- August 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH KRISTIN DIABLE
Rumi wrote, "Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there."
Kristin Diable says that music is her ticket on that journey to the soul's distant elsewhere, and her February 2015 record — Create Your Own Mythology — is her invitation to the listener not to follow her on her mythical path, but to go questing for his or her own. That's a journey that will require some suffering, and acceptance, and evolution and honesty. These are the tokens hidden in the songs on this record: smoothing that hard path, leading us away, and leading us home.
The Mississippi River makes a hairpin turn in Baton Rouge before swerving unstoppably into the Gulf of Mexico. As it slowly zigs and zags, rich sediment sloshes loose onto the sun-baked Louisiana turf. It's lush country. Things grow here. New Orleans grew here. Kristin Diable grew here and is still growing. And myths grow here like sugarcane does: fast, tall, and sweet.
The Gig: Jamestown Revival with Kristin Diable // Lollapalooza Aftershow at the Double Door // Friday, July 31
Drink of Choice: Whiskey
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: Let’s say go to a bar on a standard night. What do you order?
Kristin Diable: It's so dependent on the mood, the time of year, the venue… I drink to my environment usually. But I always go back to whiskey, like a Maker's on the rocks. Tequila's a second favorite, as a regular thing, and then sparkling wine. Earlier, I asked the bartender here if they had sparkling wine…and I knew they wouldn't have it. I was kind of just fucking entertaining myself. I also asked them if they had vanilla vodka.
Kristen: That was my go-to drink for a long time in college: vanilla vodka and Coke. Can't drink it anymore.
Kristin: Yeah, I drink nasty, weird girl drinks, and then I drink straight whiskey. I don't discriminate.
Kristen: I don't either. Cheers to that. How did you feel about your set tonight?
Kristin: Yeah, it was really fun. I like this club [Double Door]. It's got a cool rock-‘n’-roll vibe to it. We played last night at Thalia Hall, which is a beautiful venue, but it's much more of a refined space — a space where you keep it together. But tonight, my drummer Eric and I were just like, “Rah!”
Kristen: And you’re coming back to Chicago soon.
Kristin: Yeah, we’ll have done three shows in two weeks here. We'll be back on August 14 at Beat Kitchen.
Kristen: Up until this point, had you been touring exclusively in other parts of the country?
Kristin: Well, the new record — Create Your Own Mythology — came out earlier this year, and along with that came a booking agent. I didn't have one before this record and label, so it's our first time we've really had a proper booking agent putting us out on tour. We've been to Chicago a few times before with smaller shows, playing house concerts and stuff like that. We've toured the northeast and parts of the midwest, and then we've been in the south. It's kind of scattered really. It just depends on the scheduling and logistics.
Kristen: Does it feel different playing for a crowd like Chicago versus somewhere like New Orleans? Is the vibe different?
Kristin: We're opening up for a lot of bands too, and the band that people come to see has a lot to do with the audience. I'd say that has more to do with the audience than if the audience is in Chicago or New Orleans. But overall, Chicago has seemed really receptive and really warm and enthusiastic.
Kristen: They also like to drink.
Kristin: Yeah, very similar to New Orleanians. Some places you go the audience members, even though they might really like the show, they're more reserved, and they're less likely to come up and talk to you after the show and tell you how they felt about it. Last night at Thalia Hall, we talked to so many people afterward. It was kind of the same thing when we played SPACE [in Evanston]. It seems like Chicago folks are super friendly and cool. But either way, I hope people enjoy the show. I feel like our job is to make sure people feel something and have a good time, and we made it worth their time to come out the show. If you did that, then did your job.
Kristen: I think Double Door is more conducive to people talking during a set, but I will say, when you played the last song, “Honey, Leave the Light On,” people around me just shut the hell up. I was like, “Yes!”
Kristin: Yeah, that one was tricky. Sometimes with that song not a single person in the place talks. That song sometimes ... it's complete silence.
Kristen: You mentioned during your set that you drove up to Chicago in your Prius.
