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Irene Diaz: Crafting Songs In Dreamy Black And White

Aug 17, 2013
Originally published on August 17, 2013 6:50 pm

If you live outside of Los Angeles, you might not have heard of singer Irene Diaz. The 26-year-old L.A. native stunned concertgoers at the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City last month with her powerful, silky voice and heartfelt lyrics. She's just released her first EP, I Love You Madly, a noirish set of songs that begins with the whir of a film projector starting up. She spoke about it with NPR's Don Gonyea; click the audio link to hear their conversation.

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If you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea. And it's time now for music.


IRENE DIAZ: (Singing) Baby, I've got you on my mind.

GONYEA: If you live outside of Los Angeles, you might not have heard of singer Irene Diaz. The 26-year-old L.A. native surprised concertgoers at the Latin American Music Conference in New York City last month with her powerful, silky voice and heartfelt lyrics. She has her first EP out. That stands for Extended Play. The title, "I Love You Madly." It contains five-and-a-half tracks that take the listener on a journey through a relationship.

She joins us from our studios in L.A. Irene Diaz, welcome to the program.

DIAZ: Yes, thank you for having me.

GONYEA: So we're listening right now to the title track of your EP. It's called "I Love You Madly."

DIAZ: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: What was that sound at the top? It sounded like an old film projector or something.

DIAZ: Mm-hmm. My idea for the EP, I wanted to make it more of like a listening experience, and so that's why I begin with the film reel. And then by the end of the last track, there's like the end of the film reel.

GONYEA: So it's like a little movie.

DIAZ: Yeah.


DIAZ: (Singing) We were made for fun. We laugh and sing under the sun. The moon shines bright, and we get it all. And I love you madly.

GONYEA: So you had a very big and important performance at the Latin Alternative Music Conference last month. There was a lot of buzz - buzz over your big voice. But there hasn't been a great deal of press about you until recently.

DIAZ: There hasn't.

GONYEA: And I think anyone who hears your voice will wonder where have you been all of this time?

DIAZ: I played a lot of open mics. And I'm pretty shy, so it took me a lot longer to get my music out. And I spent a lot of time writing over the years and just, you know, being in my bedroom and seeing what I could come up with and listening to different artists like Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald and just being inspired by women like that.

GONYEA: Well, let's listen to a bit of another track. Here is "Crazy Love."


DIAZ: (Singing) See, the days are so good, and the nights are so sweet. Baby you put me in the mood.

"Crazy Love," it's just about true, honest love. Like, I'll be there for you through everything. It's like vows.


DIAZ: (Singing) I can't get enough. No, I'll never get enough of you, my love. See, I'll follow you through the bluest of days.

GONYEA: So you said you were shy.


GONYEA: I do not hear a shy woman singing this particular song.

DIAZ: Oh, wow. I don't know. Before I perform, I'm just like, oh, my God, my stomach's turning. And it's just like, oh, my gosh. But once I start singing, it just feels great.

GONYEA: Given your shyness, how did you sit down in front of an audience for the first time to sing? How did that happen?

DIAZ: With my eyes closed.

GONYEA: Seriously.

DIAZ: Seriously.


DIAZ: I grew up going to church, and I had my first opportunity to play one of the songs I wrote. And I was nervous as heck.

GONYEA: We found out about you through that showcase. You talked about it, the Latin American Music Conference.

DIAZ: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: But there does not seem to be any obvious nods to Latin culture or Latin music in your songs.

DIAZ: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: Has it been easier to market your music through this genre as opposed to, oh, you know, soul or neo soul or one of those others that really does seem to fit your style?

DIAZ: Mm-hmm. I've been really well accepted by Latinos. And, you know, I look Latina, but I'm not fluent in Spanish. And I think there's a lot of people like me, and we have a lot to say and we have a lot to sing about, you know? And I think my music transcends to everyone.

GONYEA: So in addition to singing, you play the piano.

DIAZ: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: That features very prominently in this EP, especially in the half track. This is a five-and-a-half track EP. That half track is called "Interlude."

DIAZ: Yes.

GONYEA: Let's listen, and then I want you to talk about it.


DIAZ: That "Interlude" is basically putting you in a position for the - what's to come, which is like, it's kind of like taking you down a rabbit hole. It starts off with "Crazy Love" chords.


DIAZ: And then it goes into medleys of every song in the EP in that little section.

GONYEA: And it's a darker piece of music...

DIAZ: Yes. Yes, it is.

GONYEA: ...than "Crazy."

DIAZ: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: And then it goes right into the next track, which is "I Am Woman."

DIAZ: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: Let's hear the transition.


GONYEA: That's a transition.


DIAZ: (Singing) Said I am woman, you are man.

"I Am Woman" is just basically enough - I've had enough of somebody taking advantage of me.

GONYEA: Where does it come from?

DIAZ: I'm very much into, like, environment and stuff. I wanted to make a voice for a planet to, like, humankind. And I was influenced by that, but it could go for women as well being tired of, you know, being taken advantage of a man.

GONYEA: I understand what you're saying, but this does not feel political.

DIAZ: Yeah. It's very sneaky.


DIAZ: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

GONYEA: You talk about these songs taking us on a journey telling a story. People don't listen to music that way so much anymore.

DIAZ: I know.

GONYEA: They'll load these into their iPod or their iPhone or their whatever and hit shuffle, and they'll come up. Is that OK?

DIAZ: I don't think so. I think we need to take time and sit down and listen to music. I don't think we do that enough anymore. But a lot of artists, you know, we put so much time, and we put so much thought and put our hearts into our music. And to just pick and choose, you know, it's kind of sad.

GONYEA: That's Irene Diaz. Her EP is called "I Love You Madly" and was just released at the beginning of the month. Irene, thanks for speaking with us.

DIAZ: Thank you.

GONYEA: Can't wait to hear what's next.

DIAZ: Thank you so much.


DIAZ: (Singing) You fill out my day with songs...

GONYEA: And for Saturday that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on Programs and scroll down. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.