Timothy Lannen fronts The Diggs. Their songs are powerful, taut, big-guitar, ’90s-esque alt-rock. His vocals are honest, emotional. At times he seems he’s choking down disappointment. At others he’s letting loose with mid-rant rage.
Uh-oh. Does that mean the band is … gulp … emo?
Lannen, a gabby, friendly New Yorker who seems like he’d be as at ease talking with a stranger about their music collection as he is being interviewed about his own band and their terrific debut album “Commute,” sighs, then takes a deep breath.
“I believe emo to be, in the truest sense, Fugazi or Shudder to Think or Sunny Day Real Estate. All of whom I like,” he says deliberately. “But we’re not those bands.”
“As far as how a lot of people mean it, it seems to mean unlistenable or interchangeable,” he says. Then firmly offers “Commute” is “not an emo record.”
He then chuckles and admits The Diggs may get the label incorrectly hung on them because “I have a tendency to scream a little sometimes.”
Indeed. Lannen’s delivery is one of the basic ingredients of The Diggs’ sound. The others are alternately droning/chiming “Goo”-era Sonic Youth guitar, a Superchunk nose for hooks, Bloc Party dynamics — and a surprisingly thick sound for a three piece that recalls the Shoegazer microtrend.
And it’s all the perfect cocktail for delivering Lannen’s direct, yet affecting, lyrics. The excellent “Everything’s Starting Over” begins with the killer couplet “I don’t think you’re ugly at all / But you’re tired and it shows.” The line could be a come-on or encouragement for an ex or a friend — or himself while staring in the mirror.
By the end of the song he’s shrieking the title repeatedly against racing drums and the aforementioned drone. The words are so stark and open to interpretation it’s easy for listeners to make the song their own.
“I get [told] that. I love it when people say that about any of the songs. I’m glad ‘Everyone’s Starting Over’ works. Because it could have been the cheesiest thing ever.”
Lannen works hard at writing so simply, which is probably what as a lyricist separates him from you “Why won’t you like me? Why won’t you read my blog?” crowd.
“I have the hardest time with lyrics. [Writing] music, you know right away if it’s gonna work or not. For lyrics I just write everything down. Everything. I get a lot of stuff from reading books. I’ll be on the subway and see something and something comes to me.”
As such it sort of follows that this guy leading a loudish power trio — with bassist Rob Haussmann and drummer Charlie Schmid — didn’t start as a rock guy at all. But as a faux-bohemian coffeehouse singer songwriter.
“I was thinking about hanging it up. I was bored with myself,” he says of the time. In 2001 he formed a band that was a precursor to The Diggs and “really” started to play electric guitar.
The Strokes then ruled their native New York City and Lannen says while the prevailing trend inspired that early band, and later The Diggs, it didn’t really influence them.
“Not a lot of [NYC] bands are doing real melodic things,” he says. “In our band we play our instruments. Other bands seem to play with them. It’s not an insult.”
“Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t care. That makes us a New York band.”
His approach to songwriting changed as the guitars got louder.
“I used to try to fit as many words in a song. But when I started doing the band, I wanted things that would cut through.”
Unless you live in the Northeast you probably won’t get a chance to check them out. Such is the burden of the indie-rock fan in the age $3-plus gas. Which is unfortunate, because they have developed the reputation for having a tight, raucous show.
“I’m not a terribly loud person but when I’m on stage I just kinda go for it,” he says of his hair-on-fire [in a good way] howl. “It comes from somewhere. I just want to get [the songs] like that one time it felt perfect and do that again. But more.”
The band is instead focusing on writing their follow-up to “Commute.” Lannen says there will be more of the same — powerful rockers and shimmering slow songs.
“My favorite description and the one I agree with the most is that — without getting too into genre — is we’re just a small, very simple, band with a really big sound and it goes in a lot of directions.”
And if it makes the listener think an “e” word, he can live with it.
“What good music isn’t emotional? What’s the matter with that?”