Kristin: I've really got to stop saying that because it's so not cool to be in that car, but it's a great car. I find it hilarious that we packed two people's worth of shit, a drum kit, merchandise and two reasonably-sized humans in it. It's a champion of a little car. When we come back, we'll have the van because we'll have the band — and you can't do that in a Prius.
Kristen: You could try, but…
Kristin: I had no idea the amount of space when I got that car. I just got it to use as my in-town car; I had no clue I'd go on the road with it. We've done other shows, I've toured solo and we've even fit three people and three people's gear in there. Not drums, but two guitars and a bass...
Kristen: Does the Prius have a name? I feel like it should because you’ve been through so much with it.
Kristin: Yes, it does. It's called “The Baby Buffalo.” Before I had the Prius, I had a van that was for the band and whatever, but it was my only vehicle and I drove it around town all the time. It was a Pontiac Montana van, which are rare, so we called it “The White Buffalo.” They didn't make a lot of them, but they're amazing vans. They're one of the coolest vans made around that time, but they just didn't catch on in the market for whatever reason…
Kristen: I see where this is going.
Kristin: So, it was white…and the buffalo live in Montana…and white buffalo are very rare…and very strong and powerful. They’re majestic creatures. That van was our chariot, so we named it “The White Buffalo.” So when I got the Prius, it happened to be white too, so we called it “The Baby Buffalo.”
Kristen: It's perfect. I love it. Aside from being away from family and loved ones, what’s the hardest thing about being on the road?
Kristin: It depends on the day. Being from New Orleans, I like good food, and there's something about the stability of knowing what you're going to eat or having a good meal. Or just being able to eat vegetables. I like to eat relatively healthy food, just because it's fresh and good for you, and not covered in butter and deep-fried.
Kristen: Or chips from a gas station?
Kristin: Yeah. Or every venue has a burger and a Caesar salad.
Kristen: Bar food.
Kristin: Yeah, bar food: quesadillas, chicken fingers…I don't want to eat that shit ever. It can be hard to get a regular good meal. That's kind of tricky.
Kristen: What's your go-to restaurant in New Orleans?
Kristin: We are so spoiled down there for food. It's a great place to visit. It's a great place to live. But gosh, there are so many good restaurants. One of my favorites — it has been one of my favorites forever — it's called the Green Goddess. It's in the French Quarter in this really cool little alleyway called Exchange Alley. It’s just really charming, but the food itself is really interesting and creative, and it's not New Orleans-style food at all. The concept is that since New Orleans is a port city, you should be able to get food from all over the world. So, it’s an eclectic mix of recipes. It's all very fresh and delicious, just good for you and awesome.
Kristen: What is the music scene like down there? How did you find your niche there?
Kristin: I don't really play traditional New Orleans-style music. People think I sound like I'm from New Orleans, but I don't play brass music; I don't play jazz. But there are so many venues there, and there are so many people who come into town to hear the music. There are a lot of opportunities to play and make a little bit of money. There's room for you to have regular shows and build an audience, and there are a lot people who travel there, and so you reach a surprising number of people. I have a lot of fans in Chicago, actually, who saw me at French Quarter Festival and the Jazz Festival. They've been fans for years now, and they come to see me down there. It's a great town to be able to grow up in and make a little money while you play.
Kristen: Which is different from a lot of other cities…
Kristin: Yeah, New York, L.A., even Nashville…I don't think there’s any other big city known for having a lot of bands and music where you can make a living just playing live shows. I was living in New York before I moved back down to New Orleans. I had side jobs; I played music; but you didn't make crap in New York playing live shows. You spent more on a cab to get to the show than you made at the show.
Kristen: Totally, and you're expending so much energy on trying to make a living that by the time you go to actually try and create something, you're burnt out.
Kristin: Definitely, and New Orleans is very different from that. You really have room to grow and develop your craft, and make a little bit of money while you play. You can live much more affordably there than in a city like New York, so you don't need to make as much to be able to just survive and pay rent and focus on the craft.
