Toronto's DIANA On Loving the Music & Hating the Touring

“Honestly I hate touring. It’s the tragedy of my life,” deadpans Carmen Elle, lead vocal and multi-instrumentalist of Toronto-based band DIANA. “It’s this strange situation where I have this musical inclination and a community of people that support me and zero ability to keep my shit together on the road.” Just prior to their cross country tour in support of the new album Familiar Touch, Elle is sitting backstage at The Baby G in Toronto waiting to perform and speaking on DIANA’s meteoric rise, the fact that the band was only supposed to be a studio project and the reality of being a touring musician. 

“I wasn’t even involved in the initial formation of the band,” Elle says, “The guys had a studio project called The Information that had gotten a recording grant and then immediately broke up but they paid for this studio time already so they brought me in to sing on some tracks.” After joining Joseph Shabason and Kieran Adams for the sessions, Elle says that there wasn't an immediate magic that happened that led to what has become DIANA. “Well, not right away,” she admits, “One of the things that I love and respect about this project is that we’ve worked really hard, it’s like the sex and relationship metaphor, you have that honeymoon phase, it’s explosive, there’s tons of energy but that goes away and you really have to work to make it work.”

That all being said interest in the band was fairly immediate. “It was this situation when the demos went up on SoundCloud and all of a sudden there was 6,000 listens and then again suddenly 10,000.” People wanted to see the band play live. Shows were few but impactful. DIANA signed with Bloomington Indiana’s mighty Jagjaguar Records and hit the road with Tegan & Sara. “We road dogged the record for a year and a half.” Playing as a four piece on the road was challenging despite all the members having at least a decade of experience as touring musicians. “There was four of us onstage and we had to reverse engineer how to play these songs live. It was ridiculous, everyone was doing a million things at once. Kieran was playing drums and keyboards at the same time, basically if you had a free hand or foot while you were playing that would be used to play something new. We toured the UK by train. Each of us with like four bags strapped to our backs. It was exhausting.” 

When the band returned home to Toronto after promoting Perpetual Surrender, they took about six months of downtime and then started working on Familiar Touch. “We started writing, which took about 5 months until we had the songs, then ended up doing about 2 to 3 months of pre-production and then spent a good 5 to 6 months in the studio.” The band was happy with how everything turned out but were somewhat traumatized by the length of the recording process and that they did everything on their own. “There was definitely a period of time where we just didn’t want to hang around each other,” Elle laughs. Which brings us back to Elle’s reticence to touring. Familiar Touch was released in November and besides a short American east coast tour and a few Ontario stops, this current tour is the first big push the band is doing for the record. “I’m very excited to do this kind of thing but it’s not ignorable anymore that there are certain facets of being a touring artist that are unsustainable. The truth is that people can’t have empathy for that unless they know what is going on with you.” She adds, “We were in Sudbury the other day and it was hard. I felt like I was having a panic attack onstage but it’s still this cathartic call to action. I can see myself in the future moving away from touring and moving more towards advocacy. It’s tough sitting in a car all day, lonely but never alone. It’s hard to be well on the road. I’ve never been great at it. You spend your days with a $20 per diem and a $600 bar tab, I mean what do you even do with that?” Elle was recently asked to speak at a music festival in Calgary on mental health in the arts and hopes that her experiences can be used to help future generations of musicians get a better handle on how to cope and remain healthy while touring.

Even with the hardship that touring life brings, Elle is very much looking forward to promoting the new album. “We put a lot of work into this and it is the record we wanted to make and we are all super happy with how it came out.” When translating that experience to the live show Elle expands, “We came up with a saying that the album is the album and the live show should represent that.” The best way to represent that was to expand the lineup to 6 members. “It’s really nice having the extra people onstage. There’s so much movement up there now. It’s a party!” 

Come check out the party tonight when DIANA hits Vancouver's Fortune Sound Club. Doors at 8PM.

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