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Young Achievers: Rough Diamonds

The idea started pretty simply. Morten Aamodt and Alex Carr found themselves without a bass player and guitarist at about the same time Thomas Artus and Leo Garcia were left without a lead singer or a drummer. The motley crew of international students joined forces to create Rough Diamonds and have been building buzz around town for over a year now. Opening for local favourites like Lions of Puxi and playing in venues from The Melting Pot to Zhijiang Dream Factory, the group of four talented teenage boys launched their first CD, Wondering, in June.

The band’s first gig was playing the BISS Ball back in 2010. In front of their peers, they let loose a round of covers from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Arctic Monkeys. Rough Diamonds had only been slated for a 15 minute set during a break for the teacher’s band, but the crowd got so into it, they were asked to keep playing. It wasn’t long before the band branched out, composing their own music through an organic process that utilises all of their collective talents.

“Thomas will write a guitar riff or Leo will come up with an intro, then Morten will start singing or I’ll start playing the drums,” Alex explains. “It just develops. We don’t sit down with pen and paper. It’s just the ideas that are running through us.”

They consider themselves “somewhere between Oasis and punk”, but have been billed as alternative rock, and all four seem pretty comfortable with the label. Refusing to be constrained by genre during performances, a by-product they attribute to their upbringing in Shanghai’s international school community, they mix it up with a reggae track and throw in some rap. The convergence of multiple nationalities brings with it a mishmash of sounds and tastes that contribute to their overall sound.

Their songs are good – surprisingly so – and their live performances showcase a chemistry that takes most bands years to achieve. They lit up the stage at the JZ Festival last year with a three song set of original material on the student stage. They’ve been invited back this year, with promises to play on one of the main stages this time.

The boys practice a couple times a week at each other’s houses out in suburbia, but head into Puxi on Sundays for class at JZ School with Jan Prochazka. The band has nothing but respect for their teacher, thanking him in their CD credits for the “hours and hours of work, both in and outside classes” and noting that “without him we’d never have gotten this far.”

“Jan helps us polish our ideas, going from the ‘rough diamonds’ to something that looks more like a diamond,” says Morten. “He teaches what you don’t learn in the classroom.” More than just a mentor, Prochazka also helps out as their producer, photographer and videographer and was the first to suggest that they record their tracks.

While the respect they have for Prochazka is obvious, that’s not to say there aren’t creative differences between the mentor and the band. One day they were working on the guitar build-up in their CD’s title track ‘Wondering’, and Prochazka wanted Thomas to play it with distortion, but the guitarist disagreed. They reached a stalemate and enlisted the help of the McDonald’s deliveryman who brought them lunch. After playing both versions for him, the deliveryman sided with Thomas and the track was laid down for the album his way.

The process of recording the CD was an educational experience for the group, as well as a sentimental one. Leo, the band’s bassist, is moving to Mauritius this summer leaving the band one member short. “For me, the CD was more like a souvenir for me,” Leo says. “I knew I was leaving.”

For now they’re all heading to their home countries for the summer holidays, but they have big plans for the next semester. There's a new bassist lined up, as well as informal plans to visit their former band mate on the beaches of Mauritius, and hope to release their sophomore debut before the end of the year while continuing to play gigs around town. In the long run? “I want to play a big stadium,” Morten grins. 


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