Kristen: Speaking of craft, you mentioned your new record — Create Your Own Mythology — during the set. How have you grown creatively since the first record you put out? Do you feel differently about the way you're creating now than you did before?
Kristin: Oh yeah. It's such a lifelong process. At least I hope it is, because I think if you stop growing, it's not very fun. It's nice to discover something. I don't do well staying in the same place. Once I've done something, I'm like, “Okay, what's the next step?”
Kristen: Do you mean in terms of exploring other genres, or in terms of writing?
Kristin: I don't really believe in genres. I know they exist, but I think for my music, I feel like it's really important to just let the songs come out — just let the songs be what they want to be. I'm not supposed to say, “Okay, well I'm going to write a country song today.” If it's coming through purely and without being tampered with much, it just happens like it happens.
When I was younger, I used to be more inclined to curate songs that I was recording to fit into a genre — to be more Americana, more soul, more jazz — but I didn't know what to do with them. None of them quite fit. Now, with this new record, every song on it, I didn't know if they would all come together or not, but I felt like they all needed to be recorded. And now that it’s done… It's not an Americana record. It's not a soul record. It's a Kristin Diable record. It's a harder sales pitch I guess, with marketing and all that, but I'd rather make the music the way it's supposed to be made. I don't care about fitting it into a box.
Kristen: You worked with producer Dave Cobb, who has worked with Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, among others. Did you know from the get-go that he was the producer you wanted to go with?
Kristin: I wasn't familiar with Dave Cobb at all before I made the record with him. My manager suggested him because he had made the record with Jason and a couple of other artists that are on my label. I checked him out and his records sound amazing. They were really just tasteful, awesome, great records. But I was also worried that maybe he was maybe too Americana, and I knew for sure I didn't want this record to be train-rollicking Americana because that's not what the songs were. That's a big part of my foundation and the heart of my writing, but it's not at all a train-hopping Americana record by any means.
Kristen: I can understand your reservations, then. It goes back to not wanting to fit into a box.
Kristin: Yeah, I didn't want to pigeonhole the songs into “Americana,” because that's not what the songs were. So, I wasn't sure initially with Dave. But my manager was going through other producers and nothing was quite a fit, and finally he said, “You know, I really think you should consider Dave. Why don’t you go meet him in Nashville? You guys hang out and see what happens.”
Kristen:That's a lot of it too, right? Meeting a producer in-person can really seal the deal.
Kristin: Yeah, I think it’s important for the producer to “get” the songs — in addition to getting you as an artist and person. So, I drove up to Nashville, we had dinner, we met, we went back to the studio. I had sent him a handful of demos, he played them, and I said, “What would you do with this song? How do you make this song 'not Americana'?” He said, “Oh, easy. We do this and this and this”— with every single song! And I was like, “That’s exactly how I wanted it to sound! I just didn’t know how to make it sound that way!” It was pretty immediate. He's a real audiophile and really into particular tones. He can emulate any sound off of a record. If there's a particular drum tone you like off of a particular record from 1955, he can find it. He really cares about the fine details, and that's why his records sound great. We really clicked, and I felt like he'd be a great partner in the studio and a great guy to work with.
Kristen: Were there any surprises for you on the record? Any songs that didn’t turn out quite like you expected?
Kristin: I think a lot of the songs evolved, certainly, in the studio with Dave's ear and his production and everything. But one of the songs I wasn't sure was ready or not was “Honey, Leave the Light On,” the last song that I played tonight. It has instrumentation on the record, but I wrote it without any instrument. It was written completely as vocal melody, and I had sent Dave just a little phone recording … It was the least-finished song, or at least I thought it was the least-finished.
Kristen: Do you feel that way often — that a song isn’t finished?
Kristin: Oh, I'll mull over ideas and songs forever. I'll take three years to finish a song, even though I probably could have finished it the first day I wrote it, because I just want to make sure everything's perfect. Dave is much more immediate. He just knows what's going to sound good and goes for it, which is great.
