Monday, November 19, 2012

DiElle: World Changer

This month, I had the privilege of interviewing Dielle Hannah, the lead singer and songwriter for the English band, DiElle. Their music and passion for this beautiful art have reached many parts of the world, and they have influenced the lives of fans, both young and old, through their lyrics, melodies, and even charitable tours. With the release of their new acoustic album, "Fearless," the band has only continued to grow in popularity, especially at home, where they have a steady lineup of shows when they are not on tour. Here is what Dielle had to say during her interview:

1) You have been a musician for the majority of your life, and you have also been songwriting for many years. What inspires you to create a song, and how has that changed over the years?

Today many things can create a spark that becomes a song - a turn of phrase, a lick, a story, an interesting rhythm or chord, a dripping tap.. - but really I think my urge to create is deeper than that...
Ever since I was young I have felt creative urges, and started creative writing and poetry when I was at primary school. Particularly I remember a poem I wrote about my rabbit Pippin that died, and made my Dad cry! I specifically started writing songs in my early teens when I started showing more interest in playing the guitar Dad had been trying to get me to play since I was 3, and I think to start with my songwriting was in response to the normal teenage angst most people experience. When I started to understand more about the world and the bigger picture outside my little existence, I was always flying an impassioned flag for some cause or another, be it cruelty to animals or the homeless. I felt very strongly about so many things, and some of it came out in song. Many an evening in my early teens, when I was trying to make sense of the world and how I fit into it, I spent with my Dad listening to his record collection, telling me stories about his life and talking about things that I wanted to change about the world. 'Mahogany Radio' on the Beautiful Monday album was actually about this - "those nights with mahogany radio taught me how to live." 

I fell in love with Mum and Dad's records - Graceland, Tapestry, Ladies of the Canyon, Abbey Road and so many more amazing albums. So perhaps it was no wonder that the very first thing I tried to write was a protest song - the influence of all these writers and my worry about the state of the world. It was puerile and pretentious and I don't know where it even is now, but it was my first go. As I lived more, and learned more about music I started writing more about my life experience but it was all quite contrived.

Then something really happened in my life. My oldest friend in the world who had lived next door to my family since I was two died in a car accident. I can't begin to imagine what this must have been like for his family to endure, but I didn't know what to do. I was at college, just 17, and someone I loved, who had always been there had been snatched away before he had even graduated from uni. Completely grief stricken, the only comfort I got was in the practice rooms in the music department at college, and that's when I wrote Nearby - it's still pretty simplistic but it was the first thing I'd written that I was proud of. I've never played it live, and I've never recorded it properly until now. Nearby is one of the tracks that will feature on the 'Fearless' album.

Since 'Nearby' I have written more and more from experiences I have actually had, but also from my observations of the world. Having become something of a people watcher, I create characters and tell stories now in a way that does not make me uncomfortable to share. Nearby was just so personal, there is no way I will ever get through a public performance of it, and I know everyone close to me knows exactly who it is about, and it's just too hard. As my songwriting knowledge and technique improved, I have done a little writing to spec - consciously trying to write more 'radio friendly' and 'commercially viable' songs, but the most popular of my tracks remain the most personal ones I have released, which have come straight from the heart, and didn't give the radio a moment's thought when they were created. Namely from the Beautiful Monday album, 'Shelter From The Storm' was written for my first god daughter and performed for the first time at her Christening. Due to the wonder of the internet, this song has been played in every continent at Christenings and baby naming ceremonies, both from CD and live by people who have bought the sheet music. I think it's because the sentiment is so pure and genuine it touches people "we'll show you all the love and strength and courage that arrived the day that you were born". That in itself inspired me to write. Reaching the masses was not my intention when I wrote that song, I wanted to reach one baby girl who had been entrusted to a special relationship with me, but it is a great honour to know that other people have used it to express their feelings towards their children.  'Twinkle' from the same album is also very personal, which I wrote and recorded for my grandfather during the week after he passed away. It was played for the first time at his funeral and became the B-side to my single released in 2007. Many people, known to me and strangers, have written to me to let me know that this has brought them comfort when they have lost people, and for me there is no greater celebration of my songwriting than that. As I have grown over the years, what can move me to create a song can be as simple as a tap dripping, as well as the bigger rites of passage we experience in life.

2) Some of your music has gained popularity overseas. Has your band toured to any of the places your music has reached?

DiElle toured as an acoustic trio in 2009 across UK and Ireland, and I have played a few gigs in the USA and Europe, but have not extensively toured overseas. DiElle music has enjoyed radio play across Europe, USA and Australia which has gained us fans overseas, and due to the internet and social media, we can reach fans directly all over the world. 

3) You seem to be very important at Igloo Music UK. Is that a company you founded or helped to start?

Yes, I am the director and founder of Igloo Music UK - a music recreation company for adults. I started Igloo to empower people through music, regardless of age or experience, to help people make friends with similar interests and improve their quality of life through music - whatever that means for them. I figured there are so many opportunities for kids nowadays, but so few places for adults to just learn a bit and let off steam without making a massive commitment of resources. I wanted to provide solutions for people for problems I felt were never adequately dealt with when I was starting out as a budding songwriter and training as a young singer. We have private jam nights, a songwriting festival, a songwriters' choir, gig parties, showcases and generally a wonderful musical time!

