In the Studio: My Brightest Diamond at The Bank

Recording 'This is My Hand' With Zac Rae
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Recording 'This is My Hand' With Zac Rae

Under her own name, Shara Worden has contributed her rich, clarion vocals to recordings by artists including David Byrne, Gabriel Kahane, Fatboy Slim, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Her solo project My Brightest Diamond couches that angelic voice in a fearless, dynamic orchestra of classical, jazz, electronic music, and rock sounds. This Is My Hand is an ear-opening creation unto itself.

Worden worked in numerous studios in different locations to capture the sounds she was after, but the real shape of the songs began and ended in The Bank, the L.A. studio of Worden’s friend and co-producer/engineer Zac Rae.

Engineer/co-producer Zac Rae: “This is the crazy drum setup for ‘Pressure.’ There are 17 layers of drums that Brian Wolfe did to create the marching band sound. We kept changing the drums and their position and using different room mics to simulate the sound of the bigger ensemble. Everything from big old radio king drums to a toy kit and probably a half dozen different snares in different tunings to emulate all the different sounds you would hear in a marching band.” “The very first thing I did was fly to California, and Zac and I worked for four or five days, just doing writing sessions. And ultimately, strangely, some of those writing sessions ended up making the record,” Worden says. From the beginning, she and Rae were forming the sound ideas that define the record.

“We made a deliberate decision to mix modern, electronic, and urban music with Shara’s soft, beautiful classical sounds,” Rae says. “We knew we wanted to do things like take the hard sound of a New Orleans marching band to give her sound a different edge.”

Some of the earliest album-recording sessions took place in Berlin, where drummer Earl Harvin lives. Further drum sessions saw Brian Wolfe playing in Rae’s studio. The horns—essential to that marching band sound Rae mentioned—were all captured in engineer/producer Patrick Dillett’s facility in New York.

“The first time I worked with Pat was when I sang on a David Byrne record,” Worden recalls. “I really enjoyed working with him, and I liked how he comped the vocals, so I ended up doing my entire third record with Pat. He has really great classical sensibilities and also a fabulous pop sensibility.

Engineer Patrick Dillett “And my friend Casey [Foubert], who has a basement studio [in Madison, Wisc.] also contributed pretty significantly to the record, all long-distance,” she continues. “He played some guitars, some percussion, keyboards, autoharp. And on that crazy, jarring interruption [with a screaming electric guitar and cymbal crashes] that happens in ‘Shape’ after the first chorus: I told Casey, ‘Something dramatic has got to happen here,’ and he made that happen.”

Worden and Rae built the songs in Pro Tools in The Bank, which comprises a large tracking room, booth and Rae’s control room. Worden sang her vocal parts in all three spaces; Rae says that she often used the big room, but sometimes she’d sit in the control room with him, so they could talk things over as they went. “On Shara’s vocal, I just used a [Neumann] U67 through an Avedis MA5 mic pre—no compressor. I actually started out with a more elaborate vocal chain, but realized it would be better to keep her sound more simple and natural,” Rae says.

“That’s sort of contrasted with the synths and electronic instruments we used. We used a lot of the [Teenage Engineering] OP-1. We combined the electronic drums from that with the real drums, for example. I have a lot of vintage gear in my studio, but we wanted to create a more modern sound.”