photo by Olivia Jaffe
As frontwoman for her band, Diane and the Gentlemen, Diane Gentile leads the charge as she and her band simultaneously push the boundaries of the Americana and Alternative music genres with their new album The White Sea. By phone, I talked to her about the album, her musical influences, her amazing comeback from a horrific accident, her creative process, and the future for herself and her band.
Americana Highways: How would you best describe your music?
Diane Gentile: Wow. That’s a hard question to answer. But I would have to say, if pressed, Indie rock n’ roll.
AH: Who do consider to be your biggest musical influences?
DG: I would say the great female singer/songwriters and all strong female artists in general. If I were to list names they would be artists like Carly Simon, Carole King, Lana Del Ray, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Marianne Faithfull, Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and The Papas, Cher, Siouxshie of Siouxshie and the Banshees, Nina Hagen, PJ Harvey, and Patti Smith. I could go on and on but those are the names right off the top of my head.
I would also have to say my older sister Elda Stilletto, who played in a band called the Stillletos with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie. She was more of a performance artist than a traditional singer/songwriter like myself. I am more in the Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt mold and she was more in the punk rocker circa 1968 mode. But even with that, she still taught me a lot of great things when it came to writing songs.
AH: For those who don’t know, can you relate the remarkable and triumphant backstory behind the release of The White Sea?
DG: Sure. We were traveling as a band in Italy when a truck that was in front of us, hit a rock in the road and caused the rock to come flying full bore through the windshield of our car.
The rock knocked me out cold and almost caused me to lose my left eye. I went through a year and a half of surgeries in Italy and here in the States until the doctors told me that they had done all they could do with the surgeries on my eye and my face. So as it is, my left eye is permanently damaged and my face is permanently scarred from the accident.
So this record, The White Sea, which my heart is so heavily invested in, actually should have come out in February 2019 but because of the accident and its resultant consequences, it has just now been released.
But I have to tell you, that throughout this whole terrible ordeal that I just described, I stayed really positive about healing, about continuing my life, about my music career, about writing songs, and about continuing to be a good person.
I know that I am still here for a reason and I believe that one of those reasons is to give back as much as I possibly can to my fellow man.
AH: Do you have a favorite song on the album and if yes, why?
DG: Yes, I would say the song “Just Pretend”, a song about an illicit love affair, because I believe it is the most honest song on the record.
AH: The White Sea is an album whose songs have a wide range of disparate sounds. What do you think holds the record together?
DG: I would have to say my voice and my band.
AH: What was it like working with Steve Wynn and Jesse Malin, two notable figures of the Alt music scene and two of the producers on the album?
DG: Working with Steve Wynn was beyond great. He has an incredible ear for guitars and guitar sounds and how guitars need to be laid within a track. He is super energetic, is extremely spiritual, and he truly knows music and songwriting inside and out. He knows how to put things together sonically, so as a producer for a song like“Motorcycle”, which is on the album, he was a perfect choice. And he is a really nice, nice man to boot.
Working with Jesse Malin is also really great. He is completely capable of getting a song to a place where he wants it to be and he won’t stop until he gets the sound he wants from it. He pushes people as far as they can possibly go to get the best that they can give. On “Second Hand Heart”, one of the songs he produced for the album, he pushed me hard and made me do the song over and over again until he got the sound he wanted from it. Besides all that he does as a performer and a producer, he is also one of the most talented people I know when it comes to writing lyrics.
AH: You, yourself produced a number of songs on the record. Given that, how would you best describe the differences between playing, singing, and producing?
DG: As a musician, you have to be as precise as you possibly can be and sometimes the beauty is in the mistakes.
As a singer, you have to really try to get the emotions and the lyrics of the song to come through and out of you.
As a producer, you’re figuring out exactly what it is in the song that needs to happen to make the song have the overall feeling that you want.
AH: You wrote or co-wrote every song on this album. What inspires you as a songwriter?
DG: I would say every time I listen to a record, to other people’s music, I get inspired.
Every time I read a book, see certain films, see paintings or photographs that mean something to me or that impress me, I get inspired.
Every time I see images from everyday life that have a kind of musical feel to them, I get inspired.
And lastly, even though I don’t know or understand where they come from, every time that I have these wonderful little scenes that just show up in my head like small little movies,I get inspired.
AH: How do you feel when you are performing your songs in front of a live audience?
DG: I get extremely nervous when I first get up on the stage, but once I get past the first song, I feel like a million dollars. Often times, I feel like I don’t ever want to leave the stage and I just want to keep playing music for people forever. I don’t know how else to explain it, other than I love playing live. It’s like an adrenaline rush that I really can’t do without.
AH: What’s next for Diane and the Gentle Men?
DG: We have a lyric video to the song “Wicked Hours” which is a song on the latest album, coming out real soon.
We have a couple of live shows that we have rebooked, one on June 20th just outside Boston, in Somersville, Mass. and one in New York City on July 22nd at Bowery Electric, which will serve as our record release party.
And we are also scheduling some studio time really soon to begin recording a record that will probably come out in February 2021.
The White Sea by Diane and the Gentle Men is now available at dianegentile.com