DIANA: Midas Touch

Interview DIANA: Midas Touch

We chat the Toronto music scene, and amping things up, with the band’s Kieran Adams.

With their second album ‘Familiar Touch’ out today, Toronto natives DIANA have stepped it up a notch. Writing about their new record, DIY’s very own Eugenie Johnson said that it’s an album which “channel[s] the essence of previous decades. Throughout, the band use a variety of vintage synth tones and guitar and basslines that even Nile Rodgers would kill for. Joseph Sabason’s euphoric bursts of R&B saxophone inject some serious groove into the likes of ‘Cry,’ while the superbly slick ‘These Words’ is like if Prince met Tears For Fears. Despite its obvious touchstones, though, ‘Familiar Touch’ never sounds like a cheesy pastiche or throwback.”

Bulshier and more experimental than DIANA’s Polaris Prize nominated debut, ‘Familiar Touch,’ ironically, came from a step out into the unknown. Taking their time over recording, and focusing on building a record filled with ambition, it’s the work of a band growing in confidence and scope.

With ‘Familiar Touch’ out today, we tracked down the band’s Kieran Adams to chat Toronto’s bustling music scene, and the making of album number two.

Your debut album ‘Perpetual Surrender’ was nominated for the Polaris Prize, which is obviously a huge show of support and recognition. Did any pressure to equal that first album enter into writing the follow-up, or do you ignore all that outside stuff?

To be honest, i think that there was definitely some of that pressure there, at least initially. It definitely crept back in moments throughout the process as well, but once the album started coming together into a cohesive form I think that pressure lifted.

Our first album is something that happened in a very particular way, both the writing and recording process, and it would be both impossible - and in my opinion creatively irresponsible - to try and replicate that. But we also knew from the onset we wanted to do something different, a little more ambitious, and also something that felt more earnest. So even at times when we felt that pressure the strongest, we’d already kind of pre-programmed ourselves to ignore it. I also deeply believe that what’s going to come across to the folks who are actually listening to your music is whatever you like the most. You can spend a bunch of time guessing what people might respond to - and maybe if you’re writing tracks that are just designed to smash people into a zombie like sing along state there’s a formula you can follow - but otherwise it's best to just keep tuning into whatever moves you, and try to get that into a recorded form.

There’s a real light being shone on Toronto at the moment - as well as you guys, Dilly Dally and Weaves are among the bands quite rightfully getting loads of attention. Is that cool for you to see and what’s the music scene like there?

It’s definitely cool to see bands like the two you’ve mentioned doing so well. I think they’re both bands who work hard and make great music, and it’s been nice to see it come together. I mean, one thing I really like about the scene here is that, to me at least, it doesn’t feel all that sceney... yet there is an incredible amount of music being made and played all the time. There's lots of ability to just call on people to work on a project, play a one-off show at a smaller venue, or have someone come play or sing on an album. I think the way this band has come together is very much due to how our scene here functions, and you can kind of see it happen in stages throughout the two albums we’ve made.

For 'Perpetual Surrender' having the ability to reach out to [DIANA's vocalist] Carmen [Elle], who we didn’t know at the time (and now know better than we’d ever wished we did) obviously had a huge impact on those songs. For this album, we asked two of our favourite musicians Thom Gill and Bram Gielen to be a more consistent part of the writing and recording process (they’d both played on certain tracks of 'Perpetual Surrender' as well). They are both incredible people and musicians, and have contributed deeply to Toronto’s music scene. Thom toured with Owen Pallet for quite some time as well as many others, and Bram has played keys with Weaves and bass with many other Toronto based projects. Thom has also made some of the best albums that I’ve ever laid ears on ('Janela', 'When I’m Weak I’m Strong', 'Breath') and has pumped so much joy and effort into the Toronto music scene and is always up for making music.

The contributions that Bram and Thom made to our album were hugely important - and I think the ability to reach out to them stemmed from connections that had been built up in a way that (to me at least) is very Toronto. I do feel what we have here is very special. So much of it is unknown to the rest of the world, and then there’s so much that’s unknown to me too! “Yours to Discover” (Our licence plate slogan)

You changed things up for ‘Familiar Touch’, and worked on songs for almost a year before committing them to record. How did that aid the whole process?

Yeah, such a different process. Mainly because there was more of a sound in mind, it had to develop throughout. Before we were really just experimenting all along, and I love that we were able to do that, and I’m proud of the result, but it was impossible to even begin to replicate that process. This album was much more difficult to make. We put a lot more pressure on ourselves to make more cohesive songs that could be delivered earnestly, which meant more attention to lyrics and how different sounds worked together, and also how the songs flowed together was much more important here.

That meant ditching a lot of rather developed tracks at earlier and later stages, as well as shifting production on other tracks to make it all add up. The first album, basically everything made it on because we had enough to fill an album, and our studio time was kinda running out. For 'Familiar Touch,' we set up our own studio and had endless time to work, save for some self-imposed deadlines which always got stretched. Also having a more thoughtful approach meant we could think about things like who should mix and who should master the album well in advance - we were really happy to have Chris Coady (Beach House, Lower Dens, Porches, Blonde Redhead) mix the album, and Heba Kadry (basically everybody) master it. To be honest, though draining at times, it felt to me like we spent the right amount of time. We still had mostly positive energy by the end of it, and though I think we all had to take a break from listening once mixes were done, listening back now there’s a lot of pride and excitement about what we’ve done. That comes from putting in that time and growing together with the tracks.

DIANA's new album 'Familiar Touch' is out now.

Tags: DIANA, Features

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