Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lavender Diamond

Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark at the Trails Café



At The Trails Cafe

2333 Fern Dell Drive, Los Angeles (Los Feliz)

Journalists often describe Becky Stark as ethereal and fairy-like. As I walk along the Ferndell path in Griffith Park to reach her favorite L.A. haven, the Trails Café, it seems like the perfect location for a pixie hollow nestled amongst the lush flora, wooden bridges and a babbling brook. I immediately sense why the Lavender Diamond frontwoman calls it her second home.

"I just love it here, and I come here as much as possible. When I haven't been here in a while I start to miss it. I know my life is out of balance when I'm too busy to come to the Trails," she admits. "I love to be in nature, but I'm also an urban lady. I like to wear high heels sometimes, so the Trails is perfect. It's an urban forest café."

Becky perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Trails. Accessible from bustling Los Feliz Boulevard, the café is a great place to decompress after a long day at the office since it's close to the heart of the city, yet you still feel like you're immersed in nature. After walking in Ferndell, stop at the Trails for a thirst-quenching strawberry lemonade, nourishing avocado sandwich or sweet treat.

"The food is delicious and wholesome. There are pastries, but they're pastries that feel like health food because of Jenny Park, who is the pastry chef. She studied Chinese medicine and then became a pastry chef. Everything is baked fresh here every day," gushes Becky. "It's a combination between feeling a connection to your community and a connection with nature that makes it feel particularly healing here. Also the food, because those are the top ways to feel good, right? Eating, connecting with friends/community and connecting with nature. Sometimes if I feel really tired I don't necessarily want to go on a hike, but I want to reconnect with nature because it will make me feel better. Here, I can sit in the forest and eat the most delicious cookies I've ever had in my life."

Ferndell Trail
 And she's right. It's impossible to feel bad while nibbling on a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie and sipping an iced coffee at the Trails. Becky seems to fit in so naturally with the environment. Although she was raised on the East Coast, she has fallen in love with Los Angeles.

"L.A. is such a surprising city, it's so mysterious and soulful. It is so demographically diverse, it makes me love it here," she says.

The fact that there are so many different kinds of people here is a positive in the realm of fashion, which is definitely a passion for Becky.

"That's another thing that's wonderful about Los Angeles: There are great thrift stores in L.A., maybe because there are so many people here. I love to shop at Out of the Closet. They have these $1 racks, and the things you can find there are amazing. I really love Berda Paradise, it's probably my favorite thrift store," she shares. "I like some vintage stores, too: Flounce, Squaresville and Ragg Mopp. I love beautiful dresses, the artistry in vintage dresses. There's no comparison between clothes made in the '20s, '30s or '40s and anything that's manufactured. They're only comparable to couture. I like to go to Opening Ceremony to soak in the artistry. You can see the designers' work, and their imaginations are really inspiring to me."

Becky's clothing style is akin to the music she creates, in that, they can both be described in one word: 'timeless.' Whether it's a plaintive ballad ("Please" from the 2004 EP, Cavalry of Light), a bouncy pop melody ("Open Your Heart" from the 2007 full-length, Imagine Our Love) or a rock anthem ("Oh My Beautiful World" from the upcoming album, Incorruptible Heart, due Sept. 25), Lavender Diamond's songs are epic. Becky, along with Ron Regé on drums and Steve Gregoropolous on piano, successfully blends old-school techniques with modern elements to create a sound that is completely their own.

"I think a lot about our moment in history and what it means, the relationship between old forms and modern times. In our world, every moment is a turning point. You think of the evolution of time, it happens so slowly, and suddenly there's a moment of some evolution that's so instant. I feel that music and fashion are related to that in an interesting way," she says. "Music is ancient. What's more ancient than sound/sound patterns? In my ideal world, I think what a song could be is an energetic code. The songs that stay with you, they're nourishing – you know them, they're a part of you. Music is a sound pattern that you make, to relate to something that everyone could experience."

One distinct Lavender Diamond trademark is Becky's powerful voice. It can soar to amazing heights while conveying emotions that span the depths of despair and the utterly sublime.

"When I was young, I had a really weak speaking voice and severe asthma, so singing was something that was very therapeutic for me. Singing was a way that I developed strength in my breath and physical strength," she shares. "Singing was so healing because I was literally changing my vibration and connecting to a deeper source of energy. When you're singing harmony and playing music together, it's something that's such a powerful feeling and connecting force."

If there's one thing that is most important to Becky about Lavender Diamond's music, it's connecting people. A track on Incorruptible Heart where that intention is quite apparent is "Everybody's Heart's Breaking Now."

"That song is so dramatic and busted, but it's also like a soft-shoe: 'Hey! Everybody's heart is breaking now!' I told that to Damian [Kulash, Jr., of OK Go], who produced it, and he said, 'You're crazy, that song is so sad,'" she remembers with a laugh. "For a while I didn't want to make this record because I thought it was too sad, but I think that being willing to share your own feelings can have a very positive effect. If there's anything that's magical in the world, it's empathy, compassion. When you feel something and someone else feels, it changes it. It's chemistry. So if we want to change things and be part of active growth, then to feel with each other is a real force. If you think about anything that needs to be healed in the world, the way to that is to be more connected. The more connected we are, the more whole we are. All the ideas on the record are part of that plan."

As the release of Incorruptible Heart approaches, the band has begun to play the new songs live.

"It's a bit challenging because there is so much happening electronically on this record. When we were making the album, we were just following a vision of how we wanted it to sound. Damian said, 'Let me produce it, I know how to make it sound like that.' Dave Fridmann, who has worked on Flaming Lips records, said, 'Do you want me to make you a song like 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'?' And I was like, 'Yes, exactly!' We got home, and I thought, 'how are we going to play this live?' I had to really shake the guys, they thought we sounded good the way we were. But I said, 'No, we're going to change our sound – get some echo pedals, keyboard sounds, put reverb on everything! We have some friends who are helping, ladies singing harmonies, because there are crazy harmonies on the record. Alex Lilly who sings with my band the Living Sisters, sang with us for our first attempt, a show at Bootleg Theater."

Overall the band is embracing change and looking forward to more performances, especially their upcoming Monday-night residency at the Echo.

"I'm excited. It's good to evolve. You just have to have a sense of humor about everything," Becky says. "I am really obsessed with a couple of Beyoncé songs right now. To me, she's the best dancer in the world. Whenever I feel sad, I just watch her videos and learn the choreography. Maybe I'll do some Beyoncé covers at the shows, that would be so fun."

Aside from preparing to tour in support of Incorruptible Heart, Becky is starring in a new web series, "We Can Do It," launching Sept. 11, where she interviews guests like Damian, Andrew W.K., Jena Malone and John C. Reilly, whom she has a country act with. Becky has also performed as part of the Living Sisters, the L.A. Ladies Choir (which she co-founded), She & Him, the Decemberists and Courage, a band she created with comedian/actress Charlyne Yi.

"I feel like there's a common sense of purpose with all the people I collaborate with, a purpose of sharing love and helping to heal the planet. There's a motive to try and create something that is uplifting and makes you feel better. I feel lucky that I have been able to work with them and be part of that force," says Becky. "I feel like, with all these people, that we were the crazy nerds in high school. We're just big nerds who want to go on a mission of friendship and magic. It feels really special to join forces with people like that. It becomes more real, more powerful. The more our numbers grow, the more the forces of magic and love can grow and multiply!"

Incorruptible Heart is currently available. For more information, visit lavenderdiamond.net

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