Kahnawake born and raised, Brendt Thomas Diabo, is an ever evolving musician and actor. Diabo started his music career with two independently released EPs and singles while touring across Ontario, New York, and Quebec and on screen he made his debut with an outstanding performance in Adam Garnet Jones’ feature film, Fire Song in 2015. Since then, Brendt has gone on to appear in Frontier with Jason Momoa, Mohawk Girls, and Angelique’s Isle. Here is Brendt Thomas Diabo on his progressive sound in music, why he took a break from the entertainment industry, and why it’s important to speak up about representation in the Canadian arts industry.
Erica Commanda (EC)
Can you talk to me about who inspires your sound and how you decided what genre of music you wanted to perform? Your music has a country twangy sound that’s cool.
Brendt Thomas Diabo (BTD)
It’s varied over the years, but the newest was more derived from the eighties rock country era artists like Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam, and some Springsteen influences. We decided to put in a bit of the baritone guitar- that really low guitar sound, which is that Steve Earle sound. Lately, things have been kind of shifting. I’m focusing more on seventies rock and roll, like the Allman brothers; a little more harder edge stuff, which I find has kind of happened organically over the years because I started with folk, then blues, then country, and now rock. So I’m kind of progressing with the music myself as I go along in my career.
EC: Do you work with the same team for each album? Or do you switch it up a bit?
BTD: For Foolish Heart in particular I worked with Eric Downing, a producer who worked with artists like Jayli Wolf, Julian Taylor, and even Tom Waits. Anyone you can think of, he’s pretty much worked with. I wanted to work with him on that song in particular because I knew he could get that sound- the sound of the people that I just referenced as influences [on my music]. For my new record out later this year there are two different producers. There’s Derek Downham, Derek actually managed to sneak his way into the sessions too. He plays the piano and drums on it. So I guess we are keeping it a tight knit group. I’d figure why change the house when you don’t need to?
EC: In an interview with the Eastern Door, you mentioned that you left the music and entertainment industry for a bit before returning. What are some of the things that you find challenging in the industry and what are some of the things that inspired you to come back?
BTD: It was just an organic choice for me to come back into it because even though when I left- I left because I started playing music very young. I left high school to start touring. I went back to school and got my diploma. Then I decided, maybe I should look into something else as a fallback plan. So I went to trade school. I’m a carpenter by trade. Now when I’m not doing music or acting and working in the film industry I’m building sets for television series, like Star Trek, and all kinds of things.
EC: On the topic of the Juno Awards, a couple of years ago the Snotty Nose Rez Kids spoke up about how Indigenous artists at the time were only nominated in the Indigenous music category and not in other categories like hip hop, despite the diversity in Indigenous music. Now Indigenous artists are being nominated in other categories. Can you talk about the importance for Indigenous artists to speak up about representation issues like that?
BTD: It’s very important because nowadays the Indigenous arts community is becoming more accepted into things even though we’re still in our own category, in our own lane. It’s like we’re invited to the party but this area is for “you.” You know what I mean? I think at some point it would be nice to see all these award ceremonies and all of these things drop the labels and just accept everybody. But at the same time, it’s also a good thing to have these categories as well, because it kind of keeps our community and our identity strong. Lately a lot of people have rediscovered their identity or they found out that they had new relations and they’re trying to infiltrate these categories and our industry for self gain.
I understand there are specific individuals that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I think they have the right to claim a certain identity but also that they have a lot to learn. It’s out of respect because they’re now getting on these social platforms and they’re spearheading the music industry. Those categories help us stay true to our identity as well, and keep to our own in a sense. It’s a double-edged sword, you know?