Massachusetts songwriter and producer Casey Dienel has been releasing music under her own name and as White Hinterland for nearly a decade, but her new album Baby is the first where she’s revealed the full power of her singing voice. Dienel’s new music falls somewhere in the space between arty indie and immediately catchy, emotionally expressive chart pop — imagine a Mariah Carey record produced by the guys in Animal Collective, and you’re on the right track. BuzzFeed caught up with Dienel just before she headed out on tour to talk about how she found the confidence to make the biggest, boldest album of her career.
The way you sing has changed a lot since you released your last album in 2010. Do you feel like you’re less inhibited as a vocalist now?
Casey Dienel: Absolutely, and part of it is that I’m a lot more connected to my body than I was when I was younger. I started singing young but I stopped because I was was so loud that people would be like “Shut up, Casey!” I shut that voice off, and this thin, wispy, pretty voice appeared, and that was how I sang for 10 years. I was really afraid of karaoke for a long time, which is weird and totally inexplicable. So I decided to do karaoke and I did some Beyoncé, and I got my big voice back out, and I was like, “Oh shit, this feels really good!” I think I had a tequila sunrise or something and thought, Well, if you’re going to sing “Upgrade U,” go for it. I nailed it!
A thing I love about singing is that it’s so physical. I can feel it in my fingertips and in my toes when I’m singing, if I’m doing it right. It’s the best feeling, it’s like working out, or running a long distance. If something in my throat feels really cool, like on “Baby,” if I want to wail, I choose that. When I’m singing I’m very rarely thinking, and that’s part of what I love about it because outside of music, I think a lot and I have a lot of anxiety.
Have you always known you could pull out that big voice?
CD: I am confident, and I used to not be. Being a teenager is so rough for everyone, and everyone goes through hell when their pituitary gland is activating. For me, I was bullied, I moved to school kinda late and I stood out when I all wanted to do in middle school and high school was disappear. Which is weird, because as a kid I was such a ham. Then I hit my mid-twenties, and I’m still trying to disappear. You can’t go on stage and want to disappear; that’s really weird and it’s antisocial to people who just paid $15 to come see you. Something snapped, and I had to go back to square one, which was, I’m kinda bossy, and I’m a pain in the ass, and I’m mouthy and that’s just the way it is. It makes it a lot easier to sing in front of people too, because I’m not semi-apologizing for it musically.
Why was it important for you to be the producer on this record?
CD: The big goal was that I really wanted to do as much as possible on the engineering side, and that was really tricky because I had to learn how to condense 10 years of production internship into two years. That required a lot of work and study. I just wanted to capture what it’s like when I’m playing alone for my own pleasure, and not clever or deep in any way, and singing and throwing my voice around in a really different way than I have on record. I think it’s really common for a lot of artists [to feel less self-conscious] when no one else is in the room — it’s like Toy Story or something. I think risk-taking is important but I don’t think that it’s productive for me to actively try to take a risk. I don’t want to think about it being risky, so I just want to press record and try to go for it.
Do you think of Baby as being more pop than what you’ve done before?
CD: I’ve always considered myself a pop musician. Even with my first album Wind Up Canary, I’d be like, “Oh my god, I wrote a radio pop song,” whether they really were radio-ready or not. I think no one ever wants to eat their vegetables because they’re good for you, and I think the same applies to music. You have to inject life into it, and exuberance.