Madi Diaz’s Plastic Moon is semi-officially my first favorite album of 2012.  The album is out January 24th on Small Horse Records and Madi herself will be previewing the new material this coming Thursday, January 19th, downstairs (I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to work.) at Johnny Brenda’s. I recently chatted with the songstress about what she was up to in 2011, her new sound, and just what she hopes for in 2012.

“2011 was a full year for sure!  We met and were able to work with so, so many incredible people… the masses in Los Angeles who did our video… Big Active, that designed our album packaging…the birth and passing of our label family at tinyOGRE… our indie rebirth… so much travel.  We didn’t see home a whole lot but we saw a lot of North America that we hadn’t seen before so that was exciting,” Diaz tells me.

September of 2011 saw the release of Far From Things That We Know, an EP that features three of the tracks from her upcoming full-length, easing her fans into her evolving sound.  Plastic Moon strays (as one would running through a meadow) from her early alt. country work to something far sunnier.  It’s not that it’s always optimistic, but even in its most somber situations, it never loses spirit.  It often rollicks, often frolics, and can sound quite epic, but always with a brand of delicacy.  “I feel like we tried to cover a lot of ground with this record but really we wanted the songs to be complimented by their production.  We were listening to a lot of Midlake, Deathcab, Jayhawks, and Fleetwood at the time.  And being that we’re all big ol’ Beatles fans, I think that was always at the back of our minds too,” she tells me.

The sound of Plastic Moon and Far From Things That We Know is likely, in-part, due to her collaboration with producer John Alagia, best known for his work with Dave Matthews’ band.  Although he’s not necessarily who I would have envisioned for Madi’s latest, she’s quite a fan and jumped at the opportunity to work with him: “He did one of my favorite John Mayer records and has worked with a ton of people that I love and admire (Rachel Yamagata, Liz Phair, etc., etc.).  It was an easy sell!”

Although Alagia has seemed to have given Diaz’s sound a certain polish, the core of her aesthetic is her relationship with longtime collaborator Kyle Ryan.  Madi met the Nebraska-raised guitarist when they were going to Berklee College of Music.  While attending, the two first worked together when a fellow student and producer sent them to Hawaii to record Skin and Bones, their first official release.   Diaz quickly left Berklee, but she and Ryan continued working together, trekking to NYC to play gigs, before packing up and moving to Nashville in 2010.  There, they wrote more than 50 songs before being asked by Alagia to come record at Dave Matthews’ studio outside of Charlottesville, VA… what would go on to become Plastic Moon.  I asked Madi about their relationship and she told me “I can tend to lean further on the side of heart and gut-heavy, while Kyle likes to sit back, muse, shape, and build. We’re both getting better at seeing the other’s side.   I’ll try to say what I feel and Kyle helps me tunnel my way toward saying and playing things that actually will make sense to the listener.”

As for her goals for 2012, Diaz tells me “I’d love, love to see all 50 states and make it to the UK… I’d love to take a week or two to myself and write by myself… I’d love to release so many more songs in 2012.  Maybe I’ll release 2012 songs.  Or 2012 minutes.  Or 2012 words.”

If Madi looks somewhat familiar… but different… and you still haven’t figured out why, there’s a good chance you locals may have seen her teenage-self as one of Paul Green’s star pupils at the School of Rock (a Philadelphia institution) in Don Argott’s 2005 doc, Rock School (She seems sweet, so I’m going to refrain from posting stills from those teen years of hers… but it’s not like I would be able to stop you from looking them up yourself.)  Although she tell me she doesn’t have too many memories of the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, those that she does have seem to be pretty on par with the rest of our fondest memories: “I didn’t really get to dig to deep into the Philly scene, to be totally honest. I have some fun and fond highschool memories of going to see Le Tigre at the Troc and hanging out on rooftops with my friends and Silk City Diner at 3am.”