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Three days after Thanksgiving and a third of the way through their Midwestern tour, the members of Diastemata awoke to find a flat tire on their borrowed hearse. On loan from a co-worker of their friend and roadie Matt Brown, the mammoth white 1971 Oldsmobile had faithfully transported Brown, guitarist-vocalist Meade Krosby, and drummer Patrick Mucklow to shows in Cleveland and Detroit. The band’s biggest venue to date was next.
“I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that we were going to lose our spot in Chicago,” Mucklow, 24, says, recalling the frustrating hours spent fixing the tourmobile’s tire and then crawling through city traffic. Though the band arrived 45 minutes after it was scheduled to go on, it hadn’t been bumped: The Dismemberment Plan and Ted Leo/Pharmacists, who had invited Diastemata along for five dates of their own tour, had waited. “They were so nice about it,” Krosby, 24, says. “I can’t believe they held that show up for us.”
On this, the first extended tour for both members of Diastemata—whose quiet, undulating sound Mucklow describes as “smart, intricate guitar, delicate vocals, and tasteful drumming”—there were several things to be thankful for. Getting the hearse, for one—a last-minute offering made gratis after the van that was supposed to make the trip failed inspection and the group found out that rentals, because of the holiday, were exorbitant or nonexistent.
“I have to admit, the idea of touring in that thing kind of appealed to me,” Krosby says. “I mean, it was really hot. It was a hot car.”
And, it turns out, practical and spacious. While two rode in the couch-sized front seat, one could lie in the back, comfortably reading or dozing next to the equipment. Unfortunately, the otherwise-accommodating rear deck was not designed for breathing: Carbon monoxide, the three soon discovered, was creeping through the floor of the car—and the curtained back windows were for display only.
“You don’t realize all the amenities for the living that the average vehicle has until you ride in something for the dead,” Krosby says. “All the goodies were up front.”
Thus, for the entirety of the weeklong tour, the choice was freeze or suffocate. The front windows were kept cracked—driver and passenger armed with gloves, hats, and jackets against the whipping highway wind—and the panels between the front and back were slid open for the unlikeliest reason in the history of the hearse: circulation.
Despite their car trouble, Krosby and Mucklow say the tour was a great success. “Since I joined a band, when I was 14, I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” Mucklow says. “When we were on tour, it reminded me why I’m here.”
The two met in the summer of 1998, when Krosby, who was in town for an internship with the National Geographic Society, began playing her guitar at a weekly open-mike showcase at 14th Street NW’s Metro Cafe. Mucklow, who had recently moved to the area from Fredericksburg, Va., to finish an undergraduate degree in communications at George Mason University, was a bar-back at the club. The pair soon began spending time together and talking about music. They kept in touch after Krosby returned to Ithaca, N.Y., for her last year at Cornell University.
After her May 1999 graduation, Krosby undertook field research in her specialty: evolutionary biology. She spent half a year in Alaska, including eight weeks in a tent on the coast of the Bering Sea studying yellow wagtails and several months in the Tongass National Forest trailing moles and flying squirrels. She later traveled to Costa Rica, where she recorded parakeet communication, trying to discover similarities between the calls of nestmates.
Meanwhile, Mucklow—who had for the six years before his move to the area been playing in a “D.C.-inspired loud-rock” band composed of friends from his hometown of Wheeling, W.Va.—began working at the Black Cat (where he continues to bartend) and drumming in trio Qui Vicino. In the fall of 1999, he joined the larger and louder outfit the American Workplace. Throughout, he had been trying to persuade Krosby to move to Washington so the two could play music together.
“She’s a great musician; somebody that good needs to not let it go to waste,” Mucklow says. “I knew her guitar-playing would go over well and that people would enjoy it. And I knew that I could complement it—and that people would be impressed with just the two of us [musically] filling up so much space.”
Though Krosby was considering graduate school, she decided to put it on hold. “I’d always done music, and I’d never done it seriously,” she says. “So I thought, Well, you know, this might be my window.” She moved to D.C. in May 2000 and began playing with Mucklow within two weeks. The new band, which had its first show less than two months later, needed to come up with a handle quickly.
“‘Diastemata,’” Krosby explains, “is the official term for gaps between the teeth. We were just looking for some name that no one would really know what it meant. I didn’t want a name that was going to pigeonhole us.
“Although, I guess, if anything,” she adds, “‘Diastemata’ winds up sounding like a metal band.”
With its lilting, sometimes-spoken-word vocals, fluctuating tempos, and restrained drumming, Diastemata actually winds up sounding like the soundtrack to an eerie but inviting fairy tale. Though Krosby, who writes the band’s music and lyrics, says she avoids a “superaccessible narrative-type lyricism,” she and Mucklow nonetheless manage to draw the listener into an alternate world of liminal dreamscapes—a habitat for those who enjoy skipping through the darkening woods excited, but not at all anxious, about what might happen next.
Recorded at J. Christian Quick’s Stillness Sound Facility in Warrenton, Va., over one weekend last March, Diastemata’s first record, a five-song self-titled EP, was released by D.C.’s Mud Memory Records last October. An Irish label, We Love Records, is pressing a 7-inch of four songs from the EP, which it is hoping to make available in the United States by the beginning of March.
“I don’t have a lot of experience as a musician, so our EP is embryonic Diastemata,” says Krosby. “At this point, songwriting is a challenge, because to do something new but still make it accessible to people is difficult.
“For me, success means that I write something that knocks my socks off,” she continues. “When I write something that sounds bizarre to me—and creepy—I like it. And I know that I’ve done something good.”
According to Krosby and Mucklow, the EP sold well on tour to audiences who, they say, generally kept quiet for the quiet band. “I couldn’t believe how well they received us,” Mucklow says. “We were the opening act of three bands. Nobody knew us, but they still bought our CD. They weren’t familiar with our music, but people said they liked it. That’s such a gratifying feeling—that people are actually enjoying your craft, enjoying what you do.”
For Krosby, who grew up, she says, a tomboy with a naturalist streak, practicing her craft sometimes involves a whole different set of instruments: To stay connected to her nonmusical profession, she works on a contractual basis for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, skinning birds for scientific study.
“I used to try to come up with a more user-friendly term for what I do,” Krosby says, “like ‘prepare specimens’ or various euphemisms that people might be satisfied with, but eventually I just realized that all they wanted to hear was, ‘Yeah, I skin birds.’ Why beat around the bush?”
Most of the birds she works on have been hit by planes flying over Air Force bases; a good portion of the data taken from the skins, she says, is aimed toward effectively managing wildlife—learning the birds’ behavior patterns and reducing the number of future accidents.
“I love anatomy,” Krosby says. “I love seeing those little bodies. They’re such well-built little
Krosby hopes that Diastemata will get back into the studio to record a full-length within a year. In the meantime, she and Mucklow plan to continue playing live and promoting their CD.
“When you’re out in the middle of nowhere, looking at birds, you don’t really think a whole lot about marketing,” Krosby says. “You just think, Wow, this is gorgeous, and I hope no one hurts this place.
“A lot of [my] songs are about the heartbreak of being surrounded by so much concrete and such an electric grid,” she continues. “I just can’t stand all the lights and the wirings—all the TVs. A lot of the songs are about me really missing the wilderness and just really missing the sea.” —Jennifer Agresta
Diastemata will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, at DCCD, 2423 18th St. NW. For more information, call (202) 588-1810.