If you encountered Kristin Diable a few years ago, you saw a singer-songwriter content to tote her acoustic guitar onstage alone and let her introspective writing and confiding delivery carry the show. But that’s not the Diable who recorded the new, Dave Cobb-produced album, Create Your Own Mythology.
The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native has refashioned herself as a luxurious, languorous stylist, leaning against the supple contours of the orchestrated roots-soul instrumentation around her. She’s still writing her own material too. She’s just allowed herself more space to maneuver within the songs.
Even as Diable battles intermittent cell reception in a tour van, she explains to CMT Edge what she’s up to with a sort of feline confidence. Not even the bandmates playing DJ with the van stereo can throw her.
See the CMT Edge live video of “I’ll Make Time for You”, then read the Q&A below the player.
CMT Edge: The recordings you put out in 2009 and 2012 had a much leaner sound, sort of folk-rock with jazz, pop and alt-country undertones. What was your stylistic model back then?
Diable: I think those records developed when I was playing a lot more solo. I had a band, but the band was always kinda moving parts, particularly in New York, because it’s so difficult to get a whole band together to play in New York. I think the songs leaned more toward being solo songs — like they could be performed alone. They didn’t necessarily need a whole band and a whole arrangement.
That’s evolved from there. I think ultimately a great song should be arranged and have colors, layers and textures to it, you know? I get really bored with solo performances. I’ve done so many of them.
There was a period not all that many years ago when the idea of lush studio pop production didn’t hold much interest for younger, indie, songwriting artists. The idea was that too much polish or orchestration would get in the way of an artist trying to say something. I’d say perspectives on all that have changed a lot. How did you come to embrace big production?
I think it’s a fine line. You know, the point of a recording is for people to be able to hear it and really connect to it pretty immediately. When stuff’s overproduced, you lose that intimacy and vulnerability in the sound. … But I think there’s a way to get the best of both worlds, the full capacity of the song arrangement and production and the intimacy and connectedness of being really close with the vocal and the story.
I think on Create Your Own Mythology we really hit that nail on the head. Dave Cobb, who produced it, is really great with capturing voices. He is all about making sure that the artist and the voice is right at the forefront, and not mixed underneath a hundred layers. The vocals are the point of the whole thing. … I feel like we were able to bridge that gap, to where it is intimate, like you’re right there in the room, but it’s also very lush and big at the same time. Having more isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it’s done in the right way.
This was a different approach to make an album for both you and Dave Cobb. He’s been known for getting artistically rugged country or folk sounds with Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. What kind of conversations did you two have about how you’d approach this?
My manager suggested working with Dave. Dave’s records sound amazing. I’ve loved all that I’ve listened to. But also, he’s done a lot of Americana — from true-blue Americana to country or whatever. Even though my backbone structurally is Americana, I knew that this record was not a straight Americana record at all. It was more a pop-Americana record.
So I wasn’t sure if he was the right guy. But he played me some stuff in the studio. … Nancy Sinatra, weird Serge Gainsbourg stuff. It was pretty clear pretty quickly that he really has a huge scope of knowledge and understanding of music. His pop sensibilities are pretty tremendous actually.
I’d seen you mention Nancy Sinatra as a point of reference, and I’d seen other writers compare the album to Dusty Springfield. They were both stylists who weren’t really writing their own material like you are. Is that something you thought about?
Being a songwriter and having a more stylized production, you mean? Nah, it all seems to make perfect sense. I was ready to get away from the whole frumpy songwriter thing. I feel like I did all I could do with it.
Music is entertainment. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be otherworldly and beyond your daily, mundane life. I wear pajamas and look like shit when I wake up in the morning, just like everybody else. But part of being a musician and entertainer is sort of creating this alter ego and different world with music. When people listen to it, it allows them to create their own worlds too.
In the past you recorded a cover of Nina Simone’s “Be My Husband.” Now that’s an artist who wove socially disruptive critiques into what she was doing with jazz and pop. How has that influenced you?
I think about humanity and social equality all the time. It’s pretty important to my being as a human. But I think it’s a fine line in songs. I don’t write protest songs. It’s annoying to people. Frankly, the number of people who want to hear songs that are specifically and overtly political is just small. You miss a lot of other people.
So I feel like with messages that have to do with upward mobility for the human race, it’s much more useful to weave it into the context of a storyline that’s more accessible. A lot of songs on the record, they’re in the context of a relationship, but they’re actually not about relationships. They’re about life in general. “True Devotion,” for example, is in the context of a relationship, but to me that song isn’t actually about a romantic relationship. It’s about devotion across the board in all things in life.
To me, that’s the most productive way to include commentary without being preachy or without being a downer. If you can make people laugh and feel good and think about something in a different way, in a way that they’re interested in thinking about it, then I think you can get a lot more done with a song and with a message.