Known as the Six String Siren to her fans, once you listen to blues rocker Diana Rein, you will quickly agree. Her voice will captivate you, her guitar skills will wow you, and her overall songwriting and musicianship will move you.
[Cover Photo Credit: Steve Polacek]
Born in Romania, raised in Chicago, and currently residing in the Los Angeles area, Diana Rein began her career in the ‘90s as a child actor in the Home Alone movies playing the role of Kevin McCallister’s cousin, Sondra. She also enjoyed singing and dancing. She continued in acting and music, ultimately playing in the Chicago area music scene and releasing her first album The Back Room in 2008.
Diana’s love of music didn’t stop there. She was always intrigued by the electric guitar and decided she had to learn more. Once introduced to the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan, there was no turning back. In 2016, she released a 12-song CD Long Road for which she won the 2016 LA Critics Award for Best Female CD, as well as Best Blues Artist and Fan Favorite.
We had a chance to meet Diana at the National Association of Music Merchants Show (NAMM) in January where she was performing a bit of her “One Woman Band Show” at the D&A Guitar Gear Booth. We also had a chance to sit down with her afterwards where we chatted and learned more about her and her music. Catch that interview HERE on YouTube.
As a follow-up to that interview, I spoke with Diana the other day to discuss her beginning in music, her approach to her songwriting and the recording of Long Road, her gear, and advice for aspiring musicians.
It was great meeting you at NAMM and seeing you perform. Was that your first experience at NAMM?
Yes, it was great meeting you, too. Yeah, it was my first time being there and performing there. It’s so overwhelming! You don’t know where to start. There’s three levels and I didn’t even get to go to the basement level where there’s more of the start-up companies. And there’s so much to do!
Well I’ve been going since 2009 and I still haven’t seen everything. It’s impossible. For starters, let’s talk about your background. You began as a child actor in the ‘90s first appearing in the Home Alone movies and I believe you were in a Dennis the Menace movie?
Yes, I filmed like one or two days for Dennis the Menace, but for Home Alone, I was there for about a month and a half for both of them – for the first one and the second one.
How was that experience?
It was really awesome! Before I got in the movie, I would just videotape myself in my room all the time just doing all sorts of nutty things, so it just kind of made me feel like I manifested it, in a way. I did go and audition, and went to about four call backs. I didn’t think I was going to get it, but eventually I did, and the first day I got on set, it was just like wow! This is what a real set is like. This is pretty fantastic. It was a good learning experience for an 11-year-old being thrown into an adult world. It wasn’t tainted. It was Home Alone — it was a family movie so it wasn’t like we were “Hollywood screw up a child.” So, I am fortunate that it was a good experience to be a part of on a broad scale.
How did you get into acting?
At the time, I was singing more than acting. I would sing all the time; and dance and act. I was born in Romania so my parents didn’t know anything about agents and how it all worked. They thought you just needed to have connections and money to break into the scene. I went to a fine arts grammar school in Chicago and someone came to the school looking for children to read and narrate children’s books and I ended up getting hired to do that. It was through one of the people that was engineering and recording the children’s book that was also an actor and agent, and he asked me if I wanted to have an interview with his agency. I went for the interview and they brought me on, and then from there I started going on auditions and booking jobs.
My parents would say that when I was still in the crib, in order for me to go to sleep, I would ask for them to play the Bee Gees!
When did you make the transition to music, or are you still acting, and what was the driving force behind it?
I’m not acting anymore. I am really so focused on music. When I think about what came first, whether it was music or acting, it was definitely music. I was always attracted to the sound of music and the radio. My parents would say that when I was still in the crib, in order for me to go to sleep, I would ask for them to play the Bee Gees! This was back in Romania. So, I had a connection with music way beyond my acting connection.
