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Twin Threat

Puny Human rocks the devil's riff



Prick up your ears when you hear about a band with brothers in it. It’s a good indication that there’s some deep communication going on between members—two of them, at any rate—who have been exchanging records and ideas for a lot longer than the band has been together.

Josh and Jason Diamond of New York band Puny Human are twins who have been playing together since they were 13. Now, just turned 32, they run a post-production company together (most recent project: editing an entire season of MTV’s “Hard Rock Live.”) For all that, though, Josh Diamond explains that there really isn’t anything extraordinary about their twin experience. At least, nothing to compare with well-documented stories of twins developing their own language, or feeling phantom tinglings in each other’s extremities, as has sometimes been reported.

“Luckily, we’ve never had to live in a cave or anything,” says Diamond. “We’ve always just used regular English, and we haven’t had any of those things where I’ve gotten hurt and he’s felt it, like in The Corsican Brothers.”

But they do share certain musical tastes, says Diamond, and not necessarily what you’d think from listening to Puny Human’s hard-rockin’ second album, It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Humanity. Produced by friend and former White Zombie guitarist J. Yuenger, It’s Not the Heat weds burly riffs to unusually (for this genre) sing-song vocals and bizarre free-associative lyrics. That’s because, Diamond says, the brothers and the rest of the band are just as likely to do time with Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra records as with riffalicious platters from the comrades in man-rock they thank in their liner notes: Fu Manchu, Drunk Horse, and High on Fire.

“We all listen to such diverse styles of music,” Diamond explains. “And we don’t really write songs with a particular scene in mind. These days, everyone in New York is pretty much...well, it’s like Strokes heaven. The whole skinny-tie-and-faux-hawk thing. I hate that crap.”

In fact, Puny Human seems like an odd stylistic fit even for a city with 12 million people. For whatever reason, the West Coast has always produced stoner rock-type bands like Fu Manchu and Nebula; you just don’t hear about as many from the Northeast. Maybe that’s because, as Diamond contends, New York sucks for most bands. Puny Human dealt with local indifference by adopting nearby Boston as a kind of home away from home, where the shows are generally better.

“New York has a really crappy scene,” Diamond grouses. “You’d think it would be great, but it’s really snobby and a lot of people just come out to see the bands they want to see and don’t stay for the whole show. I mean, I’m guilty of it, too, to some degree, depending on the show—seeing the band I want to see and then splitting. But when we go out of town to play, people stay for the whole show, hanging out and drinking and playing pool with their friends. People don’t do that where we live.”

But, Diamond continues, half of the band is comprised of more or less lifelong city-dwellers nonetheless. Singer Jim Starace was born and raised in Queens, and drummer Iann Robinson’s family moved to New York when he was 5 (the Diamonds moved there when the boys were 14). And for their day jobs, all four members could hardly be closer to the action in their chosen fields. Robinson worked for the Diamonds’ post-production firm before jumping ship to work at MTV, and Starace is a stop-motion animator whose most recent project was an animated version of the underground comic “The Book of Sick.” And even if the music scene sucks right now, as Diamond contends, Puny Human members can content themselves with some measure of prestige: Their rehearsal space was once used by Bad Brains, and KISS supposedly used to practice right downstairs.

The place has got a great vibe, says Diamond, and the guy who owns it, Giorgio Gomelski, is famous for supposedly landing the Rolling Stones their first record deal, as well as producing Mahavishnu guitarist John McLaughlin’s first solo outing, Extrapolation. It was at Gomelski’s insistence that Puny Human built a riff they’d been tossing around at practice into the catchiest song on It’s Not the Heat: “Devil’s Riff,” which sounds like Fu Manchu mixed up with Apples in Stereo.

“He sounds like Triumph, the insult comic dog from Conan,” laughs Diamond. “He comes in and goes, ‘Hey, keep playing what you were playing, that’s great. I’m a riff man, and that’s a great riff. That’s the devil’s riff.’ And we were like, ‘That’s it!’”

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