Week of March 20th, 2023 – March 26th, 2023
by Joey Spehar
A familiar voice around Pittsburgh, Vida Chai is the stage name of Avi Diamond. Their latest album – Somewhere Strange – was recently on display at the New Hazlett Theater as a fully staged dance and live music show. The song “The Mask” is about trying to get an emotionally detached partner to open up. Vida Chai recently spoke with WYEP’s Joey Spehar about mushrooms, masks, and The Dresden Dolls.
This conversation may be lightly edited for content, clarity, or length.
What’s your musical history up to this point?
I’ve been making music in the Pittsburgh area for nearly ten years! My music journey began as a music therapy and jazz voice major at Duquesne University.
I have released four albums, most recently Somewhere Strange in October 2022. This project was selected to be turned into a fully staged dance and live music show at the New Hazlett Theater as a part of the community sponsored artist program. I wear many hats as a performer and play an eclectic range of styles ranging from folk/americana to rock to jazz and neosoul.
How do you describe your sound?
I’ve been told that my music sounds like Amy Winehouse and Alanis Morisette meets Joni Mitchell. In other words, I’m very eclectic and can’t be bothered to stick with one genre.
If I had to choose a style, I would say my music is folk/americana/indie (haha this is still three styles). I’m influenced by a lot of different kinds of artists but what they all share is intentionality in their artistry, vibrant lyrics, and raw honesty.
I love the name Vida Chai. Can you talk about its significance?
As I’ve gotten older, I realized that I had a greater need to separate my artist persona from my personal persona. I chose Vida Chai because it still has my given name “Avi D” in the word vida, so its still tied to my core identity. Vida means life in Spanish and Chai has a double meaning depending on how it’s pronounced: “life” in Hebrew and “tea” in hindi. A lot of the music I wrote earlier in my career came from a dark place, and since then, my sound has evolved into a more joyful and energetic place. I realized over time that I can be this empowered being but still be heard if I am singing softly or if I am playing acoustic music.
Tell us more about the song “The Mask.” What inspired you to write it?
“The Mask” is a song about trying to get an emotionally shut down partner to open up. Because this was a COVID relationship, it felt fitting to use the symbol of trying to see who someone is underneath their mask. I thought that if I worked hard enough, I could get this person reach their potential, but over time, it became clear that you can’t change others.
What was the first album that really changed your life?
The Dresden Dolls’ first album, which was self-titled, rocked my world in high school and made me want to start writing music. To this day, I’ve never heard anything quite like it style-wise. Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione created this sound huge sound with just piano, voice, and drums that was musical theater meets punk rock set to angsty poetic lyrics. Hearing that album woke me up and made me realize that I could make music that didn’t just conform to one style. It was also just so in your face with its emotional and personal content, which resonated with me a lot.
Which Pittsburgh artist(s) do you wish more people knew about?
Buffalo Rose members are featured on the majority of my albums, so I’m sure it’s not a surprise that they are a local band I would recommend listening to. Their music really has heart, and as a vocalist, I’m a big sucker for those juicy harmonies.
I discovered Paging Doctor Moon last year. Kristin (the bandleader) is super talented, and I just really love any neosoul music that is done well because that is not easy to pull off.
Also, everything Le Siren (formerly The Childlike Empress) creates is magical. If you get the chance to see them live, just do it. They are captivating.
Any other super interesting things we should know about you?
I’m obsessed with identifying mushrooms. It is a skill I developed over the pandemic to entertain myself when going on walks to break up the work from home monotony. One of my goals this year is to get up the courage to actually forage and cook something.
Learn more about Vida Chai here:
Check out previous Pittsburgh Artists of the Week here.