28 December 2010

POST #253

A few weeks back, I had someone recommend the debut album from Seattle-based indie band The Volcano Diary to me. After giving the gorgeously understated folk-rock disc a few listens, and liking it more and more each time, I sent out an email to see if the band would have the time to chat a bit for the blog. Happily, lead singer and songwriter Alicia Dara was willing to oblige me.

DeadBilly -- Please introduce yourself, and let everyone know a bit about you.

Alicia Dara -- I was born and raised in Canada. My parents were professional symphony musicians. I started singing when I was 7. I studied musical theater in New York City but have been primarily based in Seattle for over a decade. I've released 5 solo records, played countless shows, toured a whole bunch, been both a signed and unsigned artist, sung on a few commercials, written over 500 songs, and taught singing and songwriting to hundreds of people. And I'm a passionate amateur pie maker. NO cupcakes!

DB -- What’s the band line-up these days?

AD -- Myself on vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, Gus Palaskas on electric and lap-steel guitars and vocals, and Dave Bush on drums and percussion. We alternate bass players.

DB -- You’ve been recording as a solo artist for more than a decade. Why did you decide to record this album as a band?

AD -- When I got back from the national tour for my record, "The Secret Dream of Tigers" in 2008 I felt like I had acquired some kind of degree that took ten years. I didn't realize until then how comfortable I had become with the solo-artist thing, how many shows I'd played. I suddenly knew that I was ready to be part of a tribe. A whole bunch of new songs started showing up, and everything came together quickly after that.

DB -- How did the group come together? Did you choose who to work with specifically for this project, or had you worked with them in the past elsewhere?

AD -- I've known Gus for over 10 years, mostly as a singer and guitarist. But I watched him develop his skills as a lap-steel player and was amazed at how creative he is with that thing. His live set-up is unconventional, to say the least, and gear heads always run right up to the stage to look at his gear when we finish our set. Dave came to us later in the game but his skills are diverse, which is what this kind of band needs. Because we play in a part of the dynamic spectrum that is not loud and crunchy you can't just pound out any old beat. We work extremely hard on our dynamics and Dave is a lot of the reason why it works so well.

DB -- The new album was produced by Steve Fisk, who has worked with Nirvana, Low, Soungarden, Screaming Trees, etc., etc. He’s also recorded as a solo artist, and with Pigeonhead. So, he’s obviously a pretty talent and creative guy. Was he a hands-on producer, bringing in his own ideas, or a more laid-back, let it happen type in the studio?

AD -- It's not so much what Steve knows about music (although that is considerable)... it's what he understands about it that makes him great. He completely inhabits the sonic landscape, he lives there, so you can trust that he will work hard for you if he invites you in. Steve and I had a bunch of meetings before we ever went into the studio, to learn about each other and look into the future a bit. I told him right away that I wanted this project to be a true collaboration, for him to feel part of it almost like another band member. What surprised me is how much care he took with his choices, and how much room he left for my voice, for my melodies. But he also made some stunningly beautiful sonic textures for me to play against, like in "Revival", "Pacifica", and "Lightning Seed". I would say that the entire process was organic, and happened very naturally.

DB -- Was the writing process different for this record than it has been as a solo artist?

AD -- Only in the sense that I wanted to bring my "A" game to everyone involved. I became a ruthless editor: I had about 27 songs prepared but I only showed 12 of them to Steve, and we came out with 9. We agreed early on about the quality over quantity equation. It was a risk but I think the record is a complete statement from start to finish.

DB -- Where did the band name come from?

AD -- It kind of describes how artists feel when we write songs and play music: vulnerable (hence the diary) but powerful (volcanic forces of nature).

DB -- I’ve seen reviews comparing your music to that of Aimee Mann and Rufus Wainwright. Who were your biggest influences starting out, and have they changed over the years?

AD -- Growing up in Canada we had the "holy trinity" of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Neil Young. But I was also a huge Kate Bush fan, and Tori Amos, Jane Siberry, Chris Whitley, Jeff Buckley, Daniel Lanois, and Lucinda Williams. Some current artists I love are Junip, Jose Gonzales, Ryan Adams, Bat for Lashes, Sigur Ros, Grinderman, and The National. Seattle artists that amaze me are Land of Pines, Cober, Mutiny Mutiny, Another Perfect Crime, Like Lightning, Mia Katherine Boyle, Jason Dean, and Elliot Knapp.

DB -- Everybody’s got a favorite band/artist that never made it big. Name one of your current faves that should be far better known than they are.

AD -- There is a woman in Seattle named Sheila Bommakanti who has a project called Cober. She plays a double neck SG through 2 Marshall half-stacks, and uses looping and delay pedals to make incredibly beautiful, heart-wrenching music. I think she's by far one of the best and most original musicians I've ever met. Cober should be the stuff of legend!!

DB -- You’re going to be playing around the west coast in early 2011. Any plans yet for a national tour?

AD -- We're still working it out, but it would be incredible. Because of our various schedules I think we'll be doing different legs of our tour, like one on the West Coast, then the East Coast, then maybe the Southwest. We've been talking about all the places we want to see, how diverse America is. The one thing I know for sure is that travel inspires me like nothing else, so we'll probably come back from our tours with a whole new record ready to go again!

The Volcano Diary's self-titled debut album is available at Amazon, CD Baby, and many fantastic brick-and-mortar record shops near you.

I wouldn't want you to go away without getting to hear some of the music, so here's the album opener, "Revival", and the bluesy "Burning Hands".

The Volcano Diary - "Revival"
The Volcano Diary - "Burning Hands"

Keep an eye on their official page, or their MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter for information on tour dates.

No comments: