Incendiary interview My Brightest Diamond
It’s raining and Incendiary find themselves sitting in a wet caravan, interviewing Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond. Despite her noticeable tiredness (she’s just flown in from the States, and managed, mid-set, to electrocute herself) the girl is nothing if not a trooper, gamely accepting the invite to sit and chew the cud.
Pretending not to notice the non-alcoholic beer offered, we set the tape rolling.
IN: You seem to have a strong sense of the dynamic and you seem to like surprising people, shaking them out of any pre-conceived notions over how songs should sound. Is this a deliberate thing?
MBD: No, there’s none of that kind of intention. I’m not really aware of it live, and for the new LP, I really tried to minimise the exaggerated changes. I think I try to write in a very sexualised manner and I really want to push that at present.
IN: Why do you feel that? I like the changes in tempo, your music is so open that it can be reinterpreted in any manner, like the remix LP of Bring Me the Workhorse: I thought that you inadvertently helped other artists successfully re-interpret your music.
MBD: Well I think that a few things have changed… A lot of these songs are written around the lyrics and the music takes its form from the lyrics. And a reason why the shape and the sections of the music do change a lot (on Bring Me the Workhorse) is because I’m really held to the text. Originally I set the mandate that I wanted to follow the lyrics because I wanted to get out of the rigid verse chorus, verse chorus structure.
Now I’m interested in fluidity. Part of the idea for many of the songs for the new LP (A Thousand Shark’s Teeth) especially the last half of the record; I’m allowing the melody to dictate what happens.
IN: Is it a very different process?
MBD: For me it is… why did you say that?
IN: Well, I’d have thought that with a lyric you can work out what’s coming next. With a melody things can come out of the ether, a great hook or a chord sequence can be something that is very momentary, it’s something that is not suggested to you.
MBD: Well… it’s a big change but I kind of think that writing is your fingerprints; your particular aesthetic - whether its clothes, hairstyle or make up - will always in some way be present and they are ways that you display your personality on a given day. And I tend to be minutely – no it’s not even minutely – forget that; I tend to separate the words and the music and it’s a loose gesture towards an intellectualism (laughs)… It’s not like a rigid intellectual thing, writing my lyrics is more to do with tempo and feel and the imagery that I want to you the listener to feel, I set some guidelines.
IN: On a lighter note I see you electrocuted yourself on stage today…
MBD: (giggles profusely)
IN: Is this a new thing, or is it some gimmick that you might be working into the act?
MBD: (Laughs): I don’t really know how much I could stand it if it was part of the show! It happens often when I come to Europe and I don’t really know why it happens because I’ve got European power for all my pedals. The pedals and the amp were all European it’s only my guitar that’s American, so the guitar shouldn’t make any adverse difference at all, but literally, I was injured in April over here and this guy made me some Alligator clips and that’s supposed to grab me but not today.
IN: Maybe you’re tapping into some mystical shamanic vibes along the Nieder-rhine… A further question; you play guitar in a way that reminds me of Television, or Echo and the Bunnymen, all chiming, clanging notes… What drives you as a guitarist, I mean to say you play guitar in a very exciting way.
MBD: Well cool! For me Tom Verlaine is the man. I saw him play for the first time earlier this year. He plays two notes and you’re just melting into your chair. What he can do with a Stratocaster with no pedals…. is astounding.
IN: What do you want to do with your guitar? It’s very expressive the ay you play.
MBD: It’s funny that I’m just becoming to think of myself as a guitar player only in the last year. I’ve played for 15 years before I saw it just as a means to an end, but I obviously preferred that instrument over other instrument. But now I’m really getting into guitar playing. Today I wasn’t super stoked… I mean I never play with Fenders, (the guitar used onstage at the Haldern performance), so I was fighting it today; I had to make lots of minor adjustments.
IN: How do you mean you fought your guitar? Is it the shape, or feel?
MBD: It’s the tone; when you’re not getting the tone that you want you have to change the way you play to suit. Say the amp is more mid-rangey than I’m accustomed to, or breaks up sooner than my Orange amp does, just the way that it’s responding. I fight it because I don’t feel, as a performer, settled into the sound.
IN: A friend of mine said today - when he saw you live for the first time – “ooh it’s like the female Jeff Buckley!” It’s an interesting comparison, Buckley‘s soaring notes and the musical landscape he creates seemingly at one remove… Is that a good link to make or are you going to throw me out of this caravan for suggesting it?
MBD: Ooh wow! I’m a massive Jeff Buckley fan I love him. Certainly he was a phenomenal guitar player. There are very few musicians you could say are like Buckley… it’s less in the writing structure and more in the delivery with him, there are very few writers who have that kind of lyricism and beauty… and being okay to be pretty! (laughs out loud). There are examples like Patti Smith or Robert Plant who are great rock and roll singers, who I love but don’t take things from. Whereas I’ve taken a lot from Buckley’s example; drawing from old world music, for instance. You know he draws on things that aren’t referenced. In some ways he’s like Frank Sinatra (laughs). You know what I mean?
IN: Love tunes?
IN: Rock and roll is such a gauche institution…
MBD: Yeah! But Jeff would do that crazy heavy punk stuff and really piss the record company off, and then it’d be “I’m going to sing Benjamin Britten now!” (laughs raucously)
IN: Why don’t you do Peter Grimes? That big chorus at the end, say, when he (Grimes) buggers off in his boat
MBD: Yeah! I love Ben Britten.
IN: He’s proto-Goth
MBD: I really love him because his tunes are beautiful. I really love his War Requiem.
IN: A lot of his personal frustrations and inner contradictions come out in his music in a way that is very beautiful to other people. Do Peter Grimes on a Telecaster, for the crack (laughs)
MBD: I wrote a song called Brave Elfin (is this right? Shara, please confirm? - ed) which was based on the Fairy Queen from Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wrote a sweet aria that was based on a Britten line…
IN: You like your high culture…
MBD: I very much hone in on certain people and I usually listen to the whole catalogue of one artist, and in that way take on board a lot of stuff. But there are lots of things I don’t like at all. I think it’s the songwriters that always get me; Debussy’s songs and lots of opera tunes…
IN: The beginning of Aida is shockingly good, it’s almost heavy metal in it’s attitude.
MBD: Yeah! It’s music that’s way harder core than some of the rock industry’s efforts.
IN: Sad to say the rock industry is very blinkered in that respect, it doesn’t draw on other sources, unless it’s in parody, and I think that’s very sad. Doing things without any effort…
Words: Richard Foster