Brendt Thomas Diabo is a rockabilly, blues and country musician coming straight from Kahnawake. That’s right: Mohawk territory. And make no mistake, while this hardworking musician takes his show to places as far afield as Los Angeles, he has been informed by his roots. In doing so, Diabo focuses on the art of making a traditional, authentic sound.
“My music is based on traditional blues and country music and rockabilly stuff,” he says. He names a few acts that have been influential — Hank Williams Senior for example. “A lot of older traditional country and blues acts.”
Diabo was exposed to this kind of music growing up. His grandparents were always playing 45s of Johnny Cash and George Jones. Though he began playing music at an earlier age, he didn’t want to play that kind of music. “I was a rebellious teenager and started in a punk rock band and graduated into heavy metal,” he says. “I wanted to do something loud.” Eventually, though, his interest in heavy metal and punk fell away and “organically I fell back into the music that I was first shown when I was a young boy.”
Diabo plays covers, of course, but he also mixes his own material into his sets. When he plays in a bar or a small club, he plays as many as three sets a night. “I have a wide range of songs that I can play,” he says.
His own music is lyric based. Diabo focuses on the words and story-telling part of the lyrics. “I come up with a concept and then try to write off of that and then put music to it,” Diabo says.
He explains his process with the song Dirty Old Town, which is not yet released. “I wrote this one song based upon the town I grew up in. It came up to me by observing things and thinking a lot about them and wanting to get out and have something more than that. For that song the lyrics came to me quicker than the melody. Overall when it was finished, everything fit together really well.” The song will be out on his second EP, due some time in the fall.
Diabo’s first EP, released two years ago, Something’s Gotta Change, Something’s Gotta Give was a project of love, recorded in a friend’s basement with help from a lot of friends and independent sources. His second EP reflects a more complex process. There’s a band on it and Diabo had the opportunity to record at Desert Fish Studios in Toronto.
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“I was living in Toronto for a while,” he explains. Diabo and the band recorded the album live off the floor. “We did it the way people did it in the golden era,” he says. “We Knocked it out and mixed and mastered and tweaked everything.” At the moment there’s no name and no specific release date.
Diabo doesn’t always play with his band and performing solo is perhaps closer to the original way his songs are created. “I sang the songs solo first and added a band afterwards. I think if people know my music and have seen me play before, they’re used to a one man show.”
Diabo has taken his show to many different places. Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, even Brooklyn. He seems a little awed with the reception he’s getting and the experiences. “I got to play in Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles,” he says. “It was kind of a culture shock. I’m standing where Jim Morrison stood.”
Perhaps what he likes best of all is how much people like the music. He attributes the resurgence of interest in rockabilly and blues to the fact that it is a basic, traditional form of music. “They called it pop music in 30, 40, and 50s, because it was popular. I think it’s because it’s basic, because it can make you get up and dance if executed right. When you go to a family function, everyone gets around in a circle, and they play jigging-type music. That was traditional music. I think people are attracted to it because they can go out and have a good time and dance.”
“I’m just trying to make music and have good time doing that,” he says. “The reception has been very positive.”
Brendt Thomas Diabo is playing with The First End at Cabaret Playhouse (5656 Parc) on September 4 at 9 p.m. $5. He has upcoming shows at Maddie’s Place in Kahnawake on September 20 and Amici in Chateaguay on October 4.