Kimaya Diggs had gotten enough of a head start on making her new album, “Quincy,” that she was able to keep working on it when the world shut down in March 2020. A string of personal upheavals the following year proved trickier to navigate for the Easthampton singer and songwriter.
Within the span of seven months in 2021, Diggs lost her mother to cancer, a close friend and musical mentor to a bicycle accident, and, like a cruel punctuation mark to a crushing year, her dog, a former racing greyhound named Quincy and the album’s namesake.
“It was a crazy year,” says Diggs. “A lot of the songs were about these different people and creatures in my life. I was about two-thirds of the way through the album at that point, and just sort of closed down for several months.”
The fact that she had already made so much progress on recording “Quincy” gave her the motivation she needed to get moving again. The album, her second and out March 9, is a collection of smooth pop songs with an R&B flair that showcases her expressive, precise vocals.
“If I had been not as far along, I think it would have just disappeared into the mist, never to be heard,” says Diggs, 29. “It was very meaningful to me to have a project that I had such a strong vision for, that could get me up in the morning and get me creating something tangible.”
Diggs’s vision for “Quincy” was to make a more expansive sounding record than her first one, 2018′s “Breastfed.” Most of the songs on that release feature Diggs accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, with occasional flourishes on cello (which she also plays). Her husband, Jacob Rosazza of the Northampton indie-rock band LuxDeluxe, added subtle electric guitar parts here and there. It came as no surprise to her friends that Diggs had bigger plans for her second album.
“She’s kind of an unstoppable force,” says Ned King, the singer for LuxDeluxe, who has known Diggs since they were high school classmates at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in South Hadley. “Her songs are catchy and her melodies are great. But she’s also able to distill intense emotional things without getting too complicated, in a very classic, folky-pop way that I really appreciate.”
After high school, Diggs studied opera at Swarthmore College near Philadelphia, where she first began writing songs on a $100 used guitar. After taking off two semesters to tour as part of Northern Harmony, an a cappella ensemble that performs folk music from around the world, she graduated in 2015 and returned to Western Massachusetts. That’s when she reconnected with the guys in LuxDeluxe, who hired her and her two younger sisters to add string parts to their 2015 album “It’s a Girl.” She and Rosazza were soon dating, and they married in 2017 while she was making her first album.
In the wake of “Breastfed,” Diggs often performed with backing from members of LuxDeluxe. Trying to scale her songs up to full-band arrangements sparked ideas about how she could use a backing group on the new songs she was writing.
“That allowed me to just be more adventurous with the songwriting,” she says. “I was able to write songs that were a little bit too challenging for me to play, because it wasn’t going to be just me up there trying to hold it all down.”
Diggs also wanted her new music to reflect the influences she had absorbed growing up in South Hadley, where there was always music playing at home. (Her dad, a musician, contributed flute to three songs on “Quincy.”)
“I grew up listening to so much music from the Black diaspora: a lot of soul, a lot of R&B, a lot of ‘70s funk and stuff like that,” Diggs says. “And all the people that are helping me record really come from an indie-rock background, so there’s just some language that we don’t have in common. It was interesting to navigate that and let our perspectives influence each other.”
When she returned to working on “Quincy” following the tumult of 2021, Diggs came at it with a new assertiveness. She learned how to communicate ideas to her collaborators in a specific way, so they could better capture the sounds she wanted. Diggs also more tightly steered the direction of the project than she had before.
“I became much less compromising,” Diggs says. “My mom was 62 when she died, so she didn’t have an opportunity to accomplish all of the things she wanted to. When she died, I felt like, ‘I have to do the stuff that I want to do, and I have to do it right now.’ I felt this sense of urgency.”
In a tribute to her mom, and also her pet, “Quincy” the album will feature vocals from Quincy the dog.
“He and mom were very attached to each other, and she was always saying, ‘Put him on the album,’ ” Diggs says. “Finally, I added a little bonus track of him singing. She didn’t hear that, but I feel like that’s her contribution.”