[Interview] Anna Diorio Speaks about Changing Her Name, Living in Brooklyn and LA, New Album, and More

Photo by pashashots

From freestyling on the street for hours to performing alongside RA the Rugged Man to studying Jazz until late into the night, Anna Diorio aka Happy Accident is a true student of Hip Hop. I had the chance to chat with the Brooklyn-bred emcee to learn more about her name change, new album, the difference she wants to make in the world, and much more.

Matt (UHH): Do you still go as Happy Accident? Is there a difference between Happy Accident and Anna Diorio?

Anna Diorio: When I rebranded to use my real name (Anna Diorio), the original plan was to completely retire the name Happy Accident. After rocking as Happy Accident for a few years, I got to the point where I realized I had outgrown it – and this album really represents the shift in my artistry, because I’m not just a rapper. I’ve been singing jazz since I was a little girl and have a deep practice in that genre that comes from my grandmother (Betty Scott) who was also a jazz singer, and my father who plays piano and guitar. I also play piano and write songs but when I’d perform these more often than not I’d use my real name. In the past few years I also expanded my energy healing and creative coaching practices which sort of led to this split identity. There was “Happy Accident” the emcee, and “Anna Diorio” the jazz singer, coach and healer. After listening back to Inner Grounds and reflecting more on where I’m headed as an artist I made the decision to use my real name as a way to unify all these aspects of myself. It’s been incredibly rewarding, fulfilling and definitely the right choice for me. But I also found in the past few months that Happy Accident isn’t gone – she keeps popping up in the cypher and in freestyles. So for now I’m still using the name as an “aka” and open to see where it goes from here.

How has living in Brooklyn and LA affected your music creation process? Has each location created different results?

Both cities have their own medicine. Brooklyn taught me to freestyle and that’s where my improvisation chops (both in jazz and hip hop) got cultivated in a way that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else in the world. When you’re constantly surrounded by some of the best freestyle artists literally in the world, you have no choice but to step your game up. Brooklyn is also where I studied jazz in a deep way – so it’s home to me and always will be. I definitely miss the scene in Brooklyn, it’s vibrancy and potency is unrivaled. Since LA is so spread out it can be challenging to really connect with that sense of community that was such a huge part of my life in New York. But LA is helping me elevate as a songwriter and entrepreneur in ways I never dreamed possible and I’ve made some really dope connections out here in the short time I’ve been here. My stress levels have gone way down and as a result I’ve been able to not just accomplish more, but also do it with greater ease and joy.

Last year, you ended up freestyling on R.A. the Rugged Man’s podcast. Tell me how that all came about?

It’s funny because it was definitely a happy accident how it happened. A few months before the podcast I had the opportunity to open for R.A. at the Stanhope House near my hometown in Vernon, NJ. The energy was high and R.A. was engaging with the crowd a bunch. I was feeling audacious so when the opportunity arose I asked R.A. if he would let me spit. He said yes and invited me up a bit later in the cypher, but he had no idea that I could actually rap since he hadn’t seen me perform earlier. I think he figured with the confidence factor that I would at the very least be entertaining. When I got the mic I did my thing and everyone was impressed – including R.A.. He posted the video on his social media a few days later and it got such an amazing response, he would invite me to rock with him when he’d perform in NYC and when he did the podcast with Travie McCoy, he asked me to come through and drop a freestyle to open it up. It was a lot of fun and a real honor. R.A. is a great dude. He’s genuinely interested in uplifting the next generation and does so much for the culture. He’s definitely been a big inspiration to me and a positive force in my music career.

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Congratulations on the release of your debut album Inner Grounds. Outside of spirituality, what were some things or people that gave you inspiration during its creation?

Thank you! There were many different things that influenced the album. One of the biggest inspirations was the actual journey to write and record it. I had met and collaborated with SriKala when he lived in Brooklyn and we had talked about making an album, but it wasn’t until he had been living in Los Angeles for about a year when we decided to finally do it. So I flew out there to make it happen and it was my first time ever really kicking it in LA, so the entire project is heavily influenced by how the city spoke to me during that time. I wrote the first draft of Human Nature on the plane ride over. I wrote most of Wild Woman on Venice Beach. Earth Song came through in a meditation in Sri’s backyard in Marina del Rey. My verse for Where We Come From had been written a while back but the energy that came through on the album was inspired by all the artists we know spitting and singing for liberation who are literally saving the planet right now. In terms of people, my grandmother is present in everything I create but especially so with this project because she taught me to always follow my heart with music. I had the blessing of studying music with the great jazz pianist Connie Crothers before she passed, and she inspired this project big time because she taught me how to unlock my voice. The spoken word track Alice was inspired by a young woman I worked with in poetry/emceeing classes in NYC, who was up against tremendous odds but still pushed to write and liberate herself in the creative process. I was also influenced by the book “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés – you can hear it very much in Wild Woman but also in others because is all about the mythology and archetypes that shape our daily existence in subtle yet powerful ways. I attended a women’s retreat in Costa Rica in March of last year which played a huge role in the completion of the album. There’s so much more – falling in love, getting my heart broken, depression, healing, dreams and visions, my family and friends, my clients, nature. I try to find inspiration everywhere I go so the list goes on and on.

