Interview: Shara Worden, part 1

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, one of my favorite songwriters of all time, in hopes of getting some answers to a few questions I have always wanted to ask her, and maybe (hopefully) convince a few single ladies that I am considerably cooler than I actually am (as World’s Sexiest Vegetarian finalist Gareth Campesinos! would say: “I am nothing if not a pragmatist”). So, here is part one. I will post the rest of it for you as the week progresses.

Oh, also, I’ve never actually interviewed anyone before, so I’m sorry if I suck at it. (Like I said, I am not for real cool.) Anyway, there it is.

The Indie Handbook: You studied voice at the University of North Texas. What was that experience like?

Shara Worden: In school the only role, the only kind of complete role that I had was in L’enfant et les sortilèges, so playing the child was a turning point for me. Where I was able to find pleasure in singing again…so because I got to play a kid …I was able to be playful and explore so I think that piece in particular has had a really special place for me because it’s a fairy tale in its own way.

TIH: So, is that why you did “Black and Costaud”, your own personal connection to the song?

SW:  I think that I, for many years was trying to reconcile myself with the idea that I had chosen songwriting because, in classical music, you dedicate an enormous amount of time to doing one very, very specific thing, which [is] to sing this really difficult music, well, and beautifully, and with feelings, and connection. [And] to compare that with writing songs, which is very internally motivated – If you hear someone like Itzhak Perlman play or Yo Yo Ma or really amazing classical players – Renée Fleming or Barbara Bonney – and you just think Wow, you’ve devoted your life to doing this one thing really beautifully…. That’s really profound to me and I feel like there is something really honorable – there is so much energy in life put toward destruction and put toward negativity and I really admire people who dedicate themselves so fully to something that is so beautiful – I’d rather explore lots of different kinds of things, and I found myself more excited about songwriting and more enthusiastic about spending hours and hours. It’s the same amount of time spent on making music, but the sort of form results in a different thing.

TIH: How would you say your classical training has influenced your songwriting?

SW: Honestly, the singing, I don’t think about it at all. But at the beginning of the writing process for Shark’s Teeth, I was listening to a lot of Boulez and so I was trying to write songs, more so trying not to be prescriptive of the songs, not dictating the form of the songs. Allowing the harmony to take it to a different place, or not having repeated choruses or kind of trying to find different ways of setting the text, so in a certain way the texts was more important, the texts and the harmonies were the priorities. You can see that with songs like “Goodbye Forever” or “If I Were Queen”

TIH: The thing I love about your music is, at least on Workhorse, that your melodies are really unconventional, at least they seem to me to differ from a lot of pop music – you use a lot of repeated notes…

SW: I’m curious which ones you mean, where you are thinking that, because I was conscious of it only for Workhorse.

TIH: Now that you’ve put me on the spot, I can’t remember titles of them, “Workhorse”, for instance.

SW: Well, on that one for sure I was thinking about it, because it was right after “Today” had come out and there was “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon, Yesterday…” and I thought Hey, you can use rhythm rather than using melody, so that was my experiment in that. It’s actually very atypical for me.

TIH: I thought I noticed it on five or six tracks.

SW: Yeah, for Workhorse, for sure. Though what is more natural for me is to do the octaves, big intervallic jumps, like on “Disappear”, for instance.

TIH: Your work with Padma Newsome: what sort of things did you work with him on?

SW: Well, to keep it specific to the record, I would bring him an idea for a string quartet, an accompaniment or arrangement for a song and he would give me suggestions on it. Say, “I think if you invert this, it will sound like this and this is why,” or “bring the bass note up here or you need to spread out” just how you should voice things, helping me learn about the ranges of the instruments. We would listen to different classical pieces, and look at the scores and figure out how things were working. Or I’d bring in something I liked, Rebecca Moore or a Björk track, and he would listen to it and give his feedback on what he thought was cool, what he didn’t think was cool. So it was a lot of [that]. He played me Ligeti for the first time.

TIH: I do love Ligeti.

SW: Yeah, so he was trying to bring in a bunch of different things that he thought I would like, and things that I, as a vocalist, was maybe not familiar with.

TIH: There is so much we miss out on. Did you look at any of his music in particular?

SW: Yeah, we did. We looked at Clogs music a lot and trying to figure out different ways of writing things. Like if you want something to be freer, what information do you give a player? Like in jazz, is there a head, is there a melodic theme, and when does that return? Clogs is actually pretty improvisational, but highly organized improv, so we would study how the organization but also looseness and lack of organization works….It was funny that we started out and he was sort of my mentor, but now we are like collaborators. I sang on their new record. It’s not out yet, but sometime this year.


That’s a mighty big violin you’ve got there.

Wow. I thought I was going to get home a lot sooner than this, so I will make this quick. Our friends The Hard To Get set out on the West Coast leg of their tour this weekend. I was listening to both of their EPs today, and, in case you were wondering, I still like them as much as I did the first time, maybe more. I’ll post the dates below. Make sure you get out and support them, because they are way cooler than anyone else you know and I will accept no excuses less urgent than weddings, funerals, and severe medical emergencies (and no, you can meet your new nephew tomorrow). And check out their tour blog, because it can be pretty doon hilarious (and there is a video of Tim and Melissa singing Sleater-Kinney songs in the car).

Speaking of concerts, I went to one last night. Camera Obscura. And though I was surrounded by so many trendy, skinny, beautiful indie kids that I found myself wishing I had the will power to be anorexic (no, I am not kidding; yes, it did freak me out.), it really was a great show. (Have I mentioned that I love Scottish people, especially Glaswegians?) And while I agree with Paste that “French Navy” is definitely one of the 10 best songs of the year so far, I am not going to talk about them. Besides, you probably already know who they are. You may not, however, have heard of Anni Rossi who is opening for them. Consequently, you probably have no idea how amazing she is, so let me tell you. She is amazing. Anni Rossi is Anni Rossi and a viola. A viola! You don’t see a lot of violas outside of symphony halls, and for good reason. They have something of a reputation for being–how shall I put it–boring.

Anni Rossi‘s viola is not boring.

Think of Anni as something of an Andrew Bird figure, with (you guessed it) a viola and no loop pedal. And this was the amazing thing to me. The way she uses her instrument more than makes up for what could easily come across as a detrimentally thin texture. Yes, the rich color of the viola’s tone (reaching into a lower register than the ubiquitous indie violin) helps a great deal, but it is her use of varied bowing techniques (e.g. col legno, sautillé, and jeté, if you care about such things and also lots of pizzicato, if that counts as bowing [if you have no idea what I am talking about, read this]) that is most effective in enriching her sound. Also, there is the occasional use of scordatura (awesome!), at least I think that was intentional and not just an unfortunate side effect of the high humidity. Also, I absolutely love her voice. Think of something like Bjork’s phrasing and idiosyncrasies with the color of a Vanessa Carlton and all the charm of a cross between Jena Malone and Regina Spektor. (There is probably a simpler and more accurate way to describe it, but I am at a loss). Anyway, check out the video for “Wheelpusher” below, and catch her in concert. I think she is playing a few dates with Micachu later this summer after she finished up with Camera Obscura.


Even for a pathological depressive like me, today has been a good day. The United States have crushed Spain in the Confederations Cup (that right there is a week’s worth of good news); I have spent most of the day listening to God Help the Girl, Belle & Sebastian, and Bjork; I found an article on frontal lobe development co-authored by Natalie Portman online; and I read Hamlet during my lunch break. All of these things and more have combined to blot most of the negative aspects of young-adulthood from my cosciousness, even the corrupt and shallow FHM 100 sexiest women list released today, which unfairly favors women with long hair (OK, so maybe I’m still bitter about some things). But I am content enough to at least make an attempt at a #faibw post today.

Alright, let’s see. Here’s a nice one for you. Sun Airway, from Philadelphia. Very chill (an adjective I hate to use, because it is not an adjective) and I like that. All of their music that I have heard today has a distinct air of familiarity and I cannot figure out why. I am pretty sure I’ve never actually heard any of this before. I suppose it sort of reminds me of the Postal Service (Oh, no! Was that a Death Cab reference?), but with better vocals and (upon first listening, I would say) slightly more rhythmical complexity. You should really check this out. Also, you can download their EP, Oh, Naoko here. (Coincidentally, I have a little bit of a crush on Naoko Mori and an even bigger crush on her character from Torchwood.)

