More Than Just Alright – In Conversation with Diet Lite [Part One]

Three members of Diet Lite are laying on their backs on the grass with their heads touching each other in unision

Image Courtesy of Kelsie Herzogg (Instagram: @kelsie_herzogg)

Author: Nicholas Brandis

This last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Diet Lite, a Milwaukee trio delivering a package deal of infectious hooks, introspective lyrics, and impeccable humor through their music. Our discussion included such wide-ranging topics as the band’s origin story, personal philosophies, Tik Tok, and more – all of which served to confirm my suspicions about Evan Marsalli, Kelson Kuzdas, and Max Niemann. Not only are they incredibly talented and hardworking musicians, they are also lovely people. Their latest album, Seems To Be The Way It Tends To Go (released in March of 2021) is their strongest record yet, and I encourage you all to go listen to it. Before running to the streaming service of your choice though, I urge you to read this interview first. I promise you won’t regret it.

Nicholas Brandis: Welcome Diet Lite, it is my pleasure to be conducting this interview. The first question I wanted to ask you guys is how did you come together as a band, or even before then how did you guys meet in the first place?

Max Niemann: There was a prophecy when I was young that I would travel to the land of Wisconsin and meet my two better halves. Basically, the prophecy foretold, it was in Old English so it’s a little hard to directly translate, but it was pretty much: “you’re going to go to college, you’re going to meet these two guys, and you guys are going to start a band,” and Diet Lite in Old English translates to something really different – That was just the lead-up to when we met. How we actually met I can let Evan talk about.

Evan Marsalli: Yeah, so me and Kelso were on the same floor freshman year of college and we just kind of had this same interest in music and you know, going to parties and stuff, so we just naturally became friends. I brought my drums up to school junior year, so me and him just started recording music together in the studio without any band name or anything. We eventually wanted to you know, play the songs. There was a battle of the bands going on in Fall of 2017 so we recruited Max and another guy, and the rest is history. The other guy is not with us any more – he played bass but then when he left these guys [Max and Kelson] just decided to switch off when we play live.

Kelson Kuzdas: Yeah, we had to sacrifice him as a part of a sacrificial rite of the prophecy.

NB: I wanted to ask about the origin of the Diet Lite name. The battle of the bands, is that where the name originated?

EM: We needed a name and we didn’t have one, honestly dude –

MN: Yeah, I’d like to think that I recruited them [Evan and Kelson] personally but we’re not going to get into that spat right now. But I basically just had this running list of half-decent band names that I could maybe use one day. I had to come up with something for a class and Diet Lite just popped out of my brain. I don’t know if I was like listening to Diet Cig and drinking some Miller Lite or what was going on there, but yeah, it worked.

EM: I’m surprised that nobody had used that name already also. I feel like it’s kind of like diet soda and light beer – it’s just a weird combination of something that essentially doesn’t mean anything actually.

MN: My favorite thing about the name which I didn’t even realize when I came up with it is like, the implication of calling your band something that is literally two words that like, at their essence mean “lesser”, or “less substance than otherwise” so it’s kind of like a nothing name in the sense that it actually means approaching nothingness as much as possible. When you look at it like that, it’s kind of Nirvana! It’s kind of Zen in that way.

NB: Very philosophical! One of my favorite things about Diet Lite is that you guys aren’t afraid to wear your influences on your sleeve – from covering “Hotel Yorba” by The White Stripes on your first record to covering “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads off of your latest release. I was wondering if you could highlight some of your primary influences?

MN: At least when we met, we all had pretty specific musical tastes. Like overlapped, but weren’t exactly the same bands. The styles were there but the bands that we listened to were a little different.

EM: It’s like overarching indie rock.

MN: Yeah, pretty much. As we’ve gotten closer and just spent more time together, our music tastes have definitely converged a little bit. Parquet Courts is definitely a touchstone band for all of us, we all really vibe with them.

EM: Twin Peaks too, Courtney Barnett.

MN: Yeah, totally. I think there’s also an inborn “classic” indie, like your Strokes, your White Stripes, your Arctic Monkeys. And then also just like good classic rock too.

EM: He’s a big Zeppelin guy, Kelso.

MN: He’s a big Zeppelin guy, I’m a big Beatles bird.

EM: Oh yeah, all of us really like The Beatles, and like, The Velvet Underground too, that’s a big one. Nirvana – I guess Nirvana is classic rock now. That album (Nevermind) was released thirty years ago, so.

NB: Are you fans of Violent Femmes, who are of course a fellow Milwaukee band?

MN: Oh yeah. It took me a while to come around to them, like obviously I always liked “Gone Daddy Gone”. But I saw a live video of them playing “Add It Up” about a year ago, and I was just like “Holy s***, these guys are crazy! This is awesome.” They’re a trio too, and they’re from Milwaukee which is like –

EM: They’re the one famous band from Milwaukee.

NB: Diet Lite is going to be the second, right?

Band members of Diet Lite sit together with a city skyline behind them
Image Courtesy of Kelsie Herzogg (Instagram: @kelsie_herzogg)

MN: Yeah, exactly, exactly. But nah, I always wanted to cover “Add It Up” or something like that, as our Milwaukee homage to the big boys, the heroes.

NB: An idea for the next record maybe?

MN: Yeah, there you go.

EM: Do we have anything else to add, influence wise?

KK: Yeah. I’m a big Palestrina guy.

NB: A big what?

KK: Palestrina, you ever heard of him?

NB: I have not, no.

KK: He was big in the 1500s.

