Interview of Dia by Molly McKew
Hi Dia! How has life been treating you since the release of your debut EP ‘Tiny Ocean’?
Life has continued to be a tiny ocean since the release! We had a tour in the Northeast this summer and have been playing a lot in California. As is the case with most things once you let them out into the world, I’m onto thinking about new songs, releases and performance projects. I’m putting out a covers EP in early 2017 and am excited about making a new record in the spring!
What inspired you to leave classical music behind and pursue your own originals?
I had been pursuing a career as an opera singer and, during a young artist program, I realized that that life wasn’t for me. I felt I was trying to fit myself into a box of perfectionism. My brother gave me a ukulele that Christmas and I started teaching myself to play a lot of older pop songs and jazz standards. It was a very small and quiet way to approach music compared to the world I was coming from. I started writing these song fragments. I would literally sit on the floor of my bathroom and come up with melodies. I really had no intention of writing songs and doing anything with them, but they kept coming and, eventually, I shared them with my brother and a couple of very close friends. The response was so positive, it reinforced the joy I felt in writing them. I started working with an incredible collaborator, Tim Carr, who taught me about structuring the fragments, and really, about being a songwriter in general.
You were raised on a Hindu ashram, what kinds of influences did you bring from your childhood and into your musicianship today?
I imagine a lot of the influences are subconscious. We did so much chanting that I think music must have become a very natural mode of expression from an early age.
Your songs have a very dreamy stream of consciousness-like feel. Tell me a little bit about your songwriting process?
I try to write without much of a technical or specific goal in mind. I’m really looking for chord progressions I love that reveal a melody. David Lynch has this great quote about creativity, “Ideas are like fish… and you don’t make a fish, you catch the fish.” Art-making, like most things, is perfect evidence that we are not the “doer.” It’s when I get out of my own way, when I stop trying, thinking, pushing, that the best things come. The trick is then showing up so that the fish appear. If you don’t put the time in, if you don’t create the space, nothing is going to swim your way.
‘Tiny Ocean’ features tracks produced by the likes of Joey Waronker (Beck, REM, Atoms for Peace) and Tim Carr (The Americans, HAIM), what was it like having your creations interpreted by such seasoned producers?
My early “demos” were basically voice memos that I recorded with my vocals going through a tube amp. Evan Slamka of Marjorie Fair shared some of them with Joey Waronker. Joey responded to them and invited me over to play some of the songs for him. He was about to leave on tour with Beck at the time, but we made a plan to record Covered In Light on one of his days back in LA. It was so great working with him, he is incredibly generous and supportive. For the most part, we tried to re-create that voice memo but on a grander scale – Joey added this snapping percussive element and Evan worked on the harmonic parts.
Tim Carr is a huge part of this EP. He produced a majority of the songs. It was a process of arranging the fragments I had written and then adding layers of instrumentation to really create the sound. Tim plays most of the instruments, he is a truly brilliant producer and taught me so much about composition, texture, tone, which I am sure will always influence me.
What messages – if any – do you hope people receive from your music?
A lot of my songs are about the experience of massive, cosmic love. My hope is that when people hear the music it sparks memory or feelings in them that might otherwise be hidden away or inaccessible.
There is a lot of talk about the music business ‘bro culture’ and misogyny. What has your experience of the music industry been as a woman in music?
My experience of the indie music business has actually been surprisingly non-misogynistic. It’s obviously a really tough business and it can feel thankless at times, but I have felt more frustration with the general lack of value people (even fans) place on artists and their work than I have with “bro culture.” I can imagine that in other musical genres there is more of an imbalance but, thankfully, it hasn’t been a struggle for me.
Pretend you’re at a sleepover with your best friends and confidants. Tell us your hopes and dreams!!
I want to have a life that is balanced so that I can consistently make work I am proud of and collaborate with people I respect. It’s one thing to create art from a destructive place, but to make it, sustainably, from a healthy place requires a lot of equilibrium and support. I also want to tour Europe, travel often, swim as much as possible, and be surrounded by people I deeply love.
What advice would you give your 14 year-old self?
I would say, be sweet to yourself, don’t abandon yourself, trust your instincts. You do not need to worry about how it will all turn out – you cannot control that. The best thing you can do is to show up for what life is presenting to you. Be proud of your interests and desires, and follow them – they are here to teach you about who you are in this world and what is important to you. Collect all of the moments of joy and pain, they are your treasures. They are you.
Finally, pretend it’s 1999 and you’re about to be stuck on a desert island with only a disc-man for company. You can only bring one album to listen to. Which would it be?
This seems like the most obvious answer in the world, but I’m sure it would have been Joni Mitchell’s Blue.
Stream the TINY OCEAN EP on Soundcloud