Shara Nova: The Renaissance Woman
Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond is the very model of a modern polymath. In this full-length special, filmed in front of a live audience, she performs the songs and shares the stories that have shaped her life.
Ahead on Articulate, an episode dedicated to the rich artistic and personal story of the musical polymath, Shara Nova, as told in conversation and in song. Until recently known as Shara Worden, she has been a collaborator and muse to the likes of The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, David Byrne, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, David Lang, among many others. Nova is, herself, a fine composer. In 2015, her Baroque opera, You Us We All, was performed to great acclaim in Hamburg, Antwerp, and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 2017, she was one of five composers selected to write music for an evening-length song cycle for Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, Luciana Souza, and the chamber orchestra, A Far Cry. But it is as the leader of the indie rock band, My Brightest Diamond, that Shara Nova has truly shined. This daughter of traveling musical Evangelists, who is now a mom herself, has pursued a winding, artistic path of musical exploration—along the way, creating beautifully-wrought songs of love, and life, and loss. Please welcome Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond.
Performance of “We Added It Up” (2011)
AJC: Wonderful, wonderful. Does it matter to you if the listener gets the same emotion from something you’ve written that you put into it?
Shara Nova: I think as an artist, you have your intention of why you make something. But it’s always been important to me to leave a certain amount of ambiguity—using metaphor, kind of non-specific language a lot of the time, I think, so that people can project. And then, maybe part of the growth of being a writer and the luxury of age and craft is that, hopefully, when you throw the dart, you can get a little bit closer to the feelings and the kinds of things that you’re aiming for. Sometimes you’re like, “Whoops! I was trying to get somewhere, and didn’t quite capture all the things.” So, hopefully you get clearer, but know everyone’s gonna bring their own point of reference, I think.
AJC: And is there any sense of catharsis in writing? Are you fixing your life as you go along by exploring it in your art?
Nova: Oh, yeah.
AJC: And is it cleansing when you write about that terrible thing that happened or that wonderful thing that happened? Does it make it better?
Nova: Yeah, I think it absolutely does. It gives you a monument or a pillar to put something in. I think that’s a nice thing to have.
AJC: You have a new record coming out, A Million and One, and it’ll be the first record under your “new name,” Shara Nova. And there are many people in this room who would’ve known you when your name was Shara Worden. Tell us why you changed your name.
Nova: Well, I got married straight out of college, and was married to a wonderful man, and then I needed to fly away. And so, after being married my whole adult life, I was going through a transformation and I wanted to signify that in a way that a name change states a different identity. And so, I changed my last name to Nova. And I wrote this next song, called “Another Chance,” because I wanted to write a love song that people could relate to, but I’m single, so… So, I was like, “Okay, well, I wanna write a love song that’s actually embracing all the loves that I’ve had in my life, and that just because something is over doesn’t mean that I’m not thankful for it, and that I don’t recognize what a rich time we had together.” And so, I wanted to write a song embracing everyone, and looking to things that I wanna do differently next time.
AJC: So this is Shara Nova singing “Another Chance.”
Performance of “Another Chance” (2018)
AJC: Very few songs are written because somebody is reading a nursery rhyme to their six-year-old. But that’s what I’m gonna hear? This next song?
Nova: Yeah, I was reading The Runaway Bunny: “And if you run away and you turn into a fish, I’ll become a fisherman, and I’ll catch you. Well, if you become a fisherman, I’ll run away, and become a this,” and then the momma goes and becomes a that.” And I really thought that was such a sweet book. And…
AJC: And you’re reading it to your son, Constantine?
Nova: Yeah, I was reading it to my son. And there was also a song by Edith Piaf, “L’hymne à l’amour,” and she had written that song after her lover was killed in a plane crash. And I always loved that song so much, and it talks about how their love will continue even after death. So then, from the merging of those ideas came this song called “I’ve Never Loved Someone the Way I Love You.”
AJC: And it’s a beautiful song.
Nova: Thank you.
AJC: Can you play it for us?
AJC: Thank you.
Performance of “I Have Never Loved Someone” (2011)
AJC: That makes me cry almost every time. Sorry, I was just saying that I almost cry every time I hear that song, and that it always affects me in that way. It’s such a beautiful song. It’s such a beautiful song.
Nova: Sometimes it’s the one thing we forget for ourselves—for me, too. And I think that’s why that song touches all of us, is that maybe, I mean, we all have people we love that have passed on. And we all need to keep hearing that, “Me too.” We’re okay.
AJC: As we said earlier, you’ve got a new record coming out later this year—on it, as usual, a huge variety of styles, and textures, and tempi. One song on it, “Supernova,” speaks about how you would, like, maybe think that the world needs to implode before it can be changed.
Nova: Well… We all have a structure for own identity. And I think, as we change in life, both individually and as societies, we have to adjust that identity. And, for me, going through all the changes that I have, recently, it felt like death—nothing short of that. And so, okay, well, what’s on the other side of death? And I loved the idea of a supernova, that there is this bright light that happens afterward, after an implosion. And so, I wanted to imagine a new world, and that being next to someone that might make us uncomfortable is actually something to embrace. So, I wanted to write something that somehow got to that minute, got to that moment.
AJC: You’re gonna need the help of our in-house choir for this one.
Nova: Yes! You’re in the band. I need your help to sing on this one.
AJC: Okay, teach us!
Performance of “Supernova” (2018)