The new album Night combines the talents of pianist Simone Dinnerstein and singer-songwriter Tift Merritt on which they explore folk, rock and classical music. The pair met in 2008 during an interview with Gramophone Magazine and they started creating material for the new album two years later.
"We were coming from completely different directions and taking the risk of extending ourselves into foreign territory to find each other," say Merritt. We both felt very exposed and vulnerable but in very opposite ways and places. And, that risk, ultimately, was very exciting." "This album has been about pushing our creative boundaries," adds creative partner Dinnerstein.
Presented here is their exclusive video for "Colors"...
A Conversation with Diane Arkenstone
Mike Ragogna: Why it's Diane Arkenstone!
Diane Arkenstone: Hi Mike, how are you?
MR: I'm doing well, how are you?
DA: Very well, thank you.
MR: You have a new album, Union Road. Can you tell us about it?
DA: Union Road is the first album I have out that I don't have to take a huge ensemble of musicians. I can play just with guitar or piano or an instrument myself. It's a little bit more Americana and stories that have been in my heart and experiences that I wanted to share with the world.
MR: Nice. Now can you go over some of the material on this for instance, and if you have a couple of back stories on this song that would be beautiful.
DA: Oh, I have quite a few back stories on the songs. Every song has a back story.
MR: Can we maybe start with the title track "Union Road?"
DA: Sure. "Union Road" is named after a place I used to live close to where I grew up. It's on a ranch and we had longhorn cattle and horses and things like that. Some of the happiest years of my life were spent there on that ranch on Union Road. That's how the name came about.
MR: Now you said "Americana" before though you're credited mostly with having success with new age music.
DA: Yes, well, they call it "New Age," but it's been cinematic music, world music, instrumental and so on. I never had a voice in it, maybe musically I had a voice, but actually singing, speaking, telling a story... The music was instrumental then and it left you to your imagination. But here I can tell the actual story about what the song is because I sing every song except for the song, "Union Road." That's the only instrumental.
MR: Let's go into a couple of the other songs that are maybe more personal to you.
DA: The first song is called "Little Cup Of Coffee." That is a tribute to a Starbucks, and some great times I had there in Studio City with a lot of friends, actors, artists, writers, producers and so on. That's where the title of that song came from. The thing that was so great about that Starbucks was it had such a huge array of people from different parts of the world and I absolutely adored it. So that's how I wrote that song, and then the next song on the album is called "When I Fall." You know when everything just doesn't seem to go right in your life, that's what that's about. "When You're Just Hanging On To The Edge Of The World" is one of the lines of the song. That's exactly how I felt at the time when I wrote that song. That's certainly far behind me now.
DA: Then there's another song called "Lost In You" which is about being crazy obsessed in love, an absolute beautiful time, with the endorphins and so on.
MR: [laughs] Now this is a little bit of a personal question, but it's also part of your history. You made a few records with your ex-husband David Arkenstone.
DA: Yes, and we're still very dear friends.
MR: And you've recorded Celtic albums, too. You've tended towards the Celtic sound in the past.
DA: Well, actually, yes, I did do quite a few. We did at least twelve of them on another label. That was with a girl named Melanie. I turned my name around to Enaid, which is the name Diane backwards, but it also happened to mean "Soul" and "Life" in old Celtic Irish. So I used that name and Melanie changed her name backwards, too, which came out to Einalem. We did about twelve or thirteen albums together on another label and had quite a lot of success. I think the first album we did sold five hundred thousand copies.
MR: Wow. What is your creative process?
DA: Oh gosh, absolutely everything. I play quite a few different instruments and I sing and I have Pro Tools and I do a lot of the engineering myself. But when I feel, it's like something inside, right in the center of my chest. It feels like there's something stirring in there and I know there's a song coming out. Then when I pick up an instrument, I also find that quite inspirational. If I pick up a dulcimer or a mandolin or play a guitar or a piano, each instrument has its own power and something incredible always comes out.
MR: Do you feel sometimes that you're being chased by a song?
DA: [laughs] Sure, of course, absolutely! Same with writing poetry or writing a story or an idea or something. I don't know if I'm actually being chased, but it's a feeling inside, an energy. It's all an energy.
MR: You do these other creative arts, too. What other creative outlets do you have besides music?
DA: I love writing stories and so on and when I was in school I was always the most elaborate and best writer in school. I've written quite a few stories. Nothing's been out and published yet, though I have a friend who is a writer and producer from Los Angeles and we've taken these stories and were putting them together in order to see what happens with them.
MR: Nice. Most people may not know this but you've been on over forty-five albums.
