Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
The next time will be this summer. Find a way to get to your county's fair - you know, the one with the midway lined with silly silos, crackerjack roller coasters, hand-squeezed lemonade stands, disgusting carnies, Sawyer Brown and Diamond Rio bemusedly filling grandstands and livestock competitions. Take a stroll through the horse barn, if you've never done that before. Bear with the smell. It's really, not all that bad, just an earthy aroma of nature working. From one stall to the next, note the remarkable strength that you can intuit is just coiled up in the beasts' rippling muscles. Gawk at the height of these gorgeously gentle monsters and regale in their big brown eyes that look like tiny, watery worlds. Their sleek coats and sturdy frames are something else, to go along with a hidden power that's both inspiring and lethal. They could kill you if they wanted to. They can enthrall you anytime you choose. You can look at these animals and feel similar things to what is felt when you listen to My Brightest Diamond's Bring Me The Workhorse, an album that Shara Worden made to display in resplendent grandeur the fractions of degrees of all the different ways that we can be made to feel vulnerable, awed, sad and overjoyed.
Looking at a barn full of horses is no different that coming to terms with your own unimportance and similarly with your own strength. Horses are tamed and broken and befriended by man, ridden by man and yet there they stand, ready and capable of rioting, tearing the doors down and kicking a black hole through a set of teeth - just a hair-trigger away from putting their might on full display. These are the very same potentials that float from each and every song on Bring Me The Workhorse (soon to be released as a remix album called Tear It Down on March 6), Worden's hot-blooded, but cool-mannered debut album full of string arrangements that act like moonlight and warm waves of seawater in slow tumbling motion.
The impressive black racehorse that Worden is pictured with on the full-length and single EP album covers is like putty in her hands. She's shown lying on him, half-hugging his big body and it's as if all of the electricity in both beauty and the beast are sweetly harnessed and idling for the time being, at one. The songs that Worden writes are not harangues about the sad love stories that we - all of us - encounter countless times throughout our lives, but the clear and perfectly sentimental, realistic descriptions of one or more hearts fighting. The fights aren't necessarily about love, the getting of it, the getting over it or the understanding of it, but more about the intangible whims they have and keeping them all straight. The heart thinks up some funny things (not all of them have to do with love), has some crazy desires and it's all one can do to keep up, to just remember all of them. There are sleepy patterns of escapism and drowsy expanses on the record that are just as dramatic as anything, with Worden setting tones of silky daydreams and nightscapes that appear before you with the illumination of streetlights coming out through patches of foggy sky.
A standout song from the album - "Gone Away" - is a quintessential example of how Worden goes about blending together all of the variations of living through the elusiveness of matters. She's spellbinding with her deft touch and her alto lullaby that makes a song about a lover's disappearance sound jointly like a crackling stack of roasting logs in a fireplace and a crunching layer of packed snow beneath the feet. It's eerie and sincere and captivating. It's an offering to the gods who reign during the time between the thunderclaps and the lightning flashes, when just a calm and steady rain or inky blackness punctuates. It's a nod to the scariness that as time rolls on, we'll forget it eventually. Today will be tomorrow and before long, tomorrow will be next year and then it will be remembered as something it wasn't or something it might have been. Worden operates with this phenomenon in mind - that things can be forgotten which possibly don't deserve to be, whether they be friend or foe, sadness or gladness. We should remember the rainy days as well as the sunny ones and every once in a while, to get over one or lengthen another, a good freakout will do.
*The Daytrotter Interview:*
*Be honest Shara, you did a Daytrotter session with us because you like horses and we like horses, right?*
Shara Worden: Ha ha! Of course! You have seen right through to the heart.
*What is it with that beautiful black horse? I feel, when I look at the photos on the covers of your records, that the two of you bonded. Were you torn up to hear that Barbaro was put down?*
SW: Raven, the horse in the pictures, is a retired race horse and he was incredible to be around. It was kind of a sacred experience to interact with him. I am just now hearing about Barbaro unfortunately...
