Diane Ward isn't one to complain. She speaks only appreciatively of the love and support she's received during her long career as a musician in South Florida. "I've been superfortunate and enjoyed a large amount of success there," she says. "After all these years, people still come check out my shows and hear me play and buy my records. Nothing has left me feeling left out or disenfranchised from the community. For me, it's always been fantastic."
From an outside perspective, however, it's hard to shake the sense that Ward never received the recognition she deserved as a Melissa Etheridge-style singer-songwriter in a Miami music scene defined mostly by electronic sounds and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Here's the blurb published by New Times in 1999, when she was once again chosen by this publication as best female rock vocalist in the city:
The perennial winner of this category could easily have been eliminated from consideration this year if a major label had signed her to a deal and spread her fame beyond the boundaries of South Florida, as should have happened... The reason no corporation has been tempted to exploit her sound might be this: It's too nicked and edgy and tough to meet pop standards, and too damn pretty for rock and roll.
Though major-label stardom hasn't quite come to pass, Ward recently left her comfort zone in South Florida to challenge herself in a new arena. She moved to Nashville about a year ago after regularly visiting the city to co-write songs with various collaborators.
"I was a little scared because it's a whole different songwriting process, but I totally fell in love with it," she says. "I got to meet a lot of really great people, and the collaborations were just fun and interesting and unique; every experience was unique. I figured that if I moved there, I would have the opportunity to do it more because it was definitely feeding my creative beast."
This transitional period led to the creation of a record with one foot in Florida and the other in Tennessee. Ward's forthcoming album, Six, was recorded at Dogmanic Studios in Miami and mixed in Nashville, and includes a handful of collaborations with Nashville-based musicians. She and her Band of Virgos will celebrate the release during a show at Luna Star Cafe in North Miami this Saturday night.
Ward and her longtime friend and guitar player, Jack Shawde — another South Florida transplant based in Nashville — share production credits on Six, a 14-track album encompassing filthy bedroom funk ("Pretty Little Oh, My"), contemporary pop ("You're a Ghost"), and a delicate piano ballad about overcoming breast cancer ("Cold of December").
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"I think this album is a little bit more diverse stylistically," she says. "The Band of Virgos loves to jam, and there are three songs I wrote specifically with those kinds of grooves in mind so I could showcase them and enjoy having that as part of an album. And then there's the stuff I wrote with other people that is just totally different."
Writing with various people has pushed Ward to become better as a lyricist, she says, and pursuing growth as an artist is what led her to Nashville to begin with. Though she'll always maintain her ties to South Florida, pushing beyond her old boundaries has been an overwhelmingly positive experience.
"Picking up and moving to a new place after all these years has been really, really wild," she says. "I traveled a lot, but I've never lived anywhere other than South Florida. It's a totally different energy."
Diane Ward & the Band of Virgos. 9 p.m. Saturday, September 21, at the Luna Star Cafe, 775 NE 125th St., North Miami; lunastarcafe.com. Admission costs $10.