When Diane Cluck started playing music, she never imagined where it might go. “I didn’t ever think about doing it as a job, or that it would even go outside of where I lived,” Cluck says. “It was really just what I was doing in the moment, my focus was totally on the people I was around and the music I was making…I guess I wasn’t one of those kids with a dream of being on a record label. It just didn’t occur to me, I was just enjoying making songs.” Over the last 12 years, the enigmatic songwriter has built up a following of devoted fans. A following that continued to grow, even as her albums and tours became less frequent. Last year she quit her day job in New York City, moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, and became a full-time musician for the first time in her life. “Having got so much support from people over the years, I think it kind of cracked me open. . . in a good way.”
Starting her career within New York’s early 2000s Antifolk scene, she developed her style alongside such artists as Regina Spektor, Kimya Dawson, TV on the Radio and Jeffrey Lewis. Her early albums were an eclectic mix of singer-songwriter storytelling, tape collage, and noisy experimentation, but it was when her work got pared down to just her and her guitar that she began to build a larger fan base.
In 2004, her album Oh Vanille/Ova Nil became a critical success and spread around indie folk circles with cult-like enthusiasm. Her follow-up, Countless Times, was released on Voodoo Eros, a label that was co-owned at the time by CocoRosie’s Bianca Cassady. Combining uncommon harmonies with unique subject matter, these albums were almost painfully intimate experiences. “I’ve actually read some criticism of things that I’ve written saying that it’s myopic, or like it’s so intense, it’s so right there. And I can imagine that for some people that closeness is too much,” Cluck says.
One of factors that makes her work so close, and makes it stand out among the wealth of singer-songwriters out there, is how unashamed she is. With an honesty that borders on fearless, she presents a perspective that is clearly different than most songwriters. Perhaps most strikingly, she often writes about the human body in a way that is completely stripped of artifice. “When I’m writing I’m opening up the deepest parts of myself that don’t come out in regular social life, or the parts I find hard to bring out in regular social life,” Cluck says. Whether it’s sunburns or the way it feels after pooping in the morning, her writing completely removes the sexualized exterior that is so commonly present in song.
“I think that the aspects of sexuality which are really commercialized are very surface-y. And they’re very polite, in a way that it’s the body, but really cleaned up and it’s just the most basic level of it. And it does feel important to me to get in there and sort of show more about what we are and what’s happening. Because I know that I’m not alone in these feelings of what connects us to our bodies and to the earth and to each other. I suppose it’s one of my gifts to have an insight into how these things connect and that they’re really not taboo. They’re really just who we are.”
At a time when the energy around Oh Vanille/Ova Nil and Countless Times was running high and fans were wondering when the next album would come, Cluck seemingly dropped off the scene, leaving New York City for rural Georgia. “In retrospect, I don’t think I really realized that I had a lot of momentum going at that time. I sort of saw it a couple years after that and I realized it, but at the time I was having a really rough time living in New York,” Cluck says. While her fans might have been confused by the move, she used it as a “reset time,” switching her focus to “gardening and to learning about plants and just really having a quiet life for a couple of years.”
Last year, having not released a full-length album in six years, Cluck started a project called Song-of-the-Week, a subscription-based service where she would write and record a new song, or the beginnings of a song, every week for six months. Subscribers could choose what level of subscription they wanted, in a manner of financial support similar to Kickstarter fundraising projects, or Community Based Agriculture farm shares. After getting started, it quickly became apparent that it was not going to work exactly as planned. “I thought it would just be kind of sketches that I’d just be tossing out. And when I started recording I realized that that wouldn’t be satisfying to me. I actually wanted to spend more time sort of completing the songs from the writing aspect and also enjoying the recording process,” Cluck says.
With this change came an adjusted time frame, as well. “It wasn’t just about staying home and writing songs. There started to become offers for touring and once I had some new songs, it was so exciting to play them that of course I wanted to go out and start playing them. It’s become more of a Song-of-the-Month and I’m okay with that. I’m just a little bit bashful about that because I titled it Song-of-the-Week and I can’t really get away from that. But people have been really understanding and appreciative,” Cluck says. The project still promises 24 songs, but without a fixed idea of when, or at what speed, the songs will come.
The ongoing project, which people can subscribe to at any time, is producing songs that are arguably among Cluck’s best recorded work. With each song having a uniquely different style and arrangement, they go into some territory most fans of her work haven’t heard. Perhaps showing that she isn’t done experimenting, but that her experimentations have just become more accessible, more finely tuned.
With a new album due out on Tin Angel Records in the next few months, a number of tours in the works, and 16 more Song-of-the-Week songs to go, this should prove to be a good year for Diane Cluck and her fans. While her years of do-it-yourself promotion have served her well, she’s starting to pursue a more traditionally organized approach to working as a musician. “I feel really open to continuing to do it on my own terms, but also doing it as my work.”