Sophomore efforts can be quite a tricky thing for musicians… trying to conjure up emotions to inspire something as profound as their first (and often-most-impressive) stab at artistic self-expression… However, in the time since her 2009 soulful, blues-laden debut, Bible Belt; which had her making late-night appearances for the prestigious likes of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Carson Daly, and Craig Ferguson; Brooklyn singer/songwriter Diane Birch has been through a whirlwind of existential tragedies, including the death of her father (seemingly her most significant influence), the end of a long-term romance, and the realization of “womanhood” (It certainly seems, among people of her and I’s age, that 28 is the new 13… in terms of “coming-of-age.) These hardships have culminated in her sophomore album, Speak a Little Louder, which is out October 15th on S-Curve Records.
While Birch took on Bible Belt on her own, for Speak a Little Louder she opened herself up to collaborating, including writing with Dap Kings drummer Homer Steinweiss, Aqualung’s Matt Hales, and Eg White, known for his work with Adele. And while her latest album has her exploring new musical frontiers with a handful of peers, it remains an extremely personal exploration of her own human experience. The sounds range from a contemporary take on Americana to a brand of soul both reminiscent of Motown and the disco era (at its most sincere and least campy) to the sounds of the 20th century’s most prolific singer/songwriters. Her range makes it difficult to place Birch in a particular genre, but it also makes it hard to find a particular brand of America’s greatest songwriters where she doesn’t fit. She’s about to embark on a tour supporting Irish alt-rockers Kodaline, which kicks off on October 10th at our very own World Café Live. Ms. Birch was kind enough to recently take some time to chat with me about her highly-anticipated sophomore LP, what inspired it, and what you can expect of her in the very near future.
Izzy Cihak: You’re about to release your sophomore effort, Speak a Little Louder. How would you characterize the album, compared to your debut?
Diane Birch: It’s a very different record, sonically, also in terms of the writing and recording process. The primary focus for me was on the songwriting and since I wrote Bible Belt on my own, I wanted to try collaborations, as well as do my own thing. I am also extremely particular about the sonic quality of everything I do and, through this recording process, I was presented with the opportunity to really take a lot of creative control over my vision. I was extremely blessed to work with some very talented people whose involvement provided a platform for me to try new things and really reach deeply into myself, as an artist. There was a lot of trial and error and ups and downs, but through those experiences came a body of work I’m really proud of, that truly reflects an evolution.
IC: Everyone always asks musicians about their biggest musical influences, but I generally find non-musical influences to be far more telling and interesting. What do you currently consider to be your most significant non-musical influences?
DB: I’m inspired by beauty, ugliness, and everything in-between, as long as it’s honest. I’m deeply inspired by personal growth and gaining knowledge in areas of spirituality, self exploration, and health. Space, stars, nature, progressive thinkers, quantum physics, dance, visual art, surrealism, avant-garde films, books, and so much more.
IC: I realize that this is a bit lame to bring up, but you have a really great fashion sense. What does that draw inspiration from?
DB: Thank you! I’ve always loved fashion and been super inspired by great style. Mine is a melting pot of elements and styles I admire: Jane Birkin, Annie Hall, Bianca Jagger, Patti Smith, Parisian gypsies, Hasidic menswear…
IC: You’re playing Philadelphia next week. What can be expected of the live experience?
DB: My goal is to make people dance and cry.
IC: You’re based out of Brooklyn, which has had a pretty incredible music scene as of recent years. What are your thoughts on the musical community? I’m especially interested in this, considering that you’ve lived more-or-less all over the world, including Zimbabwe, Sydney, and Portland.
DB: The music community here is really wonderful and supportive. I have many friends in bands and some involved in other kinds of projects, creating all different styles of music. I find the community to be less interested in genre and more into blurring lines and discovering interesting sounds and styles, pulling from areas of influence that don’t necessarily have much to do with or sounds like what’s on commercial radio.
IC: What’s next? What are you currently planning to focus on in 2014?
DB: My focus is to conjure up a tremendous live show and travel around sharing this album with the world. I also want to make about three new records by the end of 2014.
IC: You’ve collaborated with a number of quite noteworthy musicians. Is there anyone that you dream of collaborating with, whether entirely realistic or not?
DB: When I started working on this record three years ago, I told my record label that my dream team was Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder, with horn and string arrangements by David Axelrod. Circumstances didn’t allow it to happen this time around, so I’m waiting for the next opportunity. 🙂