Catching Up With...Alela Diane

Music Features Alela Diane
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Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Album: Wild Divine
For Fans Of: Vetiver, Devendra Banhart, Laura Veirs 

After a whirlwind tour experience and some time at home as a newlywed, husky-voiced folk singer Alela Diane is back with her third album, Wild Divine. We recently talked to her about her past tours, how she’s learned from them and what she is looking forward to now, both on the road and at home. She also talks about being hypnotized and how it taught her things. Kind of.

Paste : The press packet for Wild Divine came with notes about each song. Do you feel like your little blurbs gave enough information about the song or maybe too much information about the songs?

Diane: I do think that what I wrote about the song “To Begin” is kind of weird and confusing because its like ‘I wrote this about hynopsis.’ It’s true, that’s what inspired the song, but that’s not really what the song is about. I think it has a lot of different themes and the weird session I had—it’s the only time that I’ve done something like that. It definitely brought the song to light, but I think it was something that I’d been thinking about anyway. I think that that song, wherever it come from for me personally, I think will speak to a lot of people because I do think that the overall theme is everybody’s got some weird problem, and they don’t know how to deal with it, and its not easy to get yourself out of a situation when you don’t know where to start. That’s really what the song is about.

Paste : Would you get hypnotized again?
Diane: Yeah, probably. It was pretty interesting. It was super hippy-dippy. I’m from a place where things like that happen. The woman who I worked with on that session is a friend of my mom’s. I was in Nevada City and I was having health problems and I was just super exhausted from touring and I was like ‘What the hell’s wrong with me.’ I just decided to do something weird and see if I could find any answers. And I kind of did. It’s just super weird to be in an alternate reality to be talking about things that are coming from within without being really mentally aware of what you are saying, but I remember everything that I said and that I saw in my head and that I felt while she had put me in that weird state. So that kind of stuck with me, and I wrote about it. I wasn’t going to do that to see what I could come up with for songwriting, it was more like ‘Wow, I feel like shit, what’s wrong with me?’ And then like six months later I find out I’m allergic to dairy. So ya know, real doctor, there ya go. Problem: Don’t eat dairy anymore. No big deal. Feel better.

Paste : You said this happened after touring and you were exhausted. Do you have similar tours planned for the future, because you toured a lot for your first two albums, a lot.
Diane: I really did tour a lot. There was not a break between The Pirate’s Gospel and To Be Still. I was actually recording To Be Still while touring for The Pirate’s Gospel. I would work on the record between tours for the other record and I kind of just took off on the road when To Be Still was released and we toured for that entire year, which was 2009. I was super exhausted because I’d been on the road for about three years without any proper break. I would be home for maybe, at the longest in that period I would probably stay in one place for three weeks. It was really chaotic to be gone that much. I felt like hell because I was allergic to dairy and had no idea. So that was not fun; touring was hard on my body. I was really run-down by the end. So, I decided that I was going to take a year off from touring and see if I could just pull myself together and work on a new record, work on my songwriting and just chill-out. Which was awesome. Now I feel like I’ve sorted everything out and I’m really excited to get back on the road, and I totally think it will be a different experience this time. I know it will present certain challenges, and I know it’s not an easy way to live your life. I think I was kind of thrown into it before without knowing what I was getting myself into, and now that I have, I’m aware of what is waiting on the other side of the ocean and what to expect. And I’m excited about it. So I think it will be really different this time around.

Paste : Do you have plans to bring any sort of survival kit with you this time?
Diane: I totally have it down to a science at this point. My suitcase is ridiculous. I just got a new suitcase and I don’t bring tons of shit, but I definitely know what’s important for me to have. For me, feeling healthy is very important to me and taking care of myself. Now, I have rice milk in my suitcase and I have weird snacks and vitamins and tea. Every place you go there is different stuff to eat. It’s very hard on your body, at least for me, I have a very delicate constitution. All the guys I tour with can just do whatever and treat their bodies like hell and drink too much beer and smoke cigarettes, but I can’t do those things. I’ve kind of figured out what I have to do to remain balanced and grounded even though I’m in totally different places all the time. And when you’re touring there really isn’t time to go find an organic store. They are out there; it’s just with the schedule it doesn’t really work. I bring a lot of stuff over and then I also hunt and gather things when I find them over there. If we have the opportunity to stop at a natural store then I’ll buy granola, fruits and vegetables and then the van starts smelling like rotten fruit and the tour manager gets bummed out. But it’s all for the greater good.

