Arts & Culture

A talent returns home

Growing up on a ranch in Templeton, singer-songwriter Diane Arkenstone would spend hours hiking along the banks of the Salinas River — clambering over boulders, strolling through live oak groves and searching for Chumash beads and arrowheads.

“My inspiration is nature. There’s just no question about it,” said Arkenstone, who hears harmonies in the sounds of birds singing and wind wafting through the trees. “When you feel the peace and the calm, your mind is free to flow.”

Her latest album, “Union Road,” takes its title from the rural Paso Robles neighborhood where she spent part of her youth.

“I was incredibly happy living there,” she said.

A graduate of Paso Robles High School, Arkenstone studied music at Cuesta College before moving to Los Angeles. She worked as a photographer for the Fender guitar company for a year, then spent four years running rival Gibson’s West Coast operations office, working with recording artists including Aerosmith, Neil Diamond and Ozzy Osborne.

“It was quite a lifestyle change from growing up on a ranch up here,” said Arkenstone, who used to eat pizza with guitarist Slash of Guns N’ Roses.

In the 1990s, she left to pursue her own musical career.

After years of catering to other performers, she explained, “(I) decided it was time for me to be the artist that I had dreamed of being. So I gave notice to Gibson and followed that dream.”

Arkenstone has recorded about 40 albums over the decades, including 2001’s “The Healing Spirit” and 2002’s “Jewel in the Sun,” which reached No. 11 on Billboard’s New Age charts.

More than half of those titles were released on her own label, Neo Pacifica Recordings, which she founded with then-husband David Arkenstone. (The two have since divorced but remain on good terms.)

“I had sent out, oh my goodness, quite a few label packages to labels and nothing was accepted,” the singer-songwriter recalled. “I figured, ‘Oh, I’m going to start my own label.’ ”

She came up with the name Neo Pacifica while walking down State Street in Santa Barbara.

Although Arkenstone’s music is often labeled as New Age, “It’s a very outdated term. It doesn’t (describe) me very well at all,” she said, adding that she’s explored Celtic music as one half of the duo Enaid & Einalem, electronic and tribal music as part of Earth Trybe, and Native American music as a member of Ah Nee Mat. Her world music series, “Adventure Cargo,” tunefully transports listeners to Africa, the Americas and the Middle East.

“I prefer just ‘beautiful music,’ ” added Arkenstone, who is currently working on another Ah Nee Mah album and a world chant album.

“Union Road,” which hits store shelves Tuesday, falls more into the Americana folk camp with an instrumental title track that’s “a little cowboy, a little country,” Arkenstone said.

The opening song, “Little Cup of Coffee,” was inspired by a Starbucks coffee shop in Studio City where Arkenstone met “an eclectic mix of people from around the world that became very dear friends,” she said.

Appropriately, “Union Road’s” release coincides with Arkenstone’s return to the Central Coast.

She bought a hilltop house in Atascadero about a year ago, restored it and built a recording studio.

“When I open the windows in the studio, I don’t hear traffic. It’s very, very quiet,” she said. “It’s a great place to record music and (find) inspiration.”

Luckily, inspiration comes easy to Arkenstone.

“I just touch an instrument and something comes out,” said the performer, whose collection of musical instruments includes guitar, dulcimer, mandolin, piano, Native American flute and Indian harmonium. Visitors are just as likely to find her droning on an Australian didgeridoo as hand-drumming a Celtic bodhrán or strumming a Chinese erhu.

“When you walk into the studio, it looks like a music store — all these amazing, wild instruments from around the world,” Arkenstone said. “I hear the vibrations and the harmonies in the instruments. It’s really a fascinating palette.”