Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond is bringing her eclectic music to Ophelia's Electric Soapbox on Wednesday, March 27, as part of a push for her latest album, A Million and One.
The album focuses heavily on drums and vocals, with sparse melodies and pulsing electronic beats. It's a departure from Nova's typically orchestral, full-bodied work, and she jokes that the album is a "failure" because it ended in a different place than she imagined.
Ahead of her headlining Denver show, Nova told Westword how she turned philosophical thoughts of living in Detroit into incantations on her latest album, among other musings.
Westword: What type of energy did you want to put in A Million and One?
Shara Nova: I wanted to address the connection between the inward gaze and an outward gaze. And question if I am being self-reflective — that’s the “One."
The “Million” side of it is, how do I become more articulate as an individual? Who am I in relation to my community? What’s our relationship to "mother"? What’s our relationship to water? What’s our relationship to the prison system? What’s our relationship to black America? Who am I, walking down the streets of Detroit as a person? By my presence there, am I gentrifying it?
My presence is saying a different story than when black people were telling the story about Detroit. Just dealing with those questions, you get songs like "White Noise" and "Rising Star," [songs] dedicated to Detroit. Those are the kinds of things I was thinking about.
I feel like "It's Me on the Dance Floor" brings out the inner voice that someone has when they dance at a club. Why did you want to shine a light on this voice?
A lot of times, when I go to a club expressly to dance, I will wear my hoodie. Many times I’m there to work something out, and that’s not the way that I think popular culture [views it]; it’s always about the hookup.
But that’s not the way I use the environment. I’m not trying to hook up with you; I’m trying to "physicalize" my frustration or release my body because I’ve been sitting at a desk all day. Or discover how moving — not in yoga class, just in a completely free way — gives me space to practice that freedom.
A lot of genres were historically created to let loose to, like jazz. It didn't focus on hookup culture.
We were always doing hookups. Right? Folk dances, the do-si-do...[laughs].
Maybe I’m romanticizing it.
I think you’re right, too. But dancing always has some element of fertility or sexuality; even for birds, it’s that. There’s a universal theme going. When I wrote the record...I kind of resented that dancing was always in relation to someone else.
There’s a lot of different ways you can dance now; we are not just trying to find a pretty bird (laughs). Not that there’s anything wrong with trying to find a pretty bird.
How was the process of creating this album, since it features less instrumentation and more production than your past work?
I was hoping it would be just a drums-and-vocals record. I thought, okay, I’ve done the most instruments you can do by having a marching band — that’s a lot of people. So what if I went down to the fewest elements I could utilize?
I wasn’t successful in doing just a drums-and-vocals record. ... I was trying to deal with the fact I get enamored with a certain situation, like falling in love with the flute player. Using a restriction that, no, you’re not allowed to have any caveats, you’re only allowed to deal with the song form and the melody, and that’s it. I had hoped I would write different kinds of songs by utilizing the restriction.
Why do you think you “failed” by staying with just drums and vocals?
Some of it had to do with the process because I was alone, and if we were going to do that, we would’ve needed to be together more than we were. And my drummer lives in Berlin.
We did initial workshopping of twelve different ideas, and he sent me phone recordings. Songs like “Me on the Dance Floor," “Rising Star," “Sway" and "Teeth" — those were all taken from phone recordings. The original phone recording for “Sway" is what is on the record. That is straight from the demo.
Then I was alone and writing in Detroit, and I think to take harmony completely out, it was a little beyond my technical ability and sonic palette than I wanted. So I defaulted to writing on guitar and keyboards.
I knew I might have to minimize harmonic information, but in the end, sometimes you shoot the arrow and you hit it in the center, and sometimes you hit the ten [laughs].
The record does not sound like a failure at all.
Where you set up these goals, sometimes you achieve them and sometimes you don’t, but you’re reaching for something. That’s fine. I think all these records, I had certain objectives that either hit the mark or I missed on. But that’s how you learn. By creating these false restrictions or guidelines, it helps you not to repeat yourself over and over again if you change your process. I think that’s important.
Each album, especially your last three albums, could have been made under different band names just because they are so different from each other.
I think if you change the instrumentation, you would hear they are all the same writer. But by changing timbre, there’s just a lot of change. But the writing is all me. ... Today I felt like wearing pink, tomorrow I will feel like wearing black, then the next day, fluorescents. To me, it’s like that.
It does make branding hard. It makes you hard to market [laughs]. That’s what life has taught me. You can’t market complexity. It’s a lot easier to market a consistent product, and that’s not been my interest. But there’s a certain hardship that one has to accept by choosing that as your life path.
This interview has been edited for clarity.