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 V.17 No.48 | November 27 - December 3, 2008 

Music Interview

My Brightest Diamond

Separating earth and sky

Shara Worden mixes the ethereal and material worlds in My Brightest Diamond.
Julien Bourgeois
Shara Worden mixes the ethereal and material worlds in My Brightest Diamond.

It’s hard for artists to explain where their music comes from or what they hope it achieves. Shara Worden does both with ease.

Worden is the mastermind behind the epic, cultured, dark and beautiful My Brightest Diamond. She’s able to lay out a point-by-point analysis of her work and what’s inspired it. Though she sometimes chastises herself for being too wordy, her descriptions are quite concise. They serve as a contextual guide, like a placard next to a painting in a museum that explains how and why the work was made.

The child of wanderlust-infected parents, Worden is also a classically trained opera singer—and you can tell.

The singer-songwriter’s most recent effort, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, is a string-heavy, cloud-covered album that ventures into more exotic territory than her debut, Bring Me the Workhorse. Both were released on Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty Records.

Worden loves classical music--the strings give the record an orchestral quality--but Shark’s Teeth is a rock album, just like its predecessor. Even still, there are no clean lines or easy-to-spot symmetry. Guessing a song’s trajectory is a hopeless endeavor. Worden’s voice is often the only source of comfort. Everything else, from the guitar and bass to the violin and harp, makes you want to pull the covers close.

Worden gave us some of her penetrating insight, talked about her time spent with Stevens’ cheerleading squad the Illinoisemakers and explained how she combines the otherworldly with the unrefined.

How did your upbringing affect your music?

We moved around a lot. We lived in nine different states. Your environment has so much to do with how your tastes develop and what music you end up listening to. I think the moving around a lot certainly gave me an eclecticism that I think is somewhat represented on A Thousand Shark’s Teeth.

What about on Bring Me the Workhorse?

I don’t think Bring Me the Workhorse is as eclectic. Part of the way that I tried to deal with that eclecticism is to limit the instrumentation on that record, just to make sure it was focused. I try to give framework and boundaries to each record so that they have an identity of their own. For Workhorse, I very much wanted to keep that eclecticism under control.

What did you get out of your experience with Sufjan Stevens and the Illinoisemakers?

I think what I took from that was the joy that his music has and how he brings that to light in the live show. It’s something that I really enjoyed.

Did seeing him perform influence your live show?

I think it forced a certain confidence in my playing. I’m very shy ... I’m not shy, I’m an introverted person. I think my performances before that were much more introverted. I think it just makes you look up more and be more aware of other people.

A Thousand Shark’s Teeth has a lot of ethereal qualities, but it also seems organic and grounded. How were you able to combine those different aspects?

I very much thought about those things. I wanted to have some of the songs be more celestial. For those, I arranged them with the strings and more choral vocals and harp to sort of stereotypically represent kind of the universe or space or the unobtainable. For other songs, I wanted to use different instruments like marimba, bassoon and clarinet. So I separated some of the songs in terms of earth and sky.

In what ways does being in a rock band work against your training as an opera singer?

My voice actually is a very light voice. In rock music, I think I’m in contrast with my body. I think the training made me more aware of my body and what the voice is asking me to do and what I’m asking it to do instead.

Where do you think you’ll go next musically?

Beats. A Thousand Shark’s Teeth is sort of about creating and establishing a harmonic palette and a harmonic language. I have spent less time on the rhythmic aspects, and that’s where I want to go.

What should we expect at the Albuquerque show?

A string trio and magic tricks and puppet shows and glitter.

Anything else?

A little bit of programmed beats, ukuleles, kalimbas and saws. There are a lot of different colors.

My Brightest Diamond performs at The Cooperage on Sunday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. Clare and the Reasons lead off. Tickets are $15 in advance through brownpapertickets.com, or $20 at the door. It’s a 21-plus concert.

 
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