One moment she is Aqualyra, singer/songwriter, next time she’s the radio producer who was the first to grant A.S. Swanski airplay. In between she sends emails with collections of interesting news about all kinds of topics. Her Social Digest, as it’s called.
Dianne actively promotes everything she likes and believes in, which is a great quality, and last month she was so kind to play a large part of my album Electro Noir in her radio show. And since her own music is rather special — folky tunes with angelic whispers and a simple bass line — I contacted her for an interview. Here it is….
A.S.: If someone asks you to describe Aqualyra and you have only a minute, what do you say?
Dianne: “I think I’ve boiled my elevator pitch down to gothic tango, enchanted caberet-inflected neo-folk & music for the baroqu’an hearted. (laugh out loud) Not that I can remember to say any of that when someone asks!”
You perform your songs with a bass guitar only. This is very uncommon for a singer-songwriter. Was this a deliberate choice?
“More practical than deliberate. I play several instruments, most of which I am rusty on. Bass is the only one really suited to playing at the same time as singing, as well as for writing. I suppose if I owned a steel drum I could sing while playing. But I don’t and I haven’t played in ages. And I cannot imagine it would go well with the lyrical and emotional feeling of my music, even though it was the first instrument that I ever had lessons on when I was a kid. Basically I am just working with what I have. Singing and playing recorder at the same time, or singing with a viola under your chin seems a poor choice for sound quality as well! (smile) Since my guitar playing is almost non-existent, and my piano playing is really not good enough. That leaves the bass. Plus I have always really loved the dark sound, as well.”
What did you do before you started recording as Aqualyra?
“All sorts of things. I have one of those writer’s resumes that reads like “jack of all trades , master of none”. I used to cook and bake for a living at a bunch of places including a local folk club. Then I became quite ill and after that I did a lot of science and broadcast work – producing and hosting a science, technology, and environment show on CKCU-FM and doing some science activist work around issues of habitat conservation. I was also in a gigging alt rock band band back in the dim mists of time but that exploded due to the frontman and drummer being involved with the same woman. After that I kind of went off in a bit of brain fog and ignored my musical muse for too long until I was blown away by the music of several European muses and got my lyrical and eventually songwriting groove back!”
If I read correctly, you have a background in science and biology. Does this influence your music or lyrics in any way, or generally, the way you approach things?
“My science background is in life sciences, especially behaviour, with a big focus on ecology. I am not sure if my analytical geeky side really has much to do with the music. The project started as an outlet for a burgeoning pile of lyrics for several muses. Maybe the psychology degree has influenced things in how I look at the world but I think my spiritual side and having my heart broken so often is more of an influence overall. I am a big geek when it comes down to it but my heart is wildly romantic and irrational, like my imagination, and that is what drives the music. Maybe the biology gave me some extra words for painting pictures with? (smile)”
Do you play live? If not, why?
“Not as Aqualyra, yet. I want to but I am trying to get over a crippling and annoying case of performance anxiety whenever I do solo and duet work. It all goes back to several terrible experiences singing lead or playing in duets, which I’ve been trying to hypnotize myself out of. But I have in the past. The old band I was in so long ago gigged a bit around town before we fell apart. I played bass in that and also a bit of keyboard and I sang back up vocals as well. I’ve sung in school choirs and played French horn in band and orchestra back in the day. So it’s not out of the question once I conquer this damned fear monster. Hopefully.
I have a weird problem for a performer – I don’t like having people look at me and that isn’t helping, as you can imagine. It was easier when I was doing talks about why we had to save the belugas of James Bay! I didn’t mind doing public talks because it was for a greater cause, for someone else – for the belugas and the Crees of Quebec. But this is just me. I know that sounds ridiculous but that’s how it feels performing. I love singing and I adore music and writing it. But performing feels weird.
A friend who is an excellent performer suggested I trying to just become the music – and so I am trying to find a way to just dissolve into the sing without having to get hammered on booze which I haven’t done in years. I just care too darned much about people’s reactions. Even back in the gigging band I used to belt a beer or 2 very quickly so it hit me hard before I got up to play so I wouldn’t give a damn about the audience’s reaction. It’s weird, I’ve done karaoke with no problem well with a few beer.
But my own music… it frightens me to think of choking again doing lead. And with my own stuff. I’m trying to team up witha friend who plays ukelele and see if we can’t do that – she loves playing in front of people.”
How’s the music scene in Ottawa? And do you consider yourself part of any scene?
