Over the past decade, the denizens of Mobile have witnessed the local music scene grow. From singer-songwriters to punk rock, there are a plethora of working bands calling the Azalea City home. Now, the industry side of the local scene seems to be increasing in size.
Over the past few months, Lagniappe has featured the news of studios and labels opening in the area. Local observers can now add Burning City Frontiers to the list.
Burning City Frontiers is manned by veteran industry figure and Mobilian (by way of Chicago and Los Angeles) Brian Diemar and Grammy-winning producer Toby Wright, who has engineered and/or produced for notable bands ranging from Alice in Chains to Primus. Currently, Diemar and Wright are preparing to launch the label with a band that features Diemar and a lineup of iconic names from the apex of the ‘90s alternative rock movement.
Growing up in Chicago, Diemar’s love of music was fostered by his grandfather in his younger years and he inherited his grandfather’s talent for playing by ear. In the beginning, he focused on the keyboard and organ but eventually he discovered the guitar and with it, the legendary Chicago underground scene.
He also began “cutting his teeth” in the music industry by “watching and learning.” In those days, it was not uncommon to rub elbows with some of the biggest names in alt. rock.
“It was a real tight scene,” Diemar explained. “You could go out on Saturday to Crowbar or Exit and see everybody from the bands there. There were the guys from Ministry and Thrill Kill Cult and all the other Chicago bands just hanging out.”
Diemar later traded the Windy City for Los Angeles, where he studied at UCLA. He found his way into a studio with a producer and continued to learn the ropes by working with lower level bands who could not afford a high-end studio or a notable producer with a résumé filled with big names.
He worked with prominent bands in the Los Angeles scene such as Trigger Pimp and Dissolution. In the days where studios were still cutting and splicing tape, he was assisting in the creation of albums for musicians such as Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses. Diemar also established a reputation for creating remixes.
During his time in L.A., he remixed tracks for bands such as Porno for Pyros, Slayer, Prodigy, Depeche Mode and The Chemical Brothers. He also became a go-to person for scoring movies (“The Butterfly Effect”), television shows (Showtime’s “Free for All”) and video games (NAMCO’s Pyxis Interactive). However, it did not take long until Diemar was pulled back onto the stage.
“Five or six years ago, I started to get back into the whole playing live and band thing and started this band called A.M. Conspiracy with Jason (Jones) from Drowning Pool,” he said. “I had veered away from the whole band scene into the music and film stuff and producing other bands.”
In addition to A.M. Conspiracy, Diemar also worked with former Marilyn Manson keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy (aka Pogo) on a project called MMII. However, Gacy was going through a “horrid lawsuit” with Marilyn Manson, which leaked into his work with MMII. MMII slowly faded into the shadows.
“It really made life for him miserable, which is not conducive to work or creativity,” Diemar said. “There was some good stuff there, and I don’t know whatever happened to it.”
Obviously, Diemar had established a successful career and versatile reputation in Los Angeles, which could lead many to one question. How did he end up in Mobile? Diemar explained that he grew weary with the intense nature of Los Angeles. He also had his 10-year-old daughter to consider.
Diemar found that Los Angeles was not the best place to raise a child. In addition, the cost of real estate on the West Coast can be astronomical. With family already living in Mobile and the low coast of local real estate, Diemar found the Azalea City the perfect choice for relocation.
“We came here, and I bought a farm,” he said. “We started a horse rescue, and we’ve got horses. It’s the opposite of L.A. and very relaxing, which is good for creativity. I love it. Right now, I’m building a studio behind my house. I get to watch horses while I’m working. It’s really nice. It’s a pleasant experience, rather than the helicopters and the sirens.”
Now that he has settled in, he and his partner Toby Wright, who lives in Nashville, have been preparing to launch the Burning City Frontiers label though Rough Trade Records. Diemar had always wanted to work with Wright and his move to Mobile made it more geographically possible.
Bells Into Machines will be the first band featured on the Burning City Frontiers label. The band features Chris Connelly, Paul Barker and Lee Popa, a trio well-known for their work with legendary industrial metal band Ministry as well as Pigface. Kevin Post from Blake Shelton’s band is also involved in this project, along with Diemar and Wright.
As a team, they are taking on the task of writing, producing, mixing and remixing the tracks on their upcoming debut. With members in Mobile, Nashville, Portland and Seattle, Bells Into Machines has utilized technology in the creation of this album, but Diemar will admit the long-distance arrangement has benefitted the creative process, which Diemar said is the result of “the three Fs:” friends, fun and fair. So far, the formula has worked quite well.
“We all felt the same way about stuff,” he explained. “We all said the same thing. We just wanted to have fun and be friends, and we’re actually creating some cool stuff. We also thought about what label was going to put this out and get behind it, and if they are, they’re going to want part of your publishing, your merchandising and your ticket sales. We’re not 19, and it’s not all cool and fun anymore. It is a business.”
Bells Into Machines’ debut weighs in at 19 tracks. Not only do they offer the original studio versions, the band is also including remixes of their songs. Bells Into Machines woos the listener into their world with the electronic seduction of “Your Crime Scene-My Career” and “Wretched Little Deity.”
The album’s lineup also delves into alt. rock ballads with a placid nature in songs such as “Missions.” With Connelly, Popa and Barker in the lineup, it is expected that they plunge into the industrial metal style for which they are known. Bells Into Machines provides a furious explosion of the genre with “Zero Soldiers” and “Video of Slaughter.” The two tracks are a particular nod to the creative forces behind Ministry’s trademark sound.
Diemar and Wright are planning to “piggy-back” other artists with the release of Bells Into Machines and the launch of Burning City Frontiers. As far as future expectations, Diemar explained that it will be an “incestuous” label. Taking a cue from hip-hop, Diemar and Wright plan on their label artists regularly collaborating. As far as the types of bands that they will be looking to sign, Diemar and Wright see no limits. From metal to country to blues, they are looking to fill the label with what they consider “good music.”
Ultimately, they want their label to break the chaos of the today’s music industry. Diemar and Wright want to prove that artists can still make a living in the music game. They also have no delusions of grandeur. Diemar and Wright would love nothing more than to see one of their artists move on to a bigger label.
“Our whole goal is not for the label to make millions of dollars,” said Diemar. “I would love to find artists, put out a record and have someone bigger say, ‘Oh my God! This is awesome.’ We want to take them and then have them move on to greener pastures than what we have.”