I can’t believe we haven’t had a Swiss band on here yet (I don’t think). Well, we do now. According to their MySpace, CHOO CHOO are from Bern. They have an organist in their band and she is a girl. Two points! (A friend of mine who is an organist visited me at work today, another good thing about today.) I love their fusion of 60s rock and contemporary garage, aaaaand they list The Monkees amongst the bands they listen to, and where would we be without Davy Jones and Mike Nesmith’s mother? (For starters, we’d be short two Pirates movies and about a billion gallons of Liquid Paper.) So give them a listen, I am really digging “Safe & Warm” [see video below].

Inlight have the sort of sound that I’m pretty sure can only come from Britain. You know, that pop/rock quality that lands just to the left of epic, but in a good way. There’s a slight thread of Pink Floydiness that runs through these songs, many of which can be downloaded for free under the “audio” tab on their website, and great relentless, non-annoying drumming persists through “Icarus” (one of two tracks making titular allusions to classical mythology, which is awesome). Also, they’ve opened for Alphabeat, and, yes, I love Alphabeat. One thing I don’t like about Inlight: they are now band number 472 on the list of “Bands I Am Not Likely To See Live Any Time Soon Because They Live In Places I Am Too Poor To Visit”. (My BIANLTSLATSBTLIPIATPTV list is getting really long and that is beginning to cloud my positive opinion of today’s events.)

Two reviews for the price of one, which is free

Regina SpektorFar

Regina Spektor is back with a new album (her third or sixth, depending on whether you can count or not). There are a lot of things to like about Far, the new album, out on Tuesday. People who got all pissy over the Begin to Hope, will like that this leans more in the direction of her older albums on this record, while those who loved the last album will be happy to know that, while there is a lot to think about in this record, they don’t have to think about it unless they want to. (Read the rest)

God Help the GirlGod Help the Girl

It’s not unheard of for a band to provide the soundtrack for an album and history would indicate that it is really something of a hit or miss experience. Think about it. Where would we be if Once had not launched The Swell Season into the spotlight? Then again, Björk’s soundtrack for Dancer In the Dark (a sickeningly brilliant film by Lars von Trier) was a major disappointment, if only because the other actors who sang with her could not begin to approach the shear drama and power packed into every pitch she produces. God Help the Girl is, in a way, a soundtrack as well, but one accompanying a film by Stuart Murdoch that does not quite exist yet. So we have to begin the review process at a loss. (Read the rest)

An open letter to “cool” kids everywhere

In case you have forgotten, there are some big releases due out next Tuesday the 23rd (Monday for you Brits). I was going to review one of them, God Help the Girl, tonight, but I got distracted (more on that later). Instead, expect a double review on Monday (GHG, and Regina Spektor’s Far). Also on the cards in the near-ish future, Imogen Heap announced yesterday that her new album, Ellipse, will be released (in the States) 25 August, which is also the scheduled release date for Fun’s upcoming Aim and Ignite. But the biggest news of the day, at least for me (and not only because I love Welsh accents), The School have finished recording their debut LP! With mixing and stuff still to be done, they are aiming for an October release. So excited!

So, anyway, why are you not reading a review right now. Well, I was doing a bit of research whilst writing my God Help the Girl review and came across this analysis over at Drowned in Sound. I am not going to argue with the judgment of the author because he has had a lot of time to listen to listen to a hard copy of the record whilst I have had only recently had a couple of passes through an online stream. I do, however, take issue with the tone of the article, because it seems that Mr. Tudor has fallen victim to his own coolness.

We are not 100 words into the article before he declares God Help the Girl to be “another step backwards”–for Belle & Sebastian. Funny thing, though. This is not a Belle & Sebastian record. Judging GHG in light of Tigermilk or If You’re Feeling Sinister is like calling Band On the Run a step back for the Beatles because it’s not The White Album. I suppose it would not be completely justified to take Mr. Tudor too severely to task for the style of his critique. As a reviewer, it is essential to recognize that there are certain landmarks within each genre (for instance C86 or the Velvet Underground) and that they are necessary in describing other albums and artists. And in a genre that was in many ways created by Belle & Sebastian 13 years ago and dominated by them throughout the ensuing decade, B&S references are inevitable. Perhaps, he has simply taken that comparison a step too far. (Ironically, I suspect that, frequently, reviewers are not nearly as familiar with the reference points they invoke as they let on. I, for instance, have never actually heard the C 86 compilation, but that hasn’t stopped me from referencing it on several occasions. Or, everyone touts the “literary influences” of Belle & Sebastian, but how many of them have actually read John Whiting’s The Devils? [For the record, I have.])

