Casey Dienel, aka White Hinterland, has the most enlightening and empowering story about moving back in with her parents that I’ve heard in quite some time. Two and a half years after the release of her sophomore LP, 2010’s Kairos, Dienel decided to move back to her family’s Massachusetts home, build a studio in the basement, and utilize tools such as YouTube to teach herself how to be a producer. The finished product is her third full-length, Baby, which is out April 1st on Dead Oceans. The album proves to be White Hinterland’s most stripped and soulful yet. It contains a bevy of sassy sonic synthetics, but they’re juxtaposed with her at her most bare and bold… often times in a brilliantly unexpected manner. The album would seem to seamlessly blend classic, piano-based, songwriting with the playfully popular in a way that, somehow, sounds like high art. The album’s lyrical content would imply that, to oversimplify it, Baby is about Casey embracing all of the things meant to characterize adulthood (Well… other than the whole living with parents’ thing.) She is about to kick off a US tour supporting S. Carey that will be making an April 14th stop at Boot & Saddle. But before hitting the road, she took some time to tell me what she’s been up to for the past four years and why she’s so excited about 2014.
Izzy Cihak: I have to ask, what is it that inspired your moniker and how do you feel it represents your musical aesthetic?
Casey Dienel: I didn’t think too long and hard about it. I picked Hinterland for the Tolkien-esque ring it had, and White because winter’s my favorite season. When I was getting bullied in middle school sci-fi/fantasy books/film were a big escape for me. Lord of The Rings is like comfort food for me.
The regality of the name is something I have fun with. It’s mutable. It can feel more feminine than masculine or vice versa depending how I want to slant it, which makes sense because I kind of flip-flop my own internal gender identity from day to day.
Izzy: It’s been a while since your last album. What are the most significant differences between your mindset when you released Kairos and your current mindset, as you’re about to release Baby? The albums differ quite a bit sonically, but I also understand that the recording process was quite different, with you actually building your own studio and teaching yourself how to be a producer.
Casey: My focus is different. I know what I want, and I couldn’t have said that four years ago. I prefer being on the road. I want to be either in my studio or out there. But none of that matters if the music isn’t there, you know? I hit a point two years ago where work tapered off, I had tried recording with other producers, nothing was gelling. That was when I moved back home with my parents, built the studio, and pressed Reset. It was really humbling. I did it against the advice of a lot of well-meaning people, but it was the push I needed. I’m grateful for it.
Songs carry so much emotional content. I think that’s what connects with me when I’m listening, and it’s the thing that connects what I do with those listening. I have close to zero patience with the “business” side of music. I find a lot of behind-the-scenes attitudes in the industry cynical. People are smart. They’re not faceless consumers. Out of respect to them, I want to give them the best of what I’ve got. For me to really hold up my end of the bargain, I need that intimacy intact. Production is the natural extension of that. What you’re hearing is a direct from me to you. Zero translation.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences?
Casey: I look up to others who have self-produced: Prince, Kate Bush. I studied Motown recordings and some of Stevie Wonder’s records, and I borrowed Lawrence Horn’s technique for recording brass. For a lot of the beats I took notes from Dilla even though my beats sound nothing close to his, but he inspired me not to quantize stuff to make things feel more out of joint. I wanted to use electronic elements to make a really human-sounding record.
Izzy: Your recent video for “Ring the Bell” is absolutely incredible. What was the concept behind that and how did it ultimately come about?
Casey: Thank you! I wanted to toy with all the images the moniker invokes and jostle them. A guy once told me he was into girls with “natural” beauty and it irked me–like, what exactly is “natural” beauty anyways? All beauty is a construction of some kind. I wanted to explore beauty that both comes easily and by effort (for instance, some of the makeup stuff took several hours to create).
I was inspired a little by Cindy Sherman to play with my appearance. You can tell which ideas were mine because they were the messiest. Dan thought up the mirror sequences and found the wall of skulls out in Wyoming, MN at a Haunted Hayride place. I did the styling.
We wanted the images to be stacked on top of each other to an overwhelming degree to mimic the abundance in the arrangement of the song. I went to see the Mike Kelley exhibit at MoMa Ps1 in New York and there was so much content that a few times I needed to take a little breather. Just amazing. As a cool bonus the ice cave looked similar to the Kandor sculptures.
Izzy: You’re about to embark on a tour, which stops here in Philly in mid-April. What can be expected of the live experience, this time around?
Casey: I’ll be touring solo for the first half of the year, and I’m really excited! I can’t reveal much more than that… Expect that I will be singing my ass off.
Izzy: And what are your plans for the rest of 2014? What are you most excited about?
Casey: 2014 is a harvest year. I feel the most myself, the most at home, when I am up there singing on stage. After four years away, I’d like to spend as much of 2014 “at home” as I can. I’m also going to produce some other artists for the first time this summer, another dream of mine. Lots to look forward to!