You are very involved in the freestyle scene. How has that translated to writing your album or is it a different approach?

It’s a different approach but they are deeply connected – and honestly every song is different. Some of my songs start with bars I’ll drop in a freestyle and fall in love with. Sometimes I’ll have a concept and just free flow write and then take the parts I love the most and build on them. For this project specifically a lot of what you hear comes from a thorough and in-depth editing process where I wrote a ton, and then Srikala and I weeded out everything that wasn’t completely aligned with the vision. But my involvement in the freestyle scene is still an influence because that’s how I met Arabelle and Rabbi Darkside – who are both key features on the album. There are also a few moments that are freestyled – namely the outro on Human Nature and a couple riffs on Medicine Man. Since improvisation is such a huge part of my artistic expression, every single take will be different when I’m recording. That’s how we get little magic moments – or “happy accidents” – that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Inner Grounds was entirely produced by SriKala. Did you two work in the studio together or what was that collaboration like?

All the tracks were produced by SriKala except Inner Child – which was produced by Jackson Whalan. It started when I shared a poem with Sri right at the end of 2016 – it was the verse that would ultimately become Medicine Man, which I had written and performed live with my band in Brooklyn. Sri cooked up a beat that matched the energy of the live performance, and sent me a few other beats he had been working on. I picked the ones I liked and we kept developing them. At some point near the beginning of the process I had the vision of having all the songs be themes or archetypes of the human experience – so from Medicine Man came Wild Woman. And from Wild Woman came Inner Child. And so on and so forth. After the album was conceived and a good portion of the writing was complete, I planned a trip to Los Angeles to record with SriKala. I was there for 10 days and we spent 6 of them in the studio. It was one of the best weeks of my entire life. Sri is a kindred spirit and like a brother to me. We have insane amounts of fun everytime we get together, and this was the pinnacle. We laughed, we cried, we meditated, we danced, we had many epic freestyle sessions – and the music that came out during that time was beyond anything I could have dreamed possible largely because of the potency of our collaboration and depth of our friendship. After the initial recording process, I went back to New York and we worked together virtually for the next year or so to hone and refine what we had laid down. I re-recorded a few sections in New York and also went back to LA this past summer for the final sessions, which was when we recorded with Medusa and brought all the elements together. Even though it took place over the course of so much time and space, the album retains a continuity because we had love, commitment and a common vision as the foundation for the project the whole time.

You have several features on the album but not a lot for 10 tracks. Why them and not more or less?

We chose the features very specifically as we wanted to collaborate with artists who are really a part of this movement for greater love and freedom on the planet – the ones who are not just spitting about changing the world but actually out there walking the walk. So we brought in the movers and shakers in the conscious and hip hop community – Lily Fangz, Kiyoshi, Jackson Whalan, Arabelle and Rabbi Darkside are all a part of this. Medusa has been a hero and inspiration of mine for a long time and having her on the project was literally a dream come true. Even the tracks where there are no featured emcees or singers, there’s still collaboration in all of them. Kate Wilde played the harp on Human Nature and Creation Story. Gavi Grodsky played the guitar on Medicine Man and Love Story. Adam Ahuja laid down some amazing keys for Earth Song. Arabelle also beatboxed for Earth Song and we used the loop for Creation Story and Love Story. There’s so much juice in it already and has its own narrative, so we didn’t really feel the need to bring in more features.

You said, “this album represents a healing and transformational journey to claim my own power and my ability to make a difference.” What difference are you trying to achieve?

The eradication of systemic oppression in my lifetime. Returning to the truth of who we are and our interconnectedness so we can finally put an end to this crazy mess we’re in. I believe that the more people in the world who are active and self-expressed in the fight for freedom, the quicker we’ll get there. So right now the biggest difference I’m here to make is to support people in activating their voices and embodying their souls’ purpose. I feel like that’s intrinsic in my music and my healing practices all come from this intention. I’m here to inspire and uplift as best I can and I now that happens as a natural extension of me following my heart as fully and freely as possible – as cheesy as that might sound there’s a deep truth in it. I’m also here to listen and learn and as a white woman I have to step back and allow marginalized voices to lead the way – and show up to support that as best I can and encourage others to do the same. I feel with this album in particular I’m trying to help illuminate a pathway back to the heart of humanity that transcends our differences and brings us back to our connection with the Earth – which I believe is pretty much the only thing that can save us at this point. I did not make this path and I am not the first or the only one sharing this kind of message – but my mission is to help elevate this collective and communal effort to shed the layers of colonization and oppression that have disconnected us from who we really are and where we come from.

What’s next for Anna Diorio?

So much! My next album will be mostly jazz – reconnecting with my roots. I also have a ton of powerful collaborations brewing in all different genres which you’ll be hearing more about in the near future. I’m working on music videos for the album. I’m writing songs with the piano. I’m expanding my healing practice and will be hosting workshops and retreats for personal transformation and creative liberation. I’m also drawing and painting a ton and will be sharing this way more this year and beyond. I’m currently working on an art book that will go with the album and have paintings for each track. I’m compiling my poetry into books and plan to release at least one this year. In terms of performing, I’ll be doing a short midwest tour with Miss Eaves in April that I’m really excited about, and I plan to tour more this year and beyond. My main focus now is just creating and sharing as much as possible.

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