Shara Worden is one of music’s most enigmatic, and prolific forces. In her long musical career, Worden has been very busy crafting her own unique sounds; from her critically acclaimed work with Sufjan Stevens (Illinois, The Avalanche, The Age of Adz), her solo work (Word, Shara Worden, Live at Schubas), and – of course – her work with her band, My Brightest Diamond.
My Brightest Diamond recently released their 5th studio album This is My Hand to rave reviews from Pitchfork, and AllMusic. Shara graciously agreed to talk to Indie is Not a Genre about her work, history, and plans.
Evan Almeida: Shara, you come from a very eclectic and diverse background; you were taught piano from a jazz musician, studied Opera, and wrote songs in Moscow. How does this varied background influence your musical style, and sensibilities?
Shara Worden: Environment has so much to do with who we become. Certainly we are born with our unique fingerprints, but I was absolutely affected by being born into a family of strong, wide thinking, musicians, and the fact that we moved around so much during my childhood, meant that my identity was shaped by not just one city, one house, one musical environment, but rather by many. I was adapting in all these different situations, nine states by the time I was 18, so I was learning to make friends, listening to the radio in different cities, being affected. If I tried to make only one kind of music, I would not be myself, so the challenge for me is to frame all the different albums or projects I do, so that hopefully there is focus in each work and an audience can trust me as a curator.
EA: My Brightest Diamond’s newest release, This is My Hand, sounds very thematically different from the last album, All Things Will Unwind. What do you believe This is My Hand says about you as a musician, and you as a person?
SW: All Things Will Unwind was an acoustic chamber pop album that was very much focused on the Detroit, racism, global politics, as well as the birth of my son, and the death of my grandmother. And for this album, I mentally wanted to walk outside, out of the concert hall of classical music and onto a festival stage. I was asking a lot of questions about the value of music and after a lot of research and ruminating, I thought of the audience as this modern day tribe, and what if a concert was our form of gathering around the fire and singing, dancing, clapping together, telling ghost stories, hearing from the shaman. So there is a similar community in both of these records and to my ear, the change from violins to more winds is like a painter using watercolor or oil paints. The medium and colors change, but it’s still the same person, just different tools.
EA: The opening track of your upcoming album, “Pressure”, sounds reminiscent of the music of a marching band, what inspired you to create such an unorthodox sound?
SW: Well, I was thinking about this collective experience, and in America the marching band is ubiquitous in high school, so it felt like this symbol of folk, of something everyone has access too, and it is also a big group making music together. In my dream world, that song was one that everyone who had a dusty alto saxophone or trombone hiding in their closet, could get it out and bring it to the gig and we’d have a big jam. What’s been really fun is that there are these groups in the States, who as adults have gone on to other professions but they still like to play, so there are many groups in large cities ranging from 15-30 people, and we’ve been able to do some advance planning and have them come in and play Pressure with the band. That was the ideal and so when it happens, it’s super dreamy.
EA: The eponymous track of your upcoming record, “This is My Hand”, exposes vulnerabilities, yet strength as well. What in your life prompted this powerful statement of self?
SW: So there was this idea of collective dance music, and I wanted to write dance music to facilitate this experience in the show, but when I went to write, I couldn’t! I love dancing but I had no idea what to say, and I realized that for various reasons, the religious environment I grew up in, and then being a female musician, I just have focused so much more on the mind and this was a moment for the body, so the list of body parts came as a kind of tribal ritual where each part of the self is reclaimed.
EA: My Brightest Diamond, has a reputation for theatrical, operatic, shows, can fans expect to see more of these theatrics on your supporting tour for This is My Hand?
SW: There may come a time when I explore more visuals, and theater, but for this tour, I’m really trying to strip away all the props and just see what happens. It’s bizarrely scary for me not to be putting on a different top hat or mustache every few songs, but I think it’s a good experiment for me.
EA: In the past you have worked with Sufjan Stevens, are there any plans for another collaboration in the future?
SW: This year I will be collaborating on a concert for Carnegie Hall with the classical percussion quartet So Percussion. Composer Steve Mackey is also writing a piece for me for the concert which I’m excited about. My opera You Us We All, which I composed and am also in, will be doing a tour in the fall, and then there is an orchestral record by the amazing Sarah Kirkland Snider called “Unremembered” that will be coming out later this year.
EA: What are your plans for the future?
SW: Touring! And I want to write the next MBD record and not wait 3 + years between records! So I’m already drumming up ideas for that. I’m really interested in the historical musical relationship between Detroit and Berlin. My long time collaborator, drummer Earl Harvin lives in Berlin, so I think we want to continue this long standing conversation between our respective cities of residence.