My Brightest Diamond, the brainchild of the multi-instrumentalist and classically trained singer Shara Worden, has been crafting precise, refined, beautiful music since the 2006 release of their spectacular debut album, Bring Me the Workhorse. Recently, BYT got a chance to speak with Shara about the sonic landscapes of her newly released fourth full-length LP, This Is My Hand. The well-articulate Shara briefly let us into her musical mind, opening up about her muses and tuneful inspirations, including an obsession with marching bands.
BYT: With this new album were you looking to explore some new musical terrain? What were you hoping to accomplish with this new LP?
SW: My third record was an acoustic record. So, in my mind, that to me was the culmination of pushing myself as far as I wanted to go into acoustic music. And I also wrote that whole album one song a day and then I arranged it in like two days per song—it was such a cram. I was trying not to over think things—and we recorded the whole thing in two weeks and we mixed it in a week. All Things Will Unwind was done very, very quickly. So with this album, I was sort of reacting to that, and was like, “okay, I’ve done three albums over strings, was sort of the emphasis. So let me examine horns and synthesizers and drums.” You know, those were the basic things I knew I wanted to start with, and much more electronic.
I started reading these books about man’s history with song, and Daniel Levitin’s book called, The World in Six Songs. He lists six different songs throughout human history, and I was like—there’s something. And I read Jared Diamond’s The Three Chimpanzee. In that book, he is talking about how before we were making words, we were making sounds, talking about the very beginnings of art making, from the cave. So I started imagining this: gathering around a fire, and to make a very long story short, what the modern day tribe looks like. And through Detroit—there are so many marching bands in Detroit, and I was in a Matthew Barney film that had marching bands in it. And I became obsessed with marching bands. Well, here’s this place in American culture where everybody can still have access. Here is communal music making. If we were around the tribe, if we were around the fire together, we’d be making music together. It’d probably be more of a collective experience. And maybe this singer would be like the shaman person who goes on some journey and they come back and they have some revolution or story to tell, and hopefully there’s this transformation that happens. So I thought, what if the marching band becomes a symbol of this collective music-making experience, and then I made a list of what might be easy to do in concert like clapping—everyone clapping together—or singing—everyone singing together, and everyone doing these organized dances, or maybe freestyle dances. So I kinda had these little lists of these themes from Daniel Levitin, marching bands, and then these collective activities I wanted to do—the marching band possibly being one of them.
I flew to California and started working on some things with my keyboard player and we just started writing and that took about two years, kinda a week here and a week there, and I wanted to make maybe at least twenty songs this time, and then narrow it down. Because I’ve never had the luxury to do that, but this time it was what I really wanted to do. So it took a lot longer. It was a very different writing process than anything I’ve ever done.
BYT: It’s very cool, your idea about the marching band. I recently read a book about Buddy Bolden, the first jazz trumpet player. And, you know, so much about jazz music involves the marching band, and the short phrases people would hear when they were in a crowd watching a band go by. So they had to make it entertaining in that short little bit, and the sort of back and forth, give and take of the community and the artist. Do you see yourself, as a musician, as being a performer? Does music necessitate an audience?
SW: I don’t write unless I know where I’m gonna play. I’m not the kind of person sitting around writing songs, you know? Like I really need to know: Who is this music for? Who’s gonna play it? Which drummer is gonna play it? Which flute players gonna play it? And if those people don’t exist then there’s no music. And I also really have to think about context. You know, I really wanted this kind of outdoor—I mean we’re not doing a lot of outdoor shows for this tour; it’s fall—but in an ideal scenario, or the way I imagined it in my mind, was more like a parade or an outdoor event, and then the music became something different because I was thinking of a different kind of space. Whereas All Things Will Unwind is very much for the concert hall.
BYT: So, really, context has a huge impact on your writing?
SW: I don’t think without knowing the context, I can’t really imagine something existing.
BYT: I was gonna ask a question about some of your really cool collaborations with Sufjan Stevens, the Decemberists, and the National. I was gonna ask you about the differences between being a solo artist and being a collaborator, performing working with others. But it sounds like, to you, those two things have very similar vibes; that either way you’re still working with other artists and with the audience to create something.
SW: Yeah, definitely. You want to come as a facilitator, you know. You’re facilitating the original seed of the idea—that is not your own. So in that, there is a great difference, however, as a song-writer, I love it when an artist that I’m collaborating with comes and both understands that I am vision-casting, but that they come 100 hundred percent, bringing every creative aspect that they have in their being. That’s what makes anybody a good collaborator. When you kinda understand what it is that you’re serving, and yet, at the same time, you feel free enough to be yourself in that context. You’re working with someone else’s vocabulary. And what’s beautiful, in some cases, when people are writing for me, they know what I am and what I can bring—that’s what a muse is, that’s what my muses are. I’m always trying to draw something out of them that is already in them.
BYT: So is song writing, for you, a habit born out of compulsion or pleasure?
SW: Yes, both.
Check out Shara with My Brightest Diamond tomorrow at the Bowery Ballroom, this Saturday at Rock & Roll Hotel, and in meantime, follow the band on Facebook and Twitter, if that’s something that you’re not doing currently.