Scammers' Phil Diamond and the art of punk crooning 

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Photo by Barrett Emke

The plural nature of the name Scammers implies a group, but it's just one guy — Phil Diamond — plus a Boss pedal, a looper and sometimes a synthesizer. On a Saturday night in late June, Diamond was setting up his rig on the floor upstairs at MiniBar. He wore denim shorts and a Southwestern-style tank top that revealed his tattoo-covered arms. A punk-heavy crowd of about 30 gathered in his general vicinity. Eventually, a programmed drum-and-synth beat rang out from the speakers, red and green lights started flashing on the looper, and Diamond stood up and brought his microphone to his face.

Diamond has a gentle demeanor and kind blue eyes, but as Scammers, his performances are confrontational and vaguely sexual. There is humor, but there is also darkness. When the loop came back around, he charged into the crowd and sang the entire first verse right up in a random guy's face while contorting his body around him. Later, pogoing around the crowd, Diamond knocked a full beer out of another man's hand, drenching a few audience members. After the song was over, Diamond crouched over his equipment to queue up the next song. He looked over his shoulder. "Sorry to whoever's beer I spilled," he said. "I might be able to — uh, in theory, I can maybe get you a new beer."

"Punk crooning" is the simplest way to describe a Scammers show. Diamond flails about, singing dense, literal lyrics in a sultry, dramatic baritone. He favors the kind of intimate environments where he can touch the crowd: house shows and DIY venues like the Pistol Social Club, the now-shuttered West Bottoms space where he landed upon arriving from New Orleans, back in 2010.

"I lived at the Pistol for the last two months it was open," Diamond told me recently. "In New Orleans, I worked at a coffee shop with Aaron Hawn, who was in a KC band called Mythical Beast, and he suggested I move up to KC. He put me in touch with some people, and that's how I ended up here. The Pistol was kind of my intro to KC."

Diamond grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, and studied classical guitar at Virginia Commonwealth University. But he didn't like the classes and dropped out. "I thought it would be more of a conservatory atmosphere, but it was more homework-oriented," he said.

By the time he got to KC, he had ditched the guitar. "Really, I'm a guitar player," he said. "But I came to feel like I couldn't sustain a band by myself by just playing guitar. So I bought a cheap drum machine and figured out how to make some songs with it."

In 2011, as Scammers, Diamond released the Crucial Sesh EP. It's a rough recording; Diamond does a lot of morose talk-singing over cheap-sounding drumbeats.

"I think I was writing as if I didn't have my own sound," Diamond said of that period. "I was taking a lot of phrasing from other bands I liked, specifically Interpol."

But a few things on Crucial Sesh work. "Legitimately Poor" is the kind of bleak, uncomfortable listen that ends up getting lodged in your head. Its confessionals — Don't ask me what it means/I hate all of my tattoos/I was trying to look unapproachable; No I don't have a car/It's not 'cause I'm some sort of vegan or hippie/I'm legitimately poor — are specific and direct, and Diamond's delivery is chilling. It's not a song you'd put on a mix, but it hints at an original voice.

"I think people have generally given up on lyrics, except in rap and hip-hop," Diamond said. "I try to be really honest and not use the kinds of stock phrases that nobody would ever say in 2013 — things like, I love you so, or whatever."

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