Although Diana are a relatively new prospect, the members have been playing together in various bands across the Canadian scene for quite a while.
Founder members and songwriters Kieran Adams (drums, electronics and keyboards) and Joseph Shabason (keys, saxaphone and backing vocals) are joined by Carmen Elle (lead vocals and guitar) of Army Girls lead vocals and guitar, while Paul Matthew (Bass, Bass Synth and Baritone Guitar) of The Hidden Cameras completes the live set up.
“Joseph and I met at Jazz School and played music together” Adams explains. “We played lots of totally… functional jazz together. You know, wedding gigs and stuff like that… the kind of stuff you do when you’re trying to make yourself feel good about spending tens of thousands of dollars on a Jazz degree.” It was at University of Toronto that they also met Paul Matthew. Also in the programme, on the classical stream, was Owen Pallett.
Although on the same course, Adams and Shabason came to the course through different directions: “I didn’t have a background in jazz when I got into school… I have no idea how I got in. Joseph was the opposite of me, he grew up in Jazz. We’d be hanging out at school and Led Zepplin would come on and he’d be like “what band is this”. But he listened to afro-cuban music that his dad would play. So he was rebelling against that a bit.”
That rebellion came in the form of Everything All The TIme, a 6 piece band fronted by Alana Stuart (who Adams would later collaborate with again as part of Bonjay). “We decided to write a lot of music that felt a little more relevant, and to start we didn’t want any element of jazziness, purposefully obscuring the fact we had studied music. It was more outright synth pop… but never developed a sound of its own. The creative output always felt jumbled.”
Although they garnered quite a following in Toronto for their live show, the band ultimately fell apart due to each members other commitments running alongside: Adams as a session man, spending time with a variety of Canadian acts, including a 5 year spell playing with Sarah Harmer, alongside Paul Matthew, Shabason contributing to records from the likes of The Bicycles, Peter Elkas, Jill Barber and Destroyer amongst others. Yet the connections were still strong.
“Diana originally came out of studio time booked time for Everything All The Time. Roger who engineered the Diana stuff was like, “you guys should be in the studio and do something.” So we started these new tracks. Part of the decision we made was to NOT consciously try and make any kind of music, or not make any kind of music. To not get pinned into a zone that wasn’t really comfortable for us. We could do things that meant if we wanted a full instrumental ambient sound, we could do that, or if we wanted saxophone we could do that too. It was nice to be so open, and it made it fun to make.”
While Adams and Shabason took care of arrangements and songwriting with Leavens acting as an executive producer of sorts, it was the vocals of Carmen Elle that took things to the next stage. “I wrote more than I’d written before for this album. But I can’t sing. But Carmen was so relaxed it almost felt to easy. She’d come in and say ‘OK, Let me hear the song. Cool, sweet. I’m going to sing it now’. Sometimes she’d only be in the studio for an hour.
“She has a very quick understanding of things, and she made it her own. Carmen tends to add little inflections in the melodies that really make it her own and made it sound complete. A lot of the demos with me and Joseph singing sound pretty hilarious. But as soon as she sang them we knew it would work.”
Other vocals on the album were provided by fellow UofT graduate Thom Gill alongside Allie Hughes. “Thom came in and did the high vocals. He’s our little Prince.”
In early June last year the first fruits of the project were released onto the Internet, in the form of ‘Born Again’. At the time of their release the whole album was completed. While the original plan had been to release two tracks a week until the whole record was available, the level of interest in the project made them reconsider. Among those interested were Jagjaguwar who will eventually release the record next month, over a year from the records completion. “When we found out it wasn’t going to come out ’til August it was a bit of a pill but, it is what is best for the music. We’ve seen a lot of friends and peers have success and seen a lot of people we know who make really amazing music not really get the excitement they deserve and not get it to as many ears as possible. When you are dealing with an artist friendly indie, you still have to ceed to their knowledge and their timelines.”
Rather than leak extra tracks, Diana’s output has been kept away from the public eye, occasionally re-surfacing with a video and a series of remixes including the likes of Humans, Heathered Pearls, Born Ruffians’ Luke Lalonde and Doldrums (who used to be a bandmate of Elle’s in Spiral Beach). Adams admits that the strategy caused him a little concern: “I was surprised, it felt like people had heard the song so much, I did’t want people to think we are a one trick pony. It’s one of those things where a song like that isn’t the whole tone of the record. It functions in the flow of a bigger story that has more dips and peaks than you would expect. There are some low key moments, and other moments where it sounds more proggy. There’s always electronic elements but there’s more live instrumentation. There is a bigger breadth of sounds than people might expect.
“It isn’t just straight up Eighties glassy sax, sex on the Eighties beach sound that some people tagged Born Again with. To me it doesn’t always sound overtly retro. We smushed it together with this haze over the vocals. The whole mix was compressed going out of the board to give it a mossy sort of sound. We kept asking Roger for more moss. The best examples of pop music that I like, like Fleetwood Mac, all have that looming something at the back of it.”
As well as the smoother sounds, there are heavier or more unexpected sounds and interruptions. “I watch a lot of TV cooking shows and I’ve started to make analogies of composition and production being like putting together a dish. You can have a great ingredient, it’s free range, and grain fed. You might say you could just enjoy it like that. But if you go to a restaurant, you want it really good, but seasoned nicely, and you want to tease out some flavours. You want to make sure people get all the flavours….”
It’s clear that Adams has put a lot of thought into the creation of the record, the band itself, and indeed the idea and importance of playing pop music. “It can’t just be a sound you like. I feel like it should be more an ideology. What is exciting about making music? What can you do with it that feels important? Pop music is important and necessary and when it’s done right it’s the most amazing thing. The trick is to write music that resonates with anybody.
“Take Talk Talk. For me that is a big one: they have done things that are really minimal and sparse and gut wrenching as well as music thats really catchy. There are elevated things happening, a sense of harmony or if its elements of production or in the lyrics, talking about less overt comments. They grab you but present you with things that elevate you. It’s really important but you don’t hear that as much anymore. You don’t get song’s like ‘Hounds of Love’ or ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ that are huge commercial successes but also challenge people.”
Diana will shortly be heading out on tour with fellow Torontonian’s Austra across the US before returning to the UK, again with Austra, for a show at Koko on 25 November. The band’s self -titled debut is released on 16 August via Jagjaguwar.