‘So what has happened to you?” is not exactly the nicest question to ask a musician, but Casey Dienel takes it in stride. She’s heard it before.
“Sometimes people tell me that I sound like a different person,” says Dienel, who records as White Hinterland. “Well, I’m a musically schizophrenic person, and I like a lot of different things. I think there’s something healthy about accepting it instead of forcing it.”
Dienel grew up in Scituate and cut her teeth performing around Boston in the mid-2000s under her own name before moving to Portland, Ore., and beyond. Back then she exuded a shy presence at places like P.A.’s Lounge in Somerville, singing her indie-pop curios with a nervous energy normal for someone in her early 20s.
It has been a jolt, then, to witness Dienel’s Technicolor transformation as White Hinterland. Gone is the timid singer-songwriter at her keyboard, replaced by an outsize singer and entertainer prone to follow her muse down whichever rabbit hole it goes.
Over a handful of EPs and full-length albums, Dienel has reveled in everything from the shimmering French pop of “Luniculaire” to the languid electro grooves on “Kairos.” “Baby,” her latest album, which she recorded at her parents’ house after she moved back to her hometown last year, is an exuberant foray into brooding R&B and clanging indie rock.
Ahead of White Hinterland’s show with S. Carey on Thursday at Great Scott, we caught up with Dienel on the phone from a tour stop in Texas. True to her Massachusetts roots, she was already missing Dunkin’ Donuts.
Q. So what has happened to you since those early shows in Boston?
A. I legitimately don’t give a [expletive] anymore. I guess that’s what has changed. I don’t care what anyone thinks now. I don’t think I’m a shy person at all, and surprisingly I’m not that self-conscious, but high school and middle school were just hell. I think for a lot of people it is. You come out of it and you think you’re over it and that you’ll never go back to that place again. But then there are certain habits you pick up on: You want to make yourself smaller, disappear, not stick out. The problem is, with my job, that just doesn’t fly. You can’t go onstage and do that. You don’t have any fun if there’s a spotlight on your face and you’re trying to shrink. And it’s also totally disrespectful to the people paying to come see you or buying your records.
Q. Are you saying Scituate beat you down?
A. It wasn’t necessarily Scituate. I think no matter where I could have gone to school, I would have struggled. I’m a loose cannon and kind of mouthy. That’s not a bad thing, but when I was growing up, that’s not what girls were supposed to be like. I struggled with that for a long time. I want to be the leader, to get my word in. For women, the road to that type of role is a little more nuanced.
Q. You studied at New England Conservatory. Did that kind of training ever feel at odds with the more spontaneous nature of your music?
A. I’ve always been like this. In high school, I entered a battle of the bands contest in Plymouth or Hanover or somewhere, and the man [who ran it] was like, “These songs are really weird. Good luck, honey.” When Dead Oceans [her label] signed me, I was like — Know what you’re getting into. I’m a handful. I’ll work hard and be respectful, but it’s like signing up to have a front-row seat to a hurricane sometimes, and you just have to ride with it — With all the conservatories I could have gone to, NEC felt like the one that was most supportive of someone like me.
Q. You once described yourself as “fickle.” Is that still the case?
A. I think restlessness is really productive. I don’t know that feeling faith in my work is where I want to be. I used to fantasize that I’d get to a certain point where I would know what to do all the time and go do it. But I’m not a baker or a carpenter. Execution is not really my job; it’s one aspect of it but not the whole thing. I love surprising myself.
Q. You’re a young artist but already have such an eclectic discography. Does anything tie it all together?
A. If you had told me when I made “Wind-Up Canary” [her 2006 debut] that one day I’d be up onstage with a beat machine, I never would have thought I was going that way. No one is more surprised by how things have turned out than me. And no one knows less about where it’s going to end up than me.
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