Alela Diane – Those Things Are In Us Deeply

Alela Diane plays The Button Factory this Sunday. Siobhán Kane spoke with her about performing live, nostalgia, and the importance of a place to call home.

Alela Diane plays The Button Factory this Sunday. Siobhán Kane spoke with her about performing live, nostalgia, and the importance of a place to call home.

Alela Diane Melig was born amidst music, to parents who loved folk as much as The Grateful Dead (her Dad was in a tribute band). In her teenage years she started exploring her own musical talent on the guitar, and in 2003 self-released Forest Parade, which set out a template that she has surveyed ever since; family, nature, story, lost stories, lost love. She went on to self-release another, fantastic record The Pirate’s Gospel in 2004, which caught the attention of Holocene Records, who would later rerelease the record in 2006. It was this record that announced Diane to the world (and a deal with Rough Trade) and her unique, warm music has both depth, and clarity of purpose. Her voice in particular marks her out; it is a fluttering, beautiful thing, just think of a song like ‘White as Diamonds‘ from her second official record To Be Still (2009), which seems like it is being sung by someone far beyond Diane’s years, as there is a wisdom to the voice, and a sincerity that shines.

BeforeTo Be Still she recorded the brilliant record The Silence of Love, a Headless Heroes project, in 2008, which lifted her vocal into a different sphere, because it asked of her to reinterpret other musicians’ songs, which took her from Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You in the End‘ to I am Kloot’s ‘To You‘; taking her out of her comfort zone and leaving her with a rippling effect of poetic rewards – you can see the central placing of the vocal since then, especially on this year’s Alela Diane & The Wild Divine (the Divine partly constitutes her husband and her father) which is emblematic of Diane’s grace, which is subtle and alive. Her voice has a way of dancing over notes and images, and straight into that hidden place where we keep all the interesting things. Again, animals and the pastoral landscape provide inspiration but are also quite often metaphors for the heart’s strain, and are framed by an even richer sound in this record, perhaps through the addition of a rhythm section, the introduction of producer Scott Litt for the first time, and a sense that Diane was turning things upside down once more, in order to continue to challenge herself. There is a cosy, intimate feel to all of her work, which allows her to get into the nooks of the human condition, in an exploratory, rather than hectoring way (in a similar way to how Fleet Foxes approach music, who she just supported on their American tour). Ahead of her first show in Ireland for two years, Siobhán Kane talks to her.


Your voice has become the central part of this record, with your husband taking most of the guitar duties; there must be a sense of freedom there, as you seem to enjoy singing most of all. There is something about singing that is so vulnerable, reaching deep inside the soul because it is so physical, it so obviously comes from a place deep within.
I think for me it has been a journey with my voice, I have been a singer since I was a child, but since I started making records, my voice has been morphing and going to different places, and I have been trying out new things. I think on each record my voice has changed, I have been experimenting, and seeing what I don’t want to do much of anymore. I feel like I had the opportunity with this new record to settle into my voice, it was a focal point for me, especially because I am not playing as much guitar, so I can dig into the singing, without having the guitar to worry about, and to have the band carry the backdrop for the words and my voice is really nice, because it has enabled me to get into that part of it, the singing – which is my favourite part.

Are you able to completely lose yourself when performing live?
It really depends. I think that the best shows, the times I have had the best times are when I have been able to let go and go into another world and just sing. That is my hope with touring this record. In the past, when I have been playing guitar live I have been aware what I am doing with that instrument, and where my fingers are going, worrying if I will mess up, it is a distraction for me. On tour now I am playing a little guitar, but mainly singing, so I will be able to let go more when I am on stage.

Have you rearranged any of your older songs while exploring this deeper connection to your voice?
I have actually, I had a handful of old songs that we were working on, and I am excited, as it is a different band as well. Aside from me, my Dad and my husband – the rhythm section is new, and I think that the songs will just take on a new life, no matter even if I tried to keep them the same, they wouldn’t keep the same. So it is exciting to try things out in a different way. On a couple of the older songs I just won’t play guitar and see how it goes.

In terms of guitar, do you think you have sated your appetite for it at present?
I did get fed up with it. I can do what I can on the guitar, but I am kind of limited. I know how to finger pick and play a few chords, but I haven’t found the key to the guitar [laughs] it is beyond me. It has been nice to accept that, and let my Dad and husband be the guitar players. At some point I will maybe be interested in the guitar again, but I needed a break from it. When I go back it will be with a fresh perspective on the thing, and with a separation from it, well…who knows. For the writing process this time around I was distanced from the guitar, I was writing a lot on the piano. Maybe next time around I will take some lessons on the guitar, see if it maybe sparks something on it, see if I can learn something new! [Laughs] I do think using different instruments can be really helpful, it opens up new things when I am writing, and Tom playing chords when I was writing and singing on this record was interesting, as he was playing chords I wouldn’t have thought of to play. I just have to keep enjoying this all the way. After we recorded the record I didn’t pick up the guitar for a couple of months and didn’t sing for a few months, we were in the process of the artwork, mixing everything, and I was caught up in that. Then I started playing again with rehearsals, but I also started writing again, so I can tell that it is starting to happen again, and the writing process, and while we are travelling it will continue. I have been excited being with this group of musicians and seeing what might come out of that.

It was your first time working with a producer in Scott Litt, how did that go? With Beach House’s last record, their third -Teen Dream, they also worked with a producer for the first time, they were so nervous, but said it was a really helpful experience.
I had a similar experience. I had never worked with a producer before, but it was helpful and I learned so much. He came in and directed all of us to play things and come up with things, and pushed us to things we would never have done before. He made the drummer come up with things he wasn’t comfortable with, made Tom do things on the guitar he had never done before, so it was neat having an outsider coming in, it was really helpful, because when you are just left to your own devices, you don’t have a lot to base decisions on, as you are caught up in what you are doing. He really helped develop the parts that went down on record.

It can be quite embarrassing to delegate to people.
I don’t feel very comfortable telling the guys what to do and I don’t even know how to tell them what to do! I can make suggestions, so it was nice having somebody there to take that burden from me and do it on my behalf, and if I disagreed with things I would then speak my mind, so I still had the control and didn’t get carried off into a land I wasn’t comfortable with.

A land of German techno.
Yes, that’s the next record, watch out! [Laughs]

You have toured with lots of people, but a particularly special experience must have been with Vashti Bunyan, she is such a special, principled person.
She is wonderful. I haven’t seen that recent documentary about her, but I should. I think it is amazing that she made those records so young and then just abandoned it, and did something else amazing in raising a family. I really respect that. I also think it is wonderful that she has come back to music. I really do love what she does, her sound is mystical and magical, and that is why I have been drawn to it, but I also love that she left it behind. I don’t know if I would ever do that, but I do want to have kids! [Laughs] I am so glad she came back to it though, it’s a heartwarming story.

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