Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Diana Jones Brings Us Into "High Atmosphere"

High Atmosphere is the latest album by Diana Jones, and follows her first two critically acclaimed releases; My Remembrance of You and Better Times Will Come. Ms. Jones and Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show co-produced the album, and it is filled with guest performances by Jim Lauderdale and various members of Old Crow.  

High Atmosphere will please fans of her earlier albums- it is filled with an impressively written collection of material, and Ms. Jones' vocals sound as powerful and distinctive as ever. Ms. Jones was gracious enough to retrace some of her musical steps, and share her experiences crafting High Atmosphere.

Can you describe your musical journey, specifically your experiences connecting music and family?

Diana Jones: I grew up with an adopted family in New York and wasn’t exposed to much Southern American Music. It was mostly mainstream radio and Musicals. When I did hear Johnny Cash (coming from my brother’s bedroom), or someone like Emmylou Harris, my ears always perked up. But as a young child I wasn’t sure where to get more of it. When I was 15,  I moved in with some folks who had been to Woodstock in the day and had an amazing record collection. They let me listen and that’s where I first heard Muddy Waters, John Prine, Odetta, etc...

When I met my grandfather was when the flood gates lifted for me. He was raised in Sevierville, Tennessee, and he grew up singing the music of the Appalachian Mountains. When I discovered Alan Lomax’s recordings of Southern Appalachian music he knew every song. He helped me feel like I had a claim to this music that I didn’t grow up with,  but that  resonated so deeply for me.

Who were your earliest influences?

DJ: I remember singing Woody Guthrie songs at school. "This Land is Your Land" and such. They were simple and made sense to me. Also Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. I liked the early protest music. Peter Paul and Mary and the Weavers. Although I had missed the Peace Movement, the hippie family I lived with introduced me to all of this. It was the voice and the guitar that interested me and the story in the song.

What inspired you to pursue playing music and songwriting?

DJ: I can’t remember not being drawn to music. In school I sang in the chorus and was the kid that they pushed out on stage for the talent contests. It never occurred to me not to sing. I started making up little songs before I went to school.

Can you describe your relationship with your grandfather and guitarist, Robert Lee?

DJ: He was a very loving man. When people were in his presence they felt the best of themselves. He loved his five daughters and worked hard for them and helped raise his fourteen grandchildren. I was his first grandchild and he wanted to keep and raise me so we had a very special bond and never took each other for granted after we met. The music we shared was important to both of us. His mother was a singer and banjo player too. He told me once he was proud that I was carrying the music forward.

What were your early experiences as a songwriter?

DJ: I wrote songs for a church group when I was about 11. I would bring a song every week and teach it to everyone. A lot of songwriters seem to come up in the church in some way. It gave me a forum and a reason to hone my early skills.

For new listeners to your discography, can you describe your experiences writing and recording, My Remembrance of You?

DJ: My grandfather passed away in 2001. I had been writing and performing for a while and had made two records on my own label. I was grieving and didn’t know if I wanted to perform anymore. I also knew that in some way I hadn’t written the music I wanted to sing to folks night after night, if I got that lucky. I went to a farmhouse in Massachusetts for two to three weeks at a time and waited for a while. For some reason I felt close to the music my grandfather introduced me to when I was there on my own. The songs started to come in a way they hadn’t before. They seemed to come from a deeper place. The melodies too.

How did those experiences lead to Better Times Will Come?

DJ: I was traveling a lot after My Remembrance was released so I had to write on the road to get any writing done. I was able to go back to that place that I had found at the farmhouse and access it wherever I was. It was a continuation of what started there.

How did you connect with Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show?

DJ: I met Ketch at a taping of Mountain Stage a few years back. We both lived in East Nashville and ended up at parties together and always had fun sharing songs and singing harmonies. I’ve always been a big fan of his work. His fiddle playing is so distinctive.

How did you decide to work with Ketch Secor and co-produce the album with him?

DJ: When I was thinking of a co-producer for High Atmosphere Ketch came to mind and happened to be free and in town. We demoed songs at his place and worked them out with Mike Bub and Beau Stappleton at my place for a few days and then went into the studio. It was a really easy organic thing.

Can you describe your writing and recording process for High Atmosphere, including your experiences working with Jim Lauderdale and members of Old Crow?

DJ: I wrote a lot of the songs in my head and on planes because I flew so much at that time. I came home to Nashville the night of the big flood, late from Dallas. I didn’t know if I would find my guitars floating around my living room. As we drove up to the house I realized more than I had before that my little shotgun shack was on a big hill. Two blocks up from the Cumberland River but on a hill. I was so grateful for that hill. I wrote High Atmosphere that week. 

Jim Lauderdale was great fun to work with. He came in and just seemed to get the songs. He was funny and charming and has that beautiful high lonesome voice. In the studio things just flowed. We moved from song to song together and it felt like I just went in and sang my heart out for three days and we had the record. Everyone added their own beautiful thing to the songs and supported what I was doing.

What sets High Atmosphere apart for you from your previous albums?

DJ: It’s more obviously personal I think. Although the story songs I write are always infused with my personal experience and emotions.

What would you say connects them most?

DJ: This quirky world I live in in my head. Where things like life and death and having enough to eat are important.

Who would you say are your biggest influences at this stage of your career?

DJ: Johnny Cash would be number one.  He knew how to tell the stories that got down to it both in his writing and the way he sang them. There was  a lot of love in what he did. Dolly Parton also. Willie Nelson. Everything the Carter Family did and the way they did it.

What have you been listening to lately?

DJ: Eliza Gilkyson has a new record out that I can’t stop listening to. I’ve also been revisiting some early Lucinda Williams. Beautiful deep stuff.

Will you be touring for the new album?

DJ: I have been on the East Coast and go to CA next week and then some work in Canada and the UK.

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