"I WROTE A LOT of the songs even before I had decided to get a divorce," Alela Diane tells me. "I was processing the things I was feeling inside... and I decided that I was never going to be able to sing them or make a record of it unless I actually followed through with what they were telling me, which was not to be with my husband anymore."
On a dismal, rainy night in February of 2012, at the tiny Oaks Pioneer Church in Sellwood, Diane debuted the heavy, heartbreaking folk songs that would find their way onto About Farewell. It was nine days after what would have been the two-year anniversary of her marriage to Tom Bevitori, himself a known figure in Portland's music scene, as part of Diane's erstwhile band, the Wild Divine, and currently with boozy country outfit Denver. Now, over a year later, she's chosen another church for the rare local performance that introduces the final album, available digitally as of June 25 with physical copies due July 30.
"It's delicate," she admits of playing the new record's songs in their shared town. Lyrically grounded in remembered details (from the "wood that you stacked/and it's on our front porch/and it tells me you left" on "Before the Leaving," to the plain "Honey, there is nothing I can do/to save you from yourself" of "Nothing I Can Do"), they betray an almost inappropriate, even cruel, level of intimacy. "We're friends now, which I'm so thankful for, and he's heard the record as well, so essentially it does have his blessing... And while there are two sides to every story, I don't think any of what I'm saying is a shock to him."
Diane just turned 30, and About Farewell is a milestone in more ways than one. While specifically rooted in the recent breakup, it's also something of a retrospective on relationships of the past decade, and artistically it's a renewal of her independence. "My music started out very much as a solo endeavor," she says in reference to her first two records, The Pirate's Gospel (2004) and To Be Still (2009). Her third and most recent, Alela Diane & Wild Divine, found her not only working with a band (including her father in addition to her husband) but with a label (Rough Trade) that paired her with producer Scott Litt, who'd previously worked with such boldface names as R.E.M. and Patti Smith. About Farewell represents a severance from those circumstances in favor of newfound simplicity.
"There's an expectation and a natural progression that happens when you make music. It just gets bigger and bigger, and then you add more people, but it's a huge responsibility." The break in her personal life also coincided with Rough Trade dropping her from their roster. "I think they had bigger hopes for me, and I didn't meet that mark," she says without a perceptible tone of regret.
Instead, she started her own label, Rusted Blue, to release About Farewell, which is by far her most mature, momentous, and intense effort to date. Built around clear, mountainous vocals and coiled finger picking—which she recorded separately and alone—the record gets luxe texture out of the addition of strings, piano, flute, and drums courtesy of collaborators like Heather Woods Broderick, Neal Morgan, and Holcombe Waller.
As exquisite as it is, Farewell can be a burdensome listen. "It is an exposé," she says, "and it is a little frightening... when you're an artist, I guess that's just sort of what you do."