Breaking Out: Alela Diane

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Alela Diane, shot for SPIN by Francois Coquerel
WRITTEN BY
David Marchese

When singer-songwriter Alela ?Diane decided to enlist veteran alt-rock producer Scott Litt to work on her new album, Alela Diane & Wild Divine (Rough Trade), she was duly impressed by his credits -- which include R.E.M. and Nirvana -- but it wasn't his professional pedigree that most interested her. "My dad produced my first two records," says the native of Nevada City, California (also the hometown of Joanna Newsom, a high school acquaintance). "He did a great job, but we needed some outside help. Half the time he and I didn't know what we were doing!"

They did pretty well, considering. Gossamer and gorgeous, 2004's self-released The ?Pirate's Gospel (early copies of which Diane, 28, packaged by hand and adorned with lace) and 2009's To Be Still are humble scrapbooks of simple acoustic guitar, earthy melodies, and plainspoken lyrics of love and family, sung in ?Diane's warm, honey-drenched warble.

The deeply introspective Wild Divine is her first ?recording with a full-time band. As such, the sparkling yet bittersweet "Suzanne," about her mother's struggle with cancer ("My mom was like, 'When are you going to stop writing about me?'?"), and the gently loping "To ?Begin," written after a hypnosis session, ?exude the worn-in, boot-cut charm of classic '70s West Coast country rock. She spent last month airing those new songs on a headlining U.S. tour. Next month the current Portland resident travels the European festival circuit (including a stop in France, where her debut went gold). Then she's back for another American tour in the fall.

It's a busy schedule, but family is around ?to lean on. Dad Tom Menig, a former dental ?technician who moonlights in a Grateful ?Dead tribute act, and hubby Tom Bevitori both play guitar in her band -- which leads ?to certain small frustrations. (Not of the ?romantic variety, assures the singer.) "My ?dad asks a million questions when we tour," says Diane, laughing. "?'Where are we going? What are we doing next? Now what?' We've gotten him to the stage where he asks my manager those things instead of me, because I'm like, 'Dude, I've told you all I know!'?"

WATCH: Alela Diane, "The Wind (Live at Housing Works)"
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