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Labor of Love: My Brightest Diamond
My Brightest Diamond's Shara Nova is a three-fold musician. Between composing for 400 musicians, singing on other's records or recording her own "quirky pop music" and performing under My Brightest Diamond, Nova knows how to stay busy. We sat down with Nova before the group's show at Lincoln Hall to discuss her gear and colorful life in music in this Labor of Love.
How did making music become your life? How did you get your start?
My grandfather played a semi hollow body red Epiphone guitar and some of my first memories were of him singing a “special” at church with my grandmother. They were evangelists and my father was a church choir director and my mother played classical organ and piano, so everyone played on stage every Sunday. That was normal family behavior. So I always sang. Studied piano from my Uncle who was (and is) an incredible musician.
I didn’t start writing songs though until college when the guys in my cover band wouldn’t play this Whitney Houston song I wanted to do, and so I got a junky plastic acoustic my father had bought from a garage sale and I taught myself to play.
In these times it's an incredible challenge getting by making music, everyone at CME has found a happy home here to support our passion for music. How do you make it work? What are your hustles/gigs? How does it all come together?
I have what I describe as three branches to my career: composer, singer, and then my quirky pop music of My Brightest Diamond. The composition work is funded through commissions and grants. As a singer I sometimes guest appear on other folks’ records, and also I sing for other contemporary classical composers. The third branch of MBD is live performance work, since we all know how much streaming pays. But all of that keeps me busy. I’m grateful to have a career that has so much variety. It’s not easy to market that complexity, but it’s sure rewarding as a musician.
Who were your major influences? What guides your playing style?
I’m a songwriter who gets deeply inspired by a new instrument or sound. That could be an amazing player, it could a new guitar or organ or software instrument. So I’m much less a “player” than A Person Who Easily Falls In Love With A New Sound, and from that new sound the songs are born. I think each of the MBD records could be framed with that kind of view, as investigations into a particular sound, or falling in Love with a particular muse.
On this record, Joel Shearer is an amazing guitar player and I went to him to record my guitars, and then Chris Bruce (originally from Chicago!!) plays guitar on “Its Me On The Dance Floor”. Those two guys are heroes of mine.
As a player, my guide is “Get Out Of The Way” and “Is What You are Doing Essential?” So I think economy has become very important to me as a player, especially on this album. I tend to over-layer and I was trying to leave a transparency in the arrangements, so if I can mute what I’m playing and not miss it, it stays muted and I’m not precious about that.
What's your rig? First guitar? Current? Pedals you can't live without?
My first pride and joy is a 1979 Gibson 335 that I bought from Chicago Music Exchange back when you guys were at the old location. I walked in and fell in love with that guitar through a Vox AC 15. I was on tour at Uncommon Ground down the street and I came back to the store three times that day, because I’d never spent so much on a guitar but I felt connected to the instrument and I finally bought it. I played it for many albums. I don’t tour with it anymore, because I’ve gotten sentimental about it.
On the road I take my trusty Fenders, a Jazzmaster and Rodeo. I have an Orange Rockerverb 50 MK II which I love, because I can control the gain and get the right amount of grit and not necessarily have to be ultra loud to get good tone.
Pedals I can’t live without, Mooger Fooger Analog Delay MF 104Z. The ZVEX Box Of Rock is great. For many years, I’ve used EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master V3 Delay and Reverb. Fulltone OCD is my overdrive.
What does the band have coming up? Albums? Tours? Other info you would like included?
We are super excited to come to Chicago and play the songs from “A Million and One." The Twilite Tone co-produced this record with me, and he’s from Chicago, so it feels good to play this music there. Tunde Olaniran is opening in Chicago and not to be missed!!
I composed a piece for over 400 hundred musicians and the Cincinnati Symphony and that’s gonna be in Washington Park on Aug 3rd. It’s a once in a lifetime kind of event for me, so after MBD tour I’m gonna be hectic printing out symphony parts. If anybody feels like driving down, it’s gonna be epic!!