Singer/songwriter Irene Diaz is often described as a modern torch singer in the making, spilling rich, dark puddles of lovesick emotion with every note. Her lyrics are from the Nina Simone school of songwriting–words that demand deep contemplation, preferably over Jameson and a cigarette at 3 a.m. "Torch singers are very dramatic," she says. "My writing and performances can be very dramatic as well."
To enhance the drama of her songs, the LA-based Diaz's 2013 debut EP, I Love You Madly, begins with the sound of a spinning film reel before segueing into "Crazy Love," a sparse ukulele ballad steeped in her sultry, haunting vocals. From there, the theme of unrequited love and destructive relationships takes on various forms, from a clanging piano interlude to an acoustic lullaby to the dark notes of a defiant ballad. No matter what she's singing, each track weaves into the other until the sound of a halting film reel signals the end of the EP. "I wanted to make it something that people can listen to all the way," Diaz says.
Though she seems as much at home in the recording studio as she is onstage at such venues as the Constellation Room (where she's performing tomorrow night), Diaz used to be far less certain about her path in life. She ventured to different colleges in search of a career or a passion, anything to give her some sort of drive. "I was very confused about what I wanted to do," Diaz says. But one of the few constants in her life was a need to pick up an instrument and plunk out a song. "It was a good place for me to be in front of the piano with a guitar, coming up with melodies," she says.
Diaz left college behind at 23 in favor of pursuing music full-time. Soon, she met her girlfriend, Carolyn Cardoza, who worked at Virgin Records at the time. "With her help, she moved things along, even with the EP," Diaz says. After a series of producers fell through, Cardoza encouraged Diaz to do it on her own, and she has been riding the wave of emerging success since.
In 2012, Diaz had built a big enough fan base from her local gigs to put together a crowdsourcing campaign through Kickstarter that garnered $10,000. The money went toward various recording projects, including last year's EP. The extra support not only helped her to produce more material, but it also validated her struggle as an indie artist. "I've heard different stories from different artists signing 360 deals and losing control," Diaz says. "Sometimes their music doesn't get put out. My songs are my babies; I wouldn't want anybody to own them."
Diaz now has a full-length album in sight. "A lot of the songs that I play live, they're going to be on it," she says. Though she'd like to make her album follow the concept of last year's EP, the timetable isn't an immediate one, as I Love You Madly continues to work its magic.
"What's really cool is that people have actually used 'Crazy Love' in their weddings!" she says. The song is listed by website Brides.com among the top 10 choices for the first dance. Diaz proves that sometimes the best torch songs can bolster our faith in love instead of burning it to the ground.