Diners and Mo Troper Talk About Soda

(Also, Neil Young, the Beach Boys, and DOMINO.)

Blue Broderick is an LA-based artist who performs as Diners; Mo Troper is an artist based in Portland. Mo produced the new Diners record, DOMINO — out tomorrow on Bar/None — so to celebrate, the two friends caught up about the sugary bevs that fueled its creation, Neil Young’s “miserable” memoir, and more.  
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Blue Broderick: How’s it going, Mo?

Mo Troper: It’s going good. How are you? 

Blue: I’m doing fine. I just opened up a sugar free Red Bull. 

Mo: Nice, I was gonna ask what you were sipping on. 

Blue: Yeah, we stocked up. We bought a whole case so we have, like, 10 sugar free Red Bulls. Well, now nine. I did like a huge beverage haul of Red Bull, cold brew concentrate, like three different bubbly waters.

Mo: Woah. What bubbly brands?

Blue: I went pure Lacroix; the Nojito Spindrift; and then I got Soleil, grapefruit.

Mo: Good choices.

Blue: Yeah, I’m happy about it. We had a guest over, so I really wanted to stock up.

Mo: Yeah. I feel like that’s actually such a great host thing, because when I was recording these last few days, Evan [Mersky] — the owner of Red Lantern — was like, “Do you want a sparkling water?” I was like, “Absolutely.” There’s never a point when I won’t take someone up on that. I

Blue: Yeah, it’s kind of the official beverage of hosting in general. Pretty non-offensive to most people.

Mo: Yeah. It’s gluten free.

Blue: Sodium free, most of them. 

Mo: Yeah. It’s not like the Pepsi Nitro, which will put someone to sleep.

Blue: When was the last time you had a Pepsi Nitro?

Mo: Honestly, probably the last time was with you, or at least in your presence. I actually think that I stopped drinking them after you pointed out to me how much sugar there was in them.

Blue: It’s so much. It made me so sleepy every time I drank it. 

Mo: I think I was drinking one and you were like, “Do you know how much sugar is in that?” And then I looked at the label and it was fucking, like, 71 grams or something. I was just so disgusted, it made it taste different.

Blue: Oh, now I feel really bad.

Mo: No, no, no. I mean, it’s not like I wish I could still be drinking Pepsi Nitro. It was just the kind of thing where I would see the ads all the time and I thought it was so funny to buy. But then I got kind of hooked on them.

Blue: They were cool. It was fun while it lasted. I also do drink a lot of sugary drinks. Are you drinking any Red Bull when you’re recording in the studio? 

Mo: No, not lately. I feel like when I’m doing that stuff, I don’t have to be pounding caffeine all the time, because it’s pretty stimulating. I feel like it’s like an ADHD thing, kind of, where the more hyper-focused I become on something, I think my habits become healthier. I’ll eat throughout the day without realizing that I’m doing it, and I won’t need to get coffee a million times. I guess I have been contrasting it with copy work, which I do mostly at home, and it feels like I’m being dragged across the finish line,.

Blue: Totally.

Mo: I remember we were drinking them, but I think it’s just because like we were doing really crazy days. 

Blue: I also think we thought it was funny.

Mo: Totally. And I think that’s a totally fine reason to be doing anything, for the most part. It’s just a wholesome type of fun to have. 

Blue: And I think it puts you in a good mood, just having a little treat and having a laugh. You recently bought the whole Mo Troper band Sprite Lymonade, and it made all of us so happy.

Mo: I’m happy to hear that. It’s one hell of a soda. I mean, I’m a soda guy. I like the sort of tried-and-true energy drinks, like Red Bull in particular, but I never got into the Monster, Rockstar world. That’s a tier above where I’m comfortable going, I think. But soda, I’m always… I mean, I haven’t tried some of those disgusting new Coke flavors, like the marshmallow ones or whatever.

Blue: Yeah, they’re not great.

Mo: If I see one that is an appealing color and it’s a tried-and-true brand, like Sprite — also, you don’t really see that many Sprite variants ever, so I feel like it’s something special when it hits the shelves, you know what I mean?

Blue: Yeah. Well, I guess there was Sprite Remix — which I don’t feel like they’ve had Sprite remix since Bush was in office.

Mo: His first term. Wait, what was Sprite Remix again? Was it fruit?

Blue: Honestly, I don’t even remember. I think it was a little fruitier. And then I know that there’s the LeBron Christmas Cran Sprite.

Mo: What the hell? 

Blue: That is a kind of a yearly thing, but I haven’t had that since Obama was in office.

