Q&A with California-based Diana Rein -- saturated Blues at core, infused with Rock n' Roots under her spell

"Blues Music spreads the message of Unity, Love and a knowing that we are all in this thing called life, struggling, doing the best we can and ultimately we have each other. No matter what age, color or size, you are accepted in the Blues World. When you listen to the Blues it lifts your spirit."

Diana Rein: Queen of Blues Rock Castle

There’s nothing traditional about blues artist Diana Rein. Diana’s parents escaped communist Romania in 1981 when she was 3 years old. They arrived in Chicago, Il on Halloween with only $50 and a dream for a better life. Diana brought her family's strong Romanian work ethic to performing arts school, where her talents flourished, eventually leading her to a role in the classic American 90’s comedy "Home Alone”. Diana's love of Blues started at 8, when her parents brought her to a Chicago Blues Club, arranging to have her perform some songs with the band. This was a defining moment. A blues artist was born. Over the years, Diana's music heroes and influences emerged: SRV, Prince, and Phillip Sayce to name a few. But it all started back in Chicago, the home of amazing Blues legends like Buddy Guy.

Diana followed her heart to California, where it would be broken repeatedly and made stronger each time. With experience came strength, self-reliance and plenty of songwriting material. At one point when hope was slipping away, Diana promised to make music her life's work and grabbed the reins on her songwriting and guitar playing. Music never stopped knocking and Diana is glad she finally swung the door wide open and let it in. So are her fans. Today Diana calls Southern California home, where she continues to release original music and play what feels good for anyone who will listen. Her promise to her fans is that she will never stop making music and growing as an artist. Diana Rein’s forthcoming album "Queen of My Castle" on Gulf Coast Records to be released June 21st.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ blues music and culture?

I learned that I feel things deeply and the best way for me to express my experience here in this World is through my guitar, music and voice. When I listen to Rock n’ Blues music, it really goes deep into my soul, just the sound of an electric guitar playing the Blues from dynamic players is enough to put me in a trance. I also learned that I am tougher than I thought. Putting on a piece of Blues Rock music just turns on the confidence for me. It helps me dream and I feel that I can achieve anything I desire. It gives me a powerful feeling. Very spiritual.

What does the blues mean to you?

The blues for me means a direct connection to my soul. It means freedom to speak my truth and to get in touch with what I am feeling at the root of it all. The blues carries a beautiful history with it and the only way I can describe it is: pure emotion. If you want to feel music in the pit of your stomach, if you are going through any heartache or if you are dealing with one of the happiest moments of your life, Blues music will make you feel like you are living, feeling, awakening to a deeper part of yourself. Blues is my life and I walk hand in hand with it because I identify with it on such a large level that I don’t see a separation anymore. I just see myself constantly growing with it and learning from it my whole life.

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I think I would describe the influence that Blues and Rock has had on me as "expression". It has given me the freedom to express myself in all aspects of my life. It has also given me the nudge to question things and not to just take them at face value. And I feel that we all have a fire that needs to be flamed...and I think we are all searching to bring that out in ourselves because it makes us feel alive. So, all throughout my life, Blues and Rock music has always been there to bring that out in me and to free me up. It's always there to let me know how far or close I am from being completely open and free. There's nothing like seeing a performer on stage really letting go...you get a glimpse of personal freedom and that is always something to aspire to.

""Queen of My Castle" was born out of the need for me to write new music and to get my voice heard. It just so happens that at the time that I was writing the music for the album, the news was going wild with the all of the sinister things that were happening in Hollywood. So, I feel that it influenced me in my writing to create powerful messages that gave me a sense of strength and power and a right to be in my position of being a strong woman."

What were the reasons that you started the Blues/Rock researches?

When I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan for the first time in 2005, I was so drawn to his music and his guitar playing that I knew that my life wouldn’t be complete until I followed in his path. It was one of those moments in life where you almost see the future and everything is very clear to you .You know that the path you will have to take to get to that vision will be a long one. You know you will need to work very hard. But you know that it is the right journey. Music was not my focus at the time I had this epiphany. Acting was my main focus since I was 11 years old but music wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept reappearing in my life and opportunities came to me so easily with music, whereas with acting it was very difficult. I finally listened to the message the Universe was clearly trying to send me and said “music I am yours. I accept your offer to give you my 100% attention and time. I love you and I will never desert you again.” The title song from my previous album “Long Road” is just about that…my return to music after such a hard time away from it.

