EXCLUSIVE: TALKING DIPLOMACY WITH JACK FALAHEE AND TIM WU!

Diplomacy

DiplomacyFor Jack Falahee and Tim Wu, a musical collaboration was always inevitable.

Jack, best known as heartthrob Connor Walsh on ABC’s primetime drama How to Get Away with Murder, and Tim, best known as electronic music DJ Elephante, have been friends for half of their lives. Now, the duo has teamed up to form Diplomacy, an alt-rock band whose bluesy pop tunes will have you simultaneously on the dancefloor and in tears. 

Following the release of their euphoric earworm of a debut single “Silver Lake Queen,” I caught up with the two men in New York City as they prepare for the release of their first EP and live shows, discuss how their creative journeys brought them together, banter like brothers, and much more.


ALEX: To start off, what’s the band’s origin story? How and when did you two meet and what made you decide to start making music together?

TIM: We met in freshman year of high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I saw him walking into class and was like, “Who’s this cocky, arrogant looking kid?”

JACK: That doesn’t seem fair but sure.

TIM: We became close in high school and then went our separate ways. Jack went to the east coast, I went west. We both started our own independent creative pursuits. I was doing music, while Jack was acting and doing theater stuff. Then we both wound up in L.A. together by some twist of fate. Funnily enough, Jack was actually staying on my couch when he flew to L.A. to audition for How to Get Away with Murder. I ran lines with him so really, I got him the job. 

JACK: Tim likes to take credit for all of my success, which is fair.

TIM: I think we settled on like 10%?

JACK: Sure. I’ll pay you at some point.

TIM: We had always joked about starting a band. Then one day, we actually got into a studio. It took us a while to find our footing as something more than just a couple of friends fucking around. We spent a lot of time figuring out who we wanted to be and what we wanted our sound to be. Then it reached a point where we were both like, “Wait, there’s something really special here.”

What does the name Diplomacy signify to you both?

JACK: The name started as a joke. We were playing this board game called Diplomacy and he and I were verbally sparring with one another, as we do. He was like, “Come on! We’ve got to do this band!” And I was like, “What would we even fucking call it? What’s our band name?” He looked down at the board game and was like, “Diplomacy!” 

I tried to come up with maybe a hundred different names. We have this big whiteboard in our studio where we have song titles, and I had all these working band names up. Tim would just cross them out every day. So yeah, it evolved into this. 

We like the idea of diplomacy and this negotiation of so many different things that we’ve each explored creatively in our individual lives. Bringing those things together and also contrasting them is what we both bring to the band. Having this shared origin story seems diplomatic in some way. 

We’ve definitely created this reasoning behind the name. Really it started out from a board game.

TIM: And not just any board game. It’s one of those friendship-ending board games. That’s a funny note to start a creative partnership on because the only way you can win that game is by lying. There’s no strategy other than convincing people that you’re going to work together but then actually stab them in the back. 

As we started working on the project, there was a lot of convergence of the past and present, especially in thinking about the people we were and the people we want to be. Obviously, we contrast in certain ways – I’m an electronic musician, Jack is an actor, I’m Asian, Jack is white. We wanted to find the dialogue in between those two different sides, find a way to meet in the middle, and make all those things work.

Diplomacy Silver Lake QueenYou just released your debut single, “Silver Lake Queen.” Why was this the perfect song with which to introduce Diplomacy to the world? 

JACK: We were looking for something that was a little in-your-face and that had a little bit of attitude and swagger. It’s upbeat, super percussive and hopefully people find it catchy. The rest of our stuff on the EP is a little bit more vibey and poppy in some ways. 

There was a certain attitude that Tim was trying to cultivate, especially with me and the vocals. I originally came to New York to train in musical theater, so hopping into the studio for the first time was a little different than what our eventual sound became. Tim did such a good job producing and coaching me to have this vocal quality that I hope is definitely present in “Silver Lake Queen.” Plus, Silver Lake is the neighborhood in Los Angeles where we had the genesis of the band, so there’s a specialness there. 

