Irene Diaz: From Trader Joe’s to Touring Musician

Irene Diaz
Irene Diaz / Facebook

Irene Diaz lives a double life: by day she works at Trader Joe’s and at night she’s a singer-songwriter. You could call her a modern day torch singer – someone who sings canciones de amor con mucha emoción – à la Billie Holiday. Oh, and she’s got a fierce eyeliner game. Here’s how Diaz built a buzz beyond her hometown of Los Angeles:

While other kids watched cartoons, she taught herself to sing.

As a child, Diaz took piano lessons. When she was learning to sing, she would record her sessions and listen for ways to improve. In high school, she learned how to play the guitar from her papá. Diaz still records herself and listens to her unfinished songs over and over. She says it helps out with the writing process.

But, she hasn’t quit her day job — not yet.

You know the people who prepare those DELICIOUS samples at Trader Joe’s? Yup, Irene’s familiar with that gig, too, because that’s how she pays the bills. She’s even been recognized by fans at work who are surprised to see her there. Diaz says Trader Joe’s has been very supportive of her singing career.

She’s paid her dues in the L.A. music scene.

In 2011, she started making the rounds in L.A., playing gigs at places like Holy Grounds Coffee and eventually moving up to well-known spots like Room 5 and the House of Blues.

She mixes business and pleasure.

You’ll often see her with her ukulele-playing musical partner, Carolyn Cardoza, who is also her manager. Here’s the sweet background chisme on the two: they met while working together at Trader Joe’s and fell in love almost instantly. At some point, Irene gave Carolyn a ukulele and Carolyn taught herself to play. They’ve been playing beautiful music together ever since.

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She got NPR’s attention.

Jasmine Garsd of NPR Alternative Latino randomly heard the song “I Love You Madly” and was so taken by Irene’s voice and authenticity that she featured it on her show and said: “You can’t fake the soul. … Irene is so believable in her emotion.”

Her first album was paid for by crowdfunding.

#musicala #iloveyoumadly #irenediazmusic #ukulele

A photo posted by Carolyn Cardoza (@ukanttouchthis) on

In 2012, Irene started production on her first EP, “I Love You Madly” funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $10,000 with the help of 162 backers.

Credit: Irene Diaz / YouTube 

She managed to stretch the funds from the Kickstarter campaign to include the filming of a video for her song “Crazy Love.” The video features Irene in a white slip pouring her heart out on the beach. It’s simple, straightforward and haunting.

Her release party proved that you can do it your way.

Credit: Don Pipa / YouTube

The official release party for the I Love You Madly EP was held at The Edison in downtown Los Angeles. But it wasn’t your average party for a bunch of suits. Guests included her backers, aka friends, family and people who believe in her talent. It was a labor of love and ganas from an independent artist.

She sold out — in a good way.

All her hard work playing the local scene in L.A. and getting shout-outs from folks at NPR paid off: Diaz took her music to the Bay Area where she had her first sold out show.

She rocked NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert with only her voice, a piano and a guitar.

Last year, she played a Tiny Desk concert for NPR. Just in case you don’t know what a BIG deal it is to get your own Tiny Desk concert, let’s just say other performers have included John Legend, Miguel, Death Cab for Cutie and un montón más.

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She is steadily building her audience.

In this era of DJs and electronic acts, Diaz actually plays live music in front of real live people. Her touring schedule has seen her hit SXSW, the East Coast and Spain, where she played at a wedding.

She’s only just begun …

Diaz is currently working on a full-length album. She’s doesn’t have a title for it yet, but she’s not interested in randomly dropping a bunch of singles. Diaz says she wants it to be an album “that people will want to listen to from beginning to end.”

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