Dear Diaries

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It had to happen at some point, really. Anyone who regularly attends shows at The Orpheum or New World Brewery has surely heard a half-dozen humorous conversations cross-referencing bizarro standup comedian Emo Philips with the underground-music genre that stole his name. It was only a matter of time before somebody put it on a product. One could only hope that said product would be as fine as the joke was. Somebody did, and it is. Brandon-based imprint New Granada is pleased to bring you a bit of a laugh, a whole lot of good local tuneage and no small amount of indie-scene supposition, in the form of its brand-new compilation disc The Emo Philips Diaries. The laugh comes from Philips himself, who OK'ed the use of his name and likeness free of charge. Nineteen Bay area fringe acts past and present provide the quality tracks. Speculation will surely arise about the collection's title, which bears a striking resemblance to one of the underground's most well-known and controversial compilation series.

"We knew that if a CD called Tampa Rocks, or something, got into the hands of someone at a magazine in, say, North Carolina, it was going to go straight into the trash," explains New Granada principal Keith Ulrey. "But if they see that it's called The Emo Philips Diaries, they're gonna laugh their asses off, because they know exactly what we're talking about."

What they're talking about — sort of — is Deep Elm Records' The Emo Diaries, currently on its sixth installment. New Granada has launched a clever marketing ploy, one that takes advantage of that series' nationwide high profile. It also trades on the polarizing brouhaha amid the indie community over the use of a the hated "emo" term in order to sell records.

"It was just an idea that would hopefully get some press, grab somebody's attention when they're flipping through records," says Chris Deininger, New Granada cohort and bassist for the contemplative, piano-driven Thinking Day Rally. "The whole play-on-words thing; those comps (The Emo Diaries) sell like crazy."

Ulrey and wife Susie's former outfit, Pohgoh, appeared on the first Emo Diaries installment. The band then abruptly aborted plans to release their full-length CD through Deep Elm. While the couple would rather not dredge up the details of their Deep Elm association, they maintain that the motive behind the new disc's title was one of humor rather than malice.

"When it comes down to it, everybody knows about The Emo Diaries, and we thought it was funny," Susie says. "And Chris had the idea of contacting Emo Philips, to see if he would lend us his name and his picture — how funny would that be? And it worked."

To everyone's surprise, the comedian quickly responded in the affirmative. Philips' only stipulations were a prior perusal of the material (largely to confirm that nothing in the songs might be construed as anti-Semitic) and that the artwork include a current photo. His newly shorn (and, coincidentally enough, fairly "emo") look appears on the back of the package; the Moe-with-bangs visage that he trademarked a decade ago is, of course, right on the cover.

"He was very familiar with the scene, and said he'd been asked about it a couple of times in interviews," Ulrey relates.

For all of the attention The Emo Philips Diaries' cover is likely to generate, it's really the content that matters. Not too many of the bands actually fall into the "emo" category; on that level, the title is more gag than tag. But rather than attempting to document every facet of the Bay area's wildly disparate original-music landscape, it focuses in on the punk/posthardcore scene that the New Granada crew knows best — the one where they cut their teeth playing live, where they made lifelong friends and musical associations, from mid-'90s acts like Scrog, Chester and My Own America up through contemporaries such as Closure and Isobella.

Half of the bands represented aren't even around any more, but certain people crop up repeatedly over the course of the disc, revealing a timeline of sonic evolution. Some of the tracks were recorded as early as 1993, while others came together just this past April. Despite an eight-year spread, everything here comes off as remarkably cohesive; there's no half-assed "early years" filler or rediscovered basement tapes. Instead the disc showcases a cadre of indie-rock friends who made great music back in the day and, to a surprising extent, still do.

Ulrey began culling tracks for the collection last winter, when he and Susie's most recent project, The Maccabees, went dormant. Originally, he intended to feature only his friends' current bands, but a discussion with Deininger about some of the quality stuff that went unreleased over the years led to the record's from-then-till-now format.

"Once we started putting the songs together, we realized there was this really incestuous thing to it," he says. "Let's put it this way — there are 19 bands, and only 60 people."

He makes no apologies for the compilation's buddycentric vibe, which was basically the idea in the first place:

"If you read the liner notes of the CD, it does say that this is just one arm of the scene. It's not by any means definitive."

"But it's also very self-indulgent. I mean, I'm on there three times," Susie points out with a laugh.

"Of course it is," Keith agrees. "I've told people flat-out that it's very clique-ish. That I was doing this for me, that I wanted to put out bands that are my close friends. It's not that we don't respect everyone. There are a lot of great bands in Tampa, and maybe there'll be another comp of different bands if this one goes well. "

"What's special about it for me, and for us, is the fact that that's my life," Deininger interjects. "It's the past 10 years, it's everything. Going to shows, being in bands, those are all my friends. That's it. And I may be biased, but I think it's an amazing (grouping) of songs."

Over the years, there's been no shortage of compilation records aimed at representing the Tampa Bay original-music scene. The Emo Philips Diaries, however, may be the first to enjoy the multiple advantages of true national distribution (primarily through Gainesville's respected No Idea Records); a resonant, eye-catching cover concept; and a sound, although eclectic, that jibes immediately with current indie-music tastes.

Plus — The Emo Philips Diaries? Come on, man, that's fucking hilarious. The folks at New Granada may have started out just wanting to do their friends (and themselves) justice, but they know that the finished product might very well raise their scene's profile considerably outside the city limits.

"We know that there have been Tampa compilations before, like the Tampa Smokes series or Greetings From Camp Hiawatha," says Ulrey. "But they were pretty much done locally. We're really trying to "

"Do not say "put Tampa on the map.'" Susie butts in, rolling her eyes.

"I wasn't going to," her husband replies, with a smile that makes you think that was exactly what he was going to say. That, or something very much like it.

The Emo Philips Diaries is available at most of the Bay area's finer independent music retailers; check out www.newgranada.com or contact: New Granada Records, P.O. Box 291044, Tampa, FL 33687-1044.

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