It’s not that those years weren’t productive. The Kaleidonauts record was a lot of fun and a lot of work, and there’s been bits recorded here and there. After Stratum, the Warchalking concept felt too cathartic, and I was very tired of making all the decisions. Collaboration and cooperation were necessary. Tigermouse was so much fun and so creatively generative to make that the time seemed right to get a band together, even if we only played once or twice a year in front of people. Instincts were wrong, and three bands materialized and collapsed over the course of three years. Then the Phasetron project took root, and while we were recording 7=5, I wrangled those fellas and a few other friends of mine to pitch in on a Warchalking record. So here we are.

Why “Diplomancy”? Are there any recurring themes on it?

Diplomancy is the combination of “diplomacy” and the suffix “-mancy,” as in necromancy or neuromancy, implying magic and sorcery. The concept came from a collaborative poem about those moments of magic at a bar or party or social event where a person hits complete equilibrium with their substances and their chatter, and everything that comes out of their mouth is perfect for every moment. The night flies by, people leave charmed and happy, and the charmer goes home and feels for one fleeting moment that maybe they’re not a horrible person, that life has meaning, that the high points outnumber the lows. That theme is embedded in most of the songs, and is present in the settings. These are songs about being out on the town, being out of town, or trying, and diplomancy, although not always at work, is always present in those places.

On this record you’ve gone from being a one-man acoustic troubadour to fronting a 4-piece electric band. It’s quite a change. What are the pros and cons of the band set up as opposed to flying solo?

I’ve been in bands since high school, so working with people feels more comfortable. The pros are there are people to say ‘no’ to ideas, which limits some of the schlock that haunts the darker parts of my past records. I’m not the best instrumentalist, so it’s a treat to have people around that can knock out a solo or a bass track that’s jaw-dropping. Also, the songs all sound different. The cons are there are people to say ‘no’ to ideas, which limits some of the schlock I love about my past records. The band makes better records. I spent most of my efforts in the first two records trying to make an acoustic guitar cover all the space bass and drums exist nicely within. The sacrifice is the first two records are much wilder and experimental, whereas this one is far more accessible.

Favourite song and lyric from the record?

This is weird, but my favorite song is “The Pros,” and my favorite line is from “Amsterdam at Dawn.” “The Pros” is drinking in downtown Cape Girardeau, Missouri. It could be any small midwestern town, but it’s all about the oddness of a small drinking scene, the hobbled creatures that inhabit it, the equality that exists by being in the middle of nowhere. It’s difficult to act better than everyone else because there’s nowhere else to go, so snobs and rednecks have to rub elbows. It makes for some complex relationships.

In “Amsterdam at Dawn” there’s the line “Stoned and smoking cigarettes with European refugees/’Where you from?’ and ‘where you going?’/Reflex questions we all sing.” I was in a hostel in Amsterdam after walking the Camino and spending a week with the Smalls, and felt completely wrung out. An Australian in the lobby started some small talk, and he’d been on the road for a while as well, and he brought the idea about. “Do you ever notice that everywhere you go when you travel you wind up having the exact same conversation? How far have you come? How far have you to go?” I realized I was exactly where I needed to be at that instant, realized it was time to get over my bullshit, and get down to the business of having fun again. It’s a byline in a messy song, but that was a moment for me.

You’ve reworked some old classics (eg. Diving Bell and Future For Bugs) – are you pleased with the results?

Sort of. I was in graduate school when we made the record, and at the time I was reconciling a lot of things I’d been conceptualizing up to that point with a lot of high end language theory, and the decision to revisit those songs came out of that. Also, we had a band at our disposal, and I always wanted to hear those songs recorded huge. The new versions lack the uncertainty that gave those songs their swagger on the first record, but they’re recorded better, and the bridge the old and the new. They’re not superior, but they’re not inferior either. They’re just different.

We’ve talked in the past about tagging music as particular genres and you said you were all for it, the more obscure the better. What obscure genre tags will you be using for these songs?

I love this question. The first two Warchalking records needed definition because they were bizarre critters. Rock but not rock, folk but not folk, pop but not pop. The esoteric genres are necessary because those records are so hard to describe. Diplomancy, on the other hand, is way more straightforward. It’s a strange collection of songs, but the songs are far easier to identify, so the tags will actually be more familiar. Now that I say that, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that development. Excellent question.

I imagine with the full band, that it must be easier to translate these songs to a live show. Have you tried them out yet and how did they go down?

No live show yet. I want one very bad, but there are other projects that have priority. The big one is a seven-month-old little boy named Henry. He gets a much of my attention for the time being.

Are we going to have to wait another five years for the next Warchalking record? And what’s it going to sound like?

I’ve been thinking about that one a lot. The more I listen to Diplomancy, the more I see it as a product of the time it was created. Graduate school has been an intense two years, and now that I’m slinking back into regular life, everything gets reevaluated. I’d like to go backwards, back to making records with limitations. Diplomancy is unchecked in its production; we crammed all that we could in that record to make a big, explosive record. There’s more power in restriction. Trying to make due with a lack of instruments or production equipment makes you do things you wouldn’t normally consider, and I miss that element. It instills an element of danger. We keep amassing a pile of tools and skills, and we have answers to most situations, so it’s getting harder to scare ourselves. So the next Warchalking will likely all be recorded with accordions and kazoos and violins with no bows on a 4-track. When that will happen depends on the writing. Young Henry’s becoming increasingly independent, and that independence dictates my writing time. Hopefully sooner rather than later.


1 Comment

  • On 08.09.13 Lenn9o9n said:

    <3'd "diving bell"

    know what you mean about working with others, a pro and a con