Diane Birch Grows Up and Gets Personal On New Album ‘Speak a Little Louder’
When Diane Birch released her debut, ‘Bible Belt,’ in 2009, she grabbed everyone’s attention with her soulful Carole King-esque vocals, thoughtful lyrics and genius piano playing. And after four years, she’s back with her sophomore effort, ‘Speak a Little Louder,’ out on Oct. 15.
Summoning just as much emotion and honesty as on her last record, Birch channeled a number of major experiences in her life — including the loss of a loved one and a big breakup — and focused all that energy into the LP. From ballads like ‘It Plays On’ and the title track to retro-pop tracks like ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘Love and War,’ the album has a variety of songs that show different sides of Birch, as well as her willingness to experiment with instrumentation and production.
Diffuser.fm had the opportunity to chat with the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter about experimenting with her new album, tapping into her inner dancer and what ’90s pop music she can’t get enough of.
‘Bible Belt’ came out in 2009. And even though you did do a project with Phenomenal Hand Clap Band, we haven’t heard from you since then. What have you been up to over the past four years?
Well, I was touring for a year and a half after the release of ‘Bible Belt.’ And when I finally started working on this album, I knew that I wanted to make something very different from it. I went through a lot of different trials and errors and experimentation before finally finding the right songs, the right sounds and the best collaborators. Over the course of this time, so much in my life also changed. I split up with my boyfriend of many years and also tragically lost my father to cancer. He had been such a monumental force in my life that the loss really changed a lot of what I even wanted to say. There was a lot to work through personally and creatively yet still somehow make a record that everyone else felt they could stand behind.
How did you approach this album compared to your debut?
I wanted to be a lot more involved in the actual production and sonic quality of this album. I had a lot more creative control, and while I also wanted to collaborate more in terms of songwriting, I worked hard to keep very focused.
There is a different sound to this one, and there isn’t much of the Rhodes piano either, which is something that was very much present on the last record. What inspired this new direction?
There are loads of keys on this album. Actually a lot more than on ‘Bible Belt.’ I did a lot more keyboard layering and using piano, Rhodes, Hammond organ, etc. also pads and sound effects as opposed to literal sonic parts at all times. I wanted a bigger sound and something that utilized different analog key instruments.
Why did you choose ‘Speak a Little Louder’ as the title of your album?
It is very much a dominant part of my process: trying to be heard and understood and fighting for my vision against all odds.
The video for you ‘All the Love You Got’ has just released. It’s beautiful yet very fashionable as well. What’s the story behind the video?
It’s inspired by the often quiet yet chaotic fascination with the “other woman.”
You also did a fair share of dance choreography. Have you danced before this? What’s that experience like?
My “moves” were all improvised. This is how I dance around my apartment when no one is looking. There was no method to the movement. I tried to work with the choreographer to refine some of the parts but realized that if I just moved and didn’t think about it, it looked more authentic.
You worked with Questlove, Matt Hales of Aqualung and Dap-Kings drummer Homer Steinweiss. What were those experiences like? How did you get to working with them?
They were all very different, and everyone brought their unique approach to the table, though I spent the majority of the whole process with Homer. Together, we shaped the sound and spent countless hours, days, months trying things out, writing song, experimenting. It was only with that kind of time & support that I was able to find the sound I was looking for.
How do you feel that this album represents you as an artist?
I feel like it represents a current mood I’m in.
What’s your favorite song to perform live? Why?
I love to perform ‘Adelaide’ live, mostly because my band really grooves with it.
What are you listening to right now? Any guilty pleasures?
I’ve been listening to a lot of really quiet music like Cluster & Eno, Harold Budd, Debussy, etc. Though I’ve also been having a moment with Mariah Carey’s ‘Vision of Love.’ My so called guilty pleasures are Celine Dion hits of the ’90s — R. Kelly, Enigma and ESG — though I feel no guilt or shame whatsoever about listening to any of them.
What’s next for Diane Birch?
I am already gathering seeds for album three, but mostly just trying to focus on getting my live show together so we can go out on the road and have a blast. We are going out on the road across the U.S. with Kodeline through October, which should be a lot of fun.