TIM: I wanted to flex a little bit in our first single and really show off the maximum side of our sound. Some of the other stuff’s a little more understated and a little more subdued. I really wanted to come out and kind of “punch people in the mouth” to set the energy. Jack is a fucking rock star out there, so I wanted to show that side of him on the first single before he gets really introspective and makes you cry on the rest of the EP.

You wrote the song based on a mesmerizing woman you met in Silver Lake. What’s the story behind that? If you’ve shared the song with her, what was her reaction?

JACK: Tim said I’m not allowed to tell girls that I write songs about them anymore. It…hasn’t gone well.

TIM: I didn’t say you’re not allowed. I just asked that you kindly wait until the songs are done. We would start to put together a demo and literally as he’s walking out of the studio, he’s texting girls saying, “I wrote a song about you.”

JACK: It’s not a great quality, my need for validation. But no, she has not heard the song. She’s a friend of mine who I met in Silver Lake and who just has this kinetic energy. She’s an absolutely magnetic human being. I would watch her hold court in these Silver Lake bars and was immediately drawn to her. When I first told Tim about her, he rolled his eyes and was thinking I was being dramatic and over exaggerating, as I do. But then we went out for drinks and she walked in and I was like, “That’s her! That’s the girl!” Within five minutes of observing her, Tim turned to me and you said, “You have to write a song about her.”

TIM: It was absolutely fascinating! I saw her and immediately thought she’s like a hipster version of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Not because she was chopping off heads but because everyone in the bar either knew or was somehow drawn to her. Like Jack said, she was absolutely magnetic. There’d be a line of guys with gin martinis in their hands, just waiting to get a chance to talk to her – almost like they were paying tribute. She had this air of being interested enough but not really engaging with them. The social dynamics of it all was fascinating. 

In addition to the song, you also released your first music video together. Jack, what were the biggest differences you noticed about acting on camera as your musical persona versus when you’re playing a scripted character? 

JACK: It was definitely very different. We leaned in heavily to my experience in that world. I was also fortunate enough to direct both of the music videos that we’ve shot so far. It was really refreshing because we got to fully do our own thing. At the end of the day, I got to call “action” and “cut,” and decide what we were going to shoot. Having that degree of autonomy is very different than playing a small role in a television show.

But I think the musical persona is also a bit of a character. We’re still exploring that. I’m curious to see how that evolves with live performances and more music videos. I really like the idea of this all being a heightened reality – these songs, the stories we’re telling, and the people that are on camera and on stage. It’s a different form of storytelling for sure.

Tim, your previous music has been much more electronic than the rock-tinged alternative pop that Diplomacy is creating. What inspired you to switch up the musical genres you’re known for?

TIM: Well, I grew up as a singer-songwriter and playing in bands, so this sound’s actually closer to stuff that I was making when I was younger and developing as a musician and figuring out what I wanted to do. I obviously love electronic music and that’s a huge passion of mine. But it was really important to us that if we were going to do something together, that it was more than just Jack singing on an Elephante song. It really had to have a life of its own and be more than the sum of the parts. So as we started working together, this sound emerged. 

A lot of the music that we loved growing up was the theme that tied it all together. We started to try to figure out what would this all sound like together. I don’t think there was ever a conscious decision to have it sound like the way it is. It just emerged as what felt the most vital, the most impactful, and the most organically us. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned as Elephante is that you can’t buy out your destination before you get there. You really just have to do what you’re passionate about and follow what’s interesting to you. That results in the music that feels the most natural and most exciting.

Your second single, “Iris,” will be released on January 2, followed by a full EP in February. How would you describe the sound of these records and what are the stories you’re telling on them?

TIM: They’re all very specific stories, which I think is one of the really magical parts about the EP. Each song is like a little vignette. The next single is actually kind of cool because it’s set a lot in New York. Jack lived here a long time. But it’s also set in L.A. It’s almost like snapshots of different moments in Jack’s life.

JACK: We started writing songs from my journal entries because I had no experience song-writing. Tim knows that I keep these detailed diaries because I’m terrified of losing my memory, which I already am. But he read through them and would brightly pick entries that he liked and then would have me expand on them. They’re really fragments of memories and we would build on that, make them a little bit more heightened, more abstract, less truthful than they really were in the beginning – or more true. Like Tim said, each song is sort of snapshot about a different girl. There’s a little bit of a through line of me figuring out the man I want to be, the man that I was, and how that intersects to become the man that I am in the present. 

