When was the last time you heard a song or saw a music video that made you stop whatever you were doing and fully emerge yourself in it’s lyrics, the artist’s voice, and the emotion of the song? About a month ago I was getting my morning Jump Start from VH1. I really wasn’t paying any mind to Lady Gaga or Daughtry, whom I’m so a custom to getting my jump start from. I was sitting at my computer updating my Facebook status and “liking” links or a status or two, when I heard a voice reminiscent of Carly Simon coming from my TV. The lyrics of the songs sung of the familiar experiences of any girl going or recovering from a breakup. Not really focusing on the video itself, I closed my eyes and emerged myself in the lyrics I was listening to. The singer’s voice was so full of so much passion and soul, that I was personally touched with goose bumps. Nearly moved to tears, I had opened my eyes just in time to catch the artist’s information. Diane Birch, Nothing But A Miracle.
A few days had gone by since I was first introduced to Diane Birch. I would often notice the post-it note with her name scribbled on it, as a reminder to download her album from iTunes, but of course the day would slip by and I would forget. Just when I needed another reminder I received an email invitation to Giant Step’s Svedka Vodka Sessions: Diane Birch. Without hesitation, I RSVP’d and in the next click downloaded her debut album Bible Belt.
When I first listened to Bible Belt, I listened with no expectations. With the first song Fire Escape, I felt as if I were visiting my relatives in Arkansas and Tennessee listening to the Blues on WDIA radio station. By track three, Fools, I was sold and had an instant theme song. Fools reminded me of an old Fleetwood Mac song where Stevie Nicks’ voice would grab a hold of you and wouldn’t let go until her point had gotten through to you by the end of the song. If that wasn’t enough, the way she went to town on the piano on Rewind was as if she was sharing the keys with Elton John and Jerry Lee Lewis. Boy, was I in for a treat at The Hudson, with how she took me back to a rual southern church with Rise Up, all while at the same time conjuring up the spirit of Janis Joplin in Photograph and Choo Choo. It was refreshing to hear someone return to the roots of American Music, sample every era, but make it new and current.
If ever Diane Birch comes to your area to perform, you must make it a point to see her. I was already impressed with her album, after seeing her perform, she had successfully taken a place on my very short list of artists I would see over and over again. She has an energy on stage that is transported to your body that will make you instantly pat your foot, snap your fingers, or even start to dance. She clearly has fun on stage, which makes her performance look easy for her and for us, the audience, feel like her hour and half set is too short.
Prior to her performance at The Hudson, I had the opportunity to chat with Diane Birch.
JSD: How did you come up with the album title, Bible Belt?
Diane Birch: I had it buzzing around my head for quite a while, even before I signed a record deal. I always thought to myself if I ever make an album, I’m going to call it Bible Belt. My dad was a preacher when I was growing up and I come from a very religious family. So the Bible and religion was always at the forefront of every conversation pretty much. I felt really repressed in a lot of ways and really restricted as a kid. I was very creative and curious about the world and in many ways it was like a belt that was too tight essentially. These songs are all about my life. It’s about the process of me finding myself as an adult, as a creative person, and finding my place in the world.
JSD: How would you describe your music?
DB: It’s hard for me to describe it. I don’t know. It’s really hard for me to have any kind of perspective or be objective, just because I’m so close to it. I don’t know what it is, people are seeming to like it. I guess I write pop songs and I guess there is some sort of soulful element to it. People are saying it is kind of like a classic American sort of 70s sound to it. I just write songs that make sense to me. I do what I do and I don’t know where it fits exactly. I never thought people would embrace it. I never thought it would fit into a specific category, which it kind of doesn’t, but at the same time it does.
JSD: There is a lot of comparison to between you and Carole King. Do you feel that is an accurate comparison?
DB: I guess I sort of get it, but its funny that people would say that just because I didn’t grow up listening to Carole King. I only started listening to her kind of recently. It’s always funny, because you would think that may I listened to her and studied her, but I haven’t. I love that album Tapestry, I think it is so good. I think she just has a really classic style. I’ve been reading a little bit about her and she has a lot of similar influences to what I do. I think the fact that I didn’t listen to any pop music when I was real young, I only listen to Classical and Opera and then I kind of got thrown into this whole other modern music kind of genre. So that modern music isn’t what is instilled in me. It’s almost as if I was born in the wrong era. I didn’t listen to things that were current, it was only when I moved to America when I was like 10 that I started hearing modern music.
JSD: What was the process like for making your album? Who were some of the musicians you work with?
DB: The process was amazing. Seeing the songs grow to this new level was real exciting and that was because of the musicians. We had such great people. We had Cindy Blackman play drums, Lenny Kravitz former drummer. [Guitarist] Lenny Kaye from The Patti Smith Group. [Bassists] George Porter from The Meters and Adam Blackstone from The Roots. Betty Wright was a big part of the album. Gosh, so many other musicians. It was great. There was a 35 piece string orchestra on a lot of things, and horns [trombonist] Tom “Bones” Malone from Blues Brothers and now he plays with Letterman’s Band, he did all the horn arrangements. So it was just so incredible to see all the songs go from sort of small, just me and the piano or just me and a guitar writing these songs, to all of these people putting this incredible stuff on there, it’s like wow. It’s insane.
