Photograph by Cathy Bauer
Birds and Fishes: Shara Worden combines strange musical bedfellows in My Brightest Diamond.
My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden achieves the acoustically impossible
By John Gentile
SHARA WORDEN has created a unique beast. A classically trained musician and singer, Worden spent time touring with Sufjan Stevens as the captain of his Illinoisemakers before creating My Brightest Diamond three years ago.
Sometimes, her songs are carried by ghostly strings and a voice lifted from 1940s jazz records. Sometimes the band is simply Worden rocking out garage-band style. Or, on songs like "Inside a Boy," which was just released to promote the upcoming album, A Thousand Shark's Teeth, the band morphs from starry soundscapes to growling guitars.
"It's a strange marriage of birds and fishes," says Worden, somewhat cryptically."We have to find out how they can inhabit together."
The My Brightest Diamond collective sets itself apart by laying a string octet over rock drums, creating one hell of a contrast, and making it work is a peculiar balancing act.
While it may work beautifully in the studio, Worden says that, constrained by the laws of time and space, playing live is entirely different.
"The world that I've lived in has always been trying to figure out ways that drums and strings can interact," says Worden. "When you're in the studio, you can achieve the acoustic impossible.
But live, you are bound by gravity, the laws of sound and the laws of the instruments. So, I try to find those edges. Then I figure out how I can manipulate the writing in such a way that you are able to have the beauty and depth and tone of the strings while still having a rock drum in the live show."
Although her live shows are experiments in contrast, it seems that Worden is never truly settled on a result. From tour to tour, and even show to show, she's known to dramatically change her songs to keep them fresh and alive.
"If you have a song that never changes, that's totally cool," says Worden. "But for me, I haven't been able to do that. I get bored. There are all these different formations and there are different aspects of each of these tunes. Music is ever changing and ever evolving."
In addition to experimenting with her own songbook, Worden turns it over to others to have a go at it. The group's first album, Bring Me the Workhorse, was rereleased in a second version with every track remixed by independent DJs. The new album will have several accompanying EPs released separately, each of which will feature a single DJ's perspective on several of the new songs. For Worden, it's all a learning experience.
"New versions have different priorities within the songs or even change the songs entity entirely," says Worden."Remixes are a way for me to get an education. It feels like going to school. How would someone else approach my material? What different choices were made?"
Although the remixes are reflections of Worden's work, she seems equally dedicated to examining her work in its infancy as well. Pre-orders of the new album come with the original demos of the songs. While many artists release demos as a way of showing what they intended for the songs before others got involved in the music, Worden uses the demos to show what the songs were like before she made the final call on the input from others.
"In some cases the demos have different orchestration than the finals," says Worden, "so it's a way to honor the work into which people that invested a lot of time, but I ended up doing other arrangements."
Despite trying out so many different approaches to her music, Worden doesn't fear losing herself in all the twiddling and manipulation of her songs.
"You are yourself depending on what clothes you put on that day," says Worden, But, you still are you, its just how you dress up yourself. You are what you are. A song is what it is."
MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND performs with NOE VENABLE on Friday (May 23) at Montalvo's Carriage House Theater, 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga. Tickets are $24–$40. (408.961.5858)
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