Diane Marie Kloba is a Chicago-based singer-guitarist-songwriter who has ploughed a unique furrow, with uncompromising creative integrity, across eight studio albums and numerous shorter recordings, with another two full-length records ready for imminent release.
David Bowie taught Diane that it’s good to be different. Seeing him on TV as a young pop-music fan she says she ‘fell out of her chair’, and luckily for those who’ve encountered her music, she’s never really gotten back into it. A sense of difference is present in all of her recordings, but it’s a different sort of difference—neither the kind of theatrical otherness espoused by Bowie, nor the atavistic social transgression that has arguably been a facet of pop-music throughout its history. Diane’s difference is more akin to the personalised weirdness found in the music of Talking Heads, but more importantly it’s the same kind of difference that makes you you, and me me.
Whatever is unconventional in Diane’s music hasn’t been contrived as an aesthetic: it’s there because her primary creative commitment is to truth, and whatever truth might be, it’s not something that can be replicated by making conventional artistic gestures. The flavour of her music is not an aesthetic, but an ethic. Whatever is different from any other musician’s practice is so not because Diane wants to stand out, but because she has tailored every oblique lyric, every rhythmically indeterminate phrase, and every asymmetric melody to the precise texture of her experience and the meanings she has found in it. The form of her music is custom made for its content—by abandoning any slavish commitment to the lineaments of particular established styles, she achieves that most rare and precious of creative positions: work that is utterly, irreducibly her.
Diane’s journey to the precise yet ambiguous signifying of her mature song-craft began with poetry—of all the arts perhaps that most suited to the nuanced articulation of particular subjectivities. Poetry has its limitations, however, not least the fact that it is not a widely spoken language, which drew her toward the unique poetic affordances of song, at the threshold between speech and music. Diane took up the guitar to explore that terrain, writing songs about people she loves, and about fictitious characters.
Her work as a composing musician began in 1997, and since that time Diane has released eight full-length albums, along with many shorter releases and collaborations. In her solo work, Diane plays most of the instruments herself, including guitar, drums, percussion and synthesizers, although other contributors are present on some recordings. Diane has released collaborative recordings with creative musicians around the world in a wide variety of styles, and has received airplay on many radio stations globally. This has enabled her to reach a diverse and appreciative audience, and she has received a lot of positive critical attention.
Diane’s recordings throughout her career have been characterised by an oblique straightforwardness, and by a creative generosity that is perhaps best summarised by the title and cover photograph of her 2008 full-length, For You, Stranger. The artistic gifts she proffers are represented in that image by beautiful, rough-hewn rocks, given as found, in the same way as her many and illuminating creative insights. They are also emblematic of her enduring interest in the natural universe, which often emerges in her songs in meteorological or astronomical references. Across all of her varied releases there is a consistent dedication to presenting the unalloyed truth of her experience within the recognisable format of the song, but there is also continual, restless change and growth. She explores the varied possibilities of her chosen instruments, she incorporates new sounds, her approach to orchestration evolves and develops, she finds new subjects and thematic territories, and she journeys to the boundaries of the song form, sometimes taking an overtly experimental approach. Through it all, her audience, the stranger to whom she proffers her gifts, is welcomed with warmth and wonder into the capacious dwelling that is her uniquely creative heart.
We asked Diane a few questions for her to answer in her own words:
Who would you include in a list of your musical influences?
Radiohead, Bowie, Prince, Andrew Bird, Fiona Apple, Wilco, Dylan—among others.
Are there creative artists in other media (e.g. visual arts, cinema) that have inspired or influenced your practice as a songwriter?
John Malkovich, and the Spike Jonze film Being John Malkovich. Years ago I saw the movie and it struck me because, as I remember it, the story was about being your own self, not imitating anyone else. It was a juxtaposition in the way where everyone wanted to be him.
Has your recent experience of serious illness affected the way you approach your work?
Yes, it made me realize my time is limited and to be even more thankful for the use of my brain and my whole body. I am more serious now, and where I used to be someone who would go along with things to keep the peace, now I speak my mind, and I even disconnected with some longtime people who were trying to stifle me.
Do you imagine your songs as being addressed to particular people, or to a particular audience? If so, who are they?
Some of the time they are fictitious situations, but other times I write for people whose music I love. I never tell anyone when I write a song for them.
What’s your favourite shape of pasta?
How important is live performance to your overall creative practice?
It helped me develop my confidence to perform for an audience. I no longer look for shows, but every once in a while I get offered a spot, and I love that.
What do you value most in life, and how is that manifest in your work?
I value my friends, my music, and my Buddhist practice. These are the things that give me a reason to live. My family is very dysfunctional, but I have managed to keep my head by studying science and astronomy, and I read a lot. I am an extrovert, so I really like to have people around me, even though when I write my songs I have to work alone. All the things I study are manifested in my music.
Do you see yourself as a guitarist, independently of being a singer and songwriter, or are all of those activities one thing for you?
They are one thing. Sometimes I record the guitar part first, other times I write the words first. Other times I write both at the same time. I rarely plan what a song will be about. My hand writes the words and it is not until later that I find out what the song is about: it is a very automatic thing with me—I just pick up the pencil and let it flow. When I make my vocal parts I hear the syllables first, and it feels like I am filling in the blanks.