The Voice's Dia Frampton on Her Shy On-Screen Persona and Quirky Covers of Kanye and REM

Dia Frampton says she’s not as painfully shy as she came across during her runner-up stint on The Voice, but a variety of factors conspired to make her feel “closed in” during the on-air portions of NBC’s hit singing competition. In a freewheeling TVLine interview, Frampton explains what led to her retiring on-screen ways, sheds some light on her previous major-label experience, and delves into her quirky covers of “Heartless” and “Losing My Religion.”

TVLINE | Before we talk about your experience on The Voice, I want to ask you what was happening with your career before you auditioned for the show. There was a lot of chatter on the Internet about your previous major-label deal with your sister as part of Meg & Dia, but when that fell apart, were you able to support yourself on your music career alone?
Meg & Dia, we had our peak moment three or four years ago, and I think that’s why some people were like, “Why are you even on this show?” But that was a long time ago. We first got signed to Doghouse Records when I was 18. We toured in a 12-passenger van, slept in parking lots, did that whole thing. [Laughs.] And then we got signed to a major label with Warner/Sire, and that’s when I thought, “Oh my gosh, things are happening.” We made a record with an amazing producer — he’d worked with Daughtry, Kelly Clarkson, all these super-cool people — and then it didn’t go anywhere. Our record came and went, we ended up getting dropped, and ever since then it’s been a really hard ride. We recorded a lot of our latest record, Cocoon, in my mom’s house because we couldn’t afford studio time. It’s probably the most special to me because of that, and because we did do it ourselves, with pretty much no budget. [In the meantime,] I was trying to make a living: I worked at Crumbs Cupcakes in New York. I was working a day job, too, to get by. It was getting to the point where I was like, “Man, I thought we almost had it.” And these past few years have been really hard. [Auditioning for The Voice,] I was hoping to promote Cocoon. And I ended up going way farther than I ever would have imagined.

TVLINE | Obviously there’s a big difference between releasing a record and experiencing breakthrough success.
Literally, our last tour, I think our smallest show was in New Orleans and there were 17 people there. They were still so cool, but we were like, “We can’t make it selling 17 tickets and having to pay for gas to Georgia.”

TVLINE | So you wound up in the blind audition round on The Voice. That seems like it would be a disconcerting experience, playing to four music stars with their backs turned to you, hoping your performance will prompt them to turn around and give you a chance.
The blind audition was by far the scariest. I saw singers go in there before me that I knew the judges didn’t turn around for, and I’d think, “That person was amazing! I’ve been in a hotel with her for a month now, and she’s awesome!” Did Christina just want the big, big voices? And I thought Blake would want all country. I had my pre-conceived thoughts, and I was having a really hard time with it. I almost ran away right before they pushed me on stage.

TVLINE | How did you settle on “Bubbly” as your audition song?
I wanted to pick something that kind of represented my style, but thinking back now, that was a really, really safe song for me. I didn’t want to go out there and do some weird REM thing then; I was so scared and I was playing it by the book. Looking back, I’m bummed out. I wish I would’ve done something a little more me.

TVLINE | You then wound up competing in the Battle Round against Serabee, where Blake had you performing “You Can’t Hurry Love.” It seemed like he chose that just to push the two of you out of your comfort zones.
The Battle Round was really uncomfortable. I knew I was entered in a competition, but not in such a literal way. Literally standing across from somebody and singing a three-minute song, and one of us goes home? Serabee has such a crazy, strong, strong, strong voice, I thought for sure I was going to go home. And the song is a little bit more soulful, and she has more of a soulful voice, so I kept feeling like I was done for. I was so, so, so nervous on that performance.

TVLINE | I think we really got a better sense of what you were about after you covered “Heartless” in the Quarterfinals. Did you know that Kris Allen had had a huge moment covering the same song during Season 8 of American Idol?
Honestly, I still don’t know who Kris Allen is. I haven’t watched Idol since Kelly Clarkson’s year, when I was a lot younger. [People] did tell me The Fray had done a cover, and Blake actually was the one who said, “Have you heard it? You could kind of go off of that.” I first started playing “Heartless” on the acoustic guitar, and Blake was the one who wanted to switch it up. I was happy to do it, to get a little creative.

TVLINE | I felt like you brought out the inherent sadness of the lyrics, the pain of the breakup that the song is about.
I wanted to slow down a hip-hop or R&B song, and “Heartless” was the best choice because of its lyrics; you can play with them. They’re still so emotional. It’s not like slowing down a Snoop Dogg song or something.

TVLINE | It was a risky move. Did you have a good feeling before the performance, or were you worried there was a chance it wouldn’t go over well?
I didn’t know how anybody would take it. I liked it, but it’s scary to wonder what other people will think. I’m kind of eclectic and I like weird things, and on a lot of these types of shows, people want to hear someone belting out a Celine song.

TVLINE | Well, obviously it worked out okay, and really at that point you’d pegged yourself as a front-runner. Following that, you did a Semifinal cover of “Losing My Religion.” Tell me how you approached it. I felt like you made a lot of little tweaks to the melody that really worked nicely.
The thing is, “Heartless” had to be changed. I don’t rap, obviously, and it was so not my style, the Kanye West way. REM’s a little different. I love them, and I’m a big fan of the band and I liked the song as it was. So my first instinct was, “I don’t want to change this. This is awesome.” But then I started to play around with it a little bit, and I decided it would be really cool to add some dynamics to it. ‘Cause it kind of floats through the whole song, and that’s something I really love to play with, getting really really quiet, then louder and building. The band was awesome. Blake was super-positive about trying different things with it. Again, I didn’t know if people were expecting me to do a huge pop song, and REM is more awesome ’90s, but I was happy to be doing it.

