DIANA | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Smooth Operators

Jun 21, 2013 DIANA Photography by Vanessa Heins Bookmark and Share

Carmen Elle, Paul Mathew, Kieran Adams, and Joseph Shabason, the Toronto-based musicians who perform as DIANA, count their parents among their most ardent supporters. But it might be a stretch to say that they’re big fans of their children’s abstracted soft rock. Keyboardist/saxophonist Shabason says his parents love DIANA’s forthcoming album, “although when I first played it for them, they said, ‘We’re really proud of you, but we don’t understand it.’”

On the band’s debut single, “Born Again,” Elle’s soothing vocals glide atop an airy, nimble piece of pop and R&B. The B-side is a Doldrums remix that’s unabashedly erratic.

“I played the Doldrums remix for my mother-in-law a couple of nights ago, and it was so funny to watch her expression,” cracks drummer Adams. “She was already curious about the ‘Born Again’ song itself. She couldn’t really hear any of the words and it sounded kind of strange. When she heard the remix she said, ‘Well, I thought the original one was quite strange, but this one is a whole other world!’”

Adams and Shabason met while studying jazz at the University of Toronto. “I don’t think either one of us were geared towards having full-on jazz careersif such a thing really exists,” quips Adams. After realizing this, the two banded together and began writing songs based on their mutual love of The Knife, Harry Nilsson, and Neil Young. There was some initial local interest in their first band, Everything All the Time, but nothing translated to widespread recognition.

“A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with my dad,” recounts Shabason, speaking of the Everything All the Time period. “We just put out an album. I was living out in the country, and we were chopping logs. At a certain point he said, ‘You know, if the album doesn’t do very well in the next couple of months, you should really think about trying to find another career.’”

Adams and Shabason persisted. Inspired by Destroyer (whom Shabason toured with, playing saxophone), the two formed a likeminded new project, writing hazy synth-based ballads that wouldn’t sound out of place on an AM Gold station. The band was then christened when its art director, Laurie Kang, who is also Adams’ girlfriend, plucked the name out of thin air.

DIANA was completed by vocalist Carmen Elle, a stalwart of the Toronto scene, and bassist Paul Mathew. Together, the four fleshed out the songs that will appear on the band’s debut album, Perpetual Surrender, due out via Jagjaguwar on August 20th.

“I really love 1980s ballads. It’s just what I love to listen to,” says Adams. “Sometimes those influences will definitely creep in…. More often than not we would try to subvert that and say, ‘This sounds too ‘80s. How can we make it something new rather than just a throwback?’”

The band took it a step further, pairing their Sade leanings with heavy syncopation, disco-lite refrains, and ghostly, washed-out production. The result is a pop pleasure that many listeners might be tempted to preface with the word “guilty.” Adams and Shabason both wholeheartedly reject the idea.

“If ‘Private Eyes’ comes on the radio, I am blaring that every single time,” declares Shabason, referring to the 1981 Hall & Oates hit. “I’m not going to feel guilty about that. It just feels right!”


[This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s March/April 2013 print issue.]


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