There are also themes of reconciliation, forgiveness, fear, love, and hope. We really set out to do concrete storytelling. We even almost intercut each song with a narrator but we ultimately decided to let the music speak for itself. And I think it’s turned out nicely. But the real Iris has also not heard “Iris.” So I’m two for two.

TIM: To give you an example of how this process works, Jack told me a story about when he went to this bar called Midway in Williamsburg and saw this girl, Iris. I was reading through his journal and in the story about this bar was this line, “We were dripping in purple neon.” I was like, “Wow. That’s a really evocative image.” I didn’t really know what that line meant but it made me think of a dank dive bar basement – what sort of smells and sounds that would have, how it was all sleek and dark. The bad sort of light. And so I was like, “Okay, tell me more about this bar.” 

He then went on to describe the pinball machine in the corner and how there was a fog machine under a neon sign, so as you walked through, if felt like a hazy dream. That visual felt super inspiring. 

Then, you mentioned that you thought you ran into Iris again in L.A. That became another really interesting element of the song – this idea that you both made this cross-country leap and developed this kind of sliding doors theme where you both end up on Sunset Boulevard at the same time. It was really fun stitching together these little moments and ideas. Jack is truly an amazing writer and so it really just became about picking out these little snapshots and figuring out what worked the best together.  

You’ll be performing in select cities in March before embarking on a full tour next fall. How are you preparing for these live shows and what can your fans expect from them? 

JACK: Well, Tim’s been pretty fucking busy on his Diamond Days Tour. But we were just in his garage/painting studio yesterday. We were talking about how we needed to strip it down and build out our practice studio so we can start getting into the nitty gritty live stuff.

TIM: As Elephante for most of my career, I’ve mostly been the DJ. But on this most recent tour, I’ve started to add live elements, like singing live and playing guitar. That’s the stuff I did when I was younger. I played open mics. So I’ve sort of started going back to my roots.  

But doing it on a real tour in real rock venues is so different! Even with just the amount of gear that you need and figuring out the mechanics. I mean the amount of time I spent figuring out what kind of chords I needed to plug in, and figuring out which chords they have at the venue, is like fucking insane. 

Now that I’m knee-deep in that, it’s inspired all sorts of ideas of how we want to do what we want to do. How are we going to arrange the songs? How are we going to be able to play them in a way that enhances the songs into really dynamic live performances? We’re starting to play with all of that now.

Diplomacy

Since you two have been friends for such a long time, how would each describe how the other has evolved and/or changed since you first met? And how is that growth reflected in the music you’re creating together?

TIM: Jack, go first and this will determine how I answer.

JACK: That is such bullshit! Fine. Tim was a nerd and now he’s a rock star. I don’t know! But I mean that kind of. It’s been pretty wild. We have mental health check-ins with one another because L.A. can be such a fucking nightmare and hellscape sometimes. The industry’s brutal. 

I’ve always been really impressed with Tim. His moniker, Elephante, comes from the idea of the elephant in the room. He followed his music dream and the fact that he’s been able to do it independently and on his own as an Asian man is so fucking incredible. It’s one of those things where he’s constantly reinventing himself creatively – which frustrates the hell out of me because I feel like I need to be doing more creative shit! That’s probably why I started this band. I was in his painting studio yesterday where he’s now painting custom shirts to sell to his Elephante fans. I was like, “Fuck this! I don’t need this Picasso bullshit to contend with.” 

I think that’s why we’re lucky to have one another. We push each other creatively and make sure that neither of us becomes complacent. Once you catch lightning in a bottle, it’s easy to let it sit there. Tim has motivated me to push the envelope more. 

Now your turn, bitch.

TIM: I’d say Jack is exactly the same, except now he has slightly nicer clothes. I was always inspired by Jack’s creative energy. He doesn’t give himself enough credit. He’s always creating stuff. He’s also so good at cultivating this creative community around him. He runs this event in Los Angeles which basically provides safe spaces for really wild creative expression – whether it’s poetry readings, interpretive dance, and other pretty out-there stuff. It’s amazing how he’s always cultivating creativity around him. 

