The Hummingbird and The Flower: A Conversation with Mark Diamond

Mark Diamond © Aleigh Michelle
Mark Diamond talks to Atwood Magazine about his debut EP, Hummingbird One, the importance of instinct in his creative process, alter-ego Dusty Flares, finding inspiration in nature, and dogs.

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It seems almost too picture perfect that, for the 50 minutes in which Mark Diamond was on the phone, speaking about the beauty of watching a hummingbird drink from a flower, describing being raised in a lavender farm, and enthusiastically explaining how plants inspire him, the sounds of birds chirping on the other end of the line are almost as prevalent as Diamond’s voice. It’s one of those things that is too perfect to be planned, so when the scene is serendipitously set on the other end of the line, it’s hard not to imagine Diamond sitting outside of a serene house in LA, basking in the sunlight while answering questions about his career, much of which recently has been inspired by his move to Los Angeles and the city’s sunnier weather.

Hummingbird One - Mark Diamond

Hummingbird One – Mark Diamond

Diamond’s Hummingbird One EP, released on March 8th via Stardog / Republic Records, is a four-track escape into Mark Diamond’s world – one that is formed slick guitar hooks, thick bass lines, the occasional glittery synths, and honest, introspective lyrics. On his major label debut project, Diamond re-introduces himself to the world and becomes an undeniable force: Whether you gravitate towards the uptempo “Steady,” “The Road,” which was made to listen to in a convertible car driving during sunset, the emotional “London,” which hints at (but never allows you to fully immerse yourself in) sadness, or “Promise,” which longs for a loved one and opens the EP.

Instinct was Diamond’s best friend when making this EP and the (yet unannounced) follow-up Hummingbird Two. Stripping himself of all the anxieties  and unnecessary overthinking that sometimes comes with creating something you want to be proud of, Diamond trusted his gut. And it worked. Fresh off the release of his debut EP and bracing himself for a huge and promising year ahead, Mark Diamond spoke to Atwood Magazine about Hummingbird One, his alter-ego Dusty Flares, finding inspiration in nature, and dogs. Lots of dogs.

A CONVERSATION WITH MARK DIAMOND

Atwood Magazine: Hi Mark! How are you doing?

Mark Diamond: I’m doing good. It’s nice and sunny in California, the week’s been quite cloudy and a bit rainy so I’m just trying to stay outside as much as I can (laughs).

It’s quite cold and cloudy and rainy in the East Coast.

Mark Diamond: Yes, I believe that. When I was that I was like “Oh, man”. I’m originally from Seattle, so I used to be able to handle the cold a lot better than I do now.

I was about to say, you should be used to the rain since you’re from Seattle.

Mark Diamond: I basically left because I wanted more sun in my life. I don’t know why. I love the rain, it used to be a big part of my writing and everything, Then two summers ago I was walking in Seattle and it was so rainy that I couldn’t even go get a drink with a friend because we were just soaked and I was like “Well, this time next year I’m going to move to California”.

Well, I hope you’re happier in the sun. That’s normally how it goes.

Mark Diamond: Yes, yes I am! But I think it’s also the whole experience. Right now I’ve been here for three months without going anywhere, I went to New York very quickly, and I’m just dying to get up to Washington again, so I’m playing a show in Washington in April and I mostly booked it to have an excuse to go home for a little bit and see my dog up there.

Oh, what kind of dog is it?

Mark Diamond: Golden Retriever.

Aw!

Mark Diamond: He is literally the sweetest. It’s so funny like, my mum will text me to get me to come back and see family so literally every day she’ll send me photos of Charlie and me. When you miss a dog you can convince yourself to be like “Well, I’m going to buy a ticket right now to go see my dog”, I’m totally like that. We’ve done that before where I had nothing to do on a weekend and was like “I guess I’ll just fly home and see my dog for a bit, then I’ll come back to California” (laughs).

I’m that way as well. My parents just got a new dog and I rarely get to go home because they live in another country, but I had this week off and was like “You know what, I guess I’ll just go home for this week and you’ll think it’s because of you but I actually just want to see your puppy”.

Mark Diamond: Yes, budgeting all time for dogs.

My friends think it’s weird that I pet every single dog I see on the street. They tell me it’s like my thing. But I’m like, if you’re not doing that, or at least don’t feel inclined to do that, then what the hell is wrong with you?

