My Brightest Diamond
Chamber Pop Chanteuse Enchants
My first encounter with the music of My Brightest Diamond was a track on a RED + HOT compilation. [Sidenote: Founded in 1990, RED HOT is dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS through popular culture. In the past quarter-century over 500 artists, producers, and directors have contributed to twenty-four compilation albums, three films, and other media to raise money for HIV/AIDS research and promote HIV/AIDS awareness. Readers may remember the
Safe sex is hot sex campaign or the ubiquitous public service announcements shown on MTV, VH-1, and other media outlets.] During the summer break, my neighbor’s teenage daughter and her friend used to hang out in my living room and spin CDs on my hi-fi. One day she brought over Dark Was the Night, the fifteenth entry in the RED + HOT series.
Over the years I had acquired some of the earlier releases, starting with the best-selling Cole Porter tribute RED HOT + BLUE, so I was happy to hear another entry in the series. Hidden alongside such musical heavyweights as David Byrne, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Gillian Welch, and Bon Iver, there glimmered My Brightest Diamond, the current musical project of Shara Nova.
Over the years I kept encountering Nova’s music — she was always appearing on various best-of lists, including NPR‘s Turning the Tables: The 200 Greatest Songs by 21st Century Women+. Her current longplayer A Million and One was recently cited by NPR Music as an Album You Need to Hear Now.
I finally got to see Nova at the 2018 Norman Music Festival. I was already on a music high, having earlier seen the fantastic Japanese Breakfast, but My Brightest Diamond managed to push out even more endorphins. I spoke to Nova and her drummer, Aaron Gilbert-Steele, before her set and got permission to photograph her from behind the drum throne. [Sidenote: I had seen Nova behind the stage earlier, sporting a shocking-red pompadour and a leather motorcycle jacket, but had no idea who she was, despite having seen photographs of her previously.] During her set Nova talked about growing up in small towns in Arkansas and Texas — her mother and father were the organist and choir director, respectively, for their Pentecostal church — and at some point, she mentioned that she had lived in Sapulpa, Oklahoma as a child.
As readers of this blog know, I’ve been photographing Oklahoma musicians for OKIE-X since 2016. The project definition for an
Oklahoma musician is pretty liberal — to qualify, each subject must be a current or former Oklahoma resident who is a current or former singer, rapper, instrumentalist, songwriter, arranger, composer, or producer who performs or performed in public or makes or made their music available to the public via physical media or online. Phew! Try saying that three times really fast!
Naturally I vowed to get Nova into the studio tout suite.
In Which We Upset a Cat
When I learned that Nova would be back in Oklahoma to open for Death Cab for Cutie, I reached out to her management team to see if there was time in the band schedule for her to sit. Luckily, My Brightest Diamond had agreed to play a short, free show at the Oklahoma City Guestroom Records the afternoon of their main show, so I schlepped the studio to the store and set it up in their storeroom. [Sidenote: It was the week before Record Store Day, so the space was crowded with inventory, not to mention the store cat, L’il Kim, and her litterbox.] Thanks to the efforts of Jason Toth at EKONOMISK MGMT, tour manager Mitchell Graham, Guestroom owner Justin Sowers, and Nova herself, we made it happen.
Serendipity, or, Lucky the Store Owners Don’t Watch Marie Kondo
Amongst the storeroom clutter I happened to notice an old set of RadioShack® “Realistic”® stereophones — circa 1975. The model number? “NOVA PRO.” The featured image on this post is an outtake with Nova wearing those namesake headphones. [Sidenote: “Realistic” was a trademark of the defunct RadioShack® Corporation.]
Nova is a classically trained singer, composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. Her sound blends rock, art pop, and chamber music into a unique, description-defying mélange. She has appeared as a guest vocalist for David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, and The Blind Boys of Alabama, among others. She is currently on tour.
- Unknown maker 250mm Petzval
- 1/25th second
- Exposure Index
- Key: Paul C. Buff Einstein -5.7ƒ with silver beauty dish & 30° grid
- Background: Paul C. Buff Einstein -4.7ƒ with 7″ reflector & 10° grid
- Fill: 42″ collapsible reflector, silver
- Carestream CSHB
- Pyrocat-HD 1:1:200
- ~60 minutes semi-stand in an HP-Combiplan daylight tank
- Epson Perfection v850
- Adobe Lightroom 6, Adobe Photoshop, and NIK Silver Efex Pro
Gallery: My Brightest Diamond
The minute My Brightest Diamond arrived in Oklahoma City they headed to Guestroom Records to perform a free in-store show. They played several songs from A Million and One, including “It’s Me on the Dance Floor,” “Rising Star,” “Champagne,” “Another Chance,” and “You Wanna See My Teeth.” For their current tour, My Brightest Diamond are Shara Nova and drummer Jharis Yokley.
- Leica MP Classic
- Zeiss Biogon T* 21mm ƒ/2.8 ZM
- Leica Summicron-M 50mm ƒ/2.0 (“50 Jahre”)
- Leica Tele-Elmarit-M 90mm ƒ/2.8
- 1⁄125th second
- Exposure Index
- Kodak Tri-X 400
- Adox Adonal (Rodinal) 1:100
- ~60 minutes semi-stand in a ~60 minutes semi-stand in Paterson Super System 4 daylight tank
- Epson Perfection v850
- Adobe Lightroom 6