Pilar Diaz has the kind of style and talent that could make a person cry. As the former front-woman for the now disbanded Los Abandoned, Diaz would work a stage within an inch of its life. She delivered the band’s high energy bilingual pop-rock with such fervor that it’s no surprise she would wear leotards and old school Reeboks for shows.
Now as a solo artist, the Los Angeles-based Diaz still rocks the stage, though in a more layered, singer/songwriter way. Her self-titled album has Diaz mixing her ukulele with brass, strings and electronic elements.
Her recently released music video for “Ilegal en Estyle” has created a buzz leading up to her May 22 performance at Pachanga Fest in Austin. I sat down with Diaz to talk about her projects (past and present) and what she’s learned in between.
In addition to your music, what have you been working on?
Pilar: One of the things that I am doing, besides doing the solo project, is i’ve been working a lot writing music for film, documentaries and commercials. I’ve been working through a company that will call me up and go, “Hey can you demo, you know, a song? It’s for this product and they are kind of looking for this.” It’s really fun to do because as a musician, you work on your chops because it’s like, ‘“We need it in two days,” and you’re just like, “Oh, shit.” And you’re like, “Can I do it; can I do it?” You kind of get to detach. It’s not personal like making your own record or writing your own songs. So, it’s really fun because you get to see how your process is without being attached to it. I think that’s a really good exercise for writing.
How has it helped your own writing?
Pilar: It helps you get better at writing quicker and just kind of problem-solving. I come from a very conceptual background and visual background. I really enjoy it. I really enjoy writing for scenes to create a mood or just lift the mood for a scene. I love writing end credit songs. I love that. I don’t know if it’s from growing up in the ’80s.
What do you like about writing end-credit songs?
Pilar: You get to kind of wrap up the idea of the movie at the end. So, I love doing that. You know what’s been good about it, is that it helps me not to stay so attached to an idea. ‘Cause sometimes, even when you’re working on your own, you have an idea and you’re just saying, “I’m going to make it work, I’m going to make it work.” And then you have to just let it go when it’s just not working. You know what I mean? You just can’t force it. You can work really hard at it, but there’s a difference between obviously working hard and forcing it.
Let’s talk about Los Abandoned (left). You initiated the break up back in 2008. What happened?
Pilar: It’s a very simple response, but it was a hard action to do. It’s always hard to end things. I think basically I was just looking to see what else I could do. I mean the thing that we all agreed on was that Los Abandoned, for us, was like rock ‘n’ roll high school. We learned everything, how the music business runs, how it is to be a band that tours all the time and goes to other countries and plays. But I think, basically, it was time for me to explore what I could do on my own. But I think creatively and just everything, I started to sense my muse going a different direction. It was time, but it was really heartbreaking and was really hard to do.
When did you start feeling that pull?
Pilar: It developed slowly. It was the first time that I kind of had the confidence to work on my own, really on my own, completely on my own and write completely on my own, and also work with other writers as well. That was really fun. I wanted to explore writing with friends of mine that I had been wanting to work with for a long time and hadn’t had the chance to and finally I did.
Now that you’re on your own, what’s your muse?
Pilar: You know, my family is a big muse. My friends. And traveling, for me, is a huge muse because you can get away and experience something new.
What do you like best of working on your own?
Pilar: You really get to see your vision all the way through the end. Whereas in a democratic situation the way Los Abandoned was run, sometimes your vision or the other band members vision may not go all the way through because of the rest of the band isn’t feeling the song or it organically goes in another direction and then you’re like, “Okay, well if people are wanting to go that way, let’s just got that way.”
How did your solo career get off the ground?
Pilar: It was like perfect timing because I got a sponsorship to be a Visionary in Residence through a sponsorshop program for artists with the company Quiksilver. So it was like two months after the band had broken up that I applied for it and I auditioned for it and everything, and I got in. It was the perfect thing to have to set my foundation because we were all working in a communal work space, which was also an art gallery and event space and that was really great for me because I felt like I was back at CalArts. I was back in that art school vibe.
So for your self-titled album, who worked with you?
Pilar: While I was going to CalArts, I met a lot of musicians, a lot of writers and a lot of visual artists that also make music. I get along with visual artists a lot because I’m very conceptual, that’s the way I think of songs, too. I think of them in a conceptual way, I got to work with two of my friends that are visual artists, but they make amazing beats and music and they have a dub duo called Gold Cobra. Clay Morrow is one of them and he’s just genius, and he remixes a lot of music with a gameboy, so he writes music with a Gameboy. To produce the album, I produced it with Gabrial McNair, who also went to CalArts. He went to CalArts before I did, but everybody kind of still keeps in touch and knows everybody. He’s been the keyboardist and trombonist for No Doubt since the beginning of time, since ‘93, since before they got big and he’s still with them. He also was on Gwen’s solo records and stuff so it was perfect timing, he was on break from the band and touring and we had always wanted to work together.
Now that you’ve taken that leap with your first album, is it easier to keep going?
Pilar: I hope so. Yeah, it is. You know that’s what happens with any artist, you grow. Hopefully you grow into a big tree and you just keep growing up and out, right?
Where’s your tree, then?
Pilar: I think it’s almost spring. I love trees. I have books about trees. I’m such a dork; I love the trees in the Lord of the Rings. I love those trees, like that’s why it’s a good metaphor for an artist. The more you grow and the older the tree, it’s just wiser.
Do you feel wise?
Pilar: Not yet. [laughs] I feel wise on some things, you know? I’m still under construction.
Pilar Diaz will perform at Pachanga Fest in Austin on May 22. Watch her music video for “Ilegal en Estyle.”