Who Is…Alela Diane
Though recently relocated to Portland, Oregon, Alela Diane Menig's music is inextricably linked to her hometown. Born and raised in the tiny bohemian enclave of Nevada City, California, a place where all 3000 residents know each other and make some kind of art, Alela Diane uses the natural beauty and hippie creativity of her early surroundings as the fuel for her dreamy, autumnal folk songs.
Her first album, 2006's self-financed The Pirate's Gospel, was a sparse acoustic guitar record which gained comparisons to white blues icon Karen Dalton and led to critical acclaim, sold-out European tours and a label deal.
Her second album, To Be Still, is a huge artistic leap. Menig now wraps her haunting songs in warm jazz and country-flecked instrumentation, backed by a band that includes her father Tom, her boyfriend Tom Bevitori, fellow young Nevada City maverick Mariee Sioux, and veteran folkies Michael Hurley and Nina Gerber. With most of To Be Still composed in a remote Nevada City cabin with only Bevitori and her cat Brambles for company, it's obvious that music is a family affair for the talented young singer, songwriter and guitarist.
On having Dad, boyfriend and her old high school violin teacher in the band:
It just kinda ended up happening. It's what I'm most comfortable with, because all those people understand where I'm coming from. Someone who doesn't know me might be an amazing musician. But the things they might choose to do will be very distant from me. I'm open to whatever, if things happen in a natural way. So maybe I'll meet some amazing person I don't know right now and a unique opportunity will come up. Then maybe I would go with it.
On being portrayed as a stereotypical flower-child, living in a shack, sewing, playing with her cat: In my ideal world that is what would be happening all of the time! (laughs) But now because I'm touring and doing all these things that have to do with being a musician … its not that idyllic anymore! But while I am at home I do live a pretty simple life. I like to bake. I like to go thrift-store shopping and look for treasures. I like to go on walks. I like to drink tea. I like to go to the river. Do I go out raving? I wouldn't say so. It's rare that I even go out. When I lived back in the cabin in Nevada City in 2005 and was writing the songs for the new record, it was like that! I do think that living a kinda folk lifestyle, if you will, makes all the difference to my work. There are a lot of people who are interested in folk music right now, but perhaps they grew up in a city and have no idea what that sort of life is really like. So what they do isn't authentic. Authenticity is important to me. I don't have anything to make up and I don't want to do anything that isn't entirely me.
On Joanna Newsom:
She and I make very different music in a lot of ways. She's classically trained; I'm not. But it's true that we're both drawing from our surroundings, because Nevada City is a very unique place. She sings about pine trees. She has a lot of natural elements and so do I. That's because we swam in the same river and went to the same grocery store and went to the same school. It is a small place, so you do know everybody. Of course we're still friends. Perhaps we might work together in the future, if it happens naturally, but she's extremely busy and so am I. It seems like when one of us is home the other one's on tour.
On being a teenage Hanson fan:
Ha! That got out there somehow! It's true. It's totally true. I'm sorry. But there's nothing terrible about that, really. It's pretty funny. My parents were both musicians and I always heard them playing around the house, and Hanson were the first time I became interested in having my own music, rather than what my parents were doing. I'm obviously not very rebellious. But the point was that it wasn't the Grateful Dead. My Dad was in a Grateful Dead tribute band.
On her other favorite music:
I really appreciate Sandy Denny. Her voice. Of all the female vocalists, she's my favorite. I love older music like Sandy and Neil Young. Of people these days, my friend Mariee Sioux I really love. What she's doing is completely unique. She's a childhood friend of mine. Our parents use to play music together when we were little kids. We both started playing acoustic guitar at the same time and used to write songs together a little bit. She sings a lot about Native American heritage and roots and her songs are pretty insane.
On Michael Hurley:
He lives out on the Oregon coast and I met him here in Portland. And it was an honor to have him on my album. Michael is just a really talented songwriter and a folk legend that not enough people know about. He's a total do-it-yourself, independent artist. Going out to his shows, you realize that people have stumbled across his music over the years and really become interested in him again. He has a bit of a cult following. But he still sells hand-burnt CDs at his shows. You gotta respect him for that.
On reports that the To Be Still track —My Brambles' is about her cat:
Now this is a misunderstanding! I do have a cat named Brambles. But I wrote the song before I got the cat. The song is not about Bramble Rose, the cat. It was mid-Summer and I was very obsessed with blackberries and brambles, and this was when I was living in the cabin. And that's when I got the cat. After I wrote the song. People are going to be listening to that song trying to understand how that could possibly be about my cat. Set the record straight! Ha!