“We all grow and evolve on many levels, and I've always found refuge in the spiritual realm," Alex Diaz says. "It's always saved me from the insanity of the world and helps me find peace within. At the time of recording Orange Violet, I felt I was outgrowing many things from the past and it was time to embark in a new direction, not only artistically but spiritually as well.”
Diaz, better known locally as Xela Zaid, has sat quietly in the Miami music scene for the past three decades, a former winner of New Times' 2013 Best Solo Musician. Now devoted to experiments in dissonant ambiance, Zaid made his bones with the indie outfit Ho Chi Minh in the '90s. That group’s releases, 1997’s Motorama and 2001’s Summerwood, are indie reductions of excellent pop — proving his solid background in traditional musicianship.
But since then, he continues to push the envelope of experimental and noise music.
“Most of the writing for Ho Chi Minh were acoustic-based songs in alternate tunings about love, heartbreak, and the glory of the universe,” he explains. “By the turn of the century, 1999/2000, as my bandmates moved to L.A., I was ready to go solo, and Xela Zaid was born. That marked a pronounced shift in my writing, and I began experimenting with radio sounds, harmonica, electro-acoustic guitar, spoken word, and an assortment of various percussion instruments.”
Going on the road and collaborating with Frank “Rat Bastard” Falestra has been a boon that, by his own admission, has “opened the door to new ideas, improvisation, spontaneity, and allowing the moment to express itself in its own unique and mysterious way.” With this newfound freedom, Zaid has taken to incorporating more movement and audience interaction, as well as dance elements, to his stage work.
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His latest album, Orange Violet, was self-released digitally to European outlets in the summer of 2013. From there, it was picked up by the Italian netlabel Selva Elettrica in early 2014 and was followed by a tour of the United Kingdom and Europe that fall. At a show in Antwerp, Belgium, Zaid met the guys behind the French label Partycul System, who offered to back the vinyl release this past February.
Changing it up considerably since his last full effort, 2010’s Loves, Zaid set up several microphones throughout a large rec hall and recorded Orange Violet live. “It was a blank-canvas approach where everything was written on the spot, improvised, experimental, and truly spontaneous,” he explains. “Most of the tracks were either first, second, at the most third takes, and I would move on.”
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Mixed and mastered by Falestra at Miami's Dan Hosker Studio, Orange Violet benefits from a freeform aesthetic, a polar opposite of the parameters set in Loves.
But there is an undeniable cohesion to the album. The seven tracks share a certain uniformity of spirit and work best in the unified flow of their listing. Zaid has been conscious of the effort and its complete aural and physical manifestation.
“Before I began recording Orange Violet, I saw these same swirling colors through my mind's eye during meditations — it felt like I was being healed on a spiritual level. Shortly after, I began experimenting with different lighting schemes in my studio, creating these clusters of colored lights that produced these amazing pink and violet hues on the wall, which inspired the title of the record.”
Orange Violet is available via xelazaid.bandcamp.com.