Dick Diver is kind of a literary band. They’re named after a character from an F. Scott Fitzgerald book, their lyrics are often wordy and clever and Rupert Edwards, who I’m talking to, is an actual English teacher who has probably had to explain Great Expectations to teenagers more times than anybody should be required to.
If there’s any musician it’s appropriate to ask questions from the Proust Questionnaire – a set of personal questions answered by French author Marcel Proust as a teenager and then again as an adult – it’s him. Which is how I learn that Edwards: is prouder of Dick Diver’s two albums than any of his other life achievements; laughs at lowbrow slapstick comedy; and cries at sad jazz music. “There’s a Miles Davis version of ‘It Never Entered My Mind’ which is on Workin’, one of the late 50s records that he did,” he says. “It destroyed me when I heard it for the first time.”
A Miles Davis soundtrack for staring out the window when it’s raining may be a fair distance from the wry observations of Dick Diver’s songs, but their latest album Calendar Days does contain one reference to sad jazz. In opening track ‘Blue & That’ there’s a saxophone part played by Alistair McKay that may not make you weep but is definitely maudlin. The whole album’s noticeably more downbeat than their relatively chirpy debut, New Start Again.
“That’s how I wanted it,” says Edwards. “Most of the time when I think about how I want something to turn out it doesn’t turn out anything like that, but six months before we recorded it I had this idea and we talked about wanting to make a pretty sad record. Not because we’re really depressed people or anything, but because sad music is good music, often. And I think we kind of pulled it off in places, some kind of melancholy or sadness.” Then he laughs. “I nearly said Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness.”
Songs like ‘The Two Year Lease’ and ‘Gap Life’ are full of world-weariness but never too bleak. Although they’re responsible for the occasional song about wasted lives and bad breakups, he says that he and the rest of the band are perfectly happy people. “There’s sad music and there’s really sad music, like 90s doom-folky stuff. I can’t imagine Elliott Smith would have been a very happy person.”
Edwards writes a lot of songs, but where the other members of Dick Diver all seem to have multiple side projects on the go for their leftovers, he tends to scrunch his up and then throw them away by the dozen. “A lot of them just end up being really crap. Sometimes I think you have to write the bad ones to get to the better ones. There are so many songs I’ve written which are really terrible and it’s good there’s no outlet for them. I think sometimes it’s good that I have only one proper outlet because then I can be much more selective with what gets in there.”
Although that may be about to change now that he’s starting up a side project of his own, a new band with Amy Hill from School of Radiant Living. He says they’re called The Backstabbers at the moment but have already changed their name “like three times” and their music is “just really low-key acoustic sadness. But again, we’re happy people.”
Given that there are Dick Diver songs about language and leases, is there anything he wouldn’t write a song about? “I wouldn’t write a song about sport. I usually find those songs pretty cringeworthy. I’d write a song that has sport in it but I wouldn’t write a song about sport. I think the only thing that would stop me from writing about anything is lack of ability. I’d quite like to be able to write about all kinds of things but it’s pretty hard.”
It’s true that sport has inspired some of the greatest crimes committed to music, like New Order’s ‘World In Motion’ and Weezer’s ‘Represent’. Soccer in particular has not been kind to quality music. Edwards agrees. “I don’t think it’s about sport but there’s that Billy Bragg song where the film clip is him on a soccer pitch and it talks about scoring the winning goal and it’s like this metaphor for falling in love,” he says, then adds with feeling, “fucking awful.”
What he does write about is Australia, with songs that are full of mundane details like references to Alice Springs and shopping at IGA. “Before Dick Diver even started I had a phase of wanting to be like militantly local,” he explains, “in the sense that I didn’t understand why there were so many great bands from other places in the world which could freely reference their own spot in the world, like New York or whatever, and sound really cool. Whereas if you’re out here it sounds a bit trite. That kind of thing doesn’t really bother me at all anymore. I don’t have an agenda in any way, it was never an agenda in Dick Diver, but I think it still snuck in.”
BY JODY MACGREGOR
Dick Diver launch ‘Calendar Days’ at The Red Rattler in Marrickville on July 13. The album is available now through Chapter Music.