Who Are…White Hinterland
Talk about a transformation. In a move motivated by nothing more than the need to try something new, on the new LP Kairos, Casey Dienel transformed her piano-led White Hinterland project from a pitch-dark jazz revue to a looking-glass take on the bleeding edge of pop music. Seriously — take a quick listen to the steam-pressed samples of “Huron” and the skittish percussion of “Cataract” and tell us they don't sound like Rihanna for indie rock kids. Not only that; Dienel and her first full-on collaborator (multi-instrumentalist Shawn Creeden) come awful close to aping Broadcast in “Moon Jam,” a delightfully strange trip through shuffleboard beats and 8-bit synths.
As for what happened to all that jazz, well, it's essentially here in spirit, as the duo lops off Dienel's piano progressions and places lean loops in their place.
eMusic's Andrew Parks rang Dienel's bell and did his best to make sense of her rather welcome identity crisis.
On being a bit of a loner:
I had maybe two or three friends in school, and they were all into poetry and history. I really was a Max Fischer (from Rushmore) kind of kid. Like, I took an independent study class for classical composition because our music department didn't really talk about theory. I feel a lot more laid-back now, but I was competitive to the point of being nasty when I was younger. Maybe it was all those hormones.
On the reality check that is classical training:
When you're 18 and going to a conservatory, there's a lot of naivete about what a classical education really entails. I thought it'd be like going to Hogwarts or something — where everyone's a wizard. But then you get there and realize it's just a lot of rote memorization. I remember coming home crying after the first week and telling my mom, 'No one said this was going to be so hard!'
On her 'calling':
I was very serious as a kid. I felt like I had a mission, or a destiny, to be something, but I wasn't sure what it was…I chose music because it wasn't easy for me. Elements of it were natural, but the finer points of writing and singing…god, I was a terrible singer when I was younger. I was also a stubborn mule when it came to playing the piano. I had to play it my way — fast, polyrhythmic pieces with a lot of embellishments. I didn't want anything to do with Mozart's sonatas.
On the rebirth of classical music:
I had a professor who said we were devoting ourselves to a dying art, and I think he's very wrong. I'd consider people like Nico Muhly and [Dirty Projectors frontman] Dave Longstreth composers in a pop field, you know?
I'm not someone who gets off on 'composed works'. The structure is something you use to get a good idea going, but it's something I'm prepared to abandon if a better idea comes along. That said, there's beauty in structure, like with architecture and how you can appreciate something that's very well-designed. There's an austerity to it that can be very off-putting, though. And I don't like austerity in my music. I like to have a little warmth and connection with the subject.
On the “Girl + Piano = Tori Amos” equation:
I feel like femininity in music is the white elephant in the room, which really bothers me. I don't feel apologetic about being a girl, playing piano or singing in a certain way. It's getting better as more female artists get press for doing things differently, though. Like tUnE-yArDs, or even Bat For Lashes — there's touchstones of classical music in her writing. I hope this record is another step towards examining female music without saying it sounds like Kate Bush or Bj’rk because there's a woman singing.
On making Timbaland beats with a shoestring budget:
If you listen to Erykah Badu's last record (New Amerykah Part One), you can feel some of the beats right there in the room. Like if you had a glass of water out, it'd actually shake. That's something we talked about early on — making heavy beats to match the timbre of my voice, which is actually very feathery and light. We were definitely trying to make a hi-fi record on a lo-fi budget — with one decent mic, one bass that was falling apart and, well, I don't want to give away all of our secrets. Let's just say we ate a lot of chicken salad sandwiches for a while.
On role playing:
I definitely play games on myself sometimes, like, 'What if this was a Beyoncé song?' Those songs usually don't work, but they get me onto another idea that does.
On the art of singing:
I always think of it as being like ballet, a form of choreography that requires a lot of patience and discipline. And yet, you need to make it look effortless and seamless, with lots of grace and elegance. Writing a good melody isn't easy, but it can look that way. There's a line between something that's well-made and something that's inspired. You have to skateboard on that ramp, waiting for the right moment to push back or move forward, you know?