“Ottawa has a strong folk scene of long standing and a major folk festival. My folk is darker and aside from a few artists here I don’t feel in harmony with that scene. We have a really devoted metal and goth scene, not very large but quite committed and with some very talented artists. I’m part of those as a radio producer, though – I try and support metal and gothic and hard rock and alternative artists here, as well as the metal community elsewhere. But I don’t feel artistically part of the folk scene. I’m pretty shy about my own music and find it easier to promote others music.”
You’re also a radio producer. What kind of show do you make and when (and where) can people listen to it?
“The show I am producing now is on CKCU-FM, 93.1 The show is a weekly 5 hour marathon lol devoted to a mix of music. It breaks down to an hour of metal, one of goth-related genres, then one of new music, which programmed by my promoter friend in Nebraska, “Lady Death”. She shares my interest in Scandinavian, Finnish, European and upcoming bands. The last 2 hours have features including one on Finnish bands and one on steampunk “Sepiachord” bands, a morning weather report, and also some folk and other genres depending on what grabs me and Lady. It’s called e.V.’s Underground and we webcast so people can tune in from wherever they are, pretty much. You can hear it live on Tuesdays between 2 am and 7 am Eastern North American time, at ckcufm.com. The station just got podcast capability but due to illness there is a double repeat show up. ”
Here is a link with time conversions for people in other time zones:
Your radio show features a lot of metal and goth music. How does this combine with the fragile folk of Aqualyra?
“Well, metal and goth are dark, as a rule. We metalheads and goths are unafraid to stare into the darkness to see what stares back. It’s an inner state of being for many of us. Some of us live in this dark due to mood disorders or dysfunctional backgrounds – and when you live in that sort of zone you tend to produce dark music. Often it’s a sort of catharsis. So I would class my music as cathartic caberet-tinged folk noir, so I guess it goes together that way, in the noir end of things?
Also, there are some subgenres within metal and goth where some bands have explored a more folk inflected sound. Opeth, for instance has a lot of folk influence to their sound as does Witchcraft, a Swedish doom metal band. By folk, I mean old folk – almost a medieval troubadour kind of sound. I have a couple of mixes that don’t sound that fragile but my voice is a lyric contralto with some mezzo and I’m pretty much stuck with what sounds fragile, I guess.”
You pay much attention to Finnish music. This isn’t exactly obvious for a Canadian. Can you explain to me your relationship with Finland and its music?
“Haha! I’m not sure if I can. I guess there is a rational part and an rational aesthetic reason. I have had a strong affinity and interest in northern cultures since I was a kid. Other people dreamed of going to some tropical island. But I hate the heat, warm is OK but heat makes me sick something I want to blame on my mainly Scottish roots – so I dreamed of the north. I’ve been interested in Nordic and Finnish culture since I was about 11 or 12 years old when I would rummage through the library looking for cool new science books and cookbooks for different cuisines from around the world. I stumbled upon Finnish and Scandinavian cuisines and kind of fell in love with that first. Later on I fell for the music. There is something very haunting and melancholy about the music there. Plus I love metal and in Finland, metal is mainstream. Here metal heads are thought of as some sort of weirdos. Canada is largely a northern country. Ottawa’s temperature is comparable to Helsinki’s and inland central Sweden’s much of the time. Sometimes it’s even colder here since we don’t have a large body of water to moderate things. I also have had a couple of Finnish muses.”
If you had to give me an album as a birthday present, which would I get? And why?
“Since I don’t know what is in your collection already but it seems to me that you have an affinity for Portishead, and on your birthday I would want to get you something you enjoy – so I think I would get you something by them because Beth Gibbons voice probably appeals to you. Except probably you already have the complete works – so instead I would give you friend Marie Josee Houle’s first album “Our Lady of Broken Souls”. Why? Because I think you would enjoy her vocals and the lyrical content. I only hope you also enjoy accordion! (laugh out loud)”
And is there any chance people will be able to buy an Aqualyra album one day?
“I very much hope so – I am working on a pile of songs still. I was thinking I’d start with a single and work my way up to an EP. I kind of have a couple mapped out, I have names and everything anda backlog of about 20 more tunes, and always writing more – but the big bad anxiety monster is blocking me getting better recordings. Perhaps I shall have to take up drinking again to get past it. A couple of really talented artists have offered to help out - people should check their music because they are so awesome! I despair they may give up on me before I get past this. Stephane Beauchamp-Kiss whose project is Audible Obsession, and Jospen whose project is Almas Liquidas both offered to help produce and play some of the songs. I am struggling to get the vocals recorded separately from the bass part. Music production is a whole lot harder than radio production!”
Don’t tell me! Thanks!