Epitomising the notion of being mature beyond one’s years, indie starlet Alela Diane may sound like a greying, motherly figure with a knack for storytelling, but her growling timbre came about with astonishing ease. “I started playing guitar and writing songs when I was 19, so I was a late starter to both,” she says. “It was only because I had moved far beyond my comfort zone to San Francisco that song writing became my way of getting the homesickness out of me.”
Situated in the rural backdrop of northern California, Nevada City (pop. 3,000) is a home captured in the vivid, campfire folk of Diane’s debut album, The Pirate’s Gospel, recorded only a matter of months after picking up a guitar for the first time. Alternating between the warm and the haunting, her songs conjure up the copper tones of faded 19th century family portraits, each one an affecting tale of this former gold rush town. Ironically, it was only venturing away from these pastoral beginnings that inspired her to express herself creatively.
After deciding to leave for Europe, Diane quickly became overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of its swarming cities, retreating from the streets of Paris to take refuge in the nearest empty church. There, the ideas behind The Pirate’s Gospel began to take shape. “While travelling, I realised that I couldn’t live in San Francisco anymore,” Diane recalls. “Everything just became clear when I was separated from my life back home and a lot of the songs are sorting through all that. I mean it was really scary to leave everyone I knew and embark on this trip not knowing what I’d find on the other side. It was an eye-opening experience.”
Diane’s return home would eventually inspire the traditional simplicity behind The Pirate’s Gospel, an ambience that yearns for times past while paying tribute to a place that has barely changed at all. “It just has a good sense of community,” she enthuses about her native soil. “There are a lot of creative people around and a lot of history there too. To this day Nevada City looks very similar to how it did in 1849. The downtown area is full of old saloons and there’s a little horse and cart that drives around the streets to take tourists for rides,” she laughs. “So having grown up around it, I’m interested in where we all came from…how America came to be.”
The connections we have with history and the sense of belonging they instil are just two of the many insightful themes behind Diane’s music that betray her age and apparent inexperience. Regardless, it’s a maturity that has already earned her a place in the ever-expanding canon of Americana, nestled seamlessly between names old and new. For the moment, it looks like somewhere she’ll feel at home in for a long time to come.