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My Brightest Diamond

Following the White Rabbit

Feb 07, 2012 My Brightest Diamond
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Ever since Shara Worden (who performs as My Brightest Diamond) donned a cheerleader uniform to tour with Sufjan Stevens, there’s been an approachable, yet otherworldly presence about her. Since her time with the Illinoisemakers, Worden has produced three albums of material—wrapping big ideas about life and death in a chamber-pop beauty. Her new album, All Things Will Unwind, follows suit. In it, Worden plays the role of the big-tent revivalist, urging people to wake up, to contemplate their place in the universe—a realist message delivered alongside whimsical woodwinds, lush compositions, and Worden’s operatic vocals.

Under the Radar caught up with the songstress via e-mail to get her take on collaborations, going out on a limb, and what current artist is making the next generation dance.

Returning to Detroit after living in New York for years—how has your option views of your home state changed? Is it true that you can never go home again?

I have two special friends from high school that I have kept in touch with over the years, but I don’t feel like I’m walking back into a place that I know or that knows me. Detroit feels like a foreign country at times, with its own culture and a very particular history, a unique collection of challenges that the city I grew up in did not have. I’ve spent the last couple of years just asking a lot of questions and getting history lessons. Even if we are only home for a week, we try and go to community meetings, so that we can get our finger on the pulse. New York is so international, but it also can feel isolated from the rest of the country and for my art-making, I felt I had to leave and be more like a secret agent out in the field, reporting back. Detroit’s challenges are so big that it seems like everyone’s eyes are down, on the problems that are right in front of them. Sometimes I think that short gaze cuts them off from seeing the bigger picture of their situation or how to move forward.

Logistically, how does writing and recording music in Detroit differ from writing and recording music in New York? Are you the kind of musician who has to physically/emotionally isolate herself in order to create?

I wrote all of this album in Detroit, but then I’d drive 10 hours to New York to rehearse for one day, then drive back to make revisions. I think the situation made the process more focused by giving me specific deadlines. I don’t go out that much in Detroit, so it was easier to lock myself at home for 12 hours a day and get the work done. It can be really hard to do that in NYC, because there is so much to tempt you outside. We recorded in NYC, because all the musicians live there. I had worked with engineer Pat Dillett for the session I did with David Byrne and I really liked Pat and wanted to work with one person behind the knobs for the whole process, so that there would be someone other than myself seeing the big picture of the album. In terms of needing to be alone or with people, music making is always tied to relationship for me. I write specifically for musicians that I love and without them, there would be nothing imagined or created. There is not some faceless flute player fluttering in my head. It is Alex Sopp! Having yMusic ask me to write for them gave me really specific people to write for and for me, that made all the difference in the world. Suddenly the songs are in the mind to be caught, because some real person is there. That said, I do need to be alone for big chunks of time in order to get organized.

Congratulations on the birth of your son! Have you played him your music yet? Has he shown any signs of appreciation for other artists?

Thank you! Yes of course. He loves music. I played him St. Vincent’s new album recently and he was dancing a lot. Of course! Who wouldn’t?

How much do you take the idea of your audience into consideration? “Be Brave” has a very open-ended theme. However, you address yourself, which makes the message very specific.

For that song, I very much was aware of the audience. When addressing issues of environmental and social injustice, I felt that I could not confront our great need for change without also including myself. Certainly we do need to make drastic changes on a corporate level (I mean that word in the old school way, on a national scale), but also behavioral changes begin with confronting yourself. If as a society we, the individuals, see the need for justice, then I think the leaders will have to hear the voice of the people. Lincoln didn’t go into office thinking that ending slavery was his number one priority, but the people demanded that change and he listened.

Since My Brightest Diamond is a solo project, how difficult is it to let collaborators in? Are you immune to the desire to micromanage?

I like to think of music making as mixing intention with chance. I think I’m a very specific musician, but I also really trust my collaborators. I tend to work with the same people over and over, because I like the long term conversation. The rhythm sections gets very little direction from me, just some general concepts. I love arranging for strings or horns or whatever, and in this, I am very detailed about what is on the page. But I also like it when the players make decisions about how they want to interpret those notes and to suggest changes where needed.

Before All Things Unwind, you joined up with The Decemberists for their Hazards of Love tour. Time to unveil their true identities: modern day gypsies or hyper-literate superheroes?

They are certainly my heroes. I love all those guys so much. You see all the sides of people when you are on a bus with folks for a year and a half, and I would say if they suggest a book, I’ll read it and if they utter a hippie prayer, I’ll repeat it.

Is there a spiritual element to making music for you?

Music is tapping into a sphere of the invisible. It connects us to one another in an inexplicable way. Music is infinite. There is no end to its depth. You can never grasp it, or truly master it, because it will always show you something else that is a total mystery. Spirit also is a mystery. Life itself is completely awe-inspiring and music is the expression of our experience as human beings. I think when we are sad, we can’t see beyond the finite physical realm and our present problems weigh us down so much, but when you tap into something that is infinite, you can free yourself, because you start to get a bigger picture and I think music does that for us.

Has there been a song/songs that have deeply spoken to you over the years?

“Wild is the Wind,” “Hallelujah,” “Dido’s Lament,” “Sometimes it Snows in April,” “Always & Forever,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “They Won’t Go Where I Go,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Adore…”

How important is the visual aspect of making music for you? Over the years you’ve incorporated some fantastic/otherworldly images into your videos/press shots/and live performances. Is there ever a danger of the persona overpowering the music? (After all, we’re still talking about Björk’s swan dress…)

I love it when artists take chances! (I’m still talking about Gaga’s meat dress.) I do think a photograph and the clothing is often a first interaction with the music and so it should give you some information about it. Performing is distinguished from ordinary interaction and I like my clothing to be distinguished from the every day. Mixing film with music is significantly more difficult to integrate than set design or costuming. I find that if an audience is watching a film that is too busy, it’s like their brains switch into a watching-TV mode and it makes an audience less responsive, less interactive. I think that can overpower the music.

“I Have Never Loved Someone” seems to speak to the idea of enduring legacy of love and devotion. How interested are you in the idea of legacy? What kind of legacy do you hope to create for yourself on a personal/musical level?

I wanted to send my son a message in a bottle from me, like a time capsule to the future, that if and when I can’t tell him with words, I want him to how he is loved unconditionally and that he is okay. That is message we all need. I think in terms of a musical legacy, the task is to stick to the work itself. What your work means to others is really out of your control. One minute the crowd doesn’t like your work, the next they do. Who can predict it? I have an ego that wants validation from my peers, from an audience, but to do so is a never ending, slippery slope. There is no true definition of success in music. The only answers I know of are to follow your inspiration, follow coincidence, follow the white rabbit, and present yourself to the work.



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April 22nd 2015

Good article ! Great songs also.

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April 22nd 2015

Great article great songs too ! :)

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October 11th 2016

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