He hasn’t mentioned this but I can tell that as an actor, he gets frustrated sometimes because at the end of the day, you’re saying lines that someone else wrote. So when I started to work with him on the band, it was very much like, “This is going to be our thing. I want you to use all those creative impulses that you maybe haven’t tapped into yet. I want you to let them go. Run with them. What’s your idea for the music video? What’s the craziest ideas that you can think of? Run with that.” 

That’s been really exciting to see. Jack will text our group thread at like three in the morning. He’ll be like, “Hey guys. Here’s an idea. Can you remember this?” Just having that kind of energy is really inspiring and so amazing to collaborate with. It’s evolved way beyond anything. Jack’s creative motors have really pushed Diplomacy in a way that I’m truly very excited by.

This is a two-parter. 1) What musicians have most heavily inspired your band? And 2) If Diplomacy could follow a similar career trajectory as any other contemporary band, whose would it be and why?

TIM: I think after we finished recording, we started to pitch ourselves as like The Killers meets Lana Del Rey meets Flume. But there have been tons of artists who have influenced us. We listen to a lot of Chet Faker, Matt Mason, Lewis Capaldi, and Bon Iver. 

JACK: And lots of bands we grew up with like Nirvana. We would go see Red Hot Chili Peppers whenever they were in Detroit. We actually saw them last year too and they still fucking shred, oh my god. I get pretty obsessive about it. 

As a career musician, Tim is definitely listening to much more stuff than I am. I’ll get all obsessed over one musician. I think “Iris” is directly symptomatic of me doing a deep dive into Billie Eilish for two months. We definitely have a base of inspiration but that’s constantly changing. Whenever we’re in a creative rut or stuck writing in one way or style, Tim will give me other albums or artists to listen to so I can get out of that. As far as mimicking?

TIM: One Direction?

JACK: As in, become the biggest group in the world and then have successful solo projects after? I mean, sure!

TIM: Yeah, that sounds great. 

JACK: I don’t think I could name a One Direction song, but I do like Harry Styles. 

TIM: And we like Zayn. 

JACK: Oh yeah, I forgot about Zayn! I do like him. 

Jack, your hit ABC drama How to Get Away with Murder is currently wrapping up its killer final season. What can you tease about Connor’s fate and the show’s grand finale? And was it a conscious decision to wait until it wrapped up before re-emerging in the public eye as a musician? 

JACK: The second part is, no. I’ve been much more naively enthusiastic about trying to push things out earlier. Tim and our team have been teaching me about the music industry, the economics of it, and the slow burn of releasing things. So if I had my way, I’d release all this shit right away. I’d even release the demos. But that wasn’t the case. So it definitely wasn’t a conscious decision to time it out with the end of the series. 

As far as teasing anything – I don’t know, man. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen! I thought I knew it was going to happen. We’re on a two-week break right now so that the writers can continue to write. They’re constantly changing their minds and going back on ideas and rewriting things. I’m really interested. It’s been six years of my life and I’m a fan of the show, so I’m probably the most invested in Connor’s outcome. I’m very curious to see what happens but I really don’t know. Plus, fans have been pretty upset with me in the past because they think I’ve spoiled things. But I truly haven’t because I truly do not know what’s going on! So all I can really say is don’t read into anything.

Thanks so much, guys! Is there anything you want to add/plug that we didn’t discuss?

JACK: I saw Elephante’s Diamond Days tour. It’s pretty good. It’s decent. A solid 6 out of 10. 

TIM: Oh great, thanks. We just announced new dates, including Webster Hall in NYC on Leap Day. I would also just encourage fans of Diplomacy to really dive into the larger world we’re creating. It’s a priority for us that we’re doing more than just releasing songs. We really want to create a world around the stories in it, whether it’s music videos, Instagram content, whatever. We always want there to be something more. We want there to be layers and something meaty behind it, just to really lean in and create something for people to want to follow along. 

JACK: We’re probably going to start publishing my diary entries.

TIM: I already put them all on Tumblr.

JACK: I’m on my second coffee with no food, so right now that seems totally fine.


Diplomacy

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About ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI 169 Articles
Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.