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Journalists—even music journalists—are supposed to write somewhat objectively about their interview subjects; I suck at this. I don’t pitch softballs, but I almost always come across as curious rather than skeptical, and by the end of the interview, I’m practically rooting for my subject’s success. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’d like to think that when I interviewed Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, it worked really well, because we managed to talk about what informs her ideas about her art, and because I didn’t feel dirty afterwards.
Worden is a fixture in the experimental scene. She’s played with Sufjan Stevens, released two albums with her former band Awry, and just released her second solo album, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, under the moniker My Brightest Diamond. I really enjoyed Shark’s Teeth, and this is coming from a guy who—unless he’s stoned—would rather eat cat litter than listen to most experimental music. Worden plays tonight at the Rock & Roll Hotel with Clare & the Reasons. Our interview is below.
You mix a lot of genres on A Thousand Shark’s Teeth: there are strains of cabaret and musical theater, and some indie rock. Tell me about that process.
The objective through this record (I wrote this album at the same time as my previous album) was to test out how much from the classical world I could bring to my songwriting. I was listening to a lot of [Claude] Debussy, [Maurice] Ravel, [Pierre] Boulez, and Samuel Barber, and I was trying to let the songs go somewhere a little bit differently. It is really eclectic—the songs represent six years of writing, so they’re kind of all over the place.
But there’s a common thread that runs through all the songs, which is the classical nuances. How did you pull everything together when it came time to produce the album?
It took me about 3 years from the time we started recording until it was finished, and I had to re-record almost everything in a short period of time at the very end to give a sense of continuity.
What changes did you make to the tracks that you had recorded previously?
I introduced drums, which the album didn’t have before. I’d been working with a beat-boxer to deal with the dynamics, because the dynamic range of classical music is so much wider. You listen to a classical song, and at some points the instruments are so quiet that you wonder if the song is over. You’re constantly adjusting the volume to hear all the parts.
You have formal music training, and I’m curious as to when you started incorporating rock music. Who do you model in that genre? And I hope Robert Plant is on the list, because the vocals at the end of “Inside a Boy” sound exactly like Plant (on “Immigrant Song”).
Sweet! (Laughs) We did a Led Zeppelin cover last year, and I love their music.
I grew up in Michigan, so I was listening to a lot of soul and funk. I studied opera while I was at the University of North Texas, and sang funk on the side. I didn’t get into rock until the mid-90s, when I started listening to Jeff Buckley, Portishead, and Nina Simone.
I don’t want to sound like a philistine with this question, but you’ve got this distinct visual persona, and it comes through especially in your photographs for your albums. I know with some artists, like Frank Zappa and Bjork, that strange persona is them, and they are it. How deep do the strange pictures go for you and what’s their significance?
The visual world helps so much, and I find that I’m very, very in love with the visual world. When I’m depressed, I go to a museum. Art makes me feel alive, and beauty is a great source of hope and strength. But then, also, the visual world gives so much information, and it lets people like Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, and even Bjork sort of develop this world to play in and be creative.
What’s the connection between the mood in those photographs and your music?
In general, I like mixing romance with punk. There’s something very beautiful, and even sweet, but there’s also something rebellious, and dirty, and messed up.
Which artists do you pull from?
I love Jean-Pierre Pinet (a flutist), and the German installation artist Anselm Kiefer—we based our photos on his work. I took a lot of writing away from his pictures. With regards to clothes, I haven’t come close to approximating Alexander McQueen, but I love his style.
The combination of the visual and musical elements seems almost theatrical, it reminds me some of Moulin Rouge. What does it look like to you?
I kind of imagine a cross between Commedia dell’arte and Alice in Wonderland.
Below, “Inside a Boy” off of A Thousand Shark’s Teeth.