Diane Cluck is a leading example of how strength and expansive foresight inspire the independent spirit. A quasi-folk artist backed by her guitar, the singer-songwriter spent a chunk of time in New York before deciding to leave town for the more humbling milieu of Virginia. From twinkling metal skylines to a buzzing field of crickets, her music found inspiration in opposing forces, yet is strong enough to hold its own in any crowd. Similarly, Cluck’s songs have brought about many accolades and high-class recognition: they’ve been featured in movies; NPR compared her to Joni Mitchell; and while she’s previously dubbed her work “intuitive folk,” the Village Voice actually countered it as “anti-folk.”
Oh, and she’s also taking on the business side of the industry by creating her own fan-funded revenue model a.k.a. the “Song-of-the-Week” project.
A mercenary of musical inquisition, Cluck talks to us about her rules as a self-appointed business executive, her inspiration and goals, and the time she spends hanging out with plants.
BTR: How would you best describe your entree into music?
Cluck: I’ve always been musical and responding to music. I liked singing starting from when I was a child, and grew up with traditional sort of piano lessons. I started creating music in high school—writing piano instrumentals and playing in a band with a bunch of boys. I also did some musical theater and cantoring for the Catholic Church. My entree into making music from a deeper place came years later. I was at a place in my life where I was ready for some healing, and suddenly all that musical preparation from my childhood was ready to be put to use.
BTR: You were living in NYC -considered by some to be the music capital of the world- and moved to the more rural state of Virginia. Why’d you make the change and how has it affected your music?
Cluck: I’m really glad for the ten years that I lived in New York. It provided a lot of important opportunities and friendships for me, even though when I moved there I had no idea I’d end up being a musician.
I moved to Virginia as a semi-random choice, based on its natural beauty and proximity to New York. I go back and forth between the two quite a bit. The change has been great in that it’s afforded me more space for working in, both mentally and physically. New York revs up my inspiration, but greener places help me ground the energy better.
BTR: What made you decide to create the Song-of-the-Week subscription project?
Cluck: I created the Song-of-the-Week project based on my need to sustain an income while working on new song material. Handling most of the business side of things on my own, I’d been in a loop of touring with the same songs and then hopping back into a day job. I feel fortunate in that people keep asking for new recordings from me, and I wanted to set my life up in a way where that could work. I considered residency at an artist colony, then felt that what I was looking for was more long-term. I need to have a private workspace close to my bed, bath and food supply! In Virginia, I can afford to set that up beautifully.
BTR: How do you believe an independent artist can tackle the current state of the music industry? Is there any reason to sign to a label, in your opinion?
Cluck: When I speak with other artists, what I find is that there’s no broadly applicable formula. The people I know who are both successful and happy are focusing on what they most enjoy doing, what they do well, and what is unique about it. One of the best examples I can think of is my friend, Jeffrey Lewis, who manages to combine his musical talents along with drawing comic books and a knack for quirky historical knowledge. It’s been awhile since I’ve received interest from a record label, but then, I haven’t reached out, either. I don’t have a ‘for’ or ‘against’ point of view about them. I’ve been focusing on organizing my thing, enjoying it and doing it well.
BTR: What’s the most important thing to keep in mind, business-wise, when embarking on this road as an indie act?
Cluck: Keep your process inspired. Be willing to learn and try new things—that could be anything from an unusual musical collaboration to studying up on PRO’s, licensing, etc. Learn to appreciate and cultivate the relationships and opportunities that are in your life. Ask for help. Work on a scale that suits you—bigger isn’t always better. Check in with yourself often, making sure your intuition jives with where you’re heading.
BTR: What is a typical day like for you? When is the best time to play music and when do you know you need to take a pause?
Cluck: I sleep till I’m rested. After some house chores, I’ll check in with email. I’m in the process of learning to organize the mix of things that come my way—booking requests, people joining my mailing list, letters of appreciation, etc. I’m also getting a handle on other myriad duties involved with being an independent musician—maintaining my website, accounting, merch-stock, mail-orders… I am probably ripe for an intern. I’m working through this organizational phase so I can have more time clearly set aside for writing, recording and playing.
I love to play music in the evenings, starting around sundown. Nighttime is potent and good for loosening imagination. I’m a person who gets enthusiastic about things, and it can be hard for me to end the day ‘at a reasonable hour.’ Too many late nights, and I generally need to rest. Then I’ll have some ‘intake’ time… hanging out with plants, biking, laying in the sun, or maybe indoors–cooking, stretching, snuggling.
BTR: You had a song featured on Margot at the Wedding – How did you feel your art matched up with the movie visuals and narrative?
Cluck: That was the first time my music featured in a movie, and it was a nice surprise when they wanted to use “Easy To Be Around” for the bookstore scene. Most other musicians on the soundtrack were from the ‘60s/70s era, but I can see how I fit in.
BTR: What do you believe in?
Cluck: The body. It knows everything.
BTR: Who has most inspired your life?
That’s a really huge question! Right now, I’m inspired by older female mentors. Some of these include the musician Jane Siberry, the herbalist Susun Weed, my mother and grandmother.
BTR: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Cluck: I open up all the blinds and curtains and let the light in. I wash the dishes. I drink some tea.
BTR: What do you hope to accomplish with your career?
Cluck: I’m in a transitional phase with this. The picture emerging for me seems to be about learning to use my talents well, learning to integrate them into community more than I was able to in the past. Music is very healing. Music was my personal form of therapy and expression for a long time, but I was working on a level that was painful to share with others.
I hope to write songs that help guide people back to their own creative spark. I feel a lot of support for people living out their own true calling, their own true expression of life. That’s the kind of person I want to be and be surrounded by, in my home, in my community, in whatever ‘country’ I live in. I hope my work can help others become empowered in their being.
BTR: Who’s the most recent great artist you’ve discovered?
Cluck: I’ve really been enjoying Anais Mitchell, Shovels and Rope, and Sia, lately.