What was the hardest part of writing a song? How do you want it to affect people? Where does your creative drive come from?

The hardest part of writing a song for me was when I would start with the lyrics first. It never feels organic for me to start the way and I usually have a hard time feeling like I have to make something fit rather than when I start writing a song with my guitar. When I start with my guitar, I find the rhythmic side of the song as well and I might have a great riff that I like and a chord progression that moves me and then I just start singing a melody with nonsense words on top of that and most of the time, real words will come out and it will inspire where I want to take the song lyrically. I feel that is the most organic way for me to operate with songwriting.

When I write a song, I would like to convey a certain emotion and it could be anything from sassy, to hurt, to sultry, to heartbroken. And the way that I hope it affects people is by putting them in touch with the feeling of the particular song. So that it helps them some way, makes them more aware of any emotions they might be stuffing down or wanting to express. I think the biggest purpose in our life is to express ourselves and to create something that makes us feel whole. So I am inspired to be creative because it puts me in touch with my purpose more than anything. And it makes me feel alive and connected more than anything.

What would you say characterizes your work "Queen of My Castle" in comparison to other previous albums?

Queen of My Castle is such an amazing effort and collaboration. I knew that I wanted a Producer for this album since I didn't have one for my last. I wanted to bounce ideas off of someone and I really wanted this album to be a Blues lovers album. So I was very happy to have my friend Michael Leasure come on board as Producer. He is very well versed in the Blues since that is the music he has played for many years with greats like Edgar Winter and Walter Trout as their drummer. He has a very musical ear and is really good at arranging songs to keep them moving and interesting. He is also one amazing drummer so I was very grateful to also have him play drums on the album. There were also other amazing musicians that played on the album including Dave Osti on Bass and Drake Munkihaid Shining on Keys.

For my last album I recorded it on my own which was exciting at the time but I knew that I wanted to step it up and make this album more polished and professional. And I am so happy that Michael and I took our time with the album until it was right because it was the album that got me signed to a record label! I am proud to call Gulf Coast Records my musical home and with co-founders Mike Zito and Guy Hale at the helm, I feel like I am in very good hands.

How do you describe "Queen of my Castle" sound and songbook? What characterize album’s philosophy?

"Queen of My Castle" was born out of the need for me to write new music and to get my voice heard. It just so happens that at the time that I was writing the music for the album, the news was going wild with the all of the sinister things that were happening in Hollywood. So, I feel that it influenced me in my writing to create powerful messages that gave me a sense of strength and power and a right to be in my position of being a strong woman. So, I think the songs on the album have an air of strength and appreciation for myself as a woman. There is also a song that I wrote for Stevie Ray Vaughan on the album. As of now there will be 15 songs on the album, with my take on traditional blues and a few blues rock songs.

Are there any memories from "Queen of my Castle" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

So far, my friend and co-Producer for the album, Michael Leasure, have gotten together a few times to arrange the music. We haven't started tracking the album or recording anything yet. We are still in the early stages. But I am very excited to be working with Michael who will also be playing the drums on the whole album. He is such an amazing player and has played drums for Walter Trout for 10 years as well as having played with many other great artists. We are having a lot of fun together getting this album going.

What touched (emotionally) you from 'Gulf Coast Records? What characterize label's philosophy?

I absolutely love that the Founders of the label are all about supporting musicians and it feels like a big happy family. Mike Zito is one amazing musician, so versatile and super talented with songwriting, he really writes with the melody in mind and knows how to craft a great song. Both Mike and Guy Hale have big hearts, a great sense of humour and they are very giving and supportive. I couldn't be happier knowing that I am a part of such a special record label. And I have my publicist Doug Deutsch to thank for introducing me to them. It was such a great match from the start and it is just the beginning. Some great things are happening!

"I think that the Blues was born out of a feeling, out of a necessity to feel heard, to fight, to be free, to express. It is one of the most amazing pieces of culture that was born out of pain and turned into something beautiful that will never die. It might get reimagined but it's always the foundation."

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?

