Destined: Lavender Diamond
Download "You Broke My Heart" by Lavender Diamond.
If Dusted chose its Destined bands based solely on positive vibes, Lavender Diamond, a group of sunny balladeers from Southern California, would certainly be at the top of our list. Despite just a few recordings over its year-long existence, this foursome has drawn fanatical attention from pockets of fans and critics nationwide. Their inaugural, self-released EP, Cavalry of Light, is not breathtaking in its scope or its initial impact. It’s the kind of record that goes with you, however, attaching its brightness to your mood. Unlike many of its peers, Lavender Diamond doesn’t deal in the double-edged sword of irony; after listening to them, you just might find yourself sporting a genuine smile.
The lady front and center is Becky Stark, a chanteuse as naturally winsome and enigmatic as any you’ve heard. She’s responsible for the lyrics and the aesthetic shenanigans for which Lavender Diamond is developing a reputation. Conversing from her home in Los Angeles, it’s easy to see why her band is winning over audiences wherever it plays. She speaks with a charming, precise manner punctuated by deep, genuine laughter. It’s easy to listen as she relates her story.
“Lavender Diamond,” she explains, “is the name of a character in a play I wrote and created with friend in Providence. We traveled all across the country with this ridiculous play called ‘The Bird Songs of the Bauharoque.’ I played the Lavender Diamond character, who is a bird, but also a human, and her job is to invent peace on earth.” She further explains that the term “bauharoque” from their title was coined by theorist Paul Laffoley to describe the artistic moment following post-modernism, which is, of course, the current one.
The opera, she believes, replete with fanciful, garish costumes and classical arias, is simply a more elaborate production of the same kind of artistic project as the current incarnation of Lavender Diamond. “We are currently in a time of the unity of architecture and theatre, of life and theatre. This is totally important, and it’s the idea behind Lavender Diamond” she concludes.
Stark admits this purpose is abstract, a fact she both apologizes for – “I’m getting way too confusing and losing you!” she laughs at one point – and defends adamantly: “One way in which we as a collective describe our music is that Lavender Diamond is the description of a resonance, of a character of resonance. This is connected to the original character, the idea of Lavender Diamond as a presence and as a form of music. In a certain way, our ability to see and understand colors is dependent on its resonance. On a physical level what differentiates matter is its vibrational energy. Lavender Diamond in that way is the description of a resonance – a form of energy. And that energy is joy.”
In fact, the sound of the band, how this “resonance” of Stark’s manifests itself, came about in a much more down-to-earth way. “I was really haunted by this vision of making a country-pop album,” she says, “so I started writing a lot of songs in that style.” She pauses and rethinks what she just said, and laughs. “I wanted to make a record that sounded like Linda Ronstadt.”
She defends this project, however, claiming that despite its kitschiness, approaching a musical project in this way is surprisingly generative. “If you can allow some humor into the process, it’s really important. ‘Let’s make a record like Linda Ronstadt!’ Of course our music sounds nothing like that. But that’s how humans learn, through imitation – the more closely you try to imitate something, the further it will be from an imitation.”
It took some coaxing on Stark’s part to convince the others that her vision wasn’t as crazy as it sounded (she readily admits that “of course everyone thought it sounded horrible”). Once the group undertook its first sessions together, however, they found a collaboration that was as rich as it was fun. Stark gushes enthusiastically about the talents of her collaborators. “Jeff Rosenberg I have been wanting to play music together forever, and when I moved back to L.A. from Providence we found ourselves both there together again. Steve Gregoropoulos is totally awesome. He’s a classical composer, and I’ve been wanting to collaborate with Steve also for several years. I had a new opera I was working on and he wrote a five part string section to one of the arias.”
The fruits of this collaboration demonstrate, in a way, that Stark’s ideas of joy land directly on the mark. To contrast, Stark’s solo record, Artifacts of the Winged, contains a collection of transcendent songs, yet they represent a haunting quality that she has shed in beginning the collaboration of Lavender Diamond. “Sad, orphan songs” is what she names that album (though she maintains the necessity of such emotions in the human experience, of course). It’s the contributions of others in the group that has led to a very different, more jubilant sound, she realizes: “Everyone brings a huge universe of possibilities. That first time playing together – it was amazing, totally ecstatic.”
Complementing the ecstatic qualities of Stark’s awed vocals, the group evinces a preference for song structures that recall hymns and other religious songs. Additionally, one of the obvious touchstones for the qualities of communion and reverence found in Lavender Diamond’s sound is church music. In fact, both Stark’s mother and grandmother served as ministers in the Unity church, and she was raised attending church regularly. Though Stark staunchly declares that she left all the doctrine and religious mumbo-jumbo in her past, it’s easy to see how her treatment of the rhapsodic experience is consonant with religious ideals. Lyrical passages in the final tracks on The Cavalry of Light speak increasingly to the intangible bonds between humans and the forces beyond them. ”Dream the kind of a life that you will find / the kind of love that lasts forever.” “In the Springtime” celebrates a group act that can be described fairly as worship: “We rise unto the east / we rise unto the sun / In the springtime, in the springtime / Oh, the sun, rise.”
Stark is equally ecstatic in live performances, using her breathy, resonant voice to ascend to sublime heights over the jangly piano-pop of her band. She often dons one of her infamous costumes, ranging from one of her past Bauharoque opera costumes to wedding dresses. These gestures may seem quirky to audiences, but there’s something significant to them. Whether you believe it to be a coinciding of abstract theories or simply the palpable presence of a music accessible to the emotions of its audience, the results are convincing.
With that “joyful noise” (to steal an appropriate term), Lavender Diamond has attracted a healthy amount of attention in the Southern California music scene. Its pinnacle, according to Stark, was being invited to perform on the second day of Arthur Fest (last Sept. 5), an experience that she calls “amazing” and “pretty miraculous.” “When we played,” she narrates, “the sun was setting and the light was coming down. It was the magic hour of twilight, and it was really exquisite. However, the people at the festival put the folk stage and the rock stage on the same field, thinking it would be far enough away so that it would not overlap – well, it was not far enough away. We were playing at the same time as the Black Keys, and they were of course really loud! But we consider ourselves a punk band in spirit, and even though the Black Keys were loud, Steve got really excited and said to everyone in the crowd, “We’ll be louder than them!” And he actually thought that! I guess it proves what a bunch of quixotic musicians we are.”
But that set in particular, in Stark’s imagination, encapsulates the essence of “joy” and “peace” that Lavender Diamond wishes itself to be. “At the end of our set,” she recounts with no small amount of awe, “it was very intimate. The audience was so present. It was magical, looking at all the faces in the audience. It felt like we were all in one mind together. The whole experience was really overwhelming.”
Don’t expect Lavender Diamond to rest on its laurels for long, however. With an EP and a 7” under its collective belt, the group is just hitting its stride. Stark claims to have “tons” of songs written that must be recorded, for which the band is going into the studio shortly. Expect a full-length out possibly in time for a summer tour. “Maybe we’ll put out a double LP!” she ponders, with a truly maniacal laugh.
In the meantime, Lavender Diamond will be doing what it does best: festivals. They have been invited back to another Arthur Magazine event in February, Arthur Ball, where they will share the stage with Joanna Newsom, Pearls & Brass, Born Heller, and many others. They’ll also play at an Arthur-sponsored stage at SXSW in Austin.
By Joel Calahan