TVLINE | Going into finale, the conventional wisdom was that it would come down to you or Javier. Knowing you entered the competition mainly to get exposure for Cocoon, what was your frame of mind about the competition. Did you think you had a chance to win?
At that point, I was definitely trying my best, but I was just thrilled the final four was who they were. They’re all such cool people. That last week of rehearsal and stress and not a lot of sleep, doing it with [Javier, Vicci, and Beverly] was actually really comforting and fun. There wasn’t a “Who’s gonna win?” vibe. Even when I was standing next to Javier [at the finale], I was just honored to be standing next to him. I’ve been around his wife and his two adorable kids. And having tried to make it in the music business for so long myself, I can’t imagine trying to do that while also trying to support a family. He really deserves this.

TVLINE | Let’s talk about the first time you heard your single, “Inventing Shadows.” Did you consider a lot of other songs before you settled on it?
We didn’t go through a lot of songs. Blake was the one who thought it was the best pick for me. I said, “Send it to me, and let me listen to it and draw on it.” I went through it, started singing it, kind of put my own take on it. It is a really personal song. In my past, I’ve been around people who always brought me down or brought out the negative in every situation. I’ve finally let those people go, and that’s why the song meant a lot to me. It’s about surrounding yourself with positive people.

TVLINE | Throughout the season, you had critics who said, “Dia was on a major label. She can’t honestly be as shy as she’s coming across on TV. This has to be an act.” What would you say to that?
I’m not a really, really shy person. I think they made me out to be painfully shy on the show. But being on the show was a really new, extremely uncomfortable environment for me, where I never felt I had a confirmed space. I was always trying to prove myself. Don’t forget, I don’t think I’ve played without my sister Meg for almost a decade. Not having her literally right there next to me was such a weird thing. It made me realize how much I depend on my sister. There’s so much less stress, if I mess up she’ll drop the harmony and do the lead. Or if I get stressed before the show, she’ll say, “Come on, we’ve got this!” She’s a cool person and a positive energy and a great musician. I leaned on her a lot. And here I am completely alone in this weird environment, meeting all these new and amazing singers — performing in front of Christina Aguilera — it’s not a place where I feel like I’m gonna completely burst out of my shell. A lot of different factors made me closed-in as I was.

TVLINE | So the entire experience isn’t all that similar to what you’d been doing in your career with Meg & Dia?
There’s so much pressure when you hit The Voice stage, something about knowing you’re being judged by millions of people, and compared by millions of people. That’s so different from playing a gig with my sister, where we’re all there to hang out and play music and have a good time. And the people in the room are the people that paid to come, so you know they want to see you. Hitting The Voice stage, you’re trying to prove yourself and you know no matter what, they’re comparing you to all the other singers there. When I go to a concert — say it’s a Brad Paisley-Blake Shelton concert — I’m not comparing the two with such a scrutinous eye. I’m just enjoying the concert. But on The Voice, you know everybody’s comparing you to everyone. It’s such a stressful environment, especially when I don’t think I can be compared to someone like Beverly. Her voice is so rock and it’s so — when she sang “Besautiful” with Christina Aguilera, it was amazing. Our voices are just so different, and it’s hard to be in that light the whole time.

TVLINE | It seemed like that pressure was lifted during your duet with Blake on “I Won’t Back Down.”
The vibe was definitely different. Singing with Blake is always fun; right before you go on he says something funny and ridiculous. On the plane ride to Ohio, when he took Xenia and I there, he was asking me about my favorite artist, and I said Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. You can’t get any better than them. And their Wildflowers record is my favorite. He was just like, “That’s cool,” and didn’t say anything more about it. So when I found out we were going to be dueting with our coaches, I was wondering what he was gonna pick. And when he picked [“I Won’t Back Down”], it was awesome; he considered what I’d want to do, what I’d have fun with, what I’d love to sing. Performing that and recording it for iTunes was definitely one of the highlights of the show for me.

TVLINE | You also got to duet with Blake’s wife, Miranda Lambert, on “The House That Built Me.” What was that experience like?
She was completely the opposite of what you’d expect [from a big star]. I was expecting her to say “Let’s do this. And I want to wear this. And I want to sing it this way.” Instead, she was like, “What color dress are you wearing? I want to match you. What song do you want to do? I think this one might be cool for you voice but if you want to do something else, that’s cool. I’ll send you some songs — if you want to change the arrangement, I won’t be offended, I’ll be excited. Do it your way.” She was so awesome. No ego. She was so gracious about it. Singing with her was my favorite thing on the entire show. Next to Blake’s duet, it was something that I was trying really hard not to cry the whole time I was singing with her.

TVLINE | Is a record deal with Universal Republic imminent?
I don’t really know. The second I got off the show I started writing, and I’m going to start playing with my sister again. I definitely want to go with the momentum, but I’m excited just to be playing and writing again.

TVLINE | What can we expect from you musically now? Will your sound be similar to previous Meg & Dia records?
Our latest record, Cocoon, is definitely the most precious record to my heart that we’ve ever done, the most special to me, but if I do a solo thing, I’d want to maybe make it more uplifting. Cocoon is a little more folky and quirky. I’d want to do something a little more dance-y — not in a Lady Gaga way — but just a little more upbeat and fun and lightheareted. something that’ll make people happy.

TVLINE | I’ve got to ask one last question: During the show, you said there was a song on Cocoon where you can hear your mom’s dishwasher in the background. Which track is that?
[Laughs.] That’s “Breakdown.”

Keep an eye out on TVLine.com later this week for interviews with The Voice finalists Beverly McClellan and Vicci Martinez. And for all my reality TV interviews and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!