I was a little misguided for a while. First of all, acting — it’s such a hard thing to crack into, and then when you do, you get this taste of, wow, I’m on a real set and you hear stories from the other kids and the jobs they’re doing, and it just felt like it was meant to be. Like I’m here for a reason, so I should just totally focus on acting because I got this break and now I should focus on that. That’s what I did for the next 15 years or so.
But then music slowly started creeping back. When I was 16, I picked up the guitar for the first time and played some chords, and then in my early 20’s I started writing my own music and performing solo out in Chicago. So, it’s always been like either one or the other, but I totally wholeheartedly thought that acting was what I needed to pursue. Now I realize that I was probably wrong. But that’s okay because I learned so many skills from the acting world that translate to the music world. I can make my own videos, I know how to edit film; I’ve learned so many skills and so many tools that are helping me now with my music career being an independent artist. So, I don’t regret any of it. I’m happy I was able to be thrown in and figure things out and learn. Real world learning!
When did you make the move to Los Angeles?
I came out here to go to college. I went to the University of Southern California for three years and I was a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) acting major there. Then I stayed here in LA after that for three years and then I moved back to Chicago.
In terms of your background on playing the guitar, you have a YouTube video titled “How I learned to play guitar – My Story, Inspiration and Tips” where you discuss your background on the guitar and some setbacks you encountered. You read this book about “One Thing” that got you focused. What was that “one thing” that got you focused on your guitar playing?
The decision about how I was going to move forward. I am a multipotentialite and the definition of that is someone who throws themselves into something, masters it, gets bored, and quickly moves on. So, you know, I’ve done the acting thing, I used to be a head shot photographer in Chicago and Los Angeles, and I produced my own film, and learned how to edit and do all that stuff. With music, I threw myself into it and decided to finally learn how to play lead guitar. So that was the one thing.
I told myself you’re not going to do five things moving forward. You’re going to choose one thing and you’re gonna do it well and it’s lucky that I chose the guitar and music because seriously there’s no end to getting great on the guitar. It constantly challenges me. That’s why I think I’m never going to get bored with it and why I think it was the best decision for me. I just feel music, since I was little, was always number one. It just took a long time for me to come full circle and learn some things before I could do it the right way – the way I was meant to do it. I remember when I was around seven or eight just the sound of the electric guitar gave me chills and goosebumps — so it goes back for me.
I made the decision after reading that One Thing book to just throw myself into playing the guitar and figuring it out up and down the fret board and to be really comfortable with it and write the music I really wanted to write which is blues rock and to just keep getting better.
I know Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of the major influences in your music. How were you introduced to his music?
I went to Target looking for some music DVDs, which I’m really sad they don’t carry anymore. I went there a couple of weeks ago to look for some and they don’t carry them anymore! But in any case, it was in 2003, I went to Target and I saw the cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan: Live In Austin Texas. You don’t see his face, you just see his neck and the cross pendant necklace that he would always wear and his Phoenix tattoo on his chest and I was like ‘I will have to take this’ and I got home and popped it in the DVD player and the first song he played was “Pride and Joy” and I was like ‘Oh my God.” After that I bought every single book I could find about him, read everything I could about him, and listened to all his music. I don’t know what it is about him, but he just has this – not just over me, but over a lot of people – he’s got this magnetism, a confidence, he plays with command. When you really get into his playing, it’s not like he played a lot of difficult notes, but the fierceness and strength with which he played those notes and how sincere he was, it’s magnetic. The sound of that guitar I always go back to and I like people that emulate him because I like that strong sound of the guitar solo.
What other musicians have had a major impact on your love of the blues?
Because of Stevie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker is one of my favorites. He’s such an entertainer. I like the way that he played the guitar which was very unique. He almost played it like a lap steel guitar. I’d have to say Freddie King and Albert King and I could definitely hear their influence on Stevie’s playing. I like Philip Sayce. He’s from Canada and he played with Jeff Healey, and I’ve seen him live a few times out in LA so I really like how he plays. I like Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang and, of course, I love Bonnie Raitt, too. I used to sing her songs when I was little all the time.
