You may recognize her as the captain of Sufjan Stevens’ cheerleading squad, but roundoffs, cartwheels, and pom-poms aside, My Brightest Diamond (Shara Worden) is a lo-fi loving, classically trained vocalist who will make Portishead, PJ Harvey, and Bjork fans stand up and cheer. We met up in Union Square (New York City), months before the release of her highly anticipated album A Thousand Shark’s Teeth (Asthmatic Kitty Records) and weeks before her performance at SXSW:
Jim: You grew up singing along to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey albums. When did you get into the heavier stuff, so to speak, like PJ Harvey and Bjork?
My Brightest Diamond: Probably my third or fourth year in college. I was a hardcore R&B head for a really long time.
J: So who were you listening to back then?
MBD: It was like Sade and Seal. I listened to Tori Amos, Portishead, PJ Harvey, and Jeff Buckley too. Those were the records I would listen to, but didn’t like. I would keep going back to them, because there’s was something about it that was so intriguing to me. Eventually I really fell in love with those artists.
J: Do you still listen to the R&B?
MBD: Yeah, I do. I love me some Cee Lo.
J: When you came to New York you were studying opera, how did you creep into the rock scene?
MBD: I moved to New York because I knew there was such a strong classical scene and I was also really interested in the downtown avant-garde stuff. That combination really drew me into the city. After about two years of studying in New York, I had to draw a line in the sand and make a decision about what life I was going to pursue–I ended up on the rock-n-roll side.
J: How did you meet Sufjan Stevens?
MBD: I met Sufjan six years ago. We were playing a variety show on the Lower East Side, and we had mutual friends that were like, “Hey, you guys should hang out.” The rest is history.
J: Then you became the captain of his cheerleading squad. How did this happen?
MBD: Sufjan hadn’t done a lot of extensive band touring. When Michigan came out he was trying to do some tours and put together a band, so he called up all his friends.
J: Okay, but how did you become a cheerleader?
MBD: (laughs) Every choirgirl has a fantasy of being a cheerleader, but you’re not allowed to be a cheerleader when you’re a choirgirl because it will ruin your voice. It was a secret fantasy of mine.
J: (laughs) Any training involved?
MBD: Yes we did have to do a lot of extensive stretching and yoga exercises every morning–a lot of strength moves, a lot of lifts and jump.
J: You’ve been know to play a wine glass, so including household items, how many instruments do you play?
MBD: I do alright with keyboard and guitar things, bells and kalimbas. Wine glasses are a favorite. You can also play crystal vases and bowls. Glass bowls have pitches, so you can put marbles in them and do various things to get the pitch to come out. You can also bow thin glass. This is limited only by your imagination!
J: When’s your new album, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, coming out?
MBD: I hope June 17th. I finished it last week.
J: What are you bringing to the table this time around?
MBD: This one is sort of like Tom Waits meets Peter Gabriel meets a dash of Post/Debut Bjork.
J: Instrument-wise, what’s going on? Do you have strings on the album?
MBD: Strings on every track with a full band, groove-oriented drums and bass, some kalimba and gongs–a lot of marimbas, bassoons, clarinets, French horns, and trombones. The orchestration is quite classical, but it’s still like pop tunes for the most part.
J: Switching gears here, what’s the best stage costume you own?
MBD: I have an ice skating outfit. It’s kind of like a circus, tight-rope-walker costume. That’s one of my favorites. I also have a clown outfit that’s pretty sweet.
J: Will you bust these out on tour?
MBD: Oh yes.
J: You’re doing SXSW this year, right?
MBD: I might do a couple of day parties, but there’s one showcase I’m doing with a string quartet. That’ll be fun. It’s at the Presbyterian Church. I’m also playing with my friend Marla Hansen, I’ll be doing some background vocals for her.
J: Sometimes you shorten My Brightest Diamond to MBD. How often does this occur?
MBD: It’s just a matter of laziness or convenience.
J: Has anyone ever seen your band name and mistaken it for a female hip-hop MC?
MBD: I don’t know. That would be super cool if that’s what they thought. I did some myspace researching and there’s a lot of diamond language floating around in the R&B world. They’re all my friends–I got them listed. Lavender Diamond not to be forgotten!