by Jane Roser
Gracious and genuine are two words that come to mind whilst speaking with singer-songwriter Diane Birch on a chilly January afternoon. Her Twitter feed is filled with thank you messages to her fans and her mannerism is so easy going and comforting that it’s like catching up with an old friend over cappuccinos and biscotti.
Birch’s discovery story is like a classic Hollywood tale, having been spotted by Prince in 2006 playing piano at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Her debut album, Bible Belt, was released three years later to critical acclaim. I remember picking up my weekly Starbucks song download of the gorgeous song “Rise Up” and instantly fell in love with her soulful delivery and haunting writing: “My mama tells me I won’t get through the pearly gates, ’cause I ain’t sorry for my sins and all my mistakes. Well mama, I don’t know if I’m going up or down, but I know heaven’s gonna be a one lonely town.”
“My father loved music and I grew up listening to a lot of classical, opera and church music,” Birch recalls. “Being around that first and foremost is what started developing my passion for music. I studied the Suzuki method, which is an ear training method of piano. It’s not super traditional and I don’t actually read music, but I managed to weave my way through classical training without learning how to read the sheet music.”
Birch’s latest album was released by S- Curve Records this past October and she was glad to be back on tour this past fall after being in the studio for so long. Speak A Little Louder includes several songs written by Birch, as well as collaborations with Dap Kings drummer-turned producer, Homer Steinweiss, together with Aqualung’s Matt Hales and British songwriter and producer Eg White.
“I learned a lot about myself and the collaboration process working on this album,” says Birch, “it allowed me to work with some really amazing people. The only thing that was a little difficult was there were a lot of songs and sounds and production styles that were a bit fragmented, so that’s why I worked predominantly with one producer because I felt that I had discovered the sound that I was looking for and I didn’t want it to be a fragmented body of work. I wanted it be be cohesive and more intentional.”
One fan who reviewed Speak A Little Louder on Amazon had a beautiful sentiment, saying that with this album Birch “puts all the feeling into it of a truth teller; that’s what a singer-songwriter does, tell truths.” This album was extremely personal for Birch (she tragically lost her beloved father one year ago) and she says of creating it that, “like anything that you’re creating, the challenge is to find the essence and the truth of any of it and that’s always what I strive for; it doesn’t always happen right away, but I definitely channeled a lot of personal struggles into this album. The past few years have been a really emotional time for me, so I had a lot of material to work with that was just so real and raw that I channeled it into my music, so I guess it’s safe to say that it really is honest because it was coming from a real place.”
Looking towards the future, Birch is looking forward to touring a lot more, including a run in Europe and Asia, and to releasing more music. “I’m really trying to get to a place where I can start putting out more EPs quickly. One thing that was really tough was that it was such a long time spent making this record and I just want to turn it around faster, so I’m really excited to do more collaborations and side projects; there’s so many more things that I haven’t really been able to do [with my music], so I’d like to exercise that and show another side of my creative persona.”
Birch’s creativity not only lies in her singing and songwriting skills, but also in her unique and inspiring fashion sense. “Well, I love Bianca Jagger, Jane Birkin, Diane Keaton. I love women that are feminine, but who aren’t afraid to dress masculine. I’m inspired by style that really evokes this powerful female and I really gravitate towards that.” Birch laughs and adds, “I know this sounds weird, but I’m also totally inspired by male Hasidic Jew fashion. I live in Williamsburg [New York] and there’s a large community there; I’ll always see them out of the corner of my eye and I think, ‘sick outfit!'”
Birch’s honesty and adorably quirky humor have earned her numerous devoted fans. Her exquisite lyrics add her to the list of one of the most prolific songwriters today, as evidenced by one of my favorite lines from “Hold On A Little Longer”: ‘Taste the earth, drink up the rain; can’t have the truth, without the pain.”
Birch will be performing at The Sinclair in Boston on January 21st and the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on January 22nd.