A couple of years ago, a friend sent me an album by email saying, "I think you are really going to like this." The band was called DIANA, the album was called Perpetual Surrender, and I have never felt more found, more seen, than when I listened to that album. I listened without knowing anything about the people who made the music; it just didn't seem important, the sounds already had an otherworldly quality to them. It was if the album captured past lives led as well as future ones (I imagined myself listening to some songs after I broke up with my then-boyfriend, despite the fact it took me years to actually break up with him — the songs knew before I knew).
It had been a while since I had fallen in love with a band in that all-consuming teenage style, so when one of the band members reached out to me earlier this year and offered to send me their still-unfinished record to hear my thoughts, I almost had a conniption. There are few things as scary as listening to a new album by a band whose previous one completely defined a phase of your life.
The now-titled Familiar Touch, out on November 18, perfectly picks up where the previous one left off, without being more of the same. Singer Carmen Elle says she doesn't really think you can dance to their music, but I disagree. I have found myself blasting their newest single, "Slipping Away," while I dance around my bedroom just like a hormonal adolescent. That feeling of past lives is still there, but it's more grounded — it feels more like it comes from real life as opposed to a magical land somewhere far away.
I talked to Carmen on the phone last week about what it's like being an indie musician, Sade, and why music is still what keeps us all going.
Laia Garcia: How different was it making the record this time around? I know that when you joined the band last time, they had lyrics written, and the songs were mostly finished and they just needed a singer on the tracks.
Carmen Elle: Yeah, last time the album was done. We were very excited when we started working on the new batch of songs. We toured our last record for a year and a half, so we were ready. We worked on the arrangements together, we workshopped some lyrics together. It was more collaborative than Perpetual Surrender for sure.
LG: I find it so amazing that you don't write the lyrics, because they always feel like they are your own!
CE: I think I am really good at interpreting the emotional charge behind the lyrics. That's honestly one of the reasons that we wound up working together the way that we have. You know what I mean? It's not easy. It feels good when I'm singing them.
LG: I read in an old interview that you were working as a baker part time, and I love knowing about people's secret lives a bit. Are you a musician full time now, between DIANA and your other band, Army Girls?
CE: That's a good question. Fuck, what am I doing right now? I'm mostly [doing] music. I went through a pretty low, very depressed year this past year. And I actually broke up my other band. I was trying to quit music really hard. I really just did not think that it was making me happy or healthy. My other band is only a two-piece, and it was easier to break that band up.
So I started with that; I was really just trying to burn all my bridges. And then with DIANA, instead of breaking up, we just ended up taking quite a bit of space after we recorded the album, so I just sat and listened to it. I didn't listen to much other music and was just trying to figure it all out.
LG: What were you thinking of doing if you were going to quit music?
CE: I don't know. Work in a bank?
LG: You've been playing guitar, and you've been into music your whole life. Was there ever a time you wanted to do something else?
CE: When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect. But with this, it was just that I didn't feel like I had any autonomy. I didn't feel like I had any choice. I was like, it's always been music, and I want to explore other things. So I thought maybe I would go back to school. It was really a quarter-life crisis kind of move.
So to answer your question: I still have no idea, really, because the new record is coming out soon, and we'll have to tour it, and who knows what'll happen. Maybe people will like it, and then we'll be doing it full time. But maybe not. I'll have to find other work. But yeah, I work two days a week at a bakery right now.
LG: So what kept you in the band? What made you decide that you were going to stick around and pursue it?
CE: What keeps me going back to it is, ultimately, I'm my most authentic self when I'm playing music and performing. It's beautiful that I can still access that feeling instead of my own shit, you know? There are days where I'm like sick or heartbroken or anxious, but [the way I feel about music] doesn't get affected by that. I think [that's] something worth holding on to.
LG: Well, I think it's worth it! I always wanted to ask about the sensual vibe that all the songs have, even when the lyrics are almost never straight-up love songs or they don't correspond to that sort of feeling. Is that contrast on purpose?
CE: It's so funny, because with our first record we used to make this joke of, like, how we'd have to run things through "the sexualizer." You know, we'd record music and run it through a compressor or a reverb, and all of a sudden it's different. So I think there's definitely an awareness of that. People have also told me that the music has a real feminine energy to it, despite the fact that most of the people who make it are men — and I do totally agree with that; I think the music does have a real nice feminine energy to it.
LG: What is this period like, where you have finished an album and are just a few weeks away from its actually being released?
CE: It's really exciting. I have absolutely no idea how any of this is going to go, and I'm very curious to see how people react to this album specifically because it's very, very mid-tempo. I don't know if that maybe plays into the sexy vibe that you were talking about, but mid-tempo — that is not something that you hear too much right now. Sade records are mid-tempo, you know what I mean? You can't dance to it, but you also can't lie on the ground and smoke weed [while you listen to it]. So I wonder if that's awkward, I wonder if people are going to be into that. Or if they're going to be like, Ah, I don't really know what to do with this.
LG: I mean, if Sade is the thing to compare it to, then everyone is going to love it! Everybody loves Sade, she is amazing always.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Laia is Lenny's deputy editor.