Words and Photos: Reef Gaha | On Location with Diana DeMuth in Hollywood |
It’s a Tuesday night on Cahuenga, half a block south of Hollywood Boulevard.
At Hotel Café, an intimate, dimly lit bar fills with industry types, musicians and punters.
A few interlopers hover around in corners but moreover, this feels like a roomful of insiders; people switched on to what’s about to happen, let in on a well-kept secret. Expectant murmurs. Girls with guitars, drums and keyboards begin to take their places on stage in front of a red velvet drape. A quick sound check ensues. The visages of these women are serious, no-nonsense and ready. Diana DeMuth is front and centre. An air of anticipation falls over the room.
Diana is originally from Concord, Massachusetts. Having recently made the move to LA, she now shares a house with friends on the Valley side of the Hollywood Hills, overlooking Toluca Lake, Studio City and Burbank.
Here at her home, we talk easily. She strolls around in bare feet. Chunks of fresh cut lime bob around in the gin and tonic she’s casually sipping. She manages to nurse the same glass for most of the afternoon. When Demuth takes the stage, she’s a woman of determined mien. There’s a smouldering urgency to her presence. As she performs, intensity flickers over her face. There’s a gravity to her delivery that places her along a continuum of bluesy storytelling in American music; a veritable road-trip soundtrack to leaving familiar places, people and heartache behind, healing and inevitably moving on.
As I set up lighting gear on the porch, rich contralto notes float from the kitchen, a voice effortlessly changing key and flitting between octaves. As we shoot photos, it begins to rain lightly and the fixings of sunset are masked by an overcast sky. It’s a good time to ask Diana more about her life, love, musical motivation and settling into the City of Angels.
A lot of your songs refer to specific American towns and cities. Sometimes your songs are even named after these places. Would you say there’s a strong sense of ‘American place’ inscribed in your music?
I love writing about places I’ve lived and spent time in over the years. Being that I grew up in America, a lot of my songs resonate with this country and its cities. However, I’d like to believe people from anywhere can listen and relate to their essence. Many of my songs discuss the discomfort of being in a new place and the comfort of being home. I think those feelings, everyone has experienced at one point. Usually the places I write about, I’ve spent time in but occasionally I’ll write about a place I haven’t been yet to capture a feeling.
When I wrote the song ‘Albuquerque’, I hadn’t actually been there yet. My college roommate was from there and I liked the sound of the word. It embodied a kind of foreign feeling. I wrote the song about leaving and returning to something familiar.
You’ve somewhat recently left somewhere familiar and made the move to LA. What do you love most about this city so far?
I had almost no expectations moving to LA, and I think that’s worked in my favour. Something about this city has been very freeing for me. I love how big LA is and how many cool places I’ve discovered here. It feels like a fresh start.
Cool places, you say? Tell us a few.
Yeah. I really like spending time in Silverlake. Some of my friends live over that way and there are a couple good places to eat there. Also a place called Sunset Beer, which I was introduced to recently. It’s basically packed with refrigerators full of craft beer – I’m no expert but I’m learning (she smiles). I think a lot of people expect LA to be stuck up in a way which hasn’t been my experience at all. You can be whatever you want to be and I think that’s awesome.
What are some things that have gone right for you since moving to LA?
One that comes to mind happened in my first few months of living here. When I moved to LA I only knew three people, one of them being an amazing producer named Jeff Bova. One of my goals coming here was to reconnect with him, try to learn more about the industry and how I could continue growing myself in it. I met Jeff in his studio last fall and after spending a few hours with him, I had a feeling we’d work together. He’s currently producing my newest album. I’d say that day was the starting point for everything that’s happened musically in the past year.
Are there days where you put the music to one side and just, explore something else?
Totally. I’ll go for a run or go explore a new area. I spend a LOT of time in my car in LA traffic so if I can move around outside on foot, I’ll do it!
What’s the thing or issue in life that inspires dedication to your craft more than anything else?
I can’t live without writing. It might sound cliché but ever since I began playing music, there’s been a voice in my head telling me this is what I’m meant to do! I don’t question that anymore. I don’t think I can fully process anything without writing a song about it. That’s what keeps me dedicated.
I see that. I feel like there’s an urgency to what you sing. I see it when you perform live. What are the experiences you grapple with most in your songs?
My writing is mainly fuelled by relationships. Whether it’s a person or a place, I love talking about connection. I’d say recently my songs have taken a more personal turn. There’s one titled ‘Dear Eliza’, which refers to someone I used to love, going home and driving past her house after many years. It’s a nostalgic song. In my latest song ‘I Don’t Believe the Rain’, I wrote about my experience in LA regarding relationships and my inability to give up on situations (and people) even when I should. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster out here emotionally, so I’ve written a lot!
An emotional roller coaster. Romantically?
I think whenever you move to a new place there’s a bit of a roller coaster that goes on. I mean that in many ways, not just romantically. Meeting new people, knowing who to let go of and who to keep around, and all the other things that come with growing up. It’s all just part of the journey.
A lot of song writing is (consciously or unconsciously) about putting a voice to the deepest things we feel as a people. Some people are going to feel like you put a voice to their feelings, too. What would you say to someone who’s struggling in love, or in life?
In love, I would say know your worth. I think we’re often drawn to people or things that aren’t necessarily the best for us. It’s a lesson I’ve had to relearn a couple of times. Know yourself; value yourself and people will be attracted to that. I’d say the same goes for life in general.
Like, knowing when to walk away?
Know when to walk away, and then do it. No use in hanging around things or people that aren’t helping you. It just slows you down.
That reminds me, there’s a verse in one of your songs that says ‘Lover if you miss me you can find me in the city, lost on an August day. Since your revelation, you’ve been hiding in New England, you cut your hair and changed your name.’ What’s that about?
I wrote this song when I was eighteen and it’s about knowing when to leave. It discusses my relationship with Boston and my relationship with someone at the time. I wrote this when I felt like I needed to leave where I was and who I was with. It’s about reinvention.
One for the LA neophytes. If you knew someone who had a rental car and one day to spend in LA, which places would you tell them to go and see?
That’s a tough one. When I first moved here I lived in a place called Highland Park and I think it’s a pretty cool area – great taco trucks! Also, it’s a bit of a drive, but Point Dume in Malibu is beautiful.
What can we expect from you release-wise in the next year or so? Where can we find more of your music?
I have a brand new album that only my family and close friends have heard. It will be released in 2017, and I’m REALLY excited about it!
The video for my brand new single is here on YouTube: