Alternately described as dream pop, dark ambient and shoegaze, the hypnotic alternative rock of Blind Divine conjures a heady atmosphere in which baroque structures, sonic textures, melancholic vocals and personal lyrics combine to evoke webs of emotional connections.
"It's almost like a landscape in your head," says singer Paula Catherine Valencia, addressing the goal of Blind Divine's music. "You paint certain pictures in your mind with what you are hearing, and each time you hear the music again, different parts of that landscape are filled in. And that returns you to those feelings you had when you first heard it."
Valencia and her musician-composer husband, Daniel Martin Diaz, embody the cornerstone of Blind Divine, which since 2005 has released six full-length CDs, all through Mysticus Publishing, their independent label. The most recent was Breathing Spell in 2009.
The pair also has made hours and hours of unreleased recordings and seen its songs appear on multi-artist compilations. Blind Divine's music is also regularly licensed for use in TV shows and movies, and on a variety of cable networks—all of which makes sense, considering how cinematic the band's music feels.
Blind Divine will perform this Saturday, May 14, at the Rialto Theatre, with an all-star, all-local lineup of Gabriel Sullivan and Taraf de Tucson, The Jons, Brian Lopez, Ensphere and Dead Western Plains.
The concert actually is the second half of a two-day event dubbed the Beyond the Sacred Music and Arts Festival, which marks the first anniversary of Sacred Machine Museum and Curiosity Shop, the downtown gallery operated by Diaz and Valencia.
In addition to playing in Blind Divine, Diaz is a well-respected, self-taught artist who paints in oil on wood and creates etchings, wood-block prints and stone lithographs. His style combines the influences of traditional European art, Spanish colonial, surrealism and postmodernism. Music fans may have seen his commissioned works on the covers of albums by P.O.D. and Good Charlotte.
Diaz also designed the unique stage and proscenium at Club Congress and is designing a 30-by-30-foot sculpture that will adorn the under-construction public parking garage at the intersection of Fourth Avenue, Toole Avenue and Congress Street.
The mission of Sacred Machine (located at 245 E. Congress St., Suite 123) is to show Diaz's art, as well as that of similar-minded artists. The gallery's first-anniversary show will open Friday, May 13, and feature works from Diaz, Mark Ryden, Chris Mars, Craig LaRotonda and 20 others from Tucson and around the world.
Diaz is a Tucson native, and Valencia was born in Douglas, but she was raised here. They have been making music together since about a month after they began dating 21 years ago.
Many of the group's earliest recordings—on rough, eight-track cassettes—remain unreleased, but Diaz would like to see some of that material made available.
"There's something nostalgic about tape hiss," he says. "It kind of makes the music more earthy, because music's so pristine today. It's nice to hear those artifacts in the music."
Blind Divine don't mind leaving the occasional atmospheric flaws in their music, which they create in a home studio.
"The way we record is so natural," Valencia says. "A lot of times, we don't overdub, and when we write, we sometimes just keep the first take, whatever it is, whether there's a little bit of hiss or a cricket in the background. If the vibe's there, we keep it."
Adds Diaz, "There's a strange atmosphere that's created when anomalies are left in there."
Among the musical artists Diaz and Valencia appreciate is electronic- and ambient-music pioneer Brian Eno, who often has spoken of music creating an environment. And Blind Divine's performances are dramatic, transformative presentations, putting the performance back into rock.
"In our live show, we want to create an environment that envelopes people with the lights and the fog," Valencia says. "There's a mystery to the ambience and the music. It's meant to set a mood. It's almost like everyone in the audience is in the performance with you. It's almost like you're not just singing to people; they're in the moment with you."
The performing version of Blind Divine became active several years ago, and includes full-time members D.J. Esparza on drums and Jacob Stevens on bass.
Some listeners may find it surprising that the mature-sounding lead guitarist in Blind Divine—the practitioner of a style that elides Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine—is Diaz and Valencia's 18-year-son, Damian.
About a year and a half ago, Damian Demetrius Diaz replaced Michael Glidewell, a former member of Black Sun Ensemble, who had played with Blind Divine for several years before other responsibilities called him away. Following Glidewell's departure, the couple turned to their son, who grew up playing music and observing his parents do the same.
"It was hard for us to find a guitar-player with Mike's style, because he was really ambient and really into sound effects and textures with the guitar," the elder Diaz says.
Valencia recalls that they originally hired their son for a one-time gig. "We had booked Club Crawl® and kept auditioning these guitar-players and couldn't find the right one, so we asked Damian to sit in for this one show. He learned the material in one night. After that, our drummer said, 'If you fire Damian, I quit.'"
His parents are well aware that Damian—who also plays drums, bass and piano—would eventually like to start his own band. In addition to playing in Blind Divine, he plays for fun with other musicians his own age.
"But I think he sees the difference between playing with people who have been playing a long time, and just fooling around with his friends," Valencia says. "And he is writing all the time. He writes music on his phone, actually; he writes full songs on his Droid!"
Diaz says a couple of the tunes his son has written are ready for release and probably will be included on the next Blind Divine album, Slow in Obeying an Order, which they expect to release this fall.