Diane Cluck has been called all sorts of things: "A brilliant idiosyncratic guitarist," raves the Village Voice. "Her dark and introspective tunes are utterly captivating, sorta like an earthier Kate Bush." Other terms she hears frequently include "anti-folk" — which was reinforced by her inclusion on Rough Trade's Antifolk Vol. 1 compilation — and "freak-folk," which her music scene-mate Devendra Banhart gets even more. (She and Banhart played New York City clubs together in the early 2000s, and both appear on an anti-war collection called So Much Fire to Roast Human Flesh, a title that sounds more Throbbing Gristle than Steeleye Span.)
"I have never liked the freak-folk moniker applied to myself or even to others," explains Cluck. "While some people court that vibe, I don't feel like a freak, weirdo or outsider. Well, maybe I feel like a weirdo sometimes, but in a good way."
The New York-based singer-songwriter doesn't so much mind the term "anti-folk," which she sees as "an ethos of heart before all else, not so much an aesthetic term."
In any event, Cluck definitely has an engagingly distinctive approach to her music. You can hear it in her multi-tracked background vocals on songs like "Real Good Time": "One of my musical gifts," she notes, "is an ability to harmonize with anything, anywhere, anytime."
And then there's "Nothing but God," a sparse, piano-and-vocal track in which she repeatedly intones "We are / Lord / Nothing but God / Nothing but God in the way of itself." It's a low-fidelity approach — complete with tape-hiss and a couple of sonically unsettling channel drop-outs — that makes Robert Pollard sound like Steely Dan.
"'Nothing but God' was recorded on a tape recorder at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, where I stayed for a month and where there was no electricity," she explains. "It was what I refer to as a 'spontaneous song,' just coming out as the tape was rolling. In the past, I've tended to defer to feeling over what some people call 'high-fidelity' recordings. I was using what was available to me, unapologetically."
Three of the artist's six albums to date started out as CD-R releases with handmade artwork that were later picked up by the Massachusetts-based Important Records. More recently, she began recording for New York's Voodoo-Eros and London's Very Friendly labels.
What happens next is anyone's guess. Cluck figures NYC brings out "the most raw and even the best in some people I know," but it also leads to a shortage of time, space and rent money that makes leaving seem like a good idea.
When it comes to music, though, she's feeling optimistic. "I'm ready to make studio recordings for a new album, though I'm not yet sure how that will manifest. I'd like to try for a cleaner recording backdrop, but the sound may still be minimal."