Canadian Foursome Diana Discuss Their Lush, Dreamy, Sax-Rich Debut, ‘Perpetual Surrender’
You might not know Diana, but if you’re reading Diffuser.fm, you’re certainly acquainted with some of the band’s members. Featuring musicians who have worked with likes of Destroyer and the Hidden Cameras, this Canadian quartet crafts some of the most heavenly pop this side of the Cocteau Twins.
Diana debut album, ‘Perpetual Surrender,’ drops Aug. 20 on Jagjaguwar, and it features lush instrumentation and exquisite vocal performances from singer Carmen Elle. Joining her in the group is multi-instrumentalist Joseph Shabason, and chatting recently with Diffuser.fm, he explained why he and drummer Kieran Adams were drawn to the unique vocalist.
“Besides the fact that Carmen’s voice just sounds amazing, the way that she’s able to phrase and interpret melodies made her super appealing to work with,” Shabason says. “We knew that she would be able to take the basic melodies that we had written and really bring them to life. But I had no idea that she would be quite as amazing as she is. I’d never worked with her before, and she came into the studio, and from the second she started to sing, it became obvious that she had to be the one to sing on the entire album.”
Besides Elle’s crystalline vocals, another facet of the Diana sound that sets them apart from their dream-pop contemporaries is their prominent use of the saxophone. In fact, the sax solo on the title track amounts to the album’s show-stealing moment, and Shabason says he’s glad to see brass back in the fold.
“I think that people started to shy away from the sax solo in the mid to late ‘90s,” he says. “The ‘cool’ rock bands that were popular at the time — like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Pavement — were super heavy and lo-fi, and there was really no place for a sax solo in that kind of music.
“Then somewhere along the way, people, including myself, just started thinking of sax solos as corny and throwbacky and no one put them in their songs anymore,” he adds. “Even though I play the sax in Diana, there was a long while where the thought of putting a sax solo in a rock song seemed insane to me. It really wasn’t until I started to play in Destroyer that I understood that the saxophone could have a real place in current pop/rock music. It can still be a very cheesy thing to hear, but if it’s done right and it makes sense musically, it can also be a very powerful and emotional moment in a song.”
Production-wise, ‘Perpetual Surrender’ plays like a warm sonic bubble bath, and that suits Diana’s material like a glove. Surprisingly, the album wasn’t recorded directly to tape — the old school way — as listeners might suspect.
“We actually recorded in a super hi-fi studio — that has no tape machines — called Boombox Sound with our co-producer Roger Leavens,” Shabason says. “I think that a lot of the warmth of the album comes from nice samples and synthesizers played through really great analog gear. If it wasn’t for the E-MU sp12 and the E-MU E5000, I don’t think that this album would have sounded half as warm as it does.”
“We had never even played with samplers until we started recording with Roger, and once he showed us that technology we were completely hooked,” he adds.
These days, Shabason is also hooked on Disclosure’s ‘Settle’ album and Pomrad’s ‘This Day’ EP. He’s also been spinning his grandfather’s classic Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong LPs, though he’ll have to give those a rest as the band hits the road for much of September. Rounded out by newest member Paul Matthew, Diana has a lot to live up to in their live shows, given the richly layered sound on ‘Perpetual Surrender,’ and Shabason is well aware of the challenge.
“The word ‘nightmare’ definitely comes to mind,” he says. “The first few months of rehearsals were really really tough. We were all trying to figure out how to make these really dense songs work as a four-piece band. The answer was to learn a whole lot of new technology that we’d never used before. Initially we were going a bit out of our minds, but now that we’ve had some time to learn how to use all this new gear, it’s a lot more manageable and enjoyable.”
“The first 10 shows we played were a total crap shoot,” he adds. “We didn’t know if we’d be able to get through our set without having a complete gear meltdown. I think there is a video from our second show ever at CMJ where everyone but Carmen looks absolutely panicked on stage trying to remember their parts. Man, thank God for Carmen! When it comes to preforming she’s is cool as a cucumber.”
Shabason figures Diana will constantly strive to “make things sound better,” and that will likely entail shelling out for lots of new gear.
“But for now,” he says, “playing these songs feels like a ton of fun instead of a daunting clusterf—.”
Watch Diana’s ‘Perpetual Surrender’ Video