*Is there any desire to see the Kentucky Derby someday? It's one of those things I need to do before I die, I think.*
SW: I finally got to the races at Belmont a few years ago and had an incredible time, though I only won about two dollars in my betting adventures. I wore a very big hat thinking that everyone at the races dressed like Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady," only to find out that no one else was dressed in wide-brimmed hats and linen suits. My date and I got some very funny looks. I'd dress up again though. BUT the horses were otherworldly. I had never been that close to race horses and they are enormous and glorious! So much grace.
*How did you and Joel meet to start working on "Bring Me The Workhorse?" He's got an amazing resume, doesn't he?*
SW: I met Joel through my friend and drummer, Earl Harvin. I was wanting to come to L.A. to record with Earl and he recommended that we work with Joel, who had this great little rehearsal studio, turned recording studio, and it seemed perfect. And yeah, not only is Joel's resume crazy, but he is an amazing human being, compassionate and musically very sensitive.
Joel Shearer: We met through Earl Harvin, who played drums on the record and has been playing with Shara for years now. Shara was looking for a place to record and Earl and I had been recording drums at my place for other stuff and Earl recommended Shara do the record there. It was nice. She and Earl would record live together and usually would do 2-3 songs a day average. Set up, review arrangement, go for one, make any adjustments in the sound or part or tempo or whatever and then usually within the second take, that was it. Earl and Shara have an amazing vibe together. They're easy to record.
*Shara, what did Joel do for you that you couldn't have either done yourself or hired someone else to do?*
SW: Joel is a guitar god, so he has about five million pedals and he knows how to get sounds. So I would say, "Joel I'm looking for this certain kind of rweeeer sound" and sing something for him, then he would put on his lab coat and dial it in. We couldn't get what I wanted with pedals for the guitar solo at the end of "Workhorse" so I strapped on the guitar and played the line and Joel shook the wammy bar! No one else could have done it the same. Having someone with as much experience in the studio and such a great musician as an engineer is invaluable, because he was able to make suggestions (the intro to "Golden Star" or some of the breaks in "Workhorse," or multi-layering the crazy guitars in "Something of an End") or he would know how to make something happen that I imagined, but hadn't a clue how to get from a technical perspective. Also, the atmosphere in the studio was really one of friends making a record and being excited to be with each other, and that is something that couldn't have happened in a different space I think. Andrew Scheps, who mixed the record, said that he took out about 150 city buses from the album! So there's a bit of grit from the studio in the record too I think.
*Joel, who all have you worked with?*
JS: These questions really make me feel silly because you sit and list off a bunch of names and for some reason instead of feeling proud, you feel slimy, like you are working the room or something. I have been very fortunate in my life to have toured and recorded with the artists and musicians and producers I have. All of them have had some sort of influence over me or have helped me learn and grow. Three of my favorite ones are Alanis, Glen Ballard, Bob Rock. Sorry to be elusive on this one.
*You said you recorded at Abbey Studios, didn't you? What was the work like for you?*
JS: Abbey Road was a trip. I worked there twice -- once with Alanis and once with Damien Rice. Both times were in the tall studio with the control room looking down. Just walking down the halls there and seeing all the albums recorded there (fucking Dark Side of the Moon ) was really cool. A serious chunk of musical history was done there and I am a daydreamer, so of course, you can take your imagination as far as you want to with that. Otherwise, it is just another well-designed studio with kick ass gear!
*What did Shara bring to the sessions and then what were your responsibilities?*
JS: Shara was the artist, so she brought EVERYTHING to the sessions. The songs, the lyrics, the sentiment, the mood, the arrangements, the chaos, the beauty, the obsession, the doubt, the love, the musicality, the sorrow, the excitement, the focus, the pace and the brilliance. My job was to record it.
