Jazz on a Budget, Empathy and Other Concerns: Inside the World of DIANA

Jazz on a Budget, Empathy and Other Concerns: Inside the World of DIANA
Photo: Laurie Kang

DIANA return with their stellar sophomore record, Familiar Touch (out now on Culvert Music), which shows the band going in a funk-pop direction. Kieran Adams and Joesph Shabason spoke to Exclaim! about how to bring the sound of Familiar Touch to the stage, the influence of members' formal jazz training and how to bring forth their vision on a budget. DIANA celebrate the launch of Familiar Touch with a nine-piece band on December 8 at the Great Hall in Toronto; tour dates for North America and Europe will follow.
 
They brought in a range of collaborators.
 
Former Canadian Idol runner up Gary Beals features on a number of tracks on Familiar Touch, including lead single, "Slipping Away." "Gary we met because I run a dance party/cover band night in Toronto called Loving In the Name Of," Shabason says. "Gary would come and sing Ginuwine and he'd sing Prince — he was one of those singers where it was just like 'Holy shit.' He's just so captivating. When we were recording this album, I think Kieran was hearing some male, kind of R&B style vocals, and Gary was a no brainer." The band also collaborated with Robin Dann and Thom Gill of Bernice, as well as Alanna Stuart of Bonjay.
 
Aspirations on a budget helped them find their sound.
 
"You might reference a record that you love, and that record has the benefit of having, you know, a million dollar studio with all the best microphones and all this crazy gear," Shabason explains. "You can take this sound or an idea that you have loved, and also filter it through the lens of being on a budget."
 
Carmen Elle has found a way to cope with her bandmates' nerdy love of jazz.
 
"Carmen has an outsider complex with our jazziness, 'cause especially when it's five of us rehearsing, [hearing] all this jazz nerd school talk, and she gets so tired of us," Adams syas. "Like when we'll just go on a tangent and talk about jazz musicians she literally is just like, 'You guys are the biggest losers.'"
 
"She actually developed this sort of fake character named Chris Pritchard, who stands in for all jazz musicians," Shabason shares. "When we start talking about a jazz musician, she'll say 'Oh yeah, I love the latest Chris Pritchard solo.'"
 
Access to time and open spaces were key to the album's fruition.
 
The band began their five-month recording process at a cottage in rural Quebec: "The cottage, we rented to jam out to the songs once we'd been working on them for awhile," Adams explains. After stints in Toronto and Montreal studios, "it wasn't really coming together." As the band stressed about the time and money they had invested, they came up with the idea to set up a studio in Adams' Parkdale loft.
 
"It had lots of space, nice big windows — I like working in nice space," Shabason says. "We  just decided to take over that space. We were there almost every day for three months." Joseph concludes that the band, "realized in the end that it's just better when [they] don't feel any pressure to be rushed."
 
Kieran Adams wrote the majority of lyrics.
 
Front woman and singer Carmen Elle does not write the band's lyrics, although she contributes in the editing process. "Carmen has this knack for knowing what works very quickly," says Adams.
 
"I would definitely say more than any other human being I know, Carmen's ability to be emotionally empathetic is unsurpassed," Shabason shares. "She's so aware of how people are feeling — she can walk into a room and she can tell you, just by looking at you, 'oh, you're feeling like this/' Even though [the lyrics] might not be her experience, it's her ability to put herself in that emotion."
 
Have a listen to "Slipping Away" below.