Interviews with members of Diego’s Umbrella are like the gypsy rock band’s shows: fun, funny and ultimately profound.
“If it weren’t for alcohol, I don’t know how bands would make money. … Without the alcohol, people wouldn’t really be dancing,” drummer Jake Wood muses, pointing to the irony that in contrast to most Diego’s Umbrella concertgoers, he’s not much of a boozer. It’s really not feasible for someone marching with a bass drum, swinging the heaviest available mallets, to be liquored up.
“People ask, ‘Why don’t you have a couple of drinks or get high before the show?’ ” Wood said. “It feels like I am operating heavy machinery. It’s the equivalent of waving a heavy chain saw through the crowd. I can’t be screwing up and be in La La Land.”
Whether they are indoors or outdoors, Diego’s Umbrella shows are sweat fests, he said, as he lamented the number of times he’s had to don the same wet stage clothes night after night.
Wood made sure the conversation with a music writer would be light-hearted: “I don’t want it to be an interview where it’s, ‘OK, was the version of the band this or that? What was your first instrument? What’s your favorite color?’ I can’t. Let’s derail that train immediately and take it somewhere else.”
Band members Tyson “the Facehorn” Maulhardt and Ben Leon, “the Token Ecuadorian,” used to conduct the band interviews together but both have amicably moved on. In their place is Kevin Gautschi, who also is a member of another unconventional band, Major Powers & the Lo-Fi Symphony.
“He’s a powerhouse on vocals and guitar playing is so on point; he’s got a ton of speed in his right hand.” Wood said. “Having Tyson leaving was pretty heavy and then to have Benny leave, It was, ‘Whoa — is the band going to still function?’ It’s an incredibly hard role to fill. If you are going find anybody who is that talented, he’s going to have his own band, instead. He actually does have his own band, but we were able to distract him from that.”
Longtime Diego’s Umbrella fans must have this question for Wood: You’ve got your new friend and you have your old friends. Do you still have your lasers and lesbians?”
Yes, Wood answered. The band continues to play the old favorites, such as “Lasers ‘n Lesbians,” along with new tunes. He said it’s a fine line to craft a playlist, and there have been some critics.
“We’re a growing band and we’re going to change,” Wood said. “It’s going to happen whether it’s a personnel change or whether it’s by being inspired by something new.”
Speaking of new, Diego’s Umbrella will release of a full-length CD, “Edjka,” on March 10.
“I haven’t come up with a fake story yet, so I’ll just tell you the real one, how about that?” said Wood, as we get to the profound part of our story. “We take English words make them sound a little more Eastern European or Russian. We take the word edge bastardized by a fake Russian language.”
Which is precisely the philosophy of Diego’s Umbrella sound and why it works so well. The band is comprised of American musicians who play Klezmer, or Eastern European Jewish folk music with some slightly different instrumentation. Jason Kleinberg plays violin and accordion, Vaughn Lindstrom acoustic guitar and Red Cup the electric bass.
“I like to reference The Police when asked about what we’re doing musically,” Wood said. “The Police started off playing punk rock and they kind of sucked at that. Then they started playing reggae and they screwed it up and they acknowledged that they just couldn’t play it correctly. And it was their kind of cockeyed approach that made it interesting and unique. And while I am not going to say we are close to being musically talented or original as The Police, we definitely have that element of trying to grab from other cultures and kind of screw up but hopefully in a pleasant way.”
Below are photos from the Jan. 15, 2017 Diego’s Umbrella performance in the Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room. To see all of Larry Sabo’s images, click the LINK.