4) What is your ultimate goal in music?

I've been back and forth over the years with this, and I guess being a creative and now something of a Diva, I reserve the right to move my goal posts without prior notice. At the moment, my only goal is to be satisfied artistically, to be the best I can be, and continue to grow as a songwriter. I love the fact that people have gained comfort from my back-catalogue, and has inspired me to reach as many people as want to be reached. I'm very lucky to be working with some fantastic musicians, producers and engineers that can fulfill my visions - after the early years of frustration of not knowing how to even start bringing the noise I could hear in my mind into realisation it is incredibly liberating.

5) Who are your musical heroes?

So many, for so many reasons, but in rough chronological order....

My Mum - for playing Graceland on repeat when I was a fetus and later for enjoying singing so much herself.
My Dad - he exposed me to some fantastic music from a very young age and more intensely through my formative years, and we saw some awesome gigs together through my teens - memorably The Hollies and Finbar Fury. Dad always played in bands when he lived in London and was always so openly passionate about it - it really rubbed off on me. 

Bob Dylan - what a turn of phrase...

Joni Mitchell - such a sensitive observation of human kind
Bon Jovi - I was totally in love with him in my teens then totally ashamed of that afterwards, now I just don't care - great noise
Mark Knopfler - wonderful story teller, and has aged wonderfully with grace.
Carole King - Tapestry has been with me everywhere - all over the world, to every place I have lived, through every challenge I have lived through, every bereavement, separation and rite of passage. I also have a huge amount of respect for the musicians I am currently working with and my clients at Igloo Music UK, and two mentors who have been inspirational to me are Tom Hess and Kim Chandler.

6) What is your ideal setting for writing songs?

I like the dark... I am generally quite solitary as a writer - away in the woods and the dark brings the muse closer to me somehow. This is one of many reasons why we hold the Igloo Songwriting Festival at the Sustainability Centre where there is no mobile reception/internet and lots of woodland walks and campfires! I also love the heat, and spent significant time in my late teens in various jungles. Sitting out late at night listening to the loud rasp of crickets and geckos, watching glow-bugs and the stars, as I foof about on my guitar by an open fire, perhaps on the beach, listening to the waves.... there are some pictures of me somewhere up a tree in Sri Lanka with my guitar.... Natural landscapes where you can see the will of the gods really move me - mountain ranges, rain-forests, lakes, oceans, canyons, waterfalls, vistas... also travel... trains, planes and tuk-tuks inspire me... Mostly these days I write in soft lighting or complete darkness in my music room at home sat at the piano and letting my fingers wander across various sus chords.... my ideal would be to have my own residential studio which doubles as a venue so we can record live shows, but also I can sleep there and get up and record when the muse knocks on my imagination in the middle of the night.......

My thoughts on the interview:

This is a wonderful observation on how inspiration is gained for new music. After all, there are only so many colored T-shirts one could make or so many ways to make a pepperoni pizza, but music is continually inspired and inspiring to be original, sometimes just because of slight differences in the environment around you, such as water dripping in the background as you plan the tempo for a slow jam that somehow became a dance song.

Protest songs... I was just wondering the other day what happened to all of those. They certainly don't get written the way they used to. It makes me wonder why many of the "pop" stars write music these days. The answer is money, but does that mean they are not really enjoying the art if the things they care about don't come out in the song? That is part of the reason I love composing; you can share how you feel with others without even using words.

Writing from experiences is a wonderful thing, because there are always more people that can relate to you that you know. Sharing music with others is one of the greatest reasons to play. As my wife teaches all of her vocal students, "Your voice is a gift. When you use it, people will be blessed and inspired and perhaps even want to use their gifts."

The internet (and technology) does wonders for original musicians. While I'm not fully sure if this is a great thing, since anybody can throw a song together, call it music, and worse, get famous even when it is complete garbage but has a cool video, I know it is a great thing for me, as I could never write for orchestras or films or video games without some of the powerful tools I own and mentors I speak with over the internet. And all art is determined to be so by those who appreciate it, so if people like junk, that just makes those musicians great business people, right?

Your business is a fantastic idea. I'm glad there are musicians out there who still care about giving back. I've done all kinds of volunteer projects over the years, and have actually just started taking on students for various instruments. I may turn it into a business if I don't want to do boring, non-musical jobs in the future, but teaching is not quite a full-time passion of mine.

Networking, people, relationships - the best things a musician can possibly have, especially when starting out. I recently enrolled in a university for a master's program in composing for that express purpose, and I have found out that I am much better at composing than I thought. However, I'm still not satisfied with my network and musical relationships or my time management in that area, so I may need to move closer to the university in order to actually get face time with these people at events, since conversing online just doesn't quite do it for me.

It may not be a bad idea to get a home studio if you do not have one. That's what I have so that when the musical inspiration hits, I can just press the big red button and develop it or save it for later. Obviously, live shows can be a little challenging if you don't have the right space or location, but home studios are a great help for when you want to capture a demo of a song while still in the mood.

Thank you for your interview, Dielle. For more of DiElle's music, check them out at ReverbNation, Facebook, or their band page.

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