Rum to the Hills

Why does the Rum Diary hide its noise-suffused indie rock in the wilds of Cotati?

The group's lyrics also express this balancing act, nailing the conflict between Cotati's bucolic simplicity and the requirements of making a living. On "Slow Transit," a song about traffic jams, McKenzie sings, "Under sunsets, overgrown, open fences/ With fender blows/ In slow transit/ It's like no one ever reaches home." As he relates in the track "On Sunday," "In my town/ Time slows down."

If Noise Prints offers reasons for embracing isolation, The Key to Slow Time proposes motives for stepping out. Though Noise Prints is a beautiful album, it's unfocused at times -- which makes sense, given that it was pieced together from three years of recording sessions, during which the band hadn't fully developed its sound. The Key to Slow Time takes the best parts of the full-length and compresses them into more succinct, accessible songs. The release shows the Rum Diary hitting its stride -- but good luck convincing the musicians of that.

Take the band's new song "Mileage," which is quickly becoming the Rum Diary's show-stopper thanks to the "indie rock drum circle" finish, in which the whole band grabs drumsticks and pounds the melody to a pulp. Fee tries to downplay the material's power: "The [San Diego band] Drop Science was saying, 'That's the ultimate song. You're gonna close the house every time doing a maneuver like that.' But none of us had that idea. We're just going, 'Oh Schuyler, you like to play drums? Well, I like to play drums. So does Daniel! Like, let's just all fuckin' play drums.'"

Akim Aginsky

Then there's "Del Toro," a tune that blends dense percussion and dueling bass riffs into four minutes of pop-infected bliss. McKenzie sums up the band's feelings in the satanically catchy chorus, singing unironically, "'Cause we lack potential/ If nothing else."

This attitude explains why the foursome would rather take off on labor-intensive tours (a recent one featured 18 shows in 18 days across eight states) than pose for photo shoots, even if the average show draws only 20 listeners.

Referring to the band's endeavors thus far, Fee sips his rum and Coke and shrugs. "It's all just kind of like a dress rehearsal."

Of course, the Rum Diary isn't opposed to success -- as evidenced by its religious devotion to recording, touring, and practicing -- but its members are addicted to having control over how they achieve it. As a result, the band chooses to toil in relative solitude, in an old red house in the middle of nowhere. But when the Rum Diary comes out of hiding, its music speaks for itself.

On the group's May tour, for instance, the Rum Diary was scheduled to play an in-store at Seattle's Sonic Boom Records. When the shop's management realized that an employee, Melanie Sheehan, had booked an unknown act with no inherent draw, it pulled the plug.

"They were worried about putting up a lot of effort," says Sheehan.

After a little haggling, though, the store manager reluctantly let the Rum Diary play -- with unexpected results.

"They were really good," says Sheehan. "It was amazing. People were coming in off the street to stop and listen."

After the show, the employees requested a poster to hang alongside those of Pacific Northwest icons like Death Cab for Cutie and 764-Hero.

Not bad for a dress rehearsal.

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