words Luísa Graça
19th October 2015
“A blue and windy day a month or so ago was the last gasp of summertime this year. And now the cold has come in, it’s damp and grey again,” wrote American singer songwriter Alela Diane about a year ago at a café in Portland. Words that can now be heard (and felt) in the opening track of her latest album Cold Moon, a collaborative work with producer and guitarist Ryan Francesconi.
When Alela and Ryan ran into each other at a mutual friend’s show, they were both feeling a little bit lost, creatively. Alela had recently become a mother and didn’t know how to approach music next; Ryan, who often tours with Joanna Newsom and arranges her records, missed playing the guitar.
Soulful, touching and incredibly beautiful, their collaboration presents simple, yet eternal observations and questions about life. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the cold days to come.
It seems like your collaboration with Ryan happened in a very natural way.
It really did. One week after we talked, around September 2014, he sent me some beautiful guitar pieces. I started working on the lyrics and we would meet in person about every other week. We didn’t make any decisions, but just focused on each individual song. By January, we realised we had a collection of songs that seemed cohesive and decided to record them. There was no pressure. It was very easy, very simple to work together. We recorded the whole album at Ryan’s house and he did all of the engineering. I hope people can discover the songs as the seasons are changing, just like we did.
How did collaborating with someone differ from working on your own?
It forced me to write lyrics that were not as innately personal and to explore melody in a different way. Initially, I wrote some words that fit into a narrative and I was trying to sing them over one of his guitar pieces and it didn’t feel right. There’s so much of Ryan in these songs that I needed to tune in to what he was trying to convey. It was a different lyrical process for me and it forced me to observe things differently, from a broader angle.
Is it important not to take yourself too seriously in order to remain creative and honest in your writing?
It doesn’t sit well with me when people carry their egos around and I make every effort to not do that. I want to create work from an honest place, work that I feel good about. And not worry too much about how it’s perceived or what I’m putting out in the world. I just try to be true to myself.
How has motherhood changed the way you work?
It forces me to be very conscious about the space and time that I have to write. I didn’t have that much time to commit to the project, but I used every little moment that I had to work on it, which was interesting.
How about subjectively?
It changed me and the way I see the world. I think a lot of the lyrics are influenced by it. Having a child, I find myself thinking a lot about the life cycle and how mysterious it is. The way we come into the world, the curious way a child sees the world.
I get a sense of hope in this album. Was that something you were going for?
That’s something I’m always looking for in the world - a thread of hope, observing the beauty even in the darkest things. And as much as these songs are broader than my other work, it’s still my perspective.
Alela Diane and Ryan Francesconi are playing Komedia in Brighton on the 10th of November and Bush Hall in London on the 11th of November.