Raised on a diet of sun-drenched, rural, Californian folk, Alela Diane came from relative obscurity, initially self-releasing her albums in paper and lace sleeves with hand lettering, before finally getting noticed by the world’s music press. Only to have one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2007 with her debut, ‘Pirate’s Gospel’. Amelia’s Magazine finds out that she’s still keeping it all in her stride, as we chat on the phone with the down to earth lady, from her house in Portland, Oregon, before she crosses the Atlantic to tour her latest release, ‘To Be Still.’ Here’s how it went…
Amelia’s Magazine: After such a successful debut, how does it feel to release an album with all eyes on you?
Alela Diane: Well I guess I don’t always really realise that all eyes are on me if they are. I try to maintain a low profile. But it is nice to put out another record knowing that people are going to hear it.
AM: Are you excited to bring it to the UK?
AD: It will be nice to do a few more dates in the UK… We’ve been on tour so much this year and part of me is, ‘oh I haven’t been home at all’, but… we haven’t done a lot of touring this album in the UK so that’ll be nice. We’ve done lots of UK festivals with this album but not many smaller venues yet.
AM: Your music lends itself to an intimate setting, do you enjoy those smaller gigs more for that reason?
AD: It’s really difficult to compare the two. They both have a unique energy. At a festival people are out to have a great time. It’s just so different in a smaller venue. I enjoy both. But sometimes you can really get into the feeling of the music in a smaller setting.
AM: There is a fuller arrangement of the tracks on ‘To Be Still’ compared with your first album. Will you be joined by a full band on tour?
AD: I have a drummer and a bass player and back up singers. And my dad is touring with me also, playing electric guitar and mandolin. Yeah it is more full than I’m used to.
AM: Is that something that makes you feel proud to have your dad touring with you?
AD: My dad is an amazing musician and it really is great having him with me. It keeps me grounded. Makes away feel more homey.
AM: Is he responsible for getting you into music and writing it yourself?
AD: When I really started writing songs and began to perform… that was a thing I kind of did on my own. But my whole life growing up with my parents, my dad is a performer so it was a massive part of my upbringing.
AM: Michael Hurley‘s vocals in ‘Age Old Time’ off the new album really capture the raw, nostalgia present in a lot of your music. Was that a conscious decision?
AD: He was really fitting for that song because I wrote that song about my Grandma’s dad. He’d written all these songs for my grandma when she was little. So the song would resonate we really wanted a voice that sounded from another time. I’d met Michael living in Portland and gave him a record. His voice really captured what that song was about. It was one of those magical little moments of the record.
AM: Tell me about Headless Heroes, it was such a favourite album of mine… Is that ever to be repeated?
AD: I really don’t know. It was one of those somewhat random projects, which I was invited to be a part of and what I did on that project was really just sing. I didn’t have anything to do with picking the songs or really much else other than lending my voice. But it was kind of liberating and a lot of fun to just do it and not be responsible for every other detail of that recording. In some ways it allowed me to just really experiment with my voice and have a great experience. I think I learned a lot from doing it and perhaps in the future I will do more projects like that.
AM: So back to your own music, do you write mainly at home in Portland, Oregon or on tour? Where is most condusive for you?
AD: For ‘To Be Still’ I wrote most of them when I was living in this little cabin in Nevada City and I wrote some of them up in Portland when I was living there. Lately because I have been on the road so much I have started to write a lot more lyrics without having the chance to develop the songs yet. But I have a bunch of words that are waiting to become songs. And I never did that before. I was writing at home where I could make it a song right away. But I don’t have the time and space to do that on tour because I’m around people all the time or in a van. But in a way it’s nice because it’s given me a chance to really develop the words before they become songs. I think once I’m home after this tour I’ll get chance to find the music and the melodies for them.
AM: So it sounds like there could be quick turnaround…
AD: Yeah I think so. I’m feeling like there is good stuff there and I can’t wait to develop it.
AM: What do you listen to yourself?
AD: Well… I listen to a lot of older stuff – I guess I’m sitting in front of my vinyl collection right now… the one on the top is a Johnny Cash record.
AM: Which one?
AD: He’s older on the front and it just says CASH… Unchained! Erm… I’ve been pretty into Fleetwood Mac lately and Fairport Convention. I think Sandy Denny has my actual favourite voice. She’s my favourite vocalist.
AM: Is there anything modern that ever catches your ear?
AD: It has been a while… I have friends who I definitely appreciate. My friend Mariee Sioux, I love her music. She does something very different and special. I heard the Fleet Foxes last summer and really, really liked that. For a while I was a bit sceptical because they had been so hyped up and I was like, ‘yeah, yeah.’ But then when I actually heard it, I realised they were very, very talented.
AM: There’s definitely a folk explosion apparent with bands like Fleet Foxes in the US and much in what is coming out of the UK at the moment. Are there any countries that have gripped onto your music that have surprised you?
AD: Yeah. I’ve been a France and lot. And something about my music seems to be really liked in France. I don’t necescarily understand it but I think in a way it is so foreign to them. It’s coming from a place that is so unlike France. The things I sing about…
AM: Will the next album see any new collaborations?
AD: I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Because I’ve been touring with the band so much… my dad, my good friend Lena sings the back up vocals. She’s been writing a lot of songs. My boyfriend is the bass player in the band and the four of us are starting to collaborate and working on the idea of what we can do writing together. So that is something that may end up happening.
AM: Is that a first for you then?
AD: Up to this point, all the songs have been written by me and then the studio arrangement… The songs come together from an idea from me or an idea from my dad. But the actual writing with a group like that, exploring ideas, I’ve never done that. And the little that we’ve done together is really inspiring and it feels really different and good. So we’ll see what happens. Everybody has a little different of thing to bring to the table and it’s working out to be pretty groovy.
You can catch Alela Diane with dad in tow on her UK tour this month in these places:
London (Shepherd’s Bush Empire) (17/09)
- First Aid Kit – Interview
- The Drums – Interview
- Hjaltalín – Interview
- Pyramiddd: An Interview: Part Two.
- Real Estate – Interview