Dianas’ second album ‘Baby Baby’ – the Melbourne trio’s first full-length in five long years – should have been a celebration. Instead, when it was finally released last May, it almost felt like the band were quietly sliding it out from under closed doors as cities around the world grappled with the coronavirus and millions adjusted to isolated, homebound existences.
Its follow-up ‘Little Glimmer’, however, was the result of a unique opportunity: Flash Forward, a City Of Melbourne initiative pairing musical and visual artists together, commissioned Dianas to record new music as one of 40 participating bands. It was an offer too good to pass up – even if the band themselves weren’t necessarily fully prepared at first.
“We, in all honesty, probably wouldn’t have released an album so soon after the last one under the usual circumstances,” says Caitlin Moloney, who shares vocal, guitar and bass duties with bandmate Nathalie Pavlovic.
“Left to our own devices, we’re definitely not normally as productive as this track record might make us out to be. Having spent the last year in and out of lockdown, though, we definitely found ourselves writing more. We had maybe half of a record written when the opportunity arose.”
The rest of Dianas’ third album, ‘Little Glimmer’, was put together in the weeks leading up to Flash Forward’s deadline – ostensibly the equivalent of finishing your homework on the bus to school. Was this pressure-cooker environment at all beneficial to Dianas’ creative process – especially since it was such a contrast to their standard operating procedure? “I think we handled it really well,” offers Pavlovic.
“We had to plan basically down to day by day, hour by hour. We had a whiteboard tracking all of the parts, dividing up when we’d work on which part for which song. It was so different to the way we’re used to writing songs – we’d normally just be jamming ideas out until we found something that works. I really enjoyed the challenge that the time constraints presented to us as a band. There’s still the same time and effort we’d normally put into an album – this time around, it just happened to be a little more condensed.”
“While we steered pretty clear of directly referencing anything about the lockdown itself, there was still this push and pull at play that we wanted to draw upon”
‘Little Glimmer’ is not a mirror image of its predecessor, but like ‘Baby Baby’, it drives forward on a motorik beat and steely basslines, tender vocals contrasting with piercing and angular guitars. How do Dianas pursue growth while retaining the defining traits of their sound?
“Every change we’ve made along the way has been a change we’ve followed instinctively,” says Moloney. “We want what we do to come naturally, so we never approach our sound very structurally. There’s no game plan where it’s like, ‘this is going to be our punk-rock record’ or ‘this is going to be our dream-pop record’. About as much plan as we have is that we try not to repeat ourselves too much – to move on, in some way, from what we’ve done before; not saying and playing the same things.”
Pavlovic agrees. “We definitely make a point of not overthinking things – and that was especially the case on this record. For myself, I feel like I kept it a little more simple than I have in the past. If we sense something happening, our first notion is to just go with it.”
Chasing those instincts is what led to opening track ‘Ice Queen’, which is centered around the tinkering of a piano and the drone of an e-bowed electric guitar, creating a spacey ambience largely removed from the band’s usual robust power-trio output.
This, as it turns out, was a stylistic leap that even the album’s producer, James Cecil, wasn’t entirely certain about.
“He strongly questioned putting it first,” laughs Moloney. “He was like, ‘People have no attention span! No-one is gonna get through this and listen to the rest of the album!’ We knew it didn’t sound like the rest of the album, but in our minds that’s just where it felt like it belonged. We tried putting it elsewhere and it never felt like it worked. Besides, if you don’t like it you can just skip to the next song and get your usual Dianas sound there.”
Moloney and Pavlovic share a laugh. “It still makes sense to me,” Pavlovic continues. “It was a big step putting it first, but I think it does set a certain tone quite well because of how different it sounds. There are other essences of that song throughout the rest of the album – maybe not in as extreme a form, but it’s certainly still there.”
“Even through this period of change and moving on, there was still hope. That little twinkle, sometimes, can be just what you need to get you through”
‘Little Glimmer’s guitars spark with electricity and Anetta Nevin’s drums rumble and groove, but these songs are more emotive and vulnerable than meets the eye. ‘For Us’ details a toxic on-again off-again relationship that neither party can move on from: “There’s a part of me that hoping / You’re as lonely and bored as me”, it confesses within its final verse. Recent single ‘One and Only’, elsewhere, unravels into a stark reflection on aging and motherhood: “I’ve always heard / There comes a time / When my body will betray me / And start aching for a child.”
Writing during Melbourne’s half-dozen lockdowns had an inevitable impact on Dianas, Pavlovic acknowledges. That said, “I think what’s been happening recently also coincided with us moving into a new stage of our lives,” she adds. “There’s a lot of thoughts and feelings about getting older, but there’s also a lot of reflecting on the past. While we steered pretty clear of directly referencing anything about the lockdown itself, there was still this push and pull at play that we wanted to draw upon. There’s lots of feelings surrounding it, inevitably.”
“There’s a few songs, to me, that have a real sense of feeling stuck,” adds Moloney. “There’s also specific songs about missing people that you can’t see. The album moves through a lot of different stages emotionally – it’s an album about changing and moving on. We always write lyrics that are very internally facing, but I think it especially had to be the case here.”
Dianas ultimately hope that what they’re singing about – from the ticking biological clock to self-perception – is something those that listen to ‘Little Glimmer’ can connect with on an empathetic level. “I hope people can see our growth as a band, too,” adds Pavlovic. “We’ve been a band for quite a while, and it’s cool to see where we’ve gotten to by now from where we started out – teaching ourselves instruments and getting by on some crappy demos. We’re really proud of this album.”
One of the stronger examples of where Dianas are circa 2021 is within the title track ‘Little Glimmer’ itself. From its picked out bass-line to its ethereal vocals, the song reflects both the trio’s collective muscle as well as their use of sonic texturing to create that titular glimmer. “The song came first, before we knew what we were going to call the album,” Pavlovic explains.
“We wanted to reflect on the fact that, even through this period of change and moving on, there was still hope. That little twinkle, sometimes, can be just what you need to get you through.” NME mentions in passing that the title feels reminiscent of a line from the Leonard Cohen song ‘Anthem’: “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”
“That’s beautiful,” says Pavlovic. “I think we can work with that.”
Dianas’ ‘Little Glimmer’ is out November 26 via Heavy Machinery/Blossom Rot