Diane Birch Discusses Her New Album, Her Love For ’80s Music & Stalking Nile Rodgers: Interview
Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder, if you’re out there, Diane Birch would love to work with you (and, yes — she’s wanted to do so since before the whole Daft Punk foofaraw). That said, given the mix of bittersweet tracks and impeccable production found on the singer-songwriter’s new album Speak A Little Louder (out now), it’s clear Diane is doing just fine at the moment without those two particular disco legends in her corner.
It’s been four years since Birch made a name for herself with her retro-sounding LP Bible Belt. This time around, she collaborated with songwriter Eg White, producer Homer Steinweiss, Questlove of The Roots and R&B queen Betty Wright, among others, on an album that marks quite a change in direction from her debut.
Head below to find out why it took so long to put her second record out and find out about the breakup that fueled the album’s lyrics.
You’ve been on an emotional ride since Bible Belt, given your breakup and the loss of your father. DB: It’s been quite emotional. The personal things that I’ve gone through have definitely been at the forefront of the whole experience. Also, trying to figure out if I really believe in doing another record and the struggles of trying to get my vision across, and also making [the record] with people who see me as one thing — there definitely were a lot of challenges that had to work themselves out, which didn’t happen without a considerable amount of time.
Speak A Little Louder comes four years after your debut album. When did you officially start working on this record? DB: Around three years ago is when I started thinking about what kind of record I wanted to make. I was done touring for Bible Belt and I was just ready to start working on songs. I had wanted to do some collaborations with different people, different writers. The first album I had written alone. I know I can write songs, but I was a little bored and wanted to try some other things. I had a lot of songs that were starting to gather up, but there really wasn’t a consistency. I was really adamant with this record about having the sonic quality be very specific and embody a lot of things and genres and eras that I really connect with. A lot of that took a lot of time because I tried so many things with so many different people. Some of it really worked and some of it wasn’t that compelling. It was just like really trying to find that thing, and that, for me, only really happened when I met [Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings drummer/producer] Homer Steinweiss at the end of 2011.
How did Homer help bring a cohesiveness to the album? DB: We started writing songs and jamming and playing with ideas — just being stupid in the studio and goofing off! [Laughs] Being artists, you know? That was really what I needed. I was just wailing away, singing in weird voices, chanting. That was really the turning point, where we started to craft a sound. All of a sudden it started coming together for me.
Diane Birch — “All The Love You Got”
Your breakup with your ex plays a lot into the lyrics and the feel of this album. How did you channel all of those emotions, creatively? DB: I met Homer at a party. I’d heard a lot about the studio he has, so I made an appointment with him to check it out. At the time, I ended up doing the breakup thing with my boyfriend of four years. So, I basically met Homer and ended up dumping this whole experience of breaking up on him, creatively and musically, and it was kind of this amazing opportunity I had to directly channel the emotions and the heartbreak into the music. One significant person in my life left, and this other person came in, in a creative and professional sense. I was able to go into the next phase, which was focusing and finding the sound I was looking for.
What music were you listening to for inspiration while making Speak A Little Louder? DB: I was listening to everything from Siouxsie & The Banshees, Depeche Mode to Peter Gabriel and Tears For Fears and ’80s David Bowie — that whole Nile Rodgers era. A lot of the same references I had for Bible Belt — sort of the adult contemporary music of the ’70s and ’80s, I’m a total sucker for! I love Phil Collins and I love Annie Lennox. It ends up sounding probably a little more genre-specific because my songwriting style is pretty influenced by the classic style of songwriting from those eras. I’m just not that influenced by Top 40 radio songwriting right now. You know, I hear it. I get it. But I just do what I do and I gravitate to the things that I like.
Devlin feat. Diane Birch — “Rewind”
You had an unexpected Top 10 hit in the UK earlier this year when the rapper Devlin borrowed from your Bible Belt song “Rewind.” How did that come about? DB: It was actually a sample of my demo of the song. The demo was always really haunting, it had something to it. Then I rearranged it for Bible Belt. I guess they picked up the demo somehow in the UK and they wanted to sample it.
“All The Love You Got,” your current single, feels like a nice bridge between your two albums. What can you tell us about the writing of that song in particular? DB: I wrote this song in the UK. It was the first one I wrote for this album. I was working with Eg White at the time, who’s done a lot of stuff with Adele. I’d been in this temporary breakup with my boyfriend , and we ended up getting back together before breaking up again a year later. [Laughs] I was really in the headspace of the other person that he was going to end up with. I was imagining this other woman. This was sort of a song thinking about her mindset, being with this person, and wondering if she was going to feel all those thing that I was feeling — the hurt and the neglect.
I really love “Pretty In Pain.” How did that song come about? DB: Thank you! I really love that one too. It’s probably my favorite song to play live. I wrote it with Betty Wright, who I’d worked with on the first album a little bit. But we’d never written anything together, and we always talked about wanting to do that. When I first started working on this record, I wanted to make a disco-y vibe — something that invoked that era. [Betty] walked in and she was a little late — she was clearly frazzled by New York transportation — and she was like, “I don’t know how I got here, but I’m here.” We both just looked at each other and were like, “Okay, there’s our first line!” When I said I wanted to write a disco song, she was like, “Okay, then we have to write a ballad, because great disco songs are just ballads with beats under them.” I was really inspired by Nile Rodgers’ style, like a lot of early Madonna stuff. We had our influences and reference points, but we definitely kept it in its own vein.
Nile Rodgers was definitely behind some of the great, big songs songs of the ’80s, which a lot of people probably don’t realize or even remember now. DB: I was super obsessed with the idea of working with him. When I first started working on this album, I wanted to work with him and Giorgio Moroder. I was like, I see this thing. Where are they? I have to find these people. It never really happened. Then suddenly Giorgio Moroder collaborates with Daft Punk, and Nile Rodgers is also collaborating with Daft Punk. I thought, See — I’m not crazy! I felt it in the air. [Laughs] But I really love that whole concept of when Nile Rodgers was producing [in the ’80s] because he really married a lot of genres and production styles together after the whole Chic thing. He had such a range, and he really brought a more rounded-out sound. I love what he did with Bowie and Madonna – that’s some of my favorite production stuff ever. One day, hopefully, I’m going to stalk him until he works on something with me! He was actually supposed to work on a few things [with me], but the timing just never worked out. So he might already be aware that I’m stalking him.
Speak A Little Louder was released this week. Diane Birch is currently on tour, and you can catch her dates here.