Mo: [Laughs.] We’re so old that we’re using that as these markers. Yeah, uh, I don’t think I’ve ever had that. Squirt Ruby Red. 

Blue: Oh, yeah. My goodness.

Mo: That’s a hell of a soda too.

Blue: Do you ever get into boutique sodas? Like, are there any soda shops that you go into Portland? Is that a thing in Portland?

Mo: Something about the way you phrased that just made me imagine being a regular at, like, a Ye Olde Maltery or whatever. They’re like, “Oh, hey, Morgan,” and you’re like, “Oh, hey, Tom, just a chocolate malt for me today.” [Laughs.] There actually is this place called Fairley’s, which is like a compound pharmacy, I think. I don’t know if it’s still a pharmacy, but they are a soda shop, and they’re cool. They’re a really classic place in Portland — actually very close to Annie’s Donuts, that donut shop I really like. 

Blue: Oh, cool.

Mo: I feel like I’ve been there once. But in general, no, I don’t go out to a shop and get soda. There aren’t really any Jewish delis in Portland — there was one that kind of sucked that was by my apartment that was around forever but finally closed, and then there’s one that’s kind of like a Portland spin on Jewish deli food, which to me is just so weird. There’s just something about it that’s kind of pretentious and like, “But what if it was Field Roast?” And it’s not even in a way that makes it palatable to vegetarians, like it doesn’t seem like that’s their priority. It seems like the priority is to be novel. 

Anyway, if I go to a Jewish deli, I’ll get an egg cream. I’m really stoked about those. That’s carbonated soda mixed in with chocolate milk, and they give you a side of more carbonated soda to add, so you pick your level of carbonation. But it’s really just Hershey’s syrup and carbonated water. That’s maybe my favorite soda thing that is something you have to order at a restaurant. Or, I guess you could just make it yourself.

Blue: It sounds really good.

Mo: Yeah. Have you never had one? Have we not gotten one together?

Blue: No, we haven’t gotten one together.

Mo: We should go to Canter’s or something, next time I’m in town. Because it does feel like special. It feels like they’re doing something right, when you go to a deli like that and you get an egg cream. There were a couple of places in Portland that did that, and I think they’re all closed now.

Blue: That’s too bad. 

Mo: Is there a soda shop where you live? Or did you used to go into soda shops as a kid?

Blue: Well, on tour I would try to find soda shops. 

Mo: Woah.

Blue: There was a very magical one in San Francisco called the Fizzery. There’s a soda brand called Taylor’s Tonics, and I believe that it’s the same people who own that company. It’s no longer around and I remember when they were closing, they were trying to sell the business and a lot of their product on Craigslist, and multiple people sent me the Craigslist ad like, “All you need to do is just get a loan and it’s all yours…” [Laughs.] Like, $20,000 worth of product. 

In LA, there’s a place called Galco’s that’s really exciting. It’s a grocery store sized soda shop, basically. There’s certain sodas that I get excited about — like the original Dr. Pepper recipe is really exciting and good to me and there are some companies that will try to recreate it. And for a while, I remember in the early 2010s you could still get a Dublin Dr. Pepper, which is what the original recipe is called because it comes from the city of Dublin — in Texas, not Ireland. 

Mo: OK, so, explain the distinction to me, if you don’t mind.

Blue: Oh, well, I think that it’s just a whole different syrup and… mouthfeel, I guess. The taste to me is a little bit rounder… I don’t even know how to explain flavor. 

Mo: Yeah, me neither.

Blue: It’s a lot smoother and maybe a little less carbonated than the current Dr. Pepper recipe. When you get it out of a can now, I think it’s a little bit more crisp than the Dublin Dr. Pepper. So it’s a little bit more refreshing and flavorful. 

Mo: Interesting. So the one we had when we were kids — did we ever have that version of Dr. Pepper, or has it always been the one that exists now?

Blue: That’s a great question. Maybe we had it in our lifetime! I don’t know when they stopped.

Mo: That’s really interesting. I think the thing about egg creams that seems like what you’re describing — there’s something about the chocolate milk with the sparkling water that makes it more refreshing. There’s something about the way that it sits with the carbonation where it’s not just totally sharp, like a sparkling water is, but it’s also not like soda. 

But I was also just going to say, the history of soda as a panacea is pretty interesting to me. I have always known about the cocaine thing, but last year I was reading more about it generally and I had no idea that Lithium was in 7UP.

Blue: Wow. I didn’t know that either.

Mo: Which is just so wild to me. 

Blue: Yeah. This is kind of funny — I mean, this has to be untrue, but I remember being home sick from school and my mom would give me Pepsi, and I don’t know why but there was a belief, even in the ‘90s, that soda could help your tummy aches.

