Friday, November 27, 2009

Music: My Brightest Diamond

Shara Worden, also known as My Brightest Diamond, has the voice of a siren – it’s powerful, alluring, and downright beautiful. You might have heard her on this year’s Dark Was the Night compilation with her amazing cover of “Feeling Good” or as the voice of a queen on this year’s album The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists. Next year she will be featured on David Byrne’s and Fatboy Slim's collaborative new album Here Lies Love (see below). She has also played in Sufjan Stevens backing band the Illinoismakers. Yes, she has an impressive resume of guest appearances, but that is not what makes My Brightest Diamond so great.

My Brightest Diamond’s debut album Bring Me the Workhouse, released in 2006, introduced her unique sound of classically influenced theatrical rock. The opening track “Something of an End” immediately sets the tone lyrically and musically with a dramatic and dark arrangement that leaves the listener excited and ready for more. “We Were Sparkling” has a simpler guitar led arrangement, which allows Worden to showcase her heartbreaking vocal performance. She more fully demonstrates her classical training on her second album A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, with a wider, more orchestrated sound. “Inside a Boy” showcases what Worden does best: sweeping instrumentation, powerful vocals, and a driving guitar. The short “Apples” uses surprisingly rhythmic percussion to support the kalimba and string driven song. Her songs are affecting and I would guess her albums are best listened to in a dark theater. Below she discusses her time with The Decemberists, her future plans, and more.

Have you seen, heard, or read anything that you would like to recommend to our readers (film, art, music, literature)?

So much, so much good stuff happening! Some of my favorite music shows have been The Gossip, the Punch Brothers, DM Stith, and Bob Mould all of whom I thought were fantastic!!! I just watched the movie The Fall, which I found enchanting and imaginative. I have a stack of bedside books/airplane companions including Proust’s Swann’s Way- a lifetime must, The Return of Depression Economics by Paul Kurgman, and The Creative Brain by Nancy Andreasen who studies creative genius in art and science using modern neuroscience. I need to get back Jenny Conlee (The Decemberists) her book by Ursula Le Guin entitled The Other Wind. Ursula is a Portland sci-fi fantasy writer and so Jenny has hipped me to her work and I gotta get this one finished since my Decemberists days are coming to an end soon.

You contributed vocals to The Hazards of Love and have toured with The Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens – what do you enjoy about these collaborations and how are they different from what you are used to?

Collaboration is always a way to learn something new, to break one’s patterns, or to jump out of the boxes that we put ourselves in. When I was singing with Sufjan I felt like that work was about learning to have fun in performance in a time of my life that was actually very, very sad. The music helped me find joy every day. It also allowed me to focus on being an instrumentalist without the responsibility of being a bandleader. Sufjan has the folks in his band playing a different instrument with every limb! Singing the role of The Queen in The Decemberists this year has been about movement and being much more extroverted and playful than I certainly have ever been in my own music and I have loved every minute of it.

What musicians would you love to collaborate with in the future?

I hope to work on a new project with saxophonist Colin Stetson and write a puppet opera with YMusic ensemble!

Have you started working on your third album?

I have been home so very, very little this year and since I must be at home to write, I have written nothing, but instead done a lot of drooling over guitars or keyboards or computer software while staring at my computer in my tour bus bunk.

How and why will it sound differently from your last?

It’s hard to talk about something that doesn’t exist, but in my mind, I would like to focus on working with a very small band. Since A Thousand Shark’s Teeth was such an orchestral endeavor, it was really difficult to play live with a small group and feel like I was playing the music as I had intended it. I had someone very close to me die several years ago and that is very evident in the tone of the My Brightest Diamond albums to date. I moved to Detroit this year and in general I feel much more at peace and happier in my heart now, so perhaps all of that will come out in the new music.

What is your songwriting process like?

When I am lucky, a good one will pop out from start to finish with words and chords all at once and the song is done in the time it takes you to press record or scramble to write it down fast enough. But more times than not, I will think about a story or an image for a few months and then noodle on an instrument and when the sound and the story match, then it’s anywhere from 5-10 hours to get something that feels like a song. Sometimes I revise later but not too often. I often use timbre as a way getting that first spark of a song, so I might use an alternative guitar tuning or get a new instrument or sound and that will become the basis for a new song. Tunes like “The Gentlest Gentleman” (ukulele), “Apples” (kalimba), “The Diamond” (pencils stuck in the bridge of two guitars) and “From the Top of the World” (new guitar in drop b minor tuning) all happened like that.

Are you working on anything else?

Ah! This year has been an exhausting and exhilarating whirlwind. The four Shark Remix EPs will be grouped together for a limited physical release (January 2010). In collaboration world, I was privileged to sing on David Byrne’s record Here Lies Love (release early 2010) as well as singing some songs on The Clogs new record, Lady Walton’s Garden, written by the talented Padma Newsome. This month I am finishing up recording art songs by composer Sarah Kirkland Snider called Penelope that should be released in early summer on New Amsterdam Records.

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