Mark Diamond: That’s so true. I mean, there’s a dog beach that I’ll go to quite often, because it’s a beach and also because it’s a dog beach. So I’ll just go sit out there and watch the sunset and loads of people’s dogs. I mean, I don’t have a dog so they probably think I’m this weird, creepy dude taking photos of strangers’ dogs.

That’s amazing. I’d totally do that if I were you. And they’re probably flattered that you’re taking photos of their dogs.

Mark Diamond: I mean, that’s what inspires me (laughs). Dogs.

So your next EP will be called Golden Retriever Two, the follow-up to Hummingbird One.

Mark Diamond: Yes, oh my goodness. This is it. It’s going to be called Missing Charlie, The Concept Piece.

Mark Diamond © Aleigh Michelle

Mark Diamond © Aleigh Michelle

But speaking of your EP, I read that with the title you wanted to tell the story of the relationship between a hummingbird and a flower. I’m wondering what’s interesting about that relationship to you and how it compares to the personal relationships you talk about in the songs?

Mark Diamond: Right. I think it started with a conversation that I was having with someone and they just mentioned something about personality traits and how hummingbirds jump from one thing to another. I think it just came from this idea of how some people are hummingbirds, they may not have one thing that they’re passionate about, they’ll have multiple things that they’re passionate about. That idea got me full of questions of, in a quite literal sense, I’m one of the few believers that every single thing on the earth is meaningful. So it just got me thinking how these hummingbirds feel about themselves, about the world around them, they’re beautiful, there aren’t many things in the world where, if you see it outside your window or if you see it stop by a flower, it essentially stops the world around them. Everybody, no matter if you’re in conversation, just stops and looks at this beautiful, beautiful hummingbird outside your window and it’s a special moment. And it’s really quick, and you try to capture the moment and before you know it, it’s gone. I make reference to that in song and relate it to my own life and relationships I’ve been in, I think it’s easy to turn it into a sad story. When I think of that, who am I more? Am I more the hummingbird or the flower? I felt a bit used sometimes, so I kind of latched myself onto the identity of the flower and tried to tell the story of my life and myself through the lens of a relationships that’s a bit more fairytale-like. It’s part of my life, just like everything I put out is, and this is the lens I felt comfortable telling it through. I just felt like the universe said “Hey, there’s a story here and there’s a lens through which for you to tell it”, ultimately coming to the realisation that sometimes all you need in life is a very specific moment with someone in order for it to change your life forever.

If you could describe the relationship between the hummingbird and a flower in a nutshell, what would that be?

Mark Diamond: Extremely special in the most basic way, I would say. It is magical, and we have to accept that it’s a very special, magical moment for hummingbirds there drinking from the flower. And it’s essentially up to the flower, or the person, whether or not they’re going to see the beauty in it, accept that it’s leaving, and move on or if they’re going to give up and stop being able to move on. That hummingbird probably won’t come back, that’s how the story goes. There are so many beautiful hummingbirds in the world, and different people, and because you had a connection with one, there doesn’t mean that there isn’t any more out there.

I’m interested in why you decided to title the EP Hummingbird One. Is there a number two; is it a story in parts?

Mark Diamond: Yeah, there is Hummingbird Two. These songs were made very quickly and these were honestly the first four songs we made together for this idea. There are more on the way that are done, we’re putting it all together and making sure that it all makes sense. There’s definitely Hummingbird Two on the way.

You mentioned that these songs came together very quickly, and that’s interesting to me because typically when artists are releasing something, especially from a new project, they tend to speak about how long it took to release them because of how meticulous they were about the process, and about how they’ve had these songs with them for so long as well. What was special for you about making these songs in such a short period of time?

Mark Diamond: I’ve done this before, releasing songs that I’ve been sitting on for sometimes two years. Ultimately, as the majority of creative people know, your first instinct is really, really important and I try to really take advantage of that and say “If my first thought when I hear something is to sing this melody, let’s not make this more complicated than it is, that should be the melody”. If it feels natural, don’t fight the feeling, don’t make it more complicated, don’t force yourself into writer’s block, it’s not necessary. Write when you feel something, and if you don’t feel it, don’t write it, and don’t push it. Were there any struggles writing this specific album? Not really. And I don’t mean it like “hey look at me”. It’s something that has brought me so much joy and there are so many aspects you can struggle with. You’re creating music, it doesn’t make sense for me to add struggle into the mix. I completely moved on instinct when it came to everything. I tried so hard to not doubt myself at all, that if I was feeling a certain way, there was a reason for it, and if a melody came out a certain way, there was a reason for it. Who I wrote it with, and who produced it, Richard Craker, just the two of us did all of it. And it was a very fun, calming, almost very spiritual moment for him and I, creating this, because it was completely in the moment, riding full-speed, even though we had all the time in the world. We weren’t cutting ourselves short on time, this is an idea that I’ve been playing with in the back of my head for a long time. I started thinking about it when I was still working at a coffee shop in Seattle, playing with this idea like “There’s an album here some day”, I knew it was going to come out eventually.

This is also the first project you’re releasing after signing to a label, and normally that can be quite stressful for artists, it’s a re-birth of you as an artist. Was it liberating for you to approach these songs, that would mark the start of a new phase of your career, that way?

Mark Diamond: Yeah. Liberating, that’s a good word for it. When it comes to labels, people  basically put too much energy on trying to create something perfect, or trying to create a look, or whatever it was. And I’d been independent for so long that I kind of had my “look” locked in, and I knew who I was going into it as far as it artistically goes, my process, what I like, what I don’t like, I felt quite confident in that. And the label completely has respect for that. Literally every song so far that I’ve written was okayed. There was no song that was like “Let’s go back to the studio and keep trying”, every song was like, “Okay, this is it, this is the one, these are the songs, let’s do it.” Overall, the mutual trust I have with them is very liberating. Liberating, that’s a great word for it. And having that team around you gives me a lot more confidence as well, like this group of people who have so much experience are willing to stand next to you, that’s really special.

Mark Diamond © Aleigh Michelle

Mark Diamond © Aleigh Michelle

You started this new phase with “Steady”, that was the first single off the EP. Why did you choose that song?

Mark Diamond: I think it was mostly because that was the second day that I was working with this producer, and it was basically the first song we started from scratch together. And it felt like, not a finish line song, it felt like, “This is where we are now, this is what we’re starting,” and the songs that followed were a clear path of where we were going. From a label standpoint, we were like, “What would be the best song to put out first?” and without hesitation and no doubt whatsoever, we all said “Steady” is great. Sonically it’s upbeat and shows where you want to go, shows a bit of a where you’re headed in tempo, groove, speed, all of that. But to be honest it just made sense, it was the first one we did, it was the start of the story, and the other ones that people will hopefully hear feel more like a finishing line to the story.

“If I could pick between heaven and hell baby I’d choose the road” is such a great opening line. How did this lyric for “The Road” come about?

Mark Diamond: “The Road” was super quick. The night before we wrote “Road,” we had an early studio, and I was going to try and meet up with some friends because I had been in the studio for eight or nine days straight, so I wanted to go out and meet friends and have a drink or something. And I just had a difficult time leaving the studio and trying to balance studio life and real life. They’re just so different, and it’s kind of a weird place for an artist to be when they’re doing full speed of those, it can get a little messy, and mostly I was just being down about it. I showed up to the studio the next day and I had pressure on me that I had to get off. We started the song with this little instrument, this metal harp, I don’t know what it’s called, that when you shake it it makes this percussive noise. We were doing claps and adding these weird sounds. We were started playing chords on top of it, recorded that. I laid behind the mixing board, on my back, and wrote that song probably in 5 or 10 minutes. It was more of like “this needs to come out, I don’t care what it sounds like, I need to say this”. It’s me talking to myself, that chorus is saying “This is the life that I chose, and it’s a beautiful way to live.” Choosing the road, choosing this life of bouncing around. It’s more of a self-accepting song, for me. Being in LA you have new people around you at all times and coming back into this corner that you’re comfortable with and saying sometimes I’d rather be alone than with all of these new friends that I’ve made. It’s tough to explain because writing that song was special, it’s just how I felt. I haven’t written a song that the second it was out, it was like pure clarity and I was like, “This is beautiful, I shouldn’t be frustrated that I have difficulty transferring my studio career life to my real personal life.”

I shouldn’t be frustrated that I have difficulty transferring my studio career life to my real personal life.

“London” has very sad lyrics but the production seems to float above the sadness, you never get to be really sad and overwhelmed by the sadness of the lyrics because of the production.

Mark Diamond: You’re the first one who has said, “Float above the sadness,” and I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s beautiful.

Oh, thanks! I know this is your favourite song on the EP, can you tell me the process of writing the song and finishing up its production?

Mark Diamond: This song was basically a story that I needed to get out. I think it’s important to feel every possible thing, that’s actually a lyric in the song, and I think I want that to be spread throughout all music that I do, that you can float on this feeling of sadness but it never fully aligns and you don’t hit this deep, dark place. And it turns into this, it is sad like “If I could take it back, you know that I would” but in the end it gets really hopeful, and you can’t help but kind of feel a bit better about that thing after you listen to it. At least, for me, it’s how I feel. It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to feel this way, but in the end you have to know that it’s going to be okay because there’s no other option, it has to be okay. I think that’s what “London” is for me, writing that. And the decisions that were made, they were super quick. I came up with that guitar loop in the beginning, we were messing with this distortion, analogue thing and it kept breaking and it created this really cool sound in the guitar and I just kept playing this one bit and started singing. I really like having a melody over something that doesn’t change, and that’s the beginning of London. That chord comes in on “I know you don’t need me” and it really hits you in the gut. This song and one other song, unreleased yet, are a similar vibe and both of these songs hinted at feelings that I have in my chest, this feeling of like, “Oh my god, this song is exactly how I want it to be, nothing is more me right now, nothing describes my heart more than this song right now.” And that’s how I feel about “London,” that’s for me and for my bandmates as well, that’s the most special song to perform. It felt more like capturing something than making decisions about it, we just caught it and added some things… Let’s roll with what you said, that was good, floating above sadness.”

In terms of visuals, we can already get a sense of your well-defined visual identity and aesthetic, but you’ve yet to release a music video. I’m wondering what those would look like once you make them.

Mark Diamond: That’s funny, I just got back from a coffee shop where I was basically laying down the treatment for one of the music videos off Hummingbird One. There’s a lot of cool ideas that I have. The only struggle that I really have is that I’m really good at explaining things in person because I feel like I have to use my hands, when it comes to talking about video ideas, that’s how it is. But there’s something really special in store for one of the songs on this EP that I’ll be putting out into the world. We’re getting close to actually shooting, so that will be very soon. You really have to be careful because I don’t want to create a visual that takes away from what someone feels about the song because I know sometimes the song will be special to you and you’ll see the video and be like “Oh, I guess I always thought it was about something else”, and I want to make sure that I allow people to still have their own creativity and meaning. Everyone has their own meaning for songs, so I want to keep that open and let people continue to make it their own.

Could you tell me a little bit more about your alter-ego, Dusty Flares?

Mark Diamond: This is my favourite question. This is so good. I’m super into alter-egos and I think it’s cool, it lets you be someone that either you’re too afraid to be or.. I think you can run with it a lot. I see Dusty Flares as this side of me where anything is possible. I can wear whatever I want to wear, I can sing as high-pitched as I want to sing, and no one can tell me that I can’t do it because I’m Dusty Flares and Dusty Flares can do whatever he wants. The name came from – I love, love wearing flares, bell bottoms – and I was doing a photoshoot one time and it was a bit dusty and I just went like “Oh, shit my flares are dusty” and I kind of stopped and went like “Oh my god, Dusty Flares. Wait a minute. Wait a minute”. I already know which song, on Hummingbird Two, when I’m onstage performing one of these specific songs that people will hear soon, it’s a Dusty Flares song. It’s Mark Diamond, but Dusty Flares is going to be onstage and I’ll be able to run back and change into a new outfit, and it’s fun. Mark Diamond I get to have fun with and be who I am, and Dusty Flares is another version of me. In the future there will be a lot of Dusty Flares, for sure.

It seems like Dusty Flares is more of an onstage alter-ego than anything else. Did I get it right, or would you release music under this name?

Mark Diamond: I mean like, I don’t know! Maybe. Who knows. Who knows, I might put something out and who knows, I’m not closing any doors. It’s always going to be Mark Diamond, I’m always going to be Mark Diamond, but who knows. It’s fun, I think it makes it fun. For so many years I took music so seriously and let it be so dark, and that’s important as well, but I think it’s also important to remember, I’m not saying lyrically like “Hey, it’s a beautiful day, everything’s good!” because that’s not the type or writer I am and I’ll never be that way. But also allowing yourself to just have fun. There’s no box around it. But yeah, it’s going to be a bit of both. Dusty Flares will be in and out of the picture, and it will be a fun alter-ego.

Mark Diamond © Aleigh Michelle

Mark Diamond © Aleigh Michelle

I saw a tweet of yours that said, “Plants really inspire me.” What plants inspire you the most?

Mark Diamond: Oh my gosh, absolutely. Which plants inspire me? Well, I grew up on a lavender farm. My mum, it was mostly a hobby that she had, and so our property that I grew up on always smelled like lavender. So that was special and my mum is huge into gardening so I grew up helping, there’s a special thing about gardens that has always been there for me. It wasn’t until more recently that I allowed myself to put my phone aways and appreciate my surroundings entirely, almost like a meditation, I guess? I just sit and look at flowers. My favourite flower right now is probably… I don’t know, I’ve got loads of indoor plants, I’ve got some in my studio as well. Bird of Paradise is a really beautiful plant. Probably lavender and that one. I love cactuses but I’m getting out of a cactus phase because it’s in the studio and you’re trying to grab your guitar and you stab yourself in the arm. Plants do inspire me, and I think that’s also a tweet that resembles – because people always ask what music inspires you – and I have a list of music that makes me feel good, but the things that inspire me the most aren’t musical. They’re conversations that I have with people and passing moments that I see, and all those are things that inspire me more than hearing a song on the radio.

Can you tell me a recent experience in which a plant inspired you?

Mark Diamond: This is a great conversation, I love it. I just walked by the other day, I can’t remember what it is, at the end of my driveway, it smells good. It might be eucalyptus? It smells absolutely amazing. I caught it as I was walking up the driveway and it’s just a very calming smell, so I took a second to just smell it, it makes you very calm when you smell it because you allow that moment to sink in for a second, and then actually I was planning this video that day and the song I wrote in the studio that day was the best song I’ve ever written in my life. And I would say that in part it was due to that calming feeling I got. Indirectly inspired by it. I think that’s the closest thing I can think of right now.

You recently played your first show in LA, what was the experience like of playing these songs live and seeing the audience react to them?

Mark Diamond: It was amazing, it felt so good to be out onstage. It was my first time playing Los Angeles, which was amazing, and first time playing at all in a little while. And playing these new songs. A lot of first times. It got me hungry for more shows, I think I was a little bummed that I wasn’t going to be onstage the next night. I think I’m entering this world right now where I think I’m ready to just play shows now and spend my time playing shows for quite some time, I want to get lost in that world. But the first show was great, seeing people’s reaction was amazing, and it just makes you feel connected to everything I guess. Because you’re working in the studio and you’re like “Is anyone actually listening to this?” but then you go out there and you play it to people and see people react to it and watching their emotion as you’re singing it, it makes it all real, a lot more tangible than when you’re just in the studio.

Last question: What are you most excited for now that the EP is out in the world?

Mark Diamond: You know, I think what I’m most excited for is to see where this EP is at, I know this sounds strange, but to see where this EP is at in a year or two. Because I’m a huge fan of – numbers and all of that stuff is not the most important thing – what I really care about is longevity and so far the music I’ve put out has proven to stand the test of time, my older stuff, and I feel deep down this is going to be the same so I’m excited to see where this is going to end up. I tweeted that this EP was going to change my life and I mean that in the way that every bit of music I’ve put out has changed my life, and I’m excited to see where this EP takes me. I’m so excited to be onstage and to be with people and see people sing the end of “Promise” with me , if I had to pick one song it would be that, the end of “Promise”. I’m excited to sing that with a big crowd of people.

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Is a dogs and music enthusiast, and spends most of her free time discovering new music, writing out thoughts, or photographing anything and anyone. An avid fan of Lady Bird, A24, and anything Saoirse Ronan and/or Timothée Chalamet related. Started a cactus collection she loves to talk about (they have names), and has very strong opinions on very random subjects like soup.