Born and raised in Los Angeles, Diva is a solo ambient-pop musician & vocalist, a member of improv music group Angels of Aumsphere, and previously a member of LA-based bands Pocahaunted and BlackBlack. Diva comes from a musical family – she formed BlackBlack with sister Lola, her father Kevin Haskins was the drummer of British rock group Bauhaus, and her husband is producer Matthew McQueen, known as Matthewdavid. Her deep interest in the occult has led to work as a meditation leader, in addition to being a new mother and releasing an upcoming third record Divinity in Thee on Stones Throw.
Joe McKee is a London-born singer-songwriter and composer. He was raised in Western Australia, where he began writing music and teaching himself guitar. In 2003, McKee formed the band Snowman which released three albums through Dot Dash Recordings. At 23, McKee relocated to London where he began writing songs for his debut solo album, Burning Boy. Today, Joe lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Adarsha Benjamin, and their daughter, Juniper Lucy Lee. Listen to Burning Boy here.
DIVA is the quintessential avant-pop composer. Her songs and ambient soundscapes could only exist at this precise juncture in history. A time where the tipping point of limitless information has well and truly spilled over and saturated pop-culture. Her home recorded, hauntological-pop music playfully pilfers from the forgotten (yet newly discovered) musical archives and reframes them through some pixelated laptop lens. Her music inhabits a truly postmodern housing: It’s a subtle commentary on pop music itself, whilst also being something entirely of (and unto) itself.
Her music, along with her guided meditation experiences, are heavily informed by her studies in occult knowledge, as well as her internal travels to an “other” place, a personal spiritual realm, which she has visited (in some form or another) since she was a child. All of this made for a fascinating conversation about her creative process and her creative community in LA
I met up with DIVA in her living room (which also serves as her creative headquarters). I had brought my 14 month old daughter along for a playdate with Diva’s 9 month old. They provided a healthy dose of ambient chaos throughout our conversation.
Joe McKee: You’ve been working on a new album. How’s it coming along?
Diva Dompe: I have a record that I’ve been in the process of making for a few years. It was pretty much already done when I became pregnant. Then it really slowed down. But now, finally, I’m going to hand it in to my record label. We’ve set a timeline for the release, It’ll probably come out in the summer of 2015.
JM: Great, does it have a name?
DD: It’s called Divinity In Thee. It’s coming out on Stones Throw. Having it sit there for so long means that it’s gone some places that perhaps it wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t had that additional time to sit on it. So I’m kind of glad.
JM: Who produced the record?
DD: I produced it myself. Most of the songs were recorded as demos on my 8-track cassette recorder, then I’d bounce those tracks onto the computer and work on them from there.
JM: So are those demos still the framework of the recordings? Are they still audible in the mix?
DD: I think all the songs have some of the original recordings in tact. But I chose to re-record instruments in a lot of instances, or layer on top of them. Except for the title track, which was written entirely in the computer. It was a similar process on my last record, but I wasn’t happy with the balance between the original lo-fi demos and the final more digital pieces. I’m much happier with that balance on this record. I’ve also gotten a lot more comfortable producing on the computer and using Ableton.
JM: Did you use Ableton on the previous record or was this your first time?
DD: Um… I don’t think so. I think I used Pro Tools for that one.
JM: Was that a full length album?
DD: Yeah, that was my second solo record, Moon Moods.
JM: Right, that had the song “Inverted Image” on it right?
“There is an open-mindedness
to the present underground musical culture
that gives the freedom for diversity.”
Philosophical idea proposed by Jacques Derrida in 1993 that suggests the present only exists with respect to the past. Furthermore, at the “end of history,” when there is no more proactive creation, society will turn back to its old ideas or aesthetics. By intellectually realigning itself toward the “ghost” or “spectre” of the past – neither being nor non-being – society will merely exist in an endless loop.
British musician Desmond Pierce, who has been prolifically recording lo-fi tracks on his PC for the past decade as Crow 44. Now, recently discovered via internet by James Pants, a proper Crow 44 EP is being released by Stone’s Throw Records containing 25 “favorite” tracks.
JM: I like that song, It reminds me of Broadcast or of some ‘lost’ outsider pop music from a bygone era… What about that as a thought? There seems to be a lot going on at the moment that is reminiscent or in communication with the past, while putting a playful spin on it. Jacques Derrida’s concept of ‘hauntology’ has been applied to pop music that excavates the archives via YouTube, Soundcloud and other online resources. The idea is that, as artists, we’re ‘haunted’ by this newly discovered musical past which inevitably seeps into our own work. Particularly now that we are able to access the endless vaults of previously ‘lost’ music. Stones Throw releasing that Crow 44 record is a good example. How do you think this surge in reissue culture has contributed to a new movement, which I see your work kind of fits into?
DD: Well, I guess you’re just saying music that’s influenced by the past…
JM: Yes, but particularly by music that was inaccessible or just plain unavailable before… and often the more ‘flawed’ recordings or ‘human’ performances which are now being embraced and celebrated – whereas before, upon original release, these records were possibly ignored, or even derided – due to these attributes. This is a new phenomenon.
DD: Well I guess its easier to relate to those artists now because home recording is so easy for an artist to do. It’s such a part of our creative culture now and that’s kind of what these guys were doing back then. So, in that sense, we’re doing the same thing as these newly discovered artists, that were essentially doing DIY music back then… so that’s relatable.
JM: Yeah, there’s a parallel there.
DD: And even though they’re old recordings we’re only discovering them now, so really they’re new discoveries, so there’s this novelty to it. But there is a mystery surrounding their work too. It’s easier to build a fantasy around reissued music.
JM: There’s an instant nostalgia there which, in reality, takes years to achieve.
DD: Yeah, but you also have the plus of it being a brand new discovery.
JM: Are there some contemporaries, particularly in Los Angeles, that you share a community with or who you relate to musically?
DD: I feel so grateful for my community in Los Angeles. Musically as well as philosophically and spiritually. Musically, I have many friends I respect and am inspired by. My music doesn’t necessarily sound like theirs, but it doesn’t need to. There is an open-mindedness to the present underground musical culture that gives the freedom for that diversity.
Specifically, I’d first mention my creative relationship with my husband Matthew (he goes by Matthewdavid musically). We inspire each other a great deal. He has helped me learn a lot technically, as far as the tricks of Ableton goes, and we also explore so much music together, lately especially obscure new age records and spiritual jazz. I have gotten into recording guided meditations the past few years, and the first ones I recorded were as a birthday present to him.