Paste : From your last tour it really seemed that France loved you, but did you love France?
Diane: I love going there, and it’s kind of crazy what happened there with my music. And it was just really unexpected. I totally appreciate it and do enjoy going there, but at the same time it would be really nice to tour in my own country and have nice successful shows and not show up in half-empty rooms because it’s a lot of work to tour in America and we’re putting ourselves out there in the same way. I have to admit it is a little bit frustrating. I hope with this record we are able to do that more and we are able to play really nice shows other than France. As much as it is really cool to go over there, it would just be nice if some other places caught up to that level. Also, France is full of cheese, which is not very good for me. I’m going to have to make a special note to the hospitality rider: ‘No cheese for Alela please!’

Paste : Traveling can affect you, change your way of thinking, so I was wondering has being home for a year changed how you think?
Diane: I just really finally feel settled in. We bought a house after touring for all of 2009. We bought a house in October and then we moved in and then we had to leave on another tour, the final tour of the year. That’s really shitty to move into a house and have to leave two weeks later. So it’s really the first time since my childhood that I’ve had a home of my own where we can paint and do whatever we want here, which is amazing. I’m just more grounded and more settled in, and I think that overall it’s a good thing for my life in general, and it will be kind of nice to know what is waiting for me when I come back from tour.

Paste : You recently got married and on this record there are a few songs that were co-written with your husband. How was that process?
Diane: Working with him just started happening really naturally. He would be playing the guitar, and I would then come up with melodies that I wouldn’t have created because he’s playing something I never would have come up with. It enabled me to just kind of let loose vocally and most of the songs we worked on together I kind of already had the words or we would start it just felt like a really natural process and I’m sure we’ll continue to do that as it seems fitting.

As for the writing process in general for this record, I had been writing a lot of the words while we were traveling, while we were on tour. And then when we were home, I really just would sit around the house and just work on the music part and just on the craft of organizing the songs and what the verses and choruses were doing. And I changed the words a lot, and a lot of the songs went through a lot of transitions before they became what they are now. It was the first time in writing that I’d ever done that or that I had put that much effort into each song. I think that in the past I have just written a song real quick and that’s how that song has been forever. This time I would write it, but then I would keep working on it until I was really happy with it. I would change words until I was happy with every word of the song. I think I just really dug into the craft of songwriting where as before I just did it randomly and didn’t really think about it much. Maybe it’s just because I had time to do it this time. Nothing was rushed I just had time to let it all sink in and to do it as seemed fit.

Paste : You’ve become a lot more methodical, a lot more precise in your songwriting. How else has your music changed over time and why do you think these changes have occurred?
Diane: I definitely knew that for this record I wanted to have a fuller sound and that I really wanted to work with a band. On this record I also stepped away from the guitar as much. I think I only play it on three songs or something and that’s been really liberating for me vocally because I’m definitely a better singer than I am guitar player. It’s kind of enabled me to just really let loose with my voice and then I’m not worrying about messing up on the guitar. So that’s a change and that’s something that just kind of happened for this record. It felt right to do that and I wanted to do that. With the band, I’ve really been wanting to have a real-feeling solid band for awhile. There just wasn’t the time to pull it together before; it just couldn’t have happened until now because of the way that things went with my releases before and how they kind of bled into each other. I was just swept off my feet with the first recorded. I had recorded it in 2004, and then it came out on the record label in 2006. It was this record that just had this five-year life span. Then all of a sudden I was making a new record, while touring the old record. With taking time off this was the first time I was actually able to think about what I was doing and deliberately do what i wanted to do. Before I just did what was convenient or what I capable of doing really quick.

Paste : This isn’t what you initially thought you would be doing. You thought you would pursue graphic design. Do you ever think you’ll become a graphic designer or pursuing something else later in life?
Diane: I’m really happy that I ended up doing this. I definitely think that maybe in the future at some point I will want to do something that is a little more routine, that is a little more in one place. I do really enjoy being at home or being in one spot, but I got myself into this and I’m having a lot of fun doing it. I’ll be making some more records. We definitely won’t have kids, that’s the main thing that would make this lifestyle really difficult. There is always room for change and I think I’m just going to do this as long as it feels good, because I don’t think you should ever be doing anything that’s not fun.

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