The Music of Diane Birch

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On the surface, Diane Birch’s story doesn’t seem that unique. The daughter of loving parents, she took up an instrument at the age of seven, rebelled during her teenage years, then crossed states in her early twenties, in search of a dream.

On the surface, Diane Birch’s story doesn’t seem that unique. The daughter of loving parents, she took up an instrument at the age of seven, rebelled during her teenage years, then crossed states in her early twenties, in search of a dream.

But then again, she’s been called “the future of singer-songwriters” (Huffington Post) whose debut release “could possibly challenge the music industry to step up to the plate” (New York Post). Her sound has been plastered all over MTV and VH1. She’s touring her retro piano pop sound coast to coast this summer, hitting bars, music venues, radio stations, and national late night talk shows. So maybe she’s got something to say.

After meeting up with Birch during her sound check before her show at Walnut Street’s World Café Live, she tells me: “I’m coming to the realization that this is, you know, what I do. My job. I’m just really lucky and I don’t want it to end.”

Now in her mid-twenties, she was born in Michigan, the daughter of a preacher. Before a decade had passed, her father’s missionary responsibilities had moved the Birches to Zimbabwe, Australia, and, finally, Portland, Oregon.

She admits it was tough finding herself throughout childhood, and even went through a goth phase, when she would wear a black, floor-length cape in her father’s church and blasted the sounds of The Cure, Joy Division, and even Christian Death from her home stereo. “I rebelled and then I found myself – whatever,” she says. “I look at it like a blessing. It made me push hard to get away, then made me find what I’m supposed to do. Even now, I see that all the stuff I rebelled against has influenced my music – in a non-religious way – and when I was writing songs, I was like, ‘you know, church was a huge part of my musical influence.’ Even the wording of my songs are like gospel. I sing about devils, angels, heaven, that sort of terminology.”

It seems fitting, then, that her debut album is titled “Bible Belt.”

After moving to Los Angeles, Birch began making a living as a pianist, playing in hotels and restaurants. A friend convinced her to take a vocal class so she could put words to her music. She then created a MySpace page and posted some rough tracks. Her eventual goal was to conduct feature films, obviously figuring a website with original music couldn’t hurt.

But she first knew she was onto something big when she saw Prince enter the hotel lobby she was playing in. He and “his people,” as she says, watched for a few minutes, then left. “Then these people came back and said, ‘Prince wants to get more information on you,’” she says. “I sort of just gave them my name and number and was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’”

Two weeks later, she received a phone call. It was before noon. She describes the conversation going like this:

Caller: “Prince wants you to come over his house.”

Diane: “Uh, okay, when?”

Caller: “Like, today – I don’t know, in an hour?”

Diane: “Okay.”

“It was so spontaneous,” she says. “It was insane.” Weeks later, she was told that Prince logged onto her MySpace page as soon as he got home from the hotel that original afternoon.

Upon arriving at his house, Diane was led to his rehearsal space and, with a few others, got to watch Prince and his band rehearse. Then she was invited to play for everyone, which she did. “He was just standing there, over me,” she says. “It was a space, probably smaller than this room.” She turns her back to me, hovering her arm toward the rest of World Café’s upstairs bar and stage area. “[When I was finished] he invited me to stay for lunch, so I sat with him in his dining room and ate with his whole band. Then we went and jammed out for a bit. It was surreal. I kept pinching myself, saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’”

Always “into his music,” Birch admits she was not a “die hard fan” and was initially freaked out, hoping she wouldn’t be asked to jam out on a song she hadn’t heard of. “But he didn’t,” she says with a laugh. “We just jammed out on whatever, we just jammed out on [the] G [note].” She never spoke to him again.

If Prince was the first to see something in Birch’s music, he hasn’t been the last. She’s been chosen as MTV-U’s “Freshman of the Week”, has the top single, “Nothing But A Miracle,” on Boston’s WXRV, has played on David Letterman and is scheduled for Jimmy Kimmel on July 31st. Of her current tour, through October, she tells me she’s having trouble getting used to being on the road. “I’m starting to realize I’m not going to sleep in my bed for a while.”

Her vocal and piano sound really can’t be defined. She tells me she takes most of her influence from opera, which she’s been listening to since she was ten years old. “Never really into female singers,” the sounds of Otis Redding and Neil Young always resonated with her, and she did her best to create a bluesy-indie piano sound, attempting to capture the same diverse audiences of both music icons.

Still, it took some time to realize what she wanted. “For a long time, I listened to my voice and hated it. So I tried to sound like someone else. I tried to sound like what I thought people wanted me to sound like, and I hated that. I’ve finally got to the point where I’m happy with my voice. I finally feel it’s me. It’s what I am. I’m singing something and people are enjoying it. Yeah, that’s me.”

Website: www.DianeBirch.com

MySpace: www.MySpace.com/DianeBirch

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