Self-starter

Casey Dienel realizes her potential as White Hinterland
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  April 13, 2010

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PRIVATE PRACTICE: “I listened to 14th-century choral music,” says Dienel (with bandmate Shawn Creeden). “I wrote songs by beatboxing into a loop pedal. And I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing.”

LISTEN: White Hinterland, "Icarus" (mp3)
Behind all the oohs and ahhs inspired by nature lurk the uh-ohs. With its elemental might and brute force, nature is far, far tougher than we are, and it’s hard — say, when watching the ocean smash the shoreline, as Casey Dienel used to do as a kid in her home town of Scituate — not to feel a bit feeble and squishy in comparison. Maybe it’s because we get our asses kicked so regularly by it, but we New England types have formed a particularly close bond to our unfriendly habitat. It has given us an ethos of self-sufficiency; we’re at once as scrappy as Myles Standish and as reflective as Ralph Waldo Emerson. Over time, our collective character has grown to resemble our environment. Which may help to explain why people from elsewhere think we’re assholes.

So, after spending a few years moving back and forth between Boston and NYC, keeping multiple jobs and tiny apartments for the sake of being in the thick of things, Casey Dienel (who plays Great Scott on Wednesday) eventually came to her sensitive senses and vamoosed to Portland, Oregon, to regain her creative composure, as well as obtain some space. Her friends thought this was a stupid idea — but two years later, her rent is still cheap, if someone asks what she does, she can say “musician” instead of “barista,” and sometimes, the beauty of Mount Hood pushing itself through a thick ceiling of sunlit clouds compels her to pull off to the side of the road and just sit there and stare. She’s always 20 minutes from “deep dark nowhere,” where forests of white bark stretch as far as she can see — and she’s loving it. “It’s inextricable, I respond to the environment that I’m in. I’m like a sponge.”

This change of scenery certainly played a part in Dienel’s own proverbial push through the clouds, the newly released Kairos (Dead Oceans). Her third album (and second under her assumed moniker of White Hinterland), it was recorded entirely at home in her newly ample free time. But more pertinent to Kairos’s unique, well, kairos is its spirit of self-reliance.

“I was really ignorant,” she tells me while pulling her cat from a windowsill. “I didn’t know what mics did what, or how to properly record a piano, or how to sing into a microphone the right way.” With no budget, no deadline, and no expectations, Dienel picked up a copy of Digital Performer, learned some basic drum programming, and schooled herself on mic placement — or as she puts it, “I did enough to make myself good enough for the ideas. A lot of times, my imagination is ahead of my skill set at first. But that’s what dreaming is — you kind of have to imagine yourself outside of what you’re capable of doing. I feel like my job as a writer is to get these ideas there.”

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