Now, it is quite possible that, upon closer examination, I will not like God Help the Girl. They may not arouse in me the undying devotion that Belle & Sebastian do. Be that as it may, it will be a strike against God Help the Girl, not against B&S. Who knows, it might even awaken the ennui in me and I will find something in the album to be entirely indifferent about. You will have to wait until Monday to find out. But I have listened to it a couple of times and, unfortunately, I like it. I guess I’m not a critic after all, but one of those pathetic, toxic creatures who typically reserve their passion for football clubs and SciFi television programs. I am a fan. Luckily, I live in the American Midwest where we’re all backwards, inbred, and friendly to begin with and you will never have to come within 35,000 feet of me.

How can I keep from singing?

I saw a movie this weekend. Well, actually, it was a documentary. There were not many people in the audience (very few people will pay to see a documentary in a movie theater these days). It’s a shame, really, because it’s rare to hear so much good music over the span of 85 minutes. The film is called American Harmony and it is playing at several independent theaters in or near many major American cities right now. You’ll have to do a bit of research to find it. Start with the website and watch the trailer here.

It’s a movie about a singing competition, not American Idol or X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent (now known here in the States as “the British American Idol” because Americans are idiots), but the International Championships of Barbershop Harmony and O.C. Times are a barbershop quartet.

Now, unless you’ve sung barbershop before, I doubt you can fully understand my excitement over this film or the stupid grin on my face at the screening. You see, as much as I respect the bands that we cover here and enjoy the music that they make, I will never have the connection with them that I do with the quartets in this film. There is something other-worldly about the instant those chords lock in. I am creating a YouTube playlist featuring some recent gold medalists to give you a better idea.

O.C. Times, International Champions of 2008, caught my ear in particular, and I suspect their bent toward pop and jazz standards will be more suited to the tastes of our general audience. Check out their website for samples of their work. Also investigate other former champions like Vocal Spectrum and Max Q. If you like what hear, try to catch them on tour some time (yes, barbershop quartets tour) or just hang out with me. (Back in high school, I was recruited by some barbershoppers to attend some sort of week-long seminar and workshop they were sponsoring. I couldn’t afford the registration fee. Who knows what might have become of me if I’d had $150 to spend? Still, I’ve been known to break out into fits of “Coney Island Baby” when in the right company. [I tried to find video of one of them, but the holders of the files are all married and therefore too good for me now. You will just have to take my word for it. Enjoy this performance by O.C. Times, instead. Yes, the sound quality changes mid-song, but those chord changes between 2:00-2:30 are what barbershop is all about.])

Oh, and see American Harmony if at all possible. You will not regret it. I love the scene where O.C. Times sing to the waitress in the restaurant. Even though these guys are all pretty hot, it reminds me that even unfortunate looking losers like me can be the coolest guy in the room if we play our cards right.

And a bonus video from Max Q, “Here’s to the Losers”. …Hey, that’s me!…

Is that how you spell “herpetology”?

By now, you know that I can be somewhat excitable, and when I get excited, I tend to bombard you with the same information ad nauseum (how many times have I linked to my own post about The School?). And when I get really excited, I become preoccupied and forget to do important things, like a #faibw recap. Get over it. This is better. [Begin tale of serendipitous googling]

On Monday, I was doing some research for my Splashdown entry (did you all download your free albums, albums plural?!), trying to figure out if Melissa Kaplan, the former lead singer of Splashdown, was still performing around L.A. as Universal Hall Pass. Google lied–sort of. This was the other Melissa Kaplan (not Melissa Kaplan the world-famous herpetologist and author of Iguanas for Dummies, heretofore referred to as MK3). But its ok, because she likes Splashdown and Universal Hall Pass and she capitalizes and punctuates her emails. Also, she is in a band.