DA: Yes, I have.
MR: How does that feel? You've got a lot of creativity out there.
DA: Yeah. You know, Mike, it's pretty fun, I absolutely love writing music, of course, and I have my own record company, Neo Pacifica Recordings and I have about twenty five albums on it. The rest are on other labels.
MR: Are you constantly writing?
DA: Yes. Absolutely. I have a studio here in my house and when you walk in, it pretty much looks like a music store. All of these crazy, bizarre, amazing instruments from all around the world in here. I love it. I'm obsessed with it.
MR: So you're beyond being chased by creativity, it's actually stalking you.
DA: [laughs] Or I am the creativity.
MR: Ooh, there you go. Let's get back to the album. What separates Union Road from any other album that you've done before? You mentioned it being Americana, but are there any other signposts on this album that are perhaps unlike your other albums?
DA: Well, I think that each album I do I feel is very unique and original and different from the other one and so I have that same feeling with Union Road as well. This one certainly has a huge variety of different songs in it, different emotions, different experiences. For instance, "Your Mama Is Gone" is about adultery, and I've never written about that before on any other albums that I've done. "Corner of Nowhere" is a very interesting song about just in the middle of nowhere, but for me it's symbolic of reincarnation, if you believe that. I guess before you're born you're sort of in the middle of nowhere, so the songs all have very, very different stories and I think that's how it stands out from the past albums. Plus the Americana in it because I love acoustic instruments such as dulcimer and mandolin.
MR: Would you say that this is your most personal album?
DA: I would say so. I did another one called Stories that had a lot of personal songs in it but I would say that this one certainly would be the most personal album, yes.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
DA: I would say just follow your heart. Absolutely follow your heart. I remember when I was young, my parents absolutely had no interest in me being a musician and I had to take all of these classes in school and college and so on and my heart just wasn't it in except for the music classes I took in college. I kind of became the black sheep of the family but I followed my heart and I stuck with it and it paid off. It paid off certainly in dividends of the happiness that I feel inside for sure, and that's what true success is.
MR: So that's kind of your advice for new artists. Follow Your heart.
DA: Follow your heart, very simply. Follow your heart. There's no one like you. Just be you.
MR: Nice. What are your thoughts when you're looking at what's going on in music these days?
DA: I totally love it. Each generation that's born into this planet has its own energy and expression and that's how the music comes out. It's that energy, that expression from each of those generations of artists that are emerging now and I think it's absolutely beautiful. I totally love it.
MR: Beautiful. Are you going to be on tour in support of this record?
DA: Well I'm not doing a big tour, but I am doing appearances here and there. Certainly. I have a lot of projects that I'm doing, so I'm the studio quite a bit, so it's a little difficult to get away.
MR: Yeah, I'm imagining there are like two or three albums that still haven't come out yet.
DA: Yeah, two or three hundred is about right. We'll be doing other projects as well so that keeps me in the studio. It's such a huge blessing, I now have this amazing engineer, so I don't have to angst over pro-tools and everything all the time, I get to be the artist, which is so lovely.
MR: Ooh, nice. And by the way, who joined you on this album, as far as the instruments?
DA: Oh, gosh, some pretty great musicians. Well first of all Mader who is a film composer, produced the album with me. He did a couple of films for Ang Lee that he composed music for, and Mader played guitar as well and some mandolin and keyboards, he's quite good at that. Then Chad Watson on bass and Eric Rigler who played all the Uilleann pipes and so on in Titanic, he played penny whistle on "Little Cup Of Coffee." And M.B. Gordy who does a lot of session work did all sorts of incredible percussion work on this, especially on "Crossing The Water." We had very interesting things like a devil chaser and weird effects that M.B. played, and big taiko drums. We went to a studio in Los Angeles. Bruce Watson on guitar, who's played with Christina Aguilara, a lot of fine musicians.
MR: Nice. Well I guess we should wrap it up here, because I feel guilty; I feel like we're stopping you from creating two or three more songs right now.
DA: Oh Mike, it's a joy to speak with you. I'm really enjoying this, thank you.
MR: I appreciate it. Thank you very much for your time and all the best with your new album Union Road, and all the best, Diane.
DA: Thank you!
1. Little Cup of Coffee
2. When I Fall
3. Crossing the Water
4. Corner of Nowhere
5. Just Kicking Around
6. Beautiful Bones
7. Lost in You
8. Your Mama Is Gone
9. Union Road
10. We Can Live Forever
11. Dulcimer Suite
And here's a HuffPost exclusive track, "Crossing The Water," from Diane Arkenstone's new album, Union Road...
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne