Harnessing the Creative Force
THE PERFORMING SONGWRITER
MARCH/APRIL 1995
by Chris Flischer
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"Do things in your life that keep routine in it and keep your head straight and your feet on the ground.  That's what's most important,"  says Rounder/Philo recording artist Diane Zeigler.  "There is a lot of adoration in this business and there is also a lot of criticism.  It is important not to get wrapped up in either and try to keep your focus on yourself, your music, and your goals."

Easily said and perhaps easily done, given the results this impressive singer-songwriter has achieved in a relatively sort career.  In a mere five years, Diane Zeigler moved from the supportive comfort of small-town community in upstate Vermont, joined the ranks of Boston's hotly competitive acoustic music scene, and secured a multi-album recording contract wit hone of the industry's most visible singer-songwriter labels.

As her debut recording and rising status attests, this artist has a determination, spark and attitude that remains inspirational.  Affable and humble, with a maturity that belies her physical youth, Zeigler plies this most difficult trade with grace and a healthy dose of philosophical balance.

"I approach music as something that I love to do.  It's what drove me to do this in the first place; this love.  And all I can do is take the point of view that says, 'These are my talents and this is what I have to bring to the table.  Here it is, do wit hit what you want," she explains.  "I couldn't feel more confident about my new songs.  I feel it is the beset work of my life and if it doesn't appear that way to the critics, then that's OK, because I am proud of it."

Rightfully so.  Her debut, "Sting of the Honeybee" finds this resolute songwriter addressing topics as boldly personal as death, spirituality, domestic abuse, love, and self-discovery with a candor and forthright honesty that is as emotionally stirring as it is universal.   Whether angrily attacking the unjust hierarchy of the workplace ("Cog in the Wheel"), describing the hollow fear of a surviving spouse ("Widow's Peak"), boosting the morale of a hopeless artist ("You Will Get Your Due"), or extolling the determined ways of an Atalantic fisherman ("One Who Got Away"), Diane's songs move with a lyrical punch that exhibits a wisdom and strength well beyond her years.  Perhaps best summed up in the two opening cuts, "Leap of Faith" and "Walk on Water", this songwriter threads songs with a deep spiritual constant that offers optimism and encouragement for any and all.  Even a cover of James Taylor's "Millworker" fits nicely in this reflective tapestry.

Country, soft-rock, and acoustic folk carry the songs that are immediately appealing and melodic.  Produced by venerable folkie, Artie Traum, the majority of the tunes are supported by a full bank, backup singers, tasteful instrumental flourishes, and display Diane's delicate vocal delivery with lasting effect.

Despite the lofty tone of her tittles and songs, Zeigler's lyrics never stray into self-serving navel-gazing, or worse, preachy sentiments.  Rather, they move comfortably within the confines of one woman's view and hence, favor warmth and inspiration.  Although seemingly easy, this single aspect illustrates a process that requires considerable emotional homework.  Rather, they move comfortably within the confines of one woman's view and hence, favor warmth and inspiration.  Although seemingly easy, this single aspect illustrates a process that requires considerable emotional homework.

"It is something that I continually wrestle with in this business,"  she confides.  "One one hand you have this intensely personal stuff that you create from experience in a place so far removed from the studio and the stage and yet, on the other hand you have this forum for delivering these songs that is the exact opposite.  The hardest part of this is reconciling these two extremes.  But then again," she quickly chimes in, "I have to do it.  It is a decision that rings on a very deep, personal level.  I have to do this to feel like I can contribute something as a human being."

As if a strong commitment wasn't enough, this young idealist has faced considerable personal challenges as well.  When she was 19, a close older brother succumbed to an untimely illness.  Later, while continuing college in Vermont, she managed to raise enough money to leave school and become the director of a 60-child orphanage deep in the Venezuelan jungle, hoping the change the world.  Life-hardened and culture-shocked beyond her wildest plans, Diane learned to cope with upheaval and change in a way that ultimately made her the person and writer she's become.

"I came out of those two experiences very positively," she recalls.  "They forced me to think of life in much different terms and I became a better writer because of it.  They didn't change what was lacking in my music, because musically my sense of melody is very simple, but it forced me to write songs and play more.  I developed a singleness of mind that really saw no other option but to write better."

The obvious and often prevalent connection between crisis and creativity does not elude Zeigler.  "I don't wear these things on my shoulder," she quickly admits, "but I do believe that these events helped shape me as a writer.  She adds, " You can't let yourself be driven by negative things or put too much faith in that idea.  It is mistake to get wrapped up in that, because it becomes a snowball when you have to have tragedy to create, so you make your own tragedy.  That is abusive."

As one of five children from a close-knit, relatively non-musical family, Diane admits to being a "child of the 70s" with "standard" influences, including James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Dan Fogelberg, and, yes, Barry Manilow ("I can't deny it," she laughs, "that music is just part of what I heard so it counts as something that shaped my sense of music").  However it was one of her brother's guitars that ultimately snagged her interest.  Kept under lock and key, Diane found a way to use that guitar to teach herself to rudimentary chords of her favorite songs.

Looking back at her progress in a field that eliminates many, Diane recalls her decision to become a performing singer-songwriter, "I can remember when I decided to do this.  I had spent much of my life dreaming about how I wanted to be a songwriter, but I was always too lazy to do it," she admits.  "Until things changed in my life to a point where I had to follow this dream - I just had to.  It was really incredible," she exclaims.  "I just threw myself into music and the guitar with almost obsessive force, practicing five, six, seven hours a day for six months until I mastered it.  Maybe it was coming back from Venezuela, or my brother dying, or maybe it was falling in love with my husband.  Whatever it was, I wish I knew how to harness that energy again, " she laughs, pausing, "I'd try and win the lottery or something."