Alela Diane on her throwback sound and leaving her small California town for Portland
Alela Diane (due tomorrow night at the Fillmore Auditorium with Fleet Foxes) was born in the small town of Nevada City, California, where she got a nudge from her friend Joanna Newsom to perform her solo material for the first time. After issuing her debut album, Forest Parade, in 2003, Diane recorded her follow-up, the self-released 2004 album, The Pirate's Gospel, which was picked up by Holocene Music and reissued in 2006.
Since then, Diane has relocated to Portland, signed with Rough Trade and gone on to tour the world, gracing stages with her vibrantly warm voice and the vivid imagery of her songwriting. Her latest record, Alela Diane & Wild Divine, finds Diane playing music with her father and her husband in a full band. We recently had the chance to chat with the vivacious and sharp Diane about Wild Divine and how and why she went from being a local songwriter in her hometown to a musician with a worldwide following.
Westword: Probably everyone who has talked about your new album has commented on how it has that kind of sound you heard on '70s country and country rock records.
Alela Diane: I was kind of in this space when we were making this record where I didn't want to know what other people were doing right now. I had my head in the clouds as far as modern music goes. The [new album] is not very in touch with trends going on in music right now. It's not drenched in reverb.
What was your path like coming from a small town like Nevada City to touring nationally and internationally?
In Nevada City, there are a lot of really talented musicians, and they tend to just play in town and make a little bit of a name for themselves and still have a regular job, and making music is really a side thing that they do. There are a couple of artists from when I was a teenager that my friends and I would go see play, and we were just like, "This is the best thing I've ever seen."
There's this one guy named Aaron Ross. He is one of the reasons I started writing songs, because he was a phenomenal songwriter. We were just in Nevada City, and he works behind the meat counter of the local grocery store, and he's not really doing anything with his music now. I knew that if I wanted to pursue music in a bigger way, I had to leave that town, because if you stay there, that's it for you, and nobody ever hears about who you are, and that's that.
After I played in town for about a year, and I recorded The Pirate's Gospel there, I left. I moved to Portland, because I knew that otherwise I would be one of those people who disappeared into the woodwork of Nevada City. So, for me, it was a conscious transition and something I pursued knowing that was my only option if I actually wanted to do music.