The band is The Hard to Get. They are from L.A. and I have listened to their new EP, Looking Good at least 15 times since Tuesday. Looking Good, starts off strong with the title track and Melissa singing “Mama didn’t live like me / She was married by 23 / She didn’t rock a late night scene, / didn’t follow her midnight dreams” over acoustic guitar arpeggios and Tim Lee’s accordion, all of which is reduced to bass and handclaps by the third verse before mounting to the requisite tutti finale.

“Dance Serene”, the fourth of the five tracks which comprise Looking Good is notable as an admirable invocation of the Brazilian sound (impressive since, as most of you probably know, Los Angeles is not in Brazil). Seriously, folks, this track could very well have appeared on a Cibelle or CéU record. The final track, “She Is a Jet”, is a strong closer. With a groove worthy of nosnow/noalps and momentum to match, this is a straight-up indie rock tune, and a good one.

On such a short set (about 20 minutes) with so many bright spots, it is difficult to choose a standout track, but I have done so anyway, and I’m going to go against the grain here. While in many ways, “Dance Serene” is the landmark track of Looking Good, it is the third song, “Good at That”, which has stuck with me from the moment of the first listen. Maybe it’s the sickeningly infectios “do do do” refrain (I’m singing it right now, can’t you hear?) or the call and response style chorus. Or it could be the lyrics, which are terribly clever (“Hey I don’t know how / I got caught in your labyrinth of mist and cloud. / From France to the Hague / the only thing that’s clear is that our love is vague. / But the last time I tried to share what I could see / I had to give my heart a hysterectomy. / I’m really good at faking out. / What a tease.”). I can’t really be sure, but I do know that this is clear cut, good songwriting and I like it. And it ends on a major seventh (which is sexier than Piney Gir‘s accordion)!

I haven’t mentioned the second track, “The Verge”. It’s good, too, but I didn’t want to sound like I was gushing or anything and lose 12,000 indie points for such an uncouth departure from my typically cool and disaffected writing style. (God forbid my blog be too blog-like!) The Hard to Get are in the process of finalizing their summer tour, and we will try to have those dates for you when we can. For now, you can buy Looking Good from, listen to several of the tracks on MySpace, become their fan on (the far superior) Facebook, and watch the video for “Shake” below.

I hear it’s nice in the winter time

If you’ve been with us for a while, you remember Dutch Week, which went over surprisingly well with you people. Since then, Kristin and I have been dying to do another theme week. We considered taking on the Netherlands again because there is still so much incredible music we haven’t addressed yet, but instead, we are heading south to a place with a surprising amount of great music being created by a population of just over 400,000. That’s right, I’ve been promising this for a few weeks now, and here it is. It is time for MALTA MAYHEM!

We’re going to get things going with my favorite Maltese band (of the ones I have managed to preview thus far). Welcome to the world of nosnow/noalps. This is a band with more than a minor funky streak, just check out the video for “Headset” below. Drawing on equal parts rock, funk, and ska, with boy/girl vocals and some nice guitar work, nosnow/noalps remind me of something like a spiffed up version of CSS and even the art school sound of the Ting Tings (both of which you ought to check out if, for some reason, you didn’t the moment you first heard “Music is my hot, hot sex” on that iPod advert two years ago). There are songs streaming on their MySpace and Facebook pages (we’re on Facebook, too). Check out for other information and stuff not available on either of those other pages.

One last bit of news completely unrelated to Malta Mayhem. Indie Handbook favorites The Joy Formidable released their new single, “Whirring” on 7″ vinyl today (if you are a fan of TIH on Facebook, you already know this). The single includes an alternate version of “Whirring” in Welsh. Visit our Facebook page to see a video for the Welsh version, or just Google it. Of course, it’s too late to pre-order the single and have your name entered into the drawing for the Joy Formidable golden ticket, but I’m sure they will still sell you the record anyway.

I’m living in the future again

I am so tired. I was up until 3:30 this morning writing a review and then back up for work at 8:00. And I have to host a dinner party Saturday evening, so you will forgive me if I choose the path of least resistance and discuss a few albums that I am looking forward to, rather than delve into completely uncharted territory. Back in January, Under the Radar Magazine printed a list of about 25 of the most anticipated indie releases of 2009. I was anticipating 4 of them and they have all been unleashed. These four were not mentioned. They are nothing less than subterranean.