I saw you have a cover of one of her songs on your website.
Yes, I do. “Angel from Montgomery.”
You’re known as the Six String Siren by some of your fans. How did that come about? You have such a powerful and beautiful voice…it’s gorgeous!
Thank you! It was through connecting with my fans on Facebook and someone called me that in a comment and then people seemed to respond to that so I said okay, that’s kind of cool!
Yes, that’s quite a compliment! Your latest album Long Road was released last year and you played all the instruments on the album. What was the inspiration behind this release and how did you approach the recording process?
First, I sat down and wrote the songs. Usually for me, I have to set aside time. I will say okay the next two or three or four weeks I’m just going to write music. I’m not going to do anything else. Some people are just an open channel all the time. I choose to close that channel and just open it up when I need to. I don’t write on an ongoing basis.
I came up with a bunch of songs and I picked my favorites from what I had done and then I just started strumming and wrote the rhythmic part. Then I wrote the drum tracks through a program called Easy Drummer where I input the beats that I’m thinking about for whatever parts I need and then it gives me real life loops – like real life drummers playing loops that have that tempo and beat and then I just pile it all together. Then I put down the bass guitar, the rhythm guitar, and scratch vocals just so I don’t forget it. Then come back with lead guitar parts and finally recorded the vocals. And then sent it off to get mixed and mastered.
I love the blues first and foremost, but I also can appreciate other forms of music.
I see you like to take pop songs and put a “blues” twist on it. You’ve covered Beiber, Maroon 5, Ellie Goulding and Taylor Swift to name a few. How do you pick the songs you want to cover and how do you go about adding your “touch” to them?
I haven’t done it in a while, but I really like the one that I did of Ellie Goulding and I will probably be doing more. I grew up listening to all kinds of music, especially pop. I used to have posters of Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Cyndi Lauper all over my walls, so I’m not a blues purist. I love the blues first and foremost, but I also can appreciate other forms of music. So, when I hear another song in another genre that I like the chord progression or a really pretty melody, that’s what grabs me to try to make it into a blues song and sometimes it works and then sometimes it doesn’t. I play around with it and see if I can “bluesify” it. I don’t really have a formula on how to do it, I just kind of pick up my guitar and start feeling things out.
There’s something about the guitar and emoting – sharing your emotions through the guitar that I do as well which is more powerful than the voice.
Do you have any plans to try another genre?
No, I don’t. I really love the fact that blues and blues rock is accepting of the guitar solo. In a lot of music, guitar solos are non-existent and just the sound of the guitar is one thing that gives me goose bumps. Blues and blues rock is kind of the perfect fit for me. Sometimes I think I really enjoying singing but I honestly love playing the guitar more. When I see someone like Kenny Wayne Shepherd who doesn’t sing his songs but he has Noah sing them for him, I can understand that. There’s something about the guitar and emoting – sharing your emotions through the guitar that I do as well which is more powerful than the voice.
Your last full-length album The Back Room was released in 2007. How do you feel you’ve progressed as a musician over the years (in terms of songwriting, recording, guitar playing, and performing)?
It’s been a totally big shift because I didn’t know how to play lead guitar the first time I recorded. I did a couple of tiny little solos on that, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was mostly playing rhythm guitar so I grew in that aspect. I feel like for the last album because I wasn’t so strong with my guitar skills that I wasn’t really writing the music or the type of songs I wanted to write like the blues rock songs I wanted to write so I think that’s a big shift in the right direction with the second album. I did not record it myself and this album I did record all by myself so that was also a big shift. I was more independent and I feel like I grew a lot in between the two.
You recently became the first female endorsed artist for J. Rockett Audio Designs. Can you take a moment to tell us about your gear, including your pedals from them, and the set-up you use for performing, particularly your “One Woman Band Show?”
