IRENE DIAZ: THE SECRET LEADER
Irene Diaz writes love songs. She keeps them bare, feelings accompanied by just piano or guitar or ukulele. Her song “Crazy Love” makes you want to roll around on the beach without shoes on. We strolled with Irene and her manager Carolyn through the Arboretum in Arcadia. Passing under the shadows of leafy trees in Africa, we ran through torrential sprinklers, only to find ourselves in Australia, then Mexico, and suddenly in a Shakespeare-plant-themed garden surrounded by female peacocks with fuzzy mohawks. That’s when we found the spaghetti monster in a tree. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
I asked RT of RT N The 44s who were some people that he liked and he said you. Did you grow up here?
I grew up in Hermon—no one really knows it so I say I grew up in Highland Park. Do you know where the Monterey Hills are? It’s this small valley and I grew up there almost all my life.
Look—a little parrot!
I had a small parrot. Really tiny. She got into a mode of laying so many eggs and I couldn’t take care of her. I didn’t like to keep her in a cage. They’re not fertilized. It’s kind of like her period.
Mmmhmm. I love nature. Have you gone to Debs Park? One time me and Carolyn were walking up in the trails and this big snake popped out of nowhere. It was a python! It must have been someone’s pet and I assume they just unleashed it.
I would have crapped myself.
I grabbed on to Carolyn and said, ‘Oh my God!’ You know the lake up top, Peanut Lake? People set their turtles free there all the time. It’s full of turtles.
Are we lost? Weren’t we in Australia a minute ago?
I think we’re in Africa now. Australia was cool. It had that one really nice green tree. I’ve never seen this kind of tree before. It’s like a Christmas tree covered in fake snow. And this plant looks like asparagus.
Did you grow up playing music?
When I was probably 4 years old, my aunts had taken us to Knott’s Berry Farm and I guess I was singing by the fountain and I got lost and they found me all crying—but I guess I’ve been singing since then. Ha. My parents signed me up for piano lessons when I was 7. I took piano lessons until I was 15 and right when I stopped piano I started playing guitar. My dad plays guitar. I wanted to learn when I was in high school. A lot of the guys were playing guitar and I wanted to play too. I remember learning ‘Everlong’ by the Foo Fighters. Singing, I never took lessons. I would sing over Damien Rice and Ella Fitzgerald and it developed over time.
When did you start performing?
That’s taken me a long time. When I was younger I went to church and performed here and there. Probably three years ago, I started playing live and I’ve been doing it since. I opened for Las Cafeteras at the M Bar in Boyle Heights in late 2011 and then I started playing in the Boyle Heights scene and East L.A. There’s a big scene coming out of there. There’s a lot of somewhat politically driven or activist bands. After playing with Las Cafeteras, I met this guy named Olmeca and I played on his song ‘Pieces of Me’ and I was inspired to be more involved with other musician-activists. There’s a lot going on in the world and musicians should be involved. I want to find a balance of doing something to help change and making my art. My songs are love songs. So I hope they help change people’s opinion about love or make people fall in love and then make a better world.
Do you have a lot of experience in the love department?
I guess I’m pretty passionate. But from what I see in my friends and in movies.
Do you picture the movie that might accompany the song when you write?
Not necessarily a specific movie, but there was a time when I was watching a lot of noir films. There’s one called In A Lonely Place and another called Criss-Cross that I really like. I just like the drama.
Do you believe in love?
Are you in love right now?
For how long have you been in love currently?
Why are you looking at Carolyn right now and giggling?
Because we’re together.
My gosh, this is too cute right now.
Carolyn: It was our anniversary in August.
So I can’t ask you anything about it since she’s here. You work together and are in love together?
Irene: It’s a balance we’ve been working on. But it’s been really good. It’s very inspiring, song inspiring and life inspiring.
How did you know you were in love?
With us it was pretty cosmic. We met at Trader Joes.
Oh, a hotbed of cosmic activity.
Yeah, I know. It happened really fast. She started working and then two days later we got together.
The Trader Joe’s love connection—Does that happen often?
I think it does.
Carolyn: There’s a lot of backstory in our lives that brought us to these moments, though. Where I was at, and something I felt like a pull to go there. I moved around a lot and something was calling me back to Los Angeles. It was this feeling that I got when I saw her. I felt like I had met her before. And I asked her, ‘Have we met?’
Irene: I felt like I had met her before too. I thought she was part of this bicycle group called Ovarian Psycos, but she’s not. It’s a girl gang on bicycles. They have these masks with ovaries or a clit or labia on it, I can’t remember.
Should everyone try to be in love?
I really think that when it happens it happens, but I think people should learn to be in love with themselves for a time. I have and I try to love myself. At times, as an artist, you can think, I’m not good enough, and you see all these advertisements everywhere, and you’re worried about some standard you think you need to live up to. A few weeks back, I was telling myself I have my own story, I don’t need to try to be like anyone else.
What’s your story?
This! My story is how I’m getting to what I really want to do, which is sharing my music, and the story is in process of telling itself.
Have you ever been in a gang fight?
You said you liked her when you thought she was in a gang!
No, I haven’t. I would get clobbered.
But you could come at them from below.
Hit their stomachs? Or their ankles?
Or their groin.
Oh my goodness.—Oh look at this tree. That looks like the spaghetti monster.
What’s the spaghetti monster?
Have you heard of it? There’s a religion about the spaghetti monster. This guy made it up, I forgot why. You have to dress up as pirates when you get together as a group or something. The spaghetti monster is up in the sky…
And people believe this?
I don’t know if it’s mocking religion or what, but it’s just like this is my religion and I believe in the spaghetti monster.
You’re the leader of the spaghetti monster religion, aren’t you?
I’m the secret leader.
Are you religious?
I used to be but I don’t know what I believe anymore.
Does that ever make you feel lost?
I think it’s nice when people believe in things. It gives people a calmness, but I’m pretty happy just being. I try to just be. I think the world has a lot of magic—not magic in the sense of card tricks. I think the world is a magical place. I think the people that come into your life, it’s pretty magical. Like when you really want something and you go out and you put your energy into it and things just fall into place. I think there is something taking care of me and everyone. I just don’t know what it is.
It’s probably the spaghetti monster.
It could be. This might sound weird but I think it takes faith not to believe in something. To just be like, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s scary in itself. The thing is, somebody believing and having faith in something, I think it’s the same thing.
When did you write ‘Crazy Love?’ I love it.
I wrote it in the beginning of last year. I really like it too. We performed it at two weddings as the bride walked down the aisle. I want that song to be the modern wedding march.
Is it important to be identified as a Latina?
I think it’s important. Honestly I don’t see a lot of people that look like me doing the type of music I want to do. I’ve gotten a lot of love from the Latin side and that’s great. For myself, yes, but my music is universal. I sing songs about relationships and love and those are universal things. But personally I am Latina, I am Mexican-American, born and raised in L.A. My grandma came here in the 50s. All of her family stayed in Mexico City. She came here with my grandpa and my mom was born. I don’t know Spanish, which is something that I think a lot of third generation Mexican-Americans experience. But some of the culture is still here. We eat tamales at Christmas.
What role does your sexuality play in your identity?
I don’t think I’m very ‘out’ about it. I love Carolyn. It’s our relationship. It’s great but I don’t think people should care. It shouldn’t be a big deal. You love somebody, you love them. To be like, ‘Oh, I’m gay—am I different?’—No. I don’t even identify as ‘gay.’ I’m in love. And I love a woman. The world is changing towards understanding that way. Some people can still be scary about it. But love is a beautiful thing. Being nice to someone is also good. People have their opinions. Why can’t people just be happy?
IRENE DIAZ WITH GABY MORENO AND DAVID GARZA ON SAT., DEC. 7, AT THE TROUBADOUR, 9009 SANTA MONICA BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $15 / ALL AGES. TROUBADOUR.COM. FOR SHOW LISTINGS AND MORE VISIT IRENEDIAZMUSIC.COM.