Raised in Pennsylvania surrounded by Amish farms and homeschooled by a Peruvian mother and Danish father, singer-songwriter Madi Diaz didn't know what to expect when she moved to Los Angeles in 2012. “I just kind of needed to scare the shit out of myself.”
After dropping out of Berklee College of Music, Diaz relocated to Nashville in 2010 to pursue a songwriting career. On the strength of her acclaimed EP, 2009's Ten Gun Salute, she landed placements in television series like Pretty Little Liars and Drop Dead Diva and tours with The Civil Wars and Landon Pigg. Then her record label, tinyOGRE Entertainment, folded just two months before the release date of her debut LP, Plastic Moon.
Cut loose and needing change from a “too comfortable and cozy” Nashville, Diaz moved to L.A. on a whim. After self-releasing Plastic Moon in January, she packed up and drove across the country for five days.
“I basically signed a lease while on tour. I said, 'Here's a check, I'll be out here in a couple months,' and gave it to my friend.” Then, Diaz left to tour again and released her fan-funded sophomore album, We Threw Our Hearts in the Fire, in October 2012. “I got back here and kind of collapsed in a puddle.”
That “puddle” was a mix of exhaustion from spending nine straight months on the road (“I probably crossed the country seven or eight times”), losing the security of a record deal, and one big breakup, all of which inspired her forthcoming album, Phantom, due this September on Nettwerk Records.
“Obviously it's a breakup record,” says Diaz. “But it's about the bigger moments. It's figuring out why those feelings became so big and so real and then dissipated and became these half-feelings that now I’m haunted by.”
For a record that has the potential to be uber depressing, it's surprisingly upbeat. “I love sad songs that pour you into a puddle…but I want to survive the next year or two of touring,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t want to lose my power.”
Her latest single, “Stay Together,” is about reaching out your hand and someone being there on the other side. “It's a great big trust fall,” she says. Stripped-down “Wide” is about the willingness to pull forward, even if there's no strength to draw from, and knowing that things will fall into place. The pulsating track “Dancing in the Dark” is, as Diaz puts it, “totally just a make out song.”
So, it's a get-up-and-dance and make out type of breakup record. The kind that has Southern California sunshine written all over it.
Catch Madi Diaz Saturday, July 12 at KCRW's Chinatown Summer Nights.