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The Diplomats of Solid Sound celebrate 20 years together, two years later

Two years after the pandemic wrecked their plans for a 20th anniversary party, the Diplomats of Solid Sound are gearing up to celebrate properly in 2022.

The Diplomats of Solid Sound were founded in Iowa City in the late 1990s, as a side project featuring members of the band The Bent Scepters. One of the founders was guitarist Doug Roberson, who is the band’s only remaining original member. Keyboardist Nate Basinger joined the band not long after its inception and appeared on the band’s first album in 1999.

“The band started as a quartet, like a Booker T. cover band,” said Basinger. “I started playing with them, and we released our first record in 1999.”

In 2006, the Diplomats added vocalists Abbie Sawyer, Sarah Cram, and Katharine Ruestow to the lineup, along with a horn section. “So we kind of turned into this soul revue, I guess you could say,” said Basinger. “ That's sort of what we've been doing since 2006, with horns and vocals and all that kind of stuff. Before that, we were just an instrumental group.”

The members of the band are spread across the Midwest, with members living in Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and Chicago. Even when there’s not a pandemic happening, getting eight musicians together is difficult.

“We've gotten really good at replying to email threads and text threads, and letting people know if we’re available or not,” said Sawyer.

The Diplomats of Solid Sound had planned a show in 2020, in celebration of their 20th anniversary as a band, and the release of their 2019 album, “A Higher Place.” In what turned out to be excellent preparation for the next couple of years given that the band recorded their parts for the album remotely.

“The rhythm section would get together, put down some grooves, and put them on Google Drive,” said Sawyer. “Then various members would come in and brainstorm, so that when we got together in person, we could really bloom the things that we’d been bubbling on. That’s when it came down to brass tacks, and when the bigger decisions were being made.”

“I think before we actually went into the recording studio in the last album, Nate only flew in once from Austin, and we only had one full band rehearsal,” said Forrest Heusinkveld, the band’s drummer. “Then we went our separate ways for a couple weeks, and then came back and went in to record.”

“When the pandemic hit, we were already used to doing things remotely. So for us, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” said Heusinkveld.

The Diplomats of Solid Sound haven’t performed live since December of 2019, when they played with Euforquestra at Wooly’s in Des Moines. Despite their familiarity with virtual environments, the band hasn’t done any live stream events over the past two years.

“It wasn't the right time for us,” said Sawyer. “We were really looking forward to promoting our new album that came out right before all of this came down and playing shows all around for that, and all of that kind of fizzled out. So we just wanted to push ‘pause’ and wait to do the shows that we wished we had been doing before.”

“We were thinking that before the pandemic, we were going to have a 20 year anniversary show,” said Basinger. “ I think now it will be like a 22nd anniversary show this summer, just to kind of commemorate how long the band has been together, and the different permutations of it.”

“Just getting together is so much fun,” said Sawyer. “So when we have shows and rehearsals before shows, it is such a hoot of a time that's something I really look forward to. There's an energy when we're all together. So it's fun to bring it onto the stage too, and it's been too long.”

The Diplomats of Solid Sound are IPR’s Artists of the Month for January. They’ll be performing at the Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon in Iowa City on April 28th. The show will double as the official release party of their new EP, recorded live at the Magic Barn Studio in Solon. All of the band’s music is available on Bandcamp and all major streaming services.