MN: Kelso is our resident classical music expert.

EM: He [Kelson] actually knows music.

KK: I like the songs of the troubadours and occasionally I dabble in some Russian deathcore. I think I’m giving up listening to music for good. I’m just going to dive into my own psyche and find probably something hideous but maybe something cool. I just really like suffering, and I guess burning and a feeling of self-loathing. The way that I find that feeling the best is through locking myself in my room and trying to write a song for ten hours.

NB: Do you think that those feelings are reflected in Seems To Be The Way It Tends To Go?

KK: I mean he [Max] wrote most of the lyrics. But I felt that way when I was mixing it.

MN: It’s very rare that I write songs about a specific instance or a specific thing, but there’s definitely emotions that creep into everything that I write, more so in an overarching way than in a song-by-song way. That title, Seems To Be The Way It Tends To Go, is just kind of like a stoic mantra. It’s kind of just like, s*** might be kind of f***ed, but that’s alright. It’s kind of just like, s***’s kind of messy sometimes but you just keep on . . . but it’s not bad just immediately, like overly negative. It’s going to suck, but just keep doing what you’re doing. Like, it’ll work out. You’ll find fleeting moments of happiness and then you’ll try to make that last forever, and then it won’t, and then you’ll be sad, and then the cycle just keeps going. I read a really good line which I think kind of attributes to, I don’t know if I want to say the general vibe of Diet Lite but like, the vibe of that phrase (Seems To Be The Way It Tends To Go) and the songs that we tend to write. It was like, “every statement ever worth noting in the history of man abides in death.” I just liked that phrase, “abide in death”, because it’s like, you’re going to die, but what are you going to do besides? It’s not accepting death; it’s abiding in death. Dealing with death, you know?

NB: That’s very philosophical. I didn’t know that Diet Lite was so philosophical.

Band members of Diet Lite hanging out outside at a park
Image Courtesy of Kelsie Herzogg (Instagram: @kelsie_herzogg)

MN: No one does, because no one listens to our lyrics dude! My overarching goal for Diet Lite is for us to be seen as really philosophical people, while also still being pretty damn funny.

EM: That’s how the best did it.

NB: You guys got to start dressing like Joy Division, wearing trench coats and being moody all the time.

MN: I already tried the turtlenecks man, and they get hot on stage, so I had to call an audible there.

NB: I’d like to spend some time talking about your latest record, Seems To Be The Way It Tends To Go. We already have to some extent, but I wanted to first of all remark that it’s such a great record, I really love it. I wanted to ask; how do you guys feel that it compares with your previous releases?

EM: I think it’s more cohesive.

MN: It’s better.

EM: It’s definitely way better.

Max from Diet Lite playing guitar
Diet Lite, Max playing guitar. Image Courtesy of Ben Haezey (Instagram @haezeyphotography)

MN: In a way, it’s the first real representation of what we are as a group. As much as I love Seems To Be, and how much that we put into that record, something that I hear a lot and something that I want to capture more, is that our live performance is really where we shine at this point. A lot of people have told me, “I really like the record, but like, you guys are way better live”! That’s cool, that’s a compliment, thank you, but also at the same time I want them to be on equal levels. So, the bar has kind of been raised for us, I think it’s like “alright now we’ve got to make it sound even better than the last.” I mean, the bar has always got to be raised, you’ve always got to be one-upping yourself, but now it’s in the back of my head and hopefully in the back of all of our heads, “alright, we’re going to make a record that stands up to how we really are as a band.” That’s the goal here.

EM: Yeah, because you’ve got to think, most of the time, 90% of the time that people are hearing us, it’s the recorded s***, not when we’re playing live, even though playing live I feel like is the most pure, raw form of what the band is. 90% of the time when they’re hearing our music it’s going to be recordings.

MN: There’s a challenge in trying to sound exactly like you do live, and also just making the best recording of the song you can, those are two different things. That’s going to be the big balance.

EM: I think what it ultimately comes down to is that they are inherently different experiences, and you somehow have to communicate the same thing through both of them. He’s the magician (points to Kelson) who does the engineering and whatnot.

KK: I twist the knobs – digitally of course!

EM: Yeah, he produces all the stuff if you didn’t know that.

EM: And he majored in Recording Tech in school.

MN: He’s the smart musical one, we’re just idiots along for the ride.

KK: No yeah, this next stuff is going to be really good. For the last album there were certain corners that we did cut. There were just certain things that we weren’t really able to do and we didn’t have the full space. This time we’re upping the ante and taking the production process up to the next level, so hopefully it’ll be better. I think it will. I think I’ve learned some new stuff over the years and I’m excited to put it out.

Diet Lite- three members standing under the sun smiling together
Image Courtesy of Kelsie Herzogg (Instagram: @kelsie_herzogg)

With that, the first half of my interview with Diet Lite comes to a close. Make sure to keep a close eye on the KXSU Blog, because next week the second half will be posted, where Diet Lite and I talk about the origin of their album cover, the making of their music videos, the state of rock music today, and more. 

Diet Lite’s Socials:

Diet Lite Instagram

Diet Lite Facebook

Diet Lite Twitter

Diet Lite YouTube

Diet Lite Bandcamp

Diet Lite Full Website

Evan’s Tik Tok

Alex Niemann Instagram

Kelsie Herzogg Instagram

Ben Haezey Instagram

NICHOLAS BRANDIS | Big Beatles Bird, Small Palestrina Guy | KXSU Music Reporter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Tags: , ,