Kristen: It's a nice balance then.
Kristin: It's a great balance. I loved working with him for that reason. The first day in the studio, he said, “All right, let's do this one. We should start with this one.” I was like, “I'm not ready.” He said, “You're ready. The song's perfect. It's great.” And then I realized… I signed up for him to produce, so I need to let him take the wheel instead of me being anxious and in my head about it. I decided to roll with it and see what happened. And now that's one of my favorite songs on the record. And it was finished. It was perfect just as it was. I wouldn't change a single thing about that song. That was a nice surprise.
Kristen: It's funny sometimes how you need someone else to be the voice of reason in order to let something out into the world.
Kristin: Yeah, it's pretty beneficial to have a partner — and a partner who you respect, and whose sensibilities you trust. You can't just take anybody's advice. If I took advice from anybody who wanted to give it to me, it wouldn't be my vision anymore. Finding the right people to collaborate with and partner with, who really understand your vision and can make it even better, who help you become an even better version of yourself, is really a great thing.
Kristen: What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you've done in the past week? And you may have already answered it with the car discussion…
Kristin: Probably drive a Prius. And running out of gas in the Prius on the way here. It was pretty shameful. We were in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky.
Kristen: Go figure, right?
Kristin: Yeah, there was nothing there.
Kristen: What'd you do?
Kristin: We tried to walk to a gas station. There was construction going on, so you couldn't cross … And we were on a tight timeline because we had to make it to Thalia Hall for the show. We left early with extra time, just in case something went wrong, but we were really cutting it close. There was nobody around. My cell phone stopped working. Eric’s [drummer] phone worked, fortunately. So we decided we’d call a tow company or garage or something, pay them their hourly rate to come bring us some gas. At least it was just gas; it wasn't the engine or anything ... Which is actually pretty embarrassing, to have to tell somebody: “Oh, we know what’s wrong with it. We just need to put some gas in it.” It’s like…what a dumbass.
Kristen: Was there a long stretch without a gas station or what were you guys doing?
Kristin: We were just talking. It's a 15-hour drive, and we were deep into that drive. I had seen the last little light go on for gas, but the Prius doesn't really make noise when it's low. We were just yapping away, talking about the problems of the world or whatever, and then the car just shut down. We were on the interstate; there was no median. There was traffic, and the car just stopped. It was still moving, but the power stopped.
Kristen: You could feel it.
Kristin: I could feel it, and I looked at it and thought, “Oh God, the engine, what just happened?' Then I thought, “Oh, gas. What a dumbass.” We coasted, because there was nowhere to pull off. I was like, “Please God! Let us get off of this interstate!” If we would've stopped there, it would not have been a good situation at all.
Kristen: People would have been really mad at you.
Kristin: It was one lane, too. There was nowhere to go. It would've been horrible. Fortunately, we were able to coast off. There was nothing around, so we ended up calling a little company that was going to come get us gas, but it was taking them a while and they were going to charge 75 bucks for the service call, plus the gas. Then, this woman stopped and said, “My dad lives up the way. Do y'all need help? He can help you guys.” We explained that we had someone on the way, but thanks so much, and that we appreciated it. About five minutes later, this guy came up in a truck, and we thought it was our tow guy, but he said, “Hi, my daughter called me and said you guys needed help.” He opened the back of his truck, and he had brought a can of gas to us and filled us back up…
Kristen: Well, look at that. There are still good people in the world.
Kristin: Our friend Marvin. I said, “Can I please pay you back for the gas?” But he said no. There was no way he was going to take it. And we were talking about all the ills of the world before that happened, too. But I think humanity's going to be okay as long as there are still Marvins in the world.
Kristen: And his name is Marvin, which is awesome. Last question: what's the best advice you've ever received?
Kristin: Don't take yourself too seriously. I think when you care a lot about what you do, and you want it to be meaningful and do great things with it, it's very easy to start taking yourself too seriously. In reality, at the end of the day, we're all little dust particles floating around on a rock in space. You've got to keep it all in perspective.