By Margaret Welsh
Pittsburgh Current Music Editor
In 2010, Lianna Ankney started taking guitar lessons. She also started going to yoga.
Five years later, she released her self-titled debut album under the name Diamond Shapes. That was also the year she decided to become a yoga teacher.
Ankney always had a sense that the two things were meant to coincide in some way, she says in a recent phone conversation. “They both just happened to come into my life exactly when I needed both of them.
Back then, Ankney worked as a graphic designer. These days she teaches yoga full time (a transition, she’s quick to note, was made easier thanks to the help of her husband, Dan, who she says is her biggest supporter and fan). And on Friday, Jan. 31 she’ll release a new EP, called La-La-La.
Diamond Shapes still exists, as a band — it’s a three-piece with Matt Zeoli on guitar and Teena Bee on ukulele — but Ankney decided to release La-La-La as a separate project, under her own name. After that first release, “I kind of hit this patch where I didn’t know what to do next,” she recalls. “I was always kind of writing songs, but I never really finished anything.”
She took her guitar with her to teacher training, and throughout the process was given opportunities to share music with the group. There she wrote “Shraddha,” — which appears on La-La-La — and started using music, alongside yoga practice, to untangle some things from her past that she’d never quite worked through.
When Ankney released Diamond Shapes, “I was terrified to be in front of people,” she says. And when she started practicing yoga, she’d never really done much physical exercise. “So I was figuring out in my body what to do, and also what to do with my voice.” But, she says, she’s always considered herself a storyteller: “Hearing about yoga and learning … that it was this tradition that was first passed down orally, and the Bhagavad Gita was a song originally. I was so drawn to that.”
As with the Diamond Shapes record, Ankney’s sparkling soprano is at the heart of La-La-La, but where Diamond Shapes brings to mind the dreamy flower-power of ’70s proto-freak-folk, Ankney’s solo work feels more emotionally raw and upfront and — despite some lofty lyrical themes — earthier. If Diamond Shapes is Vashti Bunyan, La-La-La is Judee Sill.
“The things I learned in studying yoga and having my own practices are the things that come forward when I write my songs,” she says. And yoga philosophy does make its way into her songs — “Shraddha,” for one, functions as both a celebration and a tutorial of the Sanskrit word which, in the most basic terms, deals with the concept of faith. Shraddha was an important concept for Ankney during her first teacher training (she recently began a second one). But — while she does sometimes incorporate her own music into her yoga classes — she doesn’t write or perform devotional music, pre se.
If anything, she says, “I think this music is a devotion to the younger version of myself.”
La La La is the product of “dissecting and seeing what happened in my past, and being with it and finding space to move on from it,” she says. “I think yoga has helped bring that forward and helped me to find words for the songs that i wrote.”