Mo: Yeah. I totally remember getting a ginger ale or a 7UP. I guess theoretically ginger root would help a stomachache, but that’s not what’s in Canada Dry.

Blue: Yeah. I mean, I’m not opposed to staying home from school and having a Pepsi. 

Mo: Yeah, that is kind of the dream. When was the last time you had a soda in bed?

Blue: Pretty recently, I had a Diet Coke in bed. 

Mo: Oh, OK.

Blue: How about you?

Mo: I can’t remember, but it might have honestly been a Lymonade. 

Blue: Cool!

Mo: I guess when I say “in bed,” I’m imagining doing something in bed sitting up, and I haven’t done that in a long time. Like, I haven’t like, been in bed reading with a soda in the same way that I’ve done that with coffee. It feels like it’s, like, verboten. Soda is not as sophisticated in the eyes of the masses.

Blue: Totally. Well, there’s a whole page in Neil Young’s biography where he’s on the road and they’re staying with his bandmate’s family, and he’s talking about how when they woke up, they had Coca-Cola for breakfast, and Neil just can’t get over that. He’s talking about how he thought it was weird, but he tried it, and it’s really good. That was maybe the funnest part of his biography, because the rest of the biography is kind of about how he’s developing the Pono.

Mo: That’s insane. It’s an autobiography?

Blue: It’s an autobiography. 

Mo: Oh, god, that sounds so bad.

Blue: At the beginning of the book, he’s basically talking about how, “Today, we’re starting on our new device. It doesn’t have a name yet…” And then throughout the book, you hear the developments of the Pono — the triangular music player.

Mo: That’s awful. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I need to start reading again, because I really feel like my brain is rotting. At a certain point, I think I stopped reading, like, literature, or just even a normal person book, and started reading just the worst rock stuff. There’s a Barnes & Noble at the mall here and they have a section conveniently located right by the entrance that’s the music biography section. I used to get pretty excited by, “Oh, cool, Izzy Stradlin’s memoir,” or whatever. Just, like, the dumbest shit. I think I bought the Elvis Costello one too, and I was just like, “This is boring.” But I also think it’s because I was still sort of trying to hack it as a music writer, and it feels like that’s sort of a requirement. Like, you have to know things about Izzy Stradlin’s life that you don’t really care about if you want to walk the walk. But that Neil Young book sounds miserable to me. 

Blue: I did listen to part of it as an audiobook which made it a little bit more possible to finish it. I mean, I love a lot of those rock biographies. A lot of the audio books are voiced by the person who wrote it, which is so funny to me. It’s so fun to hear, like, Mike Love share how he thinks he deserves more credit. 

Mo: Yeah, they probably love it too. I’ve had some fun with “Brian’s Back” since you played it for me on tour.

Blue: Oh, my god, what a song.

Mo: I just can’t believe that song. I trip out about… I was thinking about this in terms of The Dukes of Stratosphear, which is that XTC band, and the phenomenon of bands in the ‘80s who were sentimental for the ‘60s. Which I guess happens every literally every generation, because there were also obviously bands in the ‘90s that were sentimental for the ‘60s. But there’s something about the proximity. Like, to be The Beach Boys and have a song like that, that interpolates so many songs that you wrote less than 20 years ago — to me, that is bizarre. I mean, they were already classics by that point, but it just feels crazy to be able to do that and for it not to feel like it’s too soon.

Blue: Well, I think they even do it a little bit sooner. Have you heard that single “Break Away”?

Mo: Yeah, totally.

Blue: “Break Away” is a more subtle version of it. I feel like I mean, “Brian’s Back” is so over the top. And that’s what the song is about, basically. It’s just meant to rev up Beach Boys fans.

Mo: Mission accomplished.

Blue: [Laughs.] It definitely does it for me. I actually love that song, “Brian’s Back” — it’s musically very cool to me, and very pretty. But “Break Away” is almost about the same thing just without saying “I’m back.” It’s just not saying the names of their songs.

Mo: OK, interesting. I should listen to that song again.

Blue: It’s kind of funny because — and “Brian’s Back” does this too — where they acknowledge Brian’s hardships. In “Break Away,” they kind of nod to it by saying, “I heard voices in my head.” [Laughs.] And I guess Brian is signing off on it, but it seems a little insensitive.

Mo: Yeah, I could not believe that line in “Brian’s Back” where they talk about how he’s “off his head” or whatever. I mean, it’s kind of badass to be acknowledging that publicly, because it was just way more stigmatized. Even now, I feel like mental illness — particularly depression and anxiety — have become these things you see referenced a lot in press releases. They’re kind of this cornerstone of the album narrative, and there’s so much acceptance — not that there shouldn’t be, but I think that schizoaffective disorders are [still] more misunderstood or malevolent-seeming mental illnesses. It’s still not touched on in the same way, or it hasn’t been softened or sanitized yet by the PR machine. So I think it’s really interesting to me that someone like Brian Wilson would even say that.

I guess the original point I was making about “Brian’s Back” — and this also is the case with “Get Back” — but these bands that were so big that were conscious of their mythos in real time, that to me is what’s really weird. Because you think about it as like, “Oh, they’re giving all these quotes for box sets or whatever, but that makes sense because this is a 50 year old album.” But the fact that they were just so aware of their celebrity even then is really trippy to me. And that’s the case with the Beatles, too. I guess that also makes sense, because they referenced their songs all the time in their songs. It’s like world building, you know? 

Blue: Have you ever referenced one of your other songs?

Mo: Not on purpose, no. The first time I’m doing it is on this next record. There’s a song called “Face of Kindness,” and then I sing “the face of kindness” in another song. But it’s not really — it was just, I had “the face of kindness” on a list of song titles I wanted to use, and then it fit really perfectly into this other song. I was like, Damn it, I wanted to use that for a song title, but I guess I’m just going to have to use it for a lyric instead. But then I ended up writing the song. So it wasn’t conscious. This isn’t going to be like my The Wall. But there is a little bit of world building there, I guess. How about you?

Blue:  I’ve done it once consciously. It’s off the split that I did with Walter Etc. There’s a song called “Blankly at the Sun” that references a song called “Over Casters.” It’s not crucial for somebody to know the other song. But kind of the point of the chorus of that song is, it’s talking about how I wrote the song for myself, but I know my friends are going to hear it, and also thinking about how they might also get that reference to that other song if they know what that other song is about. So maybe less fan service, more friend service.

Mo: That’s cool, though. I’m really excited to see the video of yours tomorrow.

Blue: Yeah. To date this conversation, it is coming out tomorrow. 

Mo: Cool.

Blue: I think it turned out great. Bob [Vielma, the director] wanted to make, like, a hang video. That’s what he said — “I just want to to shoot you in your spots with tour friends.” But then also, we tried to bring in an “I Love LA” element by by renting a convertible. So it’s a little bit  of a fake reality where I have this car.

Mo: You still have it?

Blue: Oh, I wish. Also, I sent you a picture earlier of this, but my records came in.

Mo: Yeah, that’s so cool.

Blue: Which is just so exciting to know that my records will be with me at the time of the release date. That hasn’t happened to me since… freakin’ Trump was in office. [Laughs.]

Mo: [Laughs.] It looks so great. Do you always think it’s kind of surreal? 

Blue: Yes. It’s very surreal to hold it. And then to even take the record out and look at the grooves… I do think of music as a very physical thing, because it can vibrate — frequencies can shake the walls, and when you sing you feel it inside you. But I think that being able to hold [a record], that’s the closest you get to holding it. Maybe other than an instrument.

Mo: Yeah, that totally makes sense to me. 

Blue: What I’m saying right now is really smart and has never been said. [Laughs.] 

Mo: [Laughs.] I mean, I’ve even been thinking about that with the bidirectional mic. It’s just so weird to have a mono track of two people singing that kind of feels like stereo.

Blue: Oh, yeah.

Mo: I don’t know. I feel like there are people who don’t care about this aspect of music at all, and then there are people who care a lot about this aspect of music, but they’re kind of pedantic and will, like, tell you why actually records don’t sound any better than CD and never have, or whatever. And then there’s this weird middle category of people who care about it in kind of a spiritual way. Which I feel like is why I think it’s not a cliche when we talk about it. I just totally understand what you’re describing. When I get really excited about analog stuff, I’m not arguing about, like, fidelity. It’s about the physicality of it for me too. Something about that feels very real.

Blue: Well, and I think that so much of the music that I listen to is just being played off of my phone, and I associate my phone with feeling bad. So there’s a lot of feelings that I get when I look at my record collection — you know, I have a copy of every record that I’ve made along with my friends albums, and those are really the only records that I collect. But it makes it makes my home feel nicer to have those. It makes me just feel much better about music when I can see it and live with it.

(Photo Credit: left, Rachel Lewis; right, Samantha Sutcliffe)

Diners is a West Coast pop, rock & roll outfit led by Blue Broderick (she/they). Their latest record, DOMINO, is out August 18, 2023 on Bar/None.

(Photo Credit: Rachel Lewis)