Diners and The Power of Positive Thinking

Morgan Troper

Credit: Bob Vielma

Diners’ Tyler Broderick is having an off-night, but he’s trying his best.

The Phoenix-based musician stumbles through the first few verses of the Thin Lizzy quasi-deep cut “Do Anything You Want To”—arguably the most literate “fuck the haters” anthem penned by a classic rock band—but he can’t remember the lyrics. “I’m sorry everyone, I’m having a really a weird night,” he tells the audience. Broderick’s self-effacing admission is met with uncomfortable laughter from the crowd. “Please don’t laugh,” he says. “A lot of very weird things are happening in my life right now. I have some donuts, if anyone wants some.” Sure enough, there are bright pink pastry boxes at Broderick’s feet. Realizing that this, too, is not a joke, members of the audience swarm the front of the stage like a gaggle of rapacious geese.

Broderick is both a flamboyant performer and a paragon of indie economy, as reflected by his attire: Converse, plain black jeans and an iridescent gold Members Only jacket.

Although typically a full band on recordings, Diners is a solo act tonight. Towards the end of the set, Broderick places his Stratocaster down and opens up a laptop, cueing the “karaoke” portion of his performance, where he sings over the backing tracks to the more ornate songs off Diners’ latest record, Three. Without the weight of a guitar around his shoulders, Broderick adopts a confident swagger—he’s now the sequin-suited frontman of an invisible cabaret act. This galvanizes the audience; people start dancing and singing along, crullers in hand. For the big climax to “Fifteen on a Skateboard”, Broderick drops to his knees and chugs a massive can of Rockstar—the crowd goes wild.

“Maybe next time you see me it’ll be less weird,” Broderick tells me after his set. But Diners’ performance is—aside from being very good—symbolic of their musical philosophy: if something’s upsetting you, try and break through it. Count your blessings. Take a knee and shotgun a Rockstar.

While that outlook might seem like the stuff of inspirational posters, it’s refreshing in a scene filled with so much hopelessly negative music, usually made by people who have very little to complain about (full disclosure: I am one of those people). “Even when I’m bummed out, I feel very grateful,” Broderick tells me a couple of days later over coffee. “It’s such a cool and amazing thing to be able to play music in front of people, and so even if I’m going through a weird time, I try and lock in on that.”

Three is one of the most moving guitar-based records released in years. Mildewed descriptors like “lo-fi” and “bedroom pop” don’t even begin to do Broderick’s songs justice; the approach may be homespun, but his musical vocabulary evokes the dense, sweeping songwriting of masters like Brian Wilson and Carole King.

Broderick is shameless about his adoration for classic rock. He references The White Album and Paul McCartney’s solo tour de force Ram as some of the primary tonal influences on Three. “I grew up just really into ‘rock’ music,” he tells me. “AC/DC, all the very big names like that, and then I got into ‘80s metal like Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden.”

But more than any other popular songwriter, Broderick’s compositions evoke The Kinks’ Ray Davies. Like Davies, Broderick has a knack for poeticizing the mundane, and his optimism is spritzed with an inexplicable melancholy: in wanderlust anthem “Hear The World”, Broderick laments that, realistically, he won’t be able to visit every place on earth before his life is over. The narrator in “Plastic Cactus”—the song that probably sums up Diners’ ethos best—tries as hard as possible to stay upbeat, despite internal strain (it ends with the mantra “Learning to live, learning to live, learning to live…”).

Now on prominent punk label Asian Man Records, Diners are junior recruits of the pop-punk glitterati, sharing bills with artists like Jeff Rosenstock, The Smith Street Band and Broderick’s high school idols, AJJ. But both Broderick and Diners’ omnichordist Jill Frensky say they feel like the band is usually the outlier at shows.

“I don’t really know [how the punk thing] happened,” Broderick tells me. “My friend Bob [Vielma], who used to work for Asian Man, just happened to be at a show we played in San Jose, and that’s kind of where that relationship started. But it’s funny because I wasn’t really expecting it. I was expecting maybe a different crowd to take us in, but they’ve been helping us more than anyone else, which is awesome because I [really like that kind of music], but stylistically, it surprises me.”

“We printed black shirts for this tour because people coming to these shows definitely want them,” Frensky says. “Diners have a versatile sound, so I think we’ll fit on most bills, even when we’re the odd one out. But I think punk is important as a value system more than a sound, and I think we maintain that aspect of it without being a super punk band.”

Diners’ biggest strength is that they aren’t a super punk band. By espousing concepts like gratitude and positive thinking in a scene that has historically romanticized cynicism and self-obsession, their music feels like an incursion on pop-punk’s old guard. Broderick knows there’s a time and a place for “whiney” songs, but he doesn’t feel like it’s his place. “I’ve written some whiney songs before, but I won’t ever record any of them,” he says. “I think I write songs about what I strive for, although I’m not always as positive as them. I can be moody, but I don’t want to be. I write about how I want to do things. I want to be happy—I try my best.”

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