The challenge of parachuting into Noise Pop 2019 isn’t lost on Detroit’s Shara Nova. The mastermind behind the luminous experimental pop project My Brightest Diamond is thoughtfully preparing to bring her blend of classical technique and catchy songwriting to audiences who may be hearing her for the first time.
“I want to connect to people in an immediate way,” Nova said. “You won’t necessarily have heard my singles on the radio, so I want to be as unaffected by the amount of movement and be as generous as I can.”
She sees it as a balance between grounding herself, but still involved with the festival’s constantly changing environment—“I reach out and open my heart as wide as I can … no matter what you perceive happening around you.”
Nova’s artistry reflects her ability to reconfigure her stage presence and musicality to every environment in which she finds herself. My Brightest Diamond’s 2018 album, A Million and One, reflects this intuitive approach, collecting a variety songs for a diverse array of situations and performances.
“I want to have the right song for a particular moment,” she said. “That includes the way I orchestrate my songs. This entire record was built in such a way to make songs for festival crowds to sing along with, but also lend themselves a quick set up and tear down.”
Realizing how certain songs work in spaces large and small, inside cramped rooms and in outdoor spaces, has allowed her to transition from headlining concerts to condensed studio performances. Her malleable style coincides with her desire for crowd participation, arranging songs to give listeners something to respond to. Essentially, she wants them “becoming a part of the band.”
My Brightest Diamond’s balance of dense orchestration and memorable melodies stems from Nova’s efforts to corral her creative impulses. Having lived in nine states by the time she was 18, her stylistic influences range from opera singers and jazz composers to underground hip-hop and Texas rock and roll. Much of her music results from efforts to distill her diverse range for a simpler, catchier format.
“Every record is me trying to limit myself in the best way,” she said. “For me, the challenge is choosing parameters to make each album a unified idea. It’s a real challenge of who I am to not use every aspect of my background, and focusing on creating something cohesive.
“There are basically four people on the record. I did that because I get so enamored by orchestration. I wanted to force myself to focus on the songwriting instead of bells and whistles.”
A Million and One still overflows with ideas, some of which developed in ways that make veteran songwriters laugh. One such song was “Rising Star,” which Nova originally conceived as a response to The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” It turned out to be one of the more technical pieces on the album.
“I realized how difficult that riff was once I tried to teach it,” she recalls. “It’s not like ‘Seven Nation Army’ at all! I was asking, ‘can you tap your foot and clap your hands in four?’
Beyond its unique combination of house techno, art-pop and indie rock, A Million and One immortalizes the rebirth Nova has experienced as a person and a musician. Following a divorce after 22 years of marriage, she legally changed her last name from Worden. This has come to symbolize her push beyond the turmoil detailed in her songs.
“There’s a lot of frustration on the record,” she said. “Having gone through a divorce, along with finding a deeper understanding of the gentrification of Detroit and considering my relation to the oppression of black and brown people.”
Though this journey of introspection and observation, Nova names “Sway” her “theme song” on the album. Where many cuts vulnerably explore the hardships experienced by her and those around her, this cut rejects despair and faces the unknown courageously.
“It’s about looking at pain and hardship and figuring out whether to rail against it or dance through it,” Nova said. “I can make a decision to navigate my life, saying, ‘yes, I’m going to work my ass off, and determinately look for the rainbows in the sky.’ There’s a determination through the frustration, not allowing it to kill your spirit.”
Nova’s musical upbringing predisposes musical expression as an outgoing expression of her “self,” but her self-actualizing journey has led her to delve into the realm of drawing and poetry. While she doesn’t externalize those outlets like My Brightest Diamond, she sees her ventures into other mediums as a way to escape reductive limitations.
“When I read poetry, I feel like I’m understanding something that’s in between the language being used,” she said. “It’s our way of knowing things we shouldn’t know, things beyond the rational mind. The rational mind quantifies, it narrows, it creates prescriptions, it creates grids. Whereas the intuitive part of humanity is able to sense something deeper.”