In honor of Women’s History Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of essays that reflect on identity, music, culture, inclusion and more.
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Today, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Irene Diaz shares her essay, “Lost and Found: A Los Angeles Story,” as part of Atwood Magazine’s Women’s History Month series. Born and raised in Highland Park, Diaz launched her career in 2010 and has been actively releasing music ever since. In 2022, she released her debut album Lovers & Friends, which was produced by Grammy Award nominee and Latin Grammy Award winner Carla Morrison. She released her follow-up single “Lost” on March 28. Says Irene, “A confession of desire, ‘Lost’ is that in-between where longing and fulfillment collide.”
“LOST AND FOUND: A LOST ANGELS STORY”
by Irene Diaz
TOAll my life I’ve been told how to look, not look, and be both in and out of the music scene.
I grew up the only 4-year-old girl in a small 2-bedroom apartment in Northeast Los Angeles. The town of Hermon, just across the way, is Highland Park, a town everyone would know about only after mass gentrification and Billie Eilish. My dad, a musician who played electric guitar in a rock n’ Spanish band called Cinema that later broke up, and my mom, an insurance collector. My parents always had trouble paying the bills, but they managed to enroll us in a Christian school and made sure we attended church every Sunday, modesty was always the norm. Skirts must be below the knee so as not to tempt children, close legs, no swearing, and absolutely no profanity.
As I got older, I remember some of my family members mentioning how one of my cousins started wearing makeup at a young age and they didn’t approve. Hearing this, I clung to modesty and waited until I was 19 to wear makeup and even then it was minimal.
My mom grew up in a fairly conservative home in Cypress Park, but after she had us children and as she evolved as a person, she started wearing high heels, putting on makeup, and even taking salsa dance classes. My dad didn’t approve. My parents got divorced when I was 16, and I don’t blame the changes my mom was making, but I subconsciously avoided all these things any longer because her divorce was so traumatic.
Since my dad was a guitarist, I got into music. I started taking piano lessons at age 7 and didn’t start playing guitar until I was 16. My rebellion against my father was deciding to play acoustic guitar instead of becoming a shredder like him.
I decided to get serious about music at 23 and started performing at local events and open mics in Boyle Heights, Pasadena, Alhambra, etc. and eventually got involved with the Chicano music scene.
At first, people told me what I should look like as an artist. I remember meeting these two people and they got very involved, dressing me up and beautifying me, telling me I had to look a certain way to fit “the part”. Looking back, I appreciate it, but I wasn’t ready for this version of myself. I think one thing that scared me was being told that I would probably have to wax my facial hair and that as a Latina that meant pain. I never moved on.
I was introduced to a Mexican producer early on and he told me that I needed to raise 25k to record with him and that I shouldn’t date, just focus on music. That sounds good, but one, I couldn’t afford that, and two, relationships are where I get my inspiration.
As I went along, I was in talks with a manager who wanted me to be his first client, I remember he posted a venue for a launch party he was planning and couldn’t guarantee the venue unless I signed with him, and stupidly I did. I had a really hard time seeing the red flags early on.
As I performed more, people started comparing me to other artists, but these particular artists sang in Spanish and I sang in English. I ended up feeling for a long time that I needed to sing in Spanish, but because it’s not my native language, I never delved deep enough to follow it.
At one point they told me that I should change my stage name from Irene Diaz because they believed that Irene Diaz did not appeal to the “general market.” I’m glad I didn’t, but it made me wonder, but seeing artists like Jessie Reyez and José González who sang in English and appropriated their Spanish names with their work was inspiring.
A producer once told me that I should continue writing songs instead of producing after showing him my work. Fortunately I didn’t take his advice, but my confidence in this area took a bit of a hit.
Going into the pop music genre, people told me I needed to learn choreography moves to appeal to this music market, so I did my best even though choreography wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to focus on. I’m glad I at least gave it a try and in the end it helped me own my own way of moving onstage.
At the end of 2021 I reached a point where I needed to get something back for myself, so I did the craziest thing I could think of: I cut off all my long hair and went blonde. Was it liberating? It was a step towards reclaiming myself, but even at this point I was still struggling with my own personal confidence and who I was as an artist and as a woman.
I know that when people give their opinion they mean no harm, and yes, I have had so many wonderful experiences and people have come into my life who have helped me and believed in me; I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, but eventually I lost my own voice and had no idea who I was and what I wanted. But I know that I no longer wanted to continue living this same narrative, no more playing the victim, no more listening to the opinions and experiences that have prevented me from finding myself.
Late last year I got COVID for the first time. He forced me to isolate myself and stop, listen to my heart, mind and body.
I decided to take a hard look at all these experiences and relationships that I have carried through the years, consciously and unconsciously. I had to assess how much ‘YO’ let these encounters keep me from discovering and exploring myself on my own terms. It took me years to get to this point, but I’m so glad I can see all of this now. When you’re in it, you can’t necessarily see what’s in front of you and I now know that being aware of where I’ve been, who I am, what I’ve experienced and who I can become without letting opinions or experiences sway. me is key to confidently becoming my own artist as well as the best version of myself for me. With these experiences and opinions you take what you need and leave the rest. It has been a long road, but I am truly grateful that it has shaped me to where I am today.
With all this being said, I’m happy to release the first single. LOST of an upcoming EP that will showcase my growth as a producer, songwriter, artist, and woman who continues to grow as a Latina from a conservative Christian home to a singer/songwriter from the East Side of Los Angeles. – irene diaz
:: connect with Irene Díaz here ::
:: stream/buy “Lost” here ::
Transmission: “Lost” – Irene Díaz
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