Her songs may be breezy and soulful, recalling such classic '70s singer-songwriters as Carole King and Laura Nyro, but Diane Birch almost turned into a nihilistic goth-punk. Her father was a conservative pastor, hauling his family to places like Zimbabwe, South Africa and Australia for missionary work, and Diane had no choice but to stage a teenage rebellion.
"I'd waltz into his church with head-to-toe black velvet and rosaries, and I'd come swishing in with my cape," recalls the singer and pianist, 27, by phone from her Brooklyn home. "Basically, I sort of defied it."
In addition to the Sisters of Mercy and Joy Division songs that fueled her rebellion, Birch picked up classic pop in her background, which she indulged when she moved to Los Angeles, finding work as a pianist at the Beverly Hills Hotel and other classy joints. Soon she was posting her pop songs on MySpace, which led to kind words from a manager and other music-business types overseas. So she moved. "All these publishers in England were, like, 'Oh, my God, this is great!' I was, like, 'Really? This doesn't sound too old-fashioned?' " she recalls. "I just kind of let myself run wild and wrote all those songs."
Birch signed a deal with S-Curve Records, moved to New York and made last year's "Bible Belt," which contains almost no angst whatsoever, drawing a line in piano-based pop from Elton John to Norah Jones. Birch indulges her childhood rebellion in certain lyrics, such as the anti-authority "Don't Wait Up" and the devil's-got-my-baby "Choo Choo." But mostly she saves her goth tendencies for a more recent EP, "The Velveteen Age," which includes Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy and Echo & The Bunnymen covers.
"I'm not here rebelling anymore. I've kind of done that. I have nothing to rebel against," says Birch, who promises her next album will focus more on spontaneous, big-sounding dance music. "They [my parents] now have this incredible sort of respect for my career. I go home and they're blasting it ['Bible Belt']. I'm, like, 'Could you guys not play my music?' I think they got off pretty easy, to be honest."