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Interview: Alela Diane

PUBLISHED: 09:34 24 July 2009 | UPDATED: 15:40 29 October 2010

Rob Garratt

Fresh from this year's Latitude, American folk songstress Alela Diane is bringing herself back to the region to play Norwich Arts Centre. ROB GARRATT had a chat.

Further listening: Alela Diane

Fresh from this year's Latitude, American folk songstress Alela Diane is bringing herself back to the region to play Norwich Arts Centre. ROB GARRATT had a chat.

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Hailing from the deep woods and winding rivers of northern California gold rush town Nevada City, Alela Diane grew up singing songs with her parents, both musicians, and performing in the school choir.

After moving to San Francisco, she began teaching herself guitar and writing her first songs, blending tense, trance-like arpeggios, with warm, thick vocals and meditative lyrics about family and nature.

Written in response to a loss of home and familiarity, her first album, The Pirate's Gospel, was a powerful document of personal songs about family, life, death and birth written away from home on the road in Europe. Now based in Portland, Oregon, her new album To Be Still is out now on Rough Trade.

t How was Latitude?

It went well, it went good. It was raining on and off, but I've seen much worse conditions at festivals before.

t Have you done any other festivals this year?

We did Glastonbury and a bunch of other festivals, it's difficult to keep track of we're doing - there have been plenty.

t It seems you're more known in Europe than at home at the moment?

That's true. I think it's kind of how it is right now. I am really thankful that it's going well - I can't complain about getting to travel and all that. Things are slow generally in the states right now, and I've been investing most of my time over here.

t Do you think it's because there's more interest in the kind of music you play here?

It's a different kind of scene in the states, the way music is perceived and the way venues are available mean it's more challenging to break through. It's normally bars, and acoustic music doesn't work as well in a room full of drinking people.

t You've been successful for about two years now…

Yeah, my first record came out in 2006 and it's been a pretty slow and gradual. I recorded it and gave it out to people myself and put a lot of personal energy into it, I was determined to try and do something.

t What gave you that strong drive to self-promote yourself like that?

I realised I was better at singing than at serving people at the restaurant that I was working at, and eventually a couple of people sort of noticed that.

t On your MySpace you credit your parents playing music in the house as your biggest inspiration - how important was growing up in that environment to your career?

I think that's probably the reason that I am doing this now. My dad would just be playing the guitar round the house and my mum was always singing. If that hadn't been a huge part of my growing up I wouldn't have realised that music was something that I could do. It was normal and not something I was afraid of - and that is something that holds a lot of people back.

t What advice would you give people trying to make it?

Just don't be afraid! When I first started performing in public I was pretty nervous, but just keep trying it and it's something you get used to.

t What inspires you to pick up a guitar and write?

My day to day experiences. What I am processing and turning around in my brain. I never plan to write a song, it just happens. Maybe if I'm feeling sad or crazy I'll sit down and something will come out.

t Is that old cliché that it's easier to write when you're low true?

I have written a lot in my darker moments, but it's more when I'm feeling overwhelmed and bombarded with a lot of things going on - not sad but stressful things. It's a way of sifting through and dealing with experiences.

t And how do you write practically - do you start with a melody, lyrics, or what?

Lately I've been writing a lot of lyrics first - touring I am able to write lyrics down when I can't pull out a guitar because there's seven of us travelling together. I used to write more all together but now lyrics are the only thing I have space to do.

t Has travelling in Europe influenced the songs?

Definitely. More lately I've been throwing in things about being far from home and familiar things, and about the road in front of us.

t Your Wikipedia page classifies you as “psych-folk” and “new weird America” - how do you feel about that?

I don't necessarily agree with that. I understand that people want to put a title on what they hear. I do come from America and maybe I am weird. It's the only thing they can say, but I don't think it's a good fit.

t What would you call it then?

I would call it some kind of folk music - that's a very general term but what else can you say? To be part of these new movements you need a group of people to move forward together - if I knew these people making this music could be part of the movement. But we have nothing in common apart from being from the western states.

t Alela Diane plays Norwich Arts Centre on July 29, tickets £9 advance and £10 on the door, 01603 660352, www.norwichartscentre.co.uk

Further listening: Alela Diane

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