*What did you have to do with what she brought to you?*
JS: I think in any good relationship, you have give and take and as we were more comfortable around each other(perhaps two hours into Day One), we developed a system or means of working and I felt it important to follow her lead as she was the producer AND artist and I tried to be open, responsive and fulfilling to her needs. It was about Shara and not me. I have worked with producers and engineers who make it about themselves and the artist is then lost. I feel it is always artist first. You can always sift through the shit later. Let the artists explode. Usually, the good bits sustain and the shitty bits burn out
*How was Pedestrian to tour with?*
SW: For me, success is about getting to play with the people you want to play with, to be inspired by them, to be challenged and to be able to trust each other. So every day with them felt like a dream come true. Those times in a musician's life are gifts and I felt that way about my time with them (which is why I was so stoked to have recorded with Daytrotter, cause the boys brought something to the music of their own and I wanted to have my own record of it!).
*Who kind of inspired you to start working on this project? Were you still fairly new in New York when you got this going?*
SW: I was touring for my old band Awry, and sat in the back seat of the car listening to this piece by Pierre Boulez called "Pli selon Pli" over and over again. Then after tour, I was able to see Antony and The Johnsons and Nina Nastasia and Rebecca Moore in New York and they were all using strings in their bands, so I felt like I had to get deeper into string land, so I started studying, arranging with Padma Newsome (Clogs). Earl Harvin has also always been an inspiration for beats, so I also knew I wanted to write some songs for him, to kind of let him play more freely, so songs like "Freak Out" and "Workhorse" and "Magic Rabbit" were especially his songs I think.
*How's Europe treating you right now? What kids of things are you doing?*
SW: Europe has been really great. The coffee in Amsterdam rules!!!! I've been on tour with Dayna Kurtz for a week now, opening solo for her in Holland and then the MBD trio will join me next week to start a headlining tour here. But Dayna was one of those New York people I'd go see at the old Living Room and just sort of melt over her voice, so it's been really cool to get to spend more time with her, and to sing a little bit of Prince together!
*When you were here, Hella was asking where she could get a copy of the new Rolling Stone. I found out later why. You were talked about by Colin Meloy. He's been a nice supporter, hasn't he?*
SW: Yeah, Colin has been super supportive. I think he has a habit of mentoring and bringing up folks, which is something I really admire about him. I love seeing on their tour schedule that Lavender Diamond is opening their European dates and then My Brightest Diamond is opening later this spring. I'm hoping to do a 7-inch with Lavender Diamond soon! Super powers unite!
*And now you'll be opening for them. This is going to be a very cool tour, isn't it? Which character from a Decemberists song do you like most?*
SW: Yeah, we are excited. When choosing for characters, always vote for the nefarious.
*Do you ever get scared about forgetting pieces of your life, like you think about kindergarten and it's just gone? There's a sense of that for me in "Gone Away," is the reason I ask.*
SW: Yeah, I am afraid of forgetting the beautiful parts or forgetting that playfulness and wonder of childhood. Memory is also a strange thing...
*I believe Pat commented to you that he was glad you were fun because he expected more goth out of you. Do you get this much?*
SW: Sometimes. We are all complex creatures, capable of joy and melancholy and the creative force, so I have been on the path in the last few years, of embracing that sort of flexibility of emotions and expression.
*What have you been listening to and reading lately?*
SW: Yesterday, I listened to Joan Wasser's record. The day before I listened to some Prokofiev violin concertos. Today I listened to an Ella Fitzgerald record. I am reading Vincent Van Gogh's letters to Theo, cause I'm in Holland! And also Terry Brook's The Scions of Shannara.
*I noticed you liked using the word "Word" frequently. Do you have some street in you, Shara?*
*Did you absolutely love having that remix record made? It kind of seems like something you'd be thrilled to have done.*
SW: Yes, it's like getting presents in the mail everyday. I loved it. I like the process of making genre irrelevant. This allowed me to just step back, hear a different interpretation for each of the songs and enjoy someone else's vision without any feelings of preciousness or possessiveness. I'm excited about doing more work with these electronic gurus.