Corey Cunningham on Tom Diabo – Dark Star


Corey Cunningham is one of those artists who has popped up on RSTB so often it seems silly he’s just now finding his way to Hidden Gems. With great releases from Terry Malts and Business of Dreams packed in his catalog he’s making a mark on 2018 with the sophomore release from Smokescreens, a collaboration with Chris Rosi of Plateaus. The through line in all of Cunningham’s work has been an effervescent brand of pop that bubbles to the surface over and over again. As such, I wondered what records he’d been harboring in his sphere of influences. Corey’s picked one more hidden than most in this series, the 1988 small press LP from Tom Diabo.

Diving into how this obscurity came into his life, Cunningham recounts the familiar rabbit hole of blog scrounging, “I had been trying to find information about a band called Blissed Out Fatalists that I was doing a reissue for,” he tells. “At that time there was one website (someone’s personal music blog) that had posted the Blissed Out Fatalists stuff, so I wrote the guy and while I was waiting for a reply I saw that he had also posted Dark Star by Tom Diabo. I gave it a listen and instantly fell in love with how personal and minimal it was. It took me a year or two to actually find out who Tom Diabo was. I had written the guy from the German label that had originally released the LP in 1988 and I didn’t get a reply.”

“Eventually, Cunningham recalls, “I found someone who knew the guy who ran the German label. It turned out that the guy from the label had died, and not only that, he’d died the day I’d written him to find out about the record. Diabo, he told me, was also deceased and the album was actually a posthumous collection of demos. Tom had gotten a brain tumor in the early 80s and used his 2-track tape machine setup to get his coordination back after the surgery to remove it had left him disabled. He’d do one track of bass and drum machine, then do guitar and vocals on the other track. Eventually the cancer returned and Tom passed away in 1988.”

On how the record has affected his own works, Corey expounds, “The guy I talked to didn’t know too much about Tom but he put me in touch with Tom’s girlfriend from the 80’s who really helped us a lot with photos and unreleased tracks that were crucial when I later reissued the album. When Terry Malts toured Europe a couple of years ago I got to meet Flora (Tom’s girlfriend) in person and it was a really special moment that I’ll never forget. Beyond the impact the reissue had on me, the music was also inspiring because of the way Tom opens up on that album. He’s clearly grappling with some heavy existential questions and the willingness to be that vulnerable in song was really an epiphany for me. I used to have real hang-ups about writing very obvious and personal music but Tom really showed me that exorcising your anxieties through music can be a powerful thing.”

If you’re unfamiliar, as I’m willing to bet many are, the reissue that Corey discusses is still in print on Body Double along with some other great obscurities by the aforementioned Blissed Out Fatalists, Half Church and Philip Perkins. And if you’ve yet to jump on Terry Malts, Business of Dreams or that new Smokescreens, its about time. All are recommended.

Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

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