Well, I am on the path to getting more consistent shows as a trio and touring but I've had my share of being a part of many musical situations, including as a solo act. I think that no matter what circuit or venue I am playing in, I have learned that it is a thrill to be able to be onstage to sing my original songs and inspire people in the audience. I have learned to be grateful for any opportunity that comes my way, to look at life as an adventure and to be ready to work hard. I have learned that there is more to this career than getting to play all of the time. There are a lot of things that need to be taken care of on the Business side and now I am glad that I have a great time to help me out. That brings me to another point...it is so important to have a great support system in this business, to find your tribe. If you really want success, you have to do a lot on your own to get things going but then you definitely need a great team to keep you evolving and on the good road.

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

Both!!! I think that the Blues was born out of a feeling, out of a necessity to feel heard, to fight, to be free, to express. It is one of the most amazing pieces of culture that was born out of pain and turned into something beautiful that will never die. It might get reimagined but it's always the foundation. It's very exciting to me that it continues to be an artistic movement and has a steady amount of followers and Blues lovers cheering it on. And the Blues can make you feel good. I remember Buddy Guy saying that you play the Blues because you've got them but then when you play them you lose them. It's all about transcending a feeling into expression and feeling better on the other side.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I had a brief encounter with Jimmie Vaughan after one of his shows and I asked him for his autograph and told him that I play guitar. In his autograph he wrote "Play the music you want to hear". I think that is great advice for any and all musicians. Really find your sound, discover what makes you tick and what you love and keep going in that direction.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

My first Blues gig when I was eight years old was what introduced me to the Blues. I went up to the stage at The Back Room Blues in Chicago where my Uncle was playing. I sang a Stevie Wonder song “I just called to say I love you” with the lead singer and then she kept me on stage. I had no idea what she wanted to do with me. So the band starts playing a standard blues progression and the lead singer Cheryl brings an old blues man to the stage as well and she tells me to improvise. We all sat down at the foot of the stage and improvised the blues! That moment changed my life forever. It was the best feeling to not have rehearsed with these two people or the band and for us to just create music together. That’s the type of moment you want to bottle up forever. And obviously it affected me so much that here I am making music and the Blues my life mission.

"I think that the California music circuit is thriving and very much alive. I love that there is always something going on. I am guilty of not being able to go out to see as much as I want because I am busy with my own music while also being a Mom of a little boy, but I love that California is open to all genres of music and that there is a home for any band to find here."

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past?

I miss that it is not as prevalent as it seems to have been, although I am too young to know firsthand. There is not enough exposure to it for young people growing up. They hear all of this pop music on the radio but it would be amazing to have radio stations all over the world that offered Blues music to their listeners. I pay a satellite company in order to have a Blues Station in my car because that is all I listen to when I drive and I want my son to hear it. He is almost 4 years old and I want him to hear the root of where all music comes from. I started using my Youtube channel as a portal of sorts where I take really popular mainstream songs and I convert them into Blues songs. I thought it might be a good way to expose young people to the Blues. If I can open that door and they start reading about me, then it will open the door even further to them to learn that my influences are people like Albert King, BB King, Freddie King, Muddy Waters, T­-Bone Walker, also Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton although they are more blues rock. But they also lead people to their influences that are part of the blues from the past.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Well, I hope that all Blues Rock artists take it upon themselves to keep the Blues Alive. To always lead people to our “roots” so to say. But I also think it’s great to evolve with any music and I love hearing new iterations of the Blues genre. I think in any family there are different beings that all have the same last name. So in this case… Blues is our last name, but we have unique “first name” ways of expressing it. So I hope that the door doesn’t close to those of us who try to electrify it a bit more because I think we will be valuable in reigning in new listeners and lovers of the Blues. I can guarantee that traditional Blues will never die. Never ever. Us humans are too nostalgic for that to ever happen.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Well, I would love it if people were given more options as to what music they get to hear everyday from the mainstream. I have been hearing that the industry has started making algorithms to dissect a song that is selling and doing well and then it tries to find other music that sounds very similar so that record companies can have a sure bet, sure sell. But that just sounds so sterile and unexciting to me. The reason most people like cheesy pop songs is because that is all they hear on national radio stations. We need to broaden people’s ears to a vast variety of music so that they can really have a feast instead of an anorexic sampling of music. I feel like we are dumbing ourselves down and we are not being given the opportunity to develop our music tastes.

