At the end of August of last year my mate Andrew did an interview for File Under music webzine with Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond. Shara was in Amsterdam for a series of interviews to promote her forthcoming album ‘All Things Will Unwind’, which of course has been released since and is imho one of the best albums of 2011, and I also got the opportunity to take some photos before the interview started.
File Under is however a Dutch webzine and quite understandably not all of you are equally at home in that language, but Andrew was kind enough to do a translation of the interview in English too, so here it is. Enjoy the interview and the photos!
Andrew: When I saw you for the first time at Haldern Pop 2011, one of the things that amazed me was the way you interspersed your songs with stories, and you moved and explained things. What it felt like, I mean there were 400 people there, but it felt like you managed to talk to everyone personally. I was wondering if you actually had like a training in this, or if it’s just you if that’s how you are?
MDB: In that kind of room, the hardest thing is to include everybody in your performance, and even in my own mind, it was easy to exclude the back of the room. I studied a technique called Alexander Technique that in some way…the thinking is that you allow yourself to be wide and long and that when you think about your back you think about it going around the world, or your arms go around the world, so it’s this kind of visualisation. I find that when you’re in a performance if – , I mean some performers, I actually…I asked Colin Meloy (The Decemberists, red.) this because we performed at Austin City Limits and there were about 70000 people. It was massive! It was definitely the most people I ever performed in front of, and I found that if I tried to include everyone, it was really really intense and I asked Colin if he does that, but he doesn’t at all, but at the same time he’s very engaged with his audience. I find it interesting that different performers think differently but I do try to include everyone that I can see, and I was aware also at that show that because there was a camera that was showing to the outside, that I thought I have to remember to include the people outside but I kind of forgot about them in the show <laughs>. Sometimes it’s like that, the performer might be aware of things and maybe the audience does perceive intention and sometimes they don’t, but I still think that…I mean I used to create a bubble around me and that is what made me feel safe, but now I feel like I am trying to allow people in.
Andrew: Some of your tracks, on the new album but also on the previous album, are very much about boundaries, moving across boundaries, or changing things, moving from a scene to a scene. Are those kind of transitions important to you? Are these changes, like you mentioned just now with changing the way you perceive yourself with the “bubble” a meaningful thing?
MBD: I think that the theme, like feeling like you’re trapped, or feeling like there’s something some limit or way of thinking that is holding you, and that you want to…expand is definitely kind of a life long journey, so it keeps showing up in the songs….erm….yes!
We look at each other and laugh. Shara mentions while laughing, that we can talk about that more or we can talk about it less. Quick to take a hint, I decide to skip the deep metaphysics.
Andrew: In The Long Count performance, time and the changing of times and states is a very central theme. You count down in to the beginning and end, defining those transitions. Even in the naming of the performance, you’re counting down to the end. By the way, what are you doing on the 12th of the 12th, 2012? The end of the long count?
MBD: <Shara puts on big eyes and gasps> I hadn’t really thought about it!
Andrew: Party like it’s 2000…and 12?
Andrew: All these horrible movies counting down towards the end, the end of times…Do you believe that there are end points, or if it’s just transitions and transitions and that it never stops?
MBD: Well, the record is in some way about beginnings and endings, and then also looking at the time in the middle is, well, my life and saying “Oh to struggle now in time”, meaning oh, how gorgeous! There is another time reference in the song In the Beginning, the lyric is “Our time, our question awaits, will we seize it?” You know, there is…I think now as a parent, as a person who is getting beyond my own tragedy and being able to look at the world. I’ve been interested in other people’s stories, and in the larger story to help me make sense of what’s happening in this particular time in history… This idea of All Things Will Unwind is based on a conversation that I had with a scientist who was talking about the death of the Sun. You know it’s crazy to think that the fact this planet is completely dependent on the Sun, and that it will come to an end as we understand it. It is kind of crazy just to ponder the larger story of mankind…you know, that now is not all that there is. I do find hope in that. It does bring a certain sombreness, but also humility in the fact that you are a part of a long line, that there are ancestors but also people who will come after you. It’s not all about you, and there for there is responsibility in that, because it is not about you. I guess, growing up as an American…America is great because there’s this idealisation of the individual, but at the same time I think that’s our downfall. As if we’ve lost in some way the vision of the whole community. The rights of the individual have become God basically, to the sacrifice of the whole. I’m getting off on a tangent haha! I think it’s about the larger picture of how you see yourself. It’s very bizarre that we are given a little slice of the pie of time, and you don’t know how much of that time you have…and yet then it’s also very exciting! I think it’s easy to get lost in depression, or get lost in being overwhelmed, or being fearful….so I think for me this record was trying to move myself beyond that in a way. It’s a long meditation on those things.
