Jack Falahee, known best for his role on ABC’s How To Get Away with Murder, and Tim Wu, known best in music circles as Elephante, are now one in Diplomacy. Diplomacy is formally introducing themselves with a trailer premiering today (Oct. 1) along with their first interview together, exclusively with tmrw.
Diplomacy’s debut trailer packs a one-minute, 16-second punch, but the story behind Diplomacy is much longer than that — nearly two decades.
Falahee and Wu are childhood best friends from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They met through a mutual friend as freshmen in high school after Falahee had previously gone to a much smaller Catholic school and Wu, a large public school, which was only the first of their many differences. Falahee then went off to NYU to pursue musical theatre, while Wu enrolled at Harvard. Wu held a corporate job at a consulting firm before abandoning ship to do what he loved as Elephante, and Falahee found himself immersed in Shonda Rhimes’ television world of How to Get Away with Murder. But no matter how far in opposing directions life stretched them, they somehow always found each other back in the middle.
“It really feels like stars crossing,” as Wu puts it.
Because they were always on the go, Wu had the idea to schedule monthly check-ins with each other over a glass or two of whiskey. During one of their check-ins, the seed for Diplomacy emerged organically through conversation. But then Wu became even busier with touring, and Falahee too with filming, and both the check-ins and Diplomacy’s development stalled.
So, they adjusted their monthly check-ins to weekly Sunday game nights. One Sunday night found them playing a board game.
“Tim and I were having a sidebar conversation about this theoretical music project,” Falahee says.
Falahee asked what they would even call themselves if they went through with the project. Wu looked down at the board game and replied, “Well, Diplomacy.”
“That was the game we were playing,” Falahee explains, laughing.
“That was a knee-jerk idea, but then once we started to talk about it more, we began to like it more and more,” he continues, “especially [because] in our writing, a lot of it deals with looking back at stories that we tell ourselves and our past—our individual stories but also our shared past from Ann Arbor. Then also the uncertainty of our careers and what the future holds. We thought Diplomacy is sort of like the reconcilIation of these two things—the uncertain future and the certain but sometimes fallible past.”
“And I think it just felt right because, again, we have different stories and I really like the idea of Diplomacy as almost the art of negotiating or bringing together two sides,” Wu adds. “Whether that be the acting world and the music world or, like, the old kind of music we like but then with the new style. Or me being Asian and Jack being white. It’s just all these different contrasts that have emerged through the work that we’re doing.”
What they’re doing is deeply personal.
At first, the thought was to form a new EDM project given Wu’s success in the genre. But as time went on, they wanted to create an entirely different sound and, by extension, third-party world. They sifted through the music they liked to listen to growing up to find an identity specific to them. When they first got into a studio together, they sat down and tried just to write a song. It did not work. This time when the duo needed an answer, Wu couldn’t just glance down at the table and readily find it in a board game, but he did know where he needed to look.
“I have a horrible memory,” Falahee admits. “Like, a horrific, horrific memory. And so, Tim, knowing that he also knew that I keep pretty extensive journals for fear of forgetting my past and experiences. Tim asked if he could read my diaries, which, you know, even having known each other for over a decade and a half was still a little bit of a vulnerable experience.
“But I handed it over, and he started reading it. It’s all prose. Definitely not anything song-like or lyric-like in there, but he started to pick and choose these memories or fragments of memories, and we ended up creating a shared document where he pulled things he thought were engaging, and we’d kind of expand upon that together and write from that point of view. So, a lot of the songwriting is deeply personal and comes from true events—or, you know, semi-true events and experiences and people. But it’s embellished. I think that’s why storytelling kind of is pervasive because, you know, as an actor, obviously I’m a fan of storytelling, and that was sort of the only way I knew how to approach this thing. And I think Tim sort of honed in on that, that that was going to be my asset to the songwriting process.”
Wu approached Falahee’s journal entries as if he were writing an adapted screenplay, and the result is Diplomacy’s debut EP scheduled for a 2020 release. “Silver Lake Queen” will be the first single people get, on Oct. 18, fittingly titled because Silver Lake, California, was the birthplace for all things Diplomacy. The original writing inspired by Falahee’s diaries can be felt throughout the four tracks. “She’s a lucid dream/A gin martini and nicotine fiend/ She’s a dark soul with a heart of gold/Got me jumping up whenever I’m told,” Falahee sings in “Silver Lake” over sultry instrumentals.
But before they trust you with all of that, they’re teasing you with this trailer. In it, a mysterious woman narrates through a voicemail. Her identity and the meaning of her message, as well as whom it’s meant for, are kept purposefully vague while behind-the-scenes footage from the “Silver Lake Queen” music video plays. “I don’t know what happened tonight. I don’t know where you are,” she says, in part. “I don’t know. I think we should get together and talk. … So, if you want, we can meet at your spot tomorrow.” The trailer and videos to come are filled by people they’ve met through L.A.’s creative community, in an effort to form a collective project and stay true to Diplomacy’s foundation: friendship. “It’s more than just a band,” Wu says. “It’s more than just songs.”
“The voicemail, it’s like setting the stage for the story that’s about to come,” Wu continues. “It’s almost like this is when the lights go on in the theatre, like this is the first line you hear. And you’re not really sure where it’s from. You don’t have the context quite yet, but as you hear the music and see the visual concept and as we reveal it, then all the pieces start to fall together.”
As the puzzle starts coming together to construct a more precise picture—something of a metaphorical board game in itself—it’s essential to understand one more thing about the past. When Wu was growing up, he felt that his desire to pursue music was always the elephant in the room. As he embarks on a separate musical identity away from Elephante, he and Falahee will still be addressing all sorts of elephants in the room through Diplomacy.
“I think writing songs for me, and I think for Jack as we’ve been going through this, it’s almost like you’re exorcising some demons,” Wu says. “These are some very potent memories and emotions that they’re almost like too hot to touch just to try to process them yourself. And so, if you can try to approach it from the framework of writing a song around it, I think that almost helps you. It almost puts it in a space where you can basically handle it.”
Falahee concludes: “Yeah, I mean, I think that’s right. I think that the music definitely deals with a lot of this idea of the fallibility of memory and sort of reconciling past mistakes and, like Tim said, as we’re sort of pulling these memories and making them more abstract, it definitely does give it a different perspective. Allows you to look back and look at these time capsules, which I think is hopefully the experience of the listener as well where any time you listen to something it evokes some sort of feeling and hopefully brings up a memory of your own. Or, as you said, the elephant in the room, [and] allows you to confront it and hopefully in a cathartic and therapeutic way.”