When she was young, the library was a go-to spot for Deli Paloma-Sisk. Back home in Clarksville, Tenn., she’d go almost every day and browse the music section, check out books on how to play guitar. The electric was the first instrument she picked up at 15-years-old, a right-handed hand-me-down from her left-handed sister, and which she utilized in a girl riot band with her best friend.
At the library, she’d sift through the CDs, sometimes taking home seven at a time. There, Paloma-Sisk discovered João Gilberto’s bossanova along with other Brazilian influences in the stacks. This unearthing added to the wide-ranging world music she’d learned from her father — like Irish Enya and Greek-composer, Yanni, with his classical style mixed into pop.
“I don’t know who was in charge of picking the music, but I owe them,” says the 34-year-old, who eventually studied classical guitar in college. She still incorporates that style — which comes to her so easily, it’s as if it’s “genetically imprinted” — into her ambient-folk music. It’s a kind of sound that lulls and twists and breathes softly then heavily, her voice light and lilting and layered and looping over her OP-1 synthesizer or Roland SP 555 sampler or effect pedals with the reverb on high distortion.
Her stage name is Diatom Deli, referencing those unicellular organisms that live in water and account for 30 percent or more of earth’s oxygen.
“They’re such beautiful and humble beings that do so much for our world and hardly anyone knows about them,” said Paloma-Sisk, who’s lived in Taos since March 2021. “It’s a piece of the earth that I wish to be like with my music.”
Diatom Deli is set to perform at LUN + OJO on Sunday (May 15) at 6:30 p.m., in an album release of the self-recorded, "Time~Lapse Nature," her latest of three LPs. It’s a collection of songs written while processing hardships — like having to leave a friendship of 17 years, and coming to terms with losing her father. Moody, she said, but the sounds behind the lyrics balance out the themes and uplift it.
Onstage, Diatom Deli is like a witch over a cauldron with all the electronic sound-shifters at her helm. The artist — who has always been highly sonically sensitive and always with a melody rolling in her head — is in full concentration mode, building mesmerizing harmonies. She has guidelines for her songs that she keeps in a notebook beside her, but she likes a good switch up, so there’s no boredom in keeping the same structure. She’ll layer in the sound of a coquí frog, which calls to her mom’s Puerto Rican roots and Paloma-Sisk’s visits to the island.
“I want to play around. I’m not just performing for others, I’m creating sounds for myself, too,” said Paloma-Sisk, whose husband creates swimming underwater-y video projections and light installations for her performances. She says her hubby has been a major component in helping her translate the music she hears in her mind to manifested magic by gifting her new instruments through the years.
In her music, Paloma-Sisk prioritizes feeling and flow over capital-M Meaning. Like in her lyrics. How sometimes the shape or feeling of a word will dictate where she places it; it doesn’t have to totally make sense.
“It’s not what’s being said, but how it’s being said,” said Paloma-Sisk. The soundscapes are a meditative cull to the world’s wild racket, a transmutation to anger, a quiet to the reckoning.