JSD: As a songwriter, where do you find inspiration for your songs?
DB: Most of the inspiration come from pain. I’m a very out going person in a lot of ways, but I’m also a really melancholy person. I’m very sensitive. Things have really affected me in my life. I’m emotional. The inspirations are everything from my upbringing. I have a great family and we are all very close, but it was hard for me as a kid. It was very restricting in a lot of ways. I was always kind of the weird kid. A lot of it comes from loneliness, self doubt, and bad relationships. If you listen to the lyrics on most songs, they’re all kind of depressing. Musically there are a lot of other things going on which make them happy sounding, but there are a lot of sad things going on. I steam a lot of of my inspiration from daily struggle in life. Life isn’t always easy. Emotions aren’t easy. It’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s ok to make mistakes. Sometime things just fall apart. I’m very strong at the end of it all too. So their is always that, grabbing on to that gleam of hope.
JSD: I read some where that the song Valentino is based on an imaginary friend you had? Is this true?
DB: When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with the 18th Century. I was obsessed with the clothing, the music, the whole culture, whatever. So you know when you are like 15 and in high school the boys in school are where t-shirts and baggy jeans. I was like “you are not resembling my muse!” So I had to create one. So Valentino is like my muse, my kind of partner in crime, my sort of imaginary friend. When I moved to L.A. I kind of lost a lot of my childish imagination and became more realistic. I started censoring a lot of my crazy thoughts and ideas about things. That song, in a lot of ways, is just the waving goodbye to childish innocence and imagination. I still try to imagine and let myself daydream, but you know as you get older you start to become more realistic.
JSD: You have listed several artists as influences to you. Tell me how they following artists influenced your music.
DB: Their not a huge influence for the album. I guess I love their songwriting style. I love Stevie Nicks. I love her voice. I love the combination of elements. I think Stevie is the major part why I like them.
DB: The Cure was my first kind of obsession band. I was really obsessed with The Cure. I love their songwriting style. I love their sound. I love Robert Smith, he’s just incredible. I was really obsessed with them. My record obviously doesn’t sound anything like that. It’s of totally different music style, but I just love that it’s dreamy. There’s a lot of crazy imagination and you imagination kind of runs wild with the songs. They also have kind of melancholy, that I really identify with.
DB: Ooh Nina. What can’t you love about Nina? Nina is just incredible. She an incredible pianist. Her vocals are incredible. She’s just so raw. One thing I really appreciate about her music and something that is really inspiring to me is that is doesn’t have to be perfect and pretty all the time. Sometimes she makes these sounds and she clanks on the piano and plays all the wrong notes, and it just like YES! She just giving it! It’s not about perfection. It’s about soul.It’s about giving it. I feel her when she is singing.
DB: Snoop Dogg!!!! I love Snoop! I remember listening to Doggystyle when I was a kid, and being like “This is so funky!” I remember I would hear him and I felt like awkward like “this is like wrong”. I don’t know! Just felt awkward. (laughs) I just love his flow, I love his style. It’s just really funky. I love a lot the people he samples. That old school sampling. That early stuff. I even loved the record he released more recently like Sensual Seduction. I just think he he great, he is just classic. Like who doesn’t love Snoop Dogg? If they say the don’t, they are just lying!
DB: Radiohead I love. I got really into Radiohead, especially when I playing piano in piano bars, because I started realizing that all of their songs, well all the songs I was trying out, there was kind of a parallel between them and Classical music. I would play their music on the piano and it would sound like Classical music. I felt such a similarity in the melodic structure of their songs. It had a really sweeping, beautiful thing about it. Just so dreamy. The way it made me feel, I loved. Just even breaking it down and looking at the kind of the way they write songs, it’s really brilliant.
DB: I just love Elton John. His piano playing has been a huge inspiration to me. He has that kind of Gospel thing, but he’s got so much soul. I love his melodic style. I just love Bernie Taupin, the lyrics were always so great. I just love his delivery, the tone of his voice. I love Tumbleweed Connection, that album is one of my favorites. I’ve always kind of identified with that style of playing too. It seemed just to really make sense. A good bridge between combining really funky Gospel piano element with beautiful melodies. Kind of soulful, but also very melodic.
JSD: What was it like when you first saw Nothing but a Miracle music video on TV or heard it on the radio?
DB: When I first heard my song on the radio I was in Boston. I was actually driving to Boston to do a show at The River. I was in the car and the song comes on and I was like “Whoa!” I’ve heard it on my album and it’s like whatever. When you hear it on the radio its like “It sounds different! WAIT! Everything sounds different! What is it? Is it faster?” Oh my God, it’s so crazy. It totally seems so surreal.
JSD: What’s next for Diane Birch?
DB: Right now we are just touring. We are touring with Matt Carney, he’s awesome. We’re just focusing on promoting the record. We are going to Japan in December. The record is doing really well on the radio over there. Then hopefully at some point I’ll get to go back into the studio and make another record. I love playing live shows. It’s been really rewarding to people kind of reacting to the live show.
Visit Dianebirch.com for tour dates.
– Interview by Dana Bingham