When you hear her voice for the first time, you can tell that Madi Diaz has the personality to be great. In my case, it was hearing her voice and the upbeat, fun nature of our conversation that proved to me that her body of work to date is no accident. She can mix fun with serious, while being lighthearted at the same time. In an industry full of self-absorbed, take-me-seriously wannabes, Diaz is a refreshing change.
Born to a Peruvian mother and a Danish father, Diaz is the epitome of eclecticness, which is reflected in her brand of music. The Nashville-based indie-folk artist has spent her life defying what is considered the norm and her album, Plastic Moon, is an example of that.
Homeschooled as a child, Diaz began piano lessons at the tender young age of 5, at the behest of her father, himself a keyboard player in the Frank Zappa tribute band. Music has always played an important role in Diaz’s upbringing.
In her early teens, Diaz made the switch (or progression, depending on your point of view) to guitar and landed at School of Rock in Philadelphia. Diaz was a standout among the pupils and became a focal point of director Don Argott’s 2005 documentary about the program, Rock School. But that was a different singer at a different point in her life.
When it came time to select institutions for higher education, naturally, Diaz gravitated towards the Berklee School of Music in Boston. “I needed to go there to see if I could hack it in the system,” she recalls. “Since I was homeschooled a lot, the idea of going to school, especially this one, was an exciting thing to me.” It was here where she met her collaborator Kyle Ryan.
“Kyle was a friend who I met in a songwriting class and was in the production and engineering department, so he asked if he could produce one of my songs for his project,” Diaz said. “Before that, I never thought anyone would ever want to produce any one of my songs. He put a band together and he was the guitar player in the band. After we were done and hanging out and talking, he gave me his number and said if there were any shows I wanted to play, he was available.”
Diaz wasn’t sure what to make of the offer due to her uncertainty in her own material and she initially didn’t call Ryan, which he interpreted as meaning she thought he sucked. Eventually, she decided to make that phone call and the duo started writing and haven’t looked back since.
Dropping out of school before completing her degree, Diaz and Ryan moved to Nashville for a fresh start. “When you live somewhere for a while, you tend to fall into a pattern,” the singer explained. “I was looking to move forward and looking to get myself out of the same pattern. Nashville seemed like a pretty awesome place to do that.”
The album was recorded in both Los Angeles and Charlottesville, Virginia. Recording in two places allowed for the creative process that goes into songwriting to be more open and hence, make for a better record, at least in Diaz’s opinion, which goes back to where she’s willing to go out of her comfort zone in order to achieve success.
“In Boston, we were writing more Americana types of songs,” she said. “A lot of that was due to lucky experimentation because of a whole assembly of songs that were put together. I wanted to take myself away from Nashville and the things that I knew. I wanted to push myself further and working with John (producer John Alagia) gave new life to the songs that wouldn’t have been there if I had recorded back home.”
Plastic Moon has received a lot of acclaim ranging from huge magazines to small blogs. Despite the accolades, Diaz remains grounded; knowing that the compliments could became daggers very quickly. “It’s exciting and keeps me going,” she said. “It lights and fans the fire under my butt. We’ve been doing this for a while, so hopefully things will stick. The way the media is these days, it’s hard to keep people’s attention. It’s inspired us to write and create more and have people keep liking it.”
With strong, personal lyrics, along with catchy musical arrangements, Madi Diaz is coming out of the gate strong. After a short tour, Diaz is focusing on promoting Plastic Moon, and yes, changing things up with an impending move to Los Angeles in February. Her reasoning? “I just needed a little ocean,” she said.
The album just came out yesterday and for those of you who haven’t heard it, she shows the potential that could make her more than just a critical darling, but commercially viable as well. I expect to hear big things from Diaz in the very near future.