Little Birdie Storybook (more of an idea, really) – Little Birdie Storybook is Becca Kreutz who writes some of the most charming and enchanting songs you will ever hear. All that exists at the moment is a handful of demos on her MySpace page, recorded at home in one take on an out-of-tune piano, but she will be heading into the studio to have another go at them. To be honest, I am going to miss those blue notes. You Regina Spektor fans will enjoy this, though Little Birdie Storybook is pretty much impossible to dislike. I think I am looking forward to this one the most. You will be hearing a lot more from me on this topic in the months to come. In the meantime, listen to the demos. You can find the lyrics here.

FunAim & Ignite (23 August) – Fun is the name of the band. The name is nearly as pretentious as that of French rockers Rock and Roll, but it is entirely appropriate. I caught their set in support of Manchester Orchestra, and I can say without reservation that they have earned the name. Stylistically, they fall somewhere between Queen and Mika. The release date for Aim & Ignite was up in the air for a while, but it now stands at 25 August. I know what I’ll be doing that day. For now you can check out their MySpace where you can pick up a free download of “At least I’m not as sad as I used to be” which you can also stream on Facebook (where you can also become a fan of The Indie Handbook). If you want more, catch one of the few remaining dates with Manchester Orchestra.

The School, (title and release date TBA) – This one is still in the works. They went into the studio to begin work a few weeks ago. If you’ve been following us for a while, you already know how much I love this band and for your sake I will tell everyone else to read this. Needless to say, I am pumped. I may have to go to Cardiff to thank them in person. You are all more than welcome to join me.

Venus Hum, (also TBA) – I mentioned this on the Facebook page a couple of days ago. It’s been three years since their last studio album, The Colors In the Wheel, which included one of my favorite songs ever, “Pink Champaign” (I will post the video below). Finally, they are back in the studio. Annette Strean has one of the most striking voices I have ever heard and backed by multi instrumentalists Kip Kubin and Tony Miracle, they have produced enduringly appealing albums in my music library. I’ve been listening to Big Beautiful Sky all week. You can track the progress of the recording and here a few samples (which may or may not end up on the record) at the band’s blog here. (Ok, I am adding a live version of “Yes and No” because the band are actually in it.)

Big things for TIH this week, including #faibw

The last 48 hours have been big for us. There’s the Facebook page. Show us how much you love us and become our fan and tell your friends to do the same (we have a target we are trying to reach, but I am not telling you what it is). There is also a potentially big anouncement (for me, anyway), but I am not telling you about that yet until it’s official, either. And then there’s Follow an Indie Band Wednesday, which I will tell you about, because it’s Wednesday (or at least it was when I started writing this).

Bitter Things – Yes, it’s true, we have told you about Bitter Things before and technically, I am the one who nominated them for #faibw on Twitter today, but this is a day to give them your attention. Why? Because they have posted four new tracks to their MySpace and I love these songs. It’s the same Bitter Things, but with a slightly more garage-y sound and a bluesy guitar quality (some overdrive/compression). And if you pinch your left earlobe and squint, you can hear a bit of the White Stripes, especially on “Run Rabbit Run”, but “The God of Lovers & Drunks” is my favourite. Well done, Bitter Things. Now, when can we expect an LP from you?

Swimming in Speakers – It took me about 30 seconds to get into this, but once I did, I was hooked. At first glance, “In Knowing”, the lead track on the band’s MySpace, sounds like it is going to grow into some straightforward(?) electro-twee, but the entrance of Meadow Eliz’s vocals prove that there is a lot more to this New York quartet. Comparisons to CocoRosie are easily (and accurately) drawn. For those of you who think CocoRosie is too mainstream, you will be glad to know that “In Knowing” bears a strikingly pleasant resemblance to the atmosphere of “Dragonfly” by Universal Hall Pass.

The Foxes – Straight up indie rock, which admittedly, like this band, is not unheard of. But they sound well polished and, yes, I like that too. Allow me to explain myself. Here are some lyrics from “Trauma Town”: “I don’t want to have to explain myself to idiots to flatter their bravado”. How can you not love that? That’s how I felt most of the day Tuesday. They’ve got a new single out called “Bill Hicks”, presumably named for the late comedian. You can stream both tracks, as well as others, on their homepage and Facebook. You can watch the video for “Trauma Town” below.