I performed a version of my One Woman Band Show at NAMM which you saw. I’ve changed my gear a little since then. Now what I have is two separate Fender Blues Junior amps — one of them I’m using for my lead guitar tone and the other one I’m using for loops that I’m creating in real time.
I’m also the first female representative for D&A Guitar Gear company. They make awesome guitar stands. They just came out with this acupressure piece that you put onto your guitar strap positioned over your shoulder to help relieve the pressure and weight of the guitar. It feels really good while I’m playing because it helps with the weight of the guitar, and it just releases my left shoulder because it tends to rise up while I’m playing, so it helps me relax my shoulder.
For the J. Rockett pedals, I’m using the J. Rockett archer pedal and that’s a boost pedal and I’m also using their dude pedal which is a boost and a drive. You can use it as both, but it just has this massive sound. I also use a delay and a wah pedal, a fuzz pedal and my looper, and I’ve got an oxvibe and a tube screamer.
The guitars I’m using are two Fender Stratocasters. I have a red California Series Stratocaster that my father got me I think in 2003 or 2004. Then I have one that’s a replica of a ’62 Strat that’s call the Hot Rod Vintage that they discontinued. Makes me kind of sad. I love the neck on it because it’s got a thicker neck and it sounds really amazing and it’s a sunburst.
And my suitcase drum!
It’s evolving, but I honestly think it’s pretty darn close for the one woman show.
Speaking of your “One Woman Show,” you mentioned to us at NAMM that you’re working on an upcoming tour. However, I just saw a new YouTube video you posted last week about touring, creating music, and getting your music out to your fans before heading out on the road. What are some of the tools you are utilizing to get your music out and grow your fan base.
I think now we’re at a very big advantage, more so than musicians that were doing this 20 years ago. We have the internet and we have some great tools that allow us to be seen by a lot more people than if we set up a tour and had 20 people come to see our show. I really honestly think that we have to see how people are operating these days and mold our tactics to fit that. Everyone always carries their cell phones. Some people sleep with it next to them. Some people take it to the bathroom with them. It’s a part of our bodies. So, I think it would be wrong to not check out all the opportunities that you have on Facebook, on Snapchat with livestreaming, and actually connecting to your fans, responding to them, talking to them, letting them know you’re a real person. They get more insight into who you are than if they would come to a show where they have no clue who you are to begin with. If you want to build your audience, I think it’s better to do it before you set out on the road. For me, it’s not the easiest thing to do. I have a four-year-old. It’s also expensive financially to tour — and without any guarantees. I think it’s a big risk.
I think you make a good point. When you go to a show you only get about 10 minutes or so at the merch table to meet fans and then everyone’s trying to talk to you and that’s not quality time. I think with the live streaming on Facebook and other outlets, I think it’s great.
And the other thing I think about too is record labels nowadays will not take you on to develop you anymore. You really have to be developed and show that you have that initiative to help your career before anyone is going to help you. And there have been plenty of artists that did not have a fan base that got signed by a label and then for whatever reason a few months later they were dropped and that was because they didn’t have a large fan base so I think growing your fan base is number one. That way whether you get with a label or not, your fans will always be there. I think it’s totally different world and we have to think about it in a different way.
So, don’t squander your time is a good piece of advice!
Based on what you’ve learned so far, what’s the best piece of advice you would give a young girl wanting to pursue a career in music?
I feel like I want to say don’t squander your time, but that was a lesson that you could have told me in my 20’s and I would not have listened. I only learned that lesson when I had a child and I only had certain pockets of time to do things. I was able to make myself focus more and get things done. So, don’t squander your time is a good piece of advice!
That’s good advice!
To connect with Diana Rein:
Long Road Track Listing:
- Long Road
- Wild One
- Livin’ Loud
- Green Light
- Rebel With a Cause
- The Real Thing
- Done Me Dirty
- Don’t Walk Away
- Come Back Home
- Down Down Down