Though her name might still be unfamiliar to many locals, Diane Cluck has a well-established career as a writer and performer, and a network of fans around the world. She’s the rare female singer-songwriter whose music cannot easily be compared to other artists.
Cluck’s music seems to come not so much from a dialogue with the existing canon, but rather from a thoughtful inner reserve of inspiration, carefully and meticulously crafted. Her songs are both puzzling and inviting, taking lyrical and vocal left-turns, reframing themselves as they progress. She’s also not afraid of unusual arrangements, yet there’s always an approachable entry-point for the listener.
Cluck has been performing and recording since 2000, and was a musical fixture in New York City, with regular gigs at the legendary, now-defunct Tonic, and she travels in the same circles as Kimya Dawson, Jeffrey Lewis, Devendra Banhart, and CocoRosie. Cluck left the city in 2007 because she “needed more space and a change of environment,” she said. “I love the people connection in New York, but the environment is really overstimulating for me. In terms of just moving, and writing and things, it’s just a little too dense in some ways.”
She relocated to Georgia, and for personal reasons ended up taking a two-year break from music. “I took a big, fat, long pause,” she said. “It’s been years since I put out an album. I was still writing music, I just wasn’t playing shows—mostly overseas, when I would get invites for festivals, or things like that.” After two years in Georgia, Cluck returned to New York with renewed enthusiasm for her music career, and soon after, relocated to Charlottesville.
“I find that when I’m in a more relaxed environment, writing is very natural and easy, and so is living,” Cluck said. “The flow is better for me, at this point in my life. I just decided I was ready to start doing it full-time. That’s when I came up with the idea for the Song of the Week Project,” a monthly e-mail subscription through which she sends new work to her fans. “It’s really been more of a monthly thing, rather than weekly,” she said. “But that’s how I’ve been releasing new songs for the past year and a half.”
“There are people all over the place who listen to what I do, but it doesn’t mean that if I show up at some place that more than 25 people would come out,” Cluck said. “But to be able to reach out to everybody and say, ‘This is what I’m working on, here’s new music.’ I can stay at home, make new songs, and send them out as MP3 links, and they’re the first and only people who get to hear them. So that’s been a really awesome way of engaging.”
Cluck’s name is also gradually starting to become familiar to locals; she now plays regularly at venues like The Garage and the Tea Bazaar, as well as smaller informal house shows, and has opened for touring friends like Josephine Foster and Kimya Dawson. “I’d say the first year [in Charlottesville] I wasn’t even really moved in,” Cluck said. “I was traveling a lot, touring more. And then this past year I’ve played more shows locally, and just had more friendships and social connections, and I’ve been able to meet a lot more local musicians and go to a lot more shows here, too.” Her sets are usually solo performances, occasionally backed by one or two musicians, and it’s not uncommon for the artists with which she shares a bill to join one another for a song or two.
When touring outside of Virginia, Cluck performs with New York-based cellist Isabel Castellvi, and the duo are occasionally joined by a drummer. “It’s very compact, it’s easy to take on the road,” Cluck said.
She’s also preparing to release her first album in years, Boneset (on which she’s backed by Castellvi). It’s due out next March through Important Records, a Massachusetts-based label whose catalog covers everything from doom metal to minimal techno to contemporary jazz.
“It’s a really eclectic label,” Cluck said. “I actually released three albums through them in the early 2000s, they were some of the really early supporters of me doing what I was doing in New York in a bigger, more public way.”
“For the first time we’re going to do real promo and everything; we’re hiring [a press agent],” she said. “It’s a totally new world for me, but after so long, and having put so much work into the music, I really want people to hear it.”
Diane Cluck will play at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on Tuesday, October 29. Sharing the bill is Olivia Chaney. “She’s a friend of mine from London,” Cluck said. “She’s a songwriter, kind of in a Joni Mitchell vein, and I know that people throw that around a lot with female songwriters, but I can really actually say that about her.”
Also on the bill is Sondra Sun-Odeon, who has recently launched a career as a solo performer after years of playing in dark, psychedelic rock bands. Sun-Odeon’s gloomy, enchanting songs are a good match for Chaney and Cluck. Tickets are $7 at the door, and the concert begins at 9pm.
Listen to Diane Cluck’s latest Song of the Week here and use the password “cville.”