As the lead singer of My Brightest Diamond and the head cheerleader of Sufjan Steven’s Illinoisemakers, Shara Worden’s piercing vocals belie a history of musical immersion and training. After studying in Michigan, Texas and Moscow, Worden established herself as one of the most challenging artists to come out of New York City with a line of engaging projects including her latest album, the pop/classical amalgamation A Thousand Shark’s Teeth. Paste spoke with the affable Brooklyn resident to discuss her journey to NYC and what she’s been up to.
: Can you talk about your experience growing up in Ypsilanti, Michigan? Big town, small town?
Shara Worden: I moved there in 7th grade-- I lived in Oklahoma before that.
It was a much more diverse cultural environment. There are a lot of
diverse nationalities there and general diversity in that town. It’s a
small town and there are a lot of plants: car plants, and places that
were even shutting down back then. The musical environment was very
much Motown, hip-hop and rap in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was a
really rich time in hip-hop. The radio stations out there were amazing
because they would actually be mixing, like, a live DJ would mix and do
all of these fancy cross-fades. People don’t really do that on the
radio anymore. That was very normal, then-- which, thinking back, was
pretty cool. Why don’t we do that anymore?
Paste: Do you have a lot of appreciation for hip-hop?
Worden: I’m a big fan of hip-hop, actually.
Paste: Have you ever considered a hip-hop project at all?
Worden: Well, I sang on the Jedi Mind Tricks’ last record-- I did two
tracks with them and wrote the choruses. I listened strictly to hip-hop
up until I was about 19, and still feel very new to understanding rock
’n roll or knowing the history of it. It’s a tricky land for me to
navigate, but it’s something I love very, very much.
Paste: You went to school in Texas for Opera. Were you gearing up in high school for that career path?
Worden: Yeah, I did the musical theater thing in high school and was in
a serious chamber choir. I only listened to hip-hop at home and on the
radio, and at school I was doing classical music. At the time, there
was no one who was encouraging songwriting, and being an opera singer
was the only path that I knew of from my experience. There was never
anyone saying “Go for composing!” or “There’s arranging!” [It was more]
“You’re a singer, you should go for opera,” and I loved it, so that’s
what I did. North Texas has a great jazz program, and there were really
great funk bands that I sang in after school and I also cut my first
record in college. It was a very rich musical culture because it’s one
of the largest music schools in the country.
Paste: Coming from this formal background, how was adjusting to New York City?
Worden: I actually moved to Moscow, Russia after college. So after
Moscow, New York was a breeze. I was like “Wow! All the signs are in
Paste: How did you end up in Moscow?
Worden: My husband and I got married right after school and then he had
a job in Moscow, and I really wanted to get away. I didn’t even really
think about it. I said, “Oh, we’re going to Moscow.” It wasn’t even
something I thought very much about. I was excited about it was
exciting to be married-- we lived there for a year.
Paste: How did you spend your time in Moscow?
Worden: That was ten years ago, so it was much less westernized than it
is now. I studied the language with a tutor and then I wrote a song a
week. I really used that time to try to work on my songwriting.
Paste: Did those songs carry into your future projects with Awry or My Brightest Diamond?
Worden: I made a little EP and I think I finally found out how to write
modal music. That is probably where I first felt that I had found a
musical language that I really wanted to live in, because I was trying
to do a lot more soul and blues-based things before that and I think I
wrote almost 30 songs that year, and at the very end of it, they were
modal songs. Awry is very much modal and My Brightest Diamond is all
Paste: What brought you to New York City from Moscow?
Worden: I wanted to be in an environment that had a really diverse,
eclectic and open musical culture. I thought “There’s LA, there’s New
York, there’s London.” I didn’t know many people in LA and I ended up
coming to New York for a week and I saw three people on the street that
I knew, completely randomly, and within a week we had a place to live.
We’d met amazing painters and artists who I was very enchanted by.
Everything fell together in that one week and I knew that my voice
teacher from North Texas had some people to recommend to me, so I knew
that I had a voice teacher here, and it was just one of those
synchronicity things where you know you’re in the right place.
There was this draw to me in the East Village, experimental music in
the southern Manhattan area. Jazz is here as well and there’s also the
classical world, whereas in LA, it’s not that kind of thing at all.
There is a classical culture, but it’s just so spread out. I think in
the nature of LA, there’s a bit less experimentation that happens.
There’s something about the energy of New York and diversity of people.
We’ve got all these different cultures that are all smashed together
within a 15-mile radius. You’ve got the rich and the poor; you’ve got
all the difference in social-economic status all riding the train
together. I liked that, where you’ve got all kinds of crazy, freaky
people, and you’re encountering and brushing cultures with them every
Paste: What makes you continue to want to live in New York?
Worden: I’ve lived here for nine years, which is longer than I’ve lived
anywhere in my life, so it’s very much a home for me. There are just so
many artists that are here. You can go to MOMA and then Regina Spektor
will be playing at Hammerstein Ballroom. There’s so much to stimulate
you as an artist and I feed off of that collective creative energy.
Paste: Are there any future projects you’re currently working on?
Worden: We’re releasing a single at the end of September that has three
French songs, then we’re releasing three remix EPs by three different
DJs. With what we did for Tear It Down, there were 13 different DJs on
one record. This time we decided to have three different people have
more control, that way they could create and develop an idea more
fully. So we’re releasing those digitally in October, November and
December, then we’ll do a physical packaging early next year.
Paste: How would you describe it?
Worden: I just heard Fred Brown’s remixes this morning and the other
guys aren’t finished yet. Fred’s remixes are quite ambient and organic.
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