"Well for the Blues in particular it is very encouraging because I am noticing more and more women picking up the guitar or other instruments and getting noticed in the Blues World."

Make an account of the case of the blues in Romania. What touched (emotionally) you from the local circuits?

I left Romania at the age of 3 so I don’t remember anything from the music circuit there. My Aunt Zoe was a famous singer in Romania and she sang traditional Romanian songs and Pop songs. But I never got to see her perform live. I know that the Romanian people are very oriented towards music, very passionate people so I don’t doubt that they love the Blues. It’s a dream of mine to go back to my home country and do a concert. Although I mainly speak English, Romanian is my first language and I can still speak it, although I do have an American accent.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the local (California) music circuits?

I think that the California music circuit is thriving and very much alive. I love that there is always something going on. I am guilty of not being able to go out to see as much as I want because I am busy with my own music while also being a Mom of a little boy, but I love that California is open to all genres of music and that there is a home for any band to find here. One of the most powerful music weekends I experienced here was going to a house concert to see Rocco de Luca play in a very intimate setting and then the next day seeing Philip Sayce in Long Beach just going wild on his guitar. There is something for everyone here with an abundance of live music.

What does it mean to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says?

It’s a beautiful thing! When I play lead guitar and I am up there doing my thing I feel super human and that transcends any gender. I just feel like a light being playing and sharing emotion. It lifts me off of the ground and there is no judgment there. If I am playing and people are thinking about the fact that I am a female the whole time, then I am doing something wrong or it then becomes my job to break down that wall and wake people up to just listening to the music, feeling the music, letting the music take them away. I sometimes get myself into trouble because I love guitar and I love watching people play guitar. Those people most of the time tend to be men. So my eagerness to learn from them or watch them play can be misconstrued as interest in way more. But I’m all about the music. That’s where it begins and ends for me.

What is the status of women in music?

Well for the Blues in particular it is very encouraging because I am noticing more and more women picking up the guitar or other instruments and getting noticed in the Blues World. I am seeing more women on Blues Festival stages here in the United States. And I am seeing that ageism is not a factor in the Blues either. So I feel that women have more of an opportunity to create a lifetime career in the Blues World and be respected at any age. So that makes me very happy to know that there is room for growth and there is an acceptance that will only keep getting better.

Previous album 'Long Road' (2016) written and produced by yourself at The Grey Brick Recording Studio in San Diego. How do you describe album's sound & songbook?

My songs on my previous album Long Road (2016) are Blues Rock all the way. There are 3 songs that are ballads…two with vocals and one that’s just a guitar instrumental called “Peace”. The rest of the songs are electric guitar driven, rip roaring, bad ass, tough Blues Rock songs. When I write music I lead with the electric guitar because that is the sound I am drawn too. I love the sound of my Fender Stratocasters and they inspire me to just go wild with my songwriting. Since I was a little girl, I was drawn to the sound of the electric guitar. To me, it’s my favorite sound in the world! My songs also have a focus on great lyrics and melodies that will stick with you. I have had music around me since I was a baby and I listened to a large variety of music as I was growing up so melody is very important to me, when I play guitar and also when I sing.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio­cultural implications?

Blues Music spreads the message of Unity, Love and a knowing that we are all in this thing called life, struggling, doing the best we can and ultimately we have each other. No matter what age, color or size, you are accepted in the Blues World. When you listen to the Blues it lifts your spirit. That’s how you know that it is a positive force and it trumps any racial, political or socio­cultural implications. With the Blues we are never thinking about ourselves and selfish motivations. We want to find comfort in each other and the common ground is the Blues. I can’t think of a more positive impact than that. Do you want to come into contact with your soul and the true meaning of life? Go and experience the blues with a crowd and you will feel connected instantly. That’s just the Universal power of music as a whole.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

No doubt in my mind, I would want to go back to the time right after Stevie Ray Vaughan got out of rehab and turned a new leaf. I would beg him to just be his apprentice and go on the road with him and learn as much as I could from him. I would love to hear his voice and talk to him about his life and be around him when he was just being silly. I would love to see his work ethic and learn about his spirituality and experience his energy in day to day life. I never got to see him play live unfortunately...I mention him in my new song Wild One from my album Long Road. But for my next album I have three songs that are directly related to him. When I am looking for musical inspiration, I just start talking to him and I get my answers.

Diana Rein - Official website

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