Andrew: Do you think that time is moving faster for you now?
MDB: It’s interesting being an adult, because as an adult I do spend a whole lot of time in the future, and time does seem to speed up, but then having a son, who is so completely in the present…being with him does slow time because suddenly I am not able to be in the future an I am just with him, in this moment. Its the paradox of being an adult because in order to be responsible you have to plan, and you have to be accountable for your actions, knowing that your actions have consequences, and yet the beautiful thing about children is that they are pure delight, whatever is happening in that moment is just pure ecstasy, discovery, curiosity and feverish learning…it’s so thrilling to be around that! I do find that I am feeling quite grown up now, because I am realizing that to recover joy -as a grown up- is really hard, because you do still have a sense of responsibility…and how do you have joy and responsibility at the same time?
Andrew: They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
MBD: Yeah, exactly, but I found that really confusing…because when I became more open to allowing myself to feel how sad it was that 10000 people died in an earthquake, or that there was an oil spill, or how sad it is that there is more sex slavery in the world than ever before…women and children simply being sold or taken or manipulated… There’s all these really intense things in the world. Starvation. Environmental injustice. All these different things. I found it really confusing to allow myself to actually fully feel these things, and then to go to my son, who is completely oblivious, and then to be so joyful, and feel so much love, and so much joy myself…for my kid. It’s a very strange thing.
Andrew: Is your son an anchor of happiness?
MBD: Yeah, right now he is. <Shara smiles> It’s like I have to store it all up, for when number two comes around <Shara laughs>. I will remember, and I’m filming him a lot, because I want him to remember that part of himself, you know?
Andrew: Are you creating music for your child?
MBD: The last song on the record is definitely his. It’s sort of a time capsule: a message to him, and I think my next record will be more about him. He loves beats, and I love to see what gets him moving <she smiles>. We forget that music developed the same time that language did, in our brains so there is intrinsically in humans, in the way that we evolved we respond to music, and we need music. It’s actually our culture that doesn’t seem to have a place for that any more We watch television; we don’t make music together. A hundred years ago, or even less than that , there were folk dances and things that we did as community, but then with the advent of recordings, radio and television Music became something that only the professionals did. Something that you observed rather than participated in. Music no longer seems to belong to everybody.
Andrew: Music for everybody, rather than music with everybody?
Andrew: Are you writing messages to your child now, in your music?
MBD: The thing that you struggle with your parents…the thing that I struggled with with my parents was the thing that my parents struggled with, with themselves. Those poisonous thoughts get carried down, whether you want them to or not. For me it’s just accepting myself, and that I am OK just the way I am…without any props, without any performance. I am ok, just as a being. That is the message I want to send my son, and that is the message that I need. So that is how the album ends: You’re OK.
Andrew: I was reading your site, and I read that you imposed restrictions on your instrument choices? Everything had to fit in your suitcase? Did you do that to challenge yourself?
MBD: <Shara grins> I did bend the rules a little bit! The baritone ukulele is slightly too long to fit in the suitcase, but the auto-harp and the ukulele and the imbira and the banjo…the banjo is actually a tenor banjo, which is really small, so it does fit. Part of this record is really practical, and part of it is completely impractical. I wanted to play around with different timbers, so rather than lug a grand piano around I just thought that I would work with instruments that are small. Something about small instruments makes an intimacy: there’s an immediate vulnerability and tenderness that you have when you play a really tiny instrument, and so there is something in that that I wanted to explore. I wrote a lot of the songs based on different timbres: I use timbre to get a song started sometimes. A different sound will spark a new idea.
Andrew: Our photographer friend over there mentioned to me that Efterklang has been speaking very favourably of you in their twitter. Do you actively seek out people to collaborate with?
MBD: I don’t really go looking for things, but I feel very supportive of people and a lot of people are very supportive of me. A lot of the collaborations are based on friendship. When someone comes to you with an idea I really think that it’s good to follow through with that. If you don’t like it then you can decide later, but if somebody comes and they”re prepared I really appreciate that, and it means a lot. When everyone comes ready to give, then something is going to happen! It’s where the magic of life is.