With a name like “Diamond Thug” you wouldn’t expect a cheery crew of skinny South Africans: “People don’t listen to us because they think we’re a hip hop artist or they do thinking it is hip hop and they’re like what the…?” explained bass guitarist Danilo Queiros. “We were actually really considering changing it but we figured this is the biggest press coverage we’ve ever had.” Diamond Thug is among the latest crop of bands that have won free studio time at the brand-new Converse recording studio in Boston.

Finding an affordable, quality place to record in South Africa has been a struggle for Diamond Thug. As Danilo explained, “There are some really good studios in Joburg and Cape Town but you have to pay a lot of money for it. There’s no real return on it. There is, but also there isn’t, because you can go in there and the producer just doesn’t get it and you get it [the music] back and it’s like, this isn’t what we sound like!” Guitarist Adrien Culhane adds, “Or they’re just really old and dated people giving you the wrong advice.”

We chatted with Jed Lewis, Director of Music Marketing at Converse, who explained to us their revelation after many talks with musicians: The high cost of studio time is a universal hurdle. So, Rubber Tracks was born.

“A lot of artists that we see come through, it’s their first or second time in a recording studio,” explained Lewis. Diamond Thug was certainly able to take advantage of their time at Converse – they’ll be walking away with two tracks recorded and mixed, no strings attached. As the band plays take after take of “Mind’s Eye,” the lyrics that were once scribbles in a notebook come to life as lead singer Chantel Van T fills the studio with her hazy, warm vocals. 

Surprisingly, Adrien is the only band member that studied music in school, even taking an online course at Berklee College of Music. The others covered a wide range of studies: international relations and environmental studies; economics and engineering; and quantum medicine. (Yeah we had to look that last one up, too.) But since the beginning of this year they’ve been focusing on the band, which in South Africa means “practicing a lot and not playing that much because there’s not that many gigs,” lamented Danilo.

Though the band loves their hometown, the limited breadth of Cape Town’s music scene has pushed them to consider moving away. “You can tour the whole of South Africa in two weeks,” said Chantel.

And, when they do end up gigging, feedback is missing. All of the local music blogs are run by people they know personally. “It’s the same people that go to the shows and know the bands,” noted Chantel. “We know them personally as people,” said Adrien. “Sometimes the reviews aren’t that honest because you can’t write anything too mean about your friends,” added Danilo.

Yet the birth of the band may have had something to do with the dearth of venues in South Africa. Each band member joined after hearing (a version of) the band performing live. “It started out with me watching Chantel playing [in] her old band,” said Danilo. “So funny, cause then I watched you guys, and then Ted watched us!” exclaimed Adrien. It was Danilo and Chantel’s second show together, and they were backed by saxophones and decked out in onesies. “We haven’t worn onesies again since then, don’t worry,” Danilo assured us. After the show Adrien approached them about joining the band as a guitarist. “We were like, we don’t need a guitarist but we need a drummer. And then somehow he weaseled his way onto guitar,” said Danilo.

Soon after, the three piece became four. A jet-lagged Ted had sat throughout most of the interview distracted by the TV, glowing with the occasional flashes of Justin Bieber. But, as the most recent addition to the band, his silence was understandable. Danilo explained how Ted came to join them: “He snuck backstage and came up to me and said ‘I’m not supposed to be here, hug me!’” Of course, there was more to it than just that: “I’m friends with his girlfriend and that’s how he joined the band. Not by walking onto the stage. Don’t come onstage thinking you’re going to join us,” Danilo said with a laugh.

Ted has actually had quite a bit of luck. His first show with Diamond Thug was a festival, his second show they shared the stage with Portugal. The Man and Paolo Nutini, and now, six months later, he’s getting flown out to Boston and picked up from the airport in a limousine.

“You’ve never been in a band before, right?” asked Adrien. Ted shakes his head no. “Being in a band’s difficult, man!” jokes Ted in a mocking voice. 

With the addition of each member the sound of the band changed, and when we asked them to describe their current sound without using genre names they replied: “sipping on the Milky Way.” Keep an eye out for their upcoming releases, and in the meantime, check out their music here.

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