Photo by Denny Renshaw
For Shara Worden, her musical education is never complete. The vocalist behind My Brightest Diamond was classically-trained at the University of North Texas, but she’s equally adept in more pop-oriented ensembles. She’s toured as a part of Sufjan Stevens’ band; featured on the Decemberists’ 2009 record The Hazards Of Love; and collaborated with David Byrne. Her own work as My Brightest Diamond shape-shifts from album to album, incorporating both her opera background and more modern sounds. This year’s This Is My Hand might be her most direct effort yet. While the songs still follow unusual paths, Worden is adept as a full-on rock singer, smuggling dance and industrial elements into the orchestration.
It was interesting to hear My Brightest Diamond strip these elements down backstage at ACL Fest 2014. With just a three-piece setup, Worden filled in the spaces with her percussive guitar-playing and otherworldly voice. Download a live version of “I Am Not The Bad Guy” below!
Friday, October 3rd
The Head & The Heart, Temples, Lake Street Dive, and Hard Proof helped us kick off ACL Fest 2014 live at Four Seasons. Stream full sets here!
Saturday, October 4th
Wild Moccasins: Backstage Performance
The eclectic Houston band has been blazing the touring trail for sometime, joining Montreal across the country and developing their latest album 88 92 in the midst of it all. Shifting gears from their pop-infused sound, this record is laced with darker, melancholy feelings. Through a fully collaborative effort, their array of step-inducing drums and lush synths are ready for a dance floor or a midday coffee break. They put on a theatrical show, connecting with each other in a new way every night and bringing the audience along for the trip.
Spanish Gold: Backstage Performance
A product of synced up schedules, touring buddies and high school classmates, Spanish Gold’s debut South of Nowhere is a fusion of the group’s similarly influenced music minds, and their current day talents. Dante Schewebel, Adrian Quesada and Patrick Hallahan all met while working on what was supposed to be Schwebel’s solo project. The group quickly struck a common chord with their love for hip-hop, funk and MTV. As a result, their debut album South of Nowhere serves up a generous helping from a melting pot of influences.
Mike & The Moonpies: Backstage Performance
There will always be a home for honky-tonk here in Austin. Starting right off of Guadalupe at The Hole In The Wall, Mike and the Moonpies have put their nose to the grindstone, acquiring a fan base through a tour stretched across the south. Their classic country sound is refined and unwavering, and catching them at Billy Bob’s or The Broken Spoke is not a rarity.
The Rosebuds: Backstage Performance
North Carolina’s Rosebuds have veered all across the stylistic map throughout their lengthy career. Folk, pop, rock, even disco have popped up in their sound over the years, and this year’s Sand + Silence might be their finest statement yet.
Tor Miller: Backstage Performance
The 19-year-old New York native wowed us with this performance backstage at ACL Fest 2014. Armed with just a piano and his powerful voice, Miller sings about Jeff Buckley, New York and the power of the night.
Sunday, October 5th
Dawn & Hawkes: Backstage performance
Earlier this year, Austin folk duo Dawn & Hawkes captured hearts with a great Beatles cover on the NBC singing competition The Voice. They’re setting their sights on bigger things, capping off their great year with a debut performance at ACL Fest 2014.
In 2011, Houston’s Robert Ellis made a sizable splash with his New West Records debut Photographs. The long-haired singer got a write-up in The New York Times and headlined tours across the country, and it’s easy to understand why. Photographs is a remarkably mature record for a man in his early twenties. Split between an acoustic first half and a more raucous second half, the album showcased Ellis’ obvious gifts as a country songwriter.
Flash-forward a few years: Ellis has cut his hair and moved to Nashville, two acts that are tantamount to treason here in the land of Willie Nelson. During a 2013 live session in Studio 1A, Ellis got a chance to explain himself. Speaking about his hair, he claimed he got tired of “looking like a dirtbag,” and the move to Nashville offered an opportunity to get more professional about his music. Being in the thick of the country establishment has been a real boon to Ellis, inspiring him to up his songwriting game. This year’s The Lights From The Chemical Plant incorporates his life-long love of jazz into his honky-tonk ramblings, just like Willie Nelson did before him, and Bob Wills did before Willie. We caught up with Ellis backstage at ACL Fest 2014 for a stripped-down performance. Check out “Good Intentions” below!
Eighteen months ago, the Preatures debuted in their native Australia with a song called “Is This How You Feel?” This followed years of honing their sound, but to the public’s ears, they already sounded fully-formed: tight rhythms, catchy melodies, and a dynamic frontwoman in Isabella “Izzy” Manfredi. “Is This How You Feel?” caught on in a big way in Australia, but it took some time to make its way to our shores. Spoon’s Jim Eno took a liking to the group, and The Preatures teamed up with him for three weeks following SXSW a few months ago, hunkering down in his West Austin recording studio to knock out their debut album. Blue Planet Eyes is just as self-assured as that debut single, showing off traces of Joan Jett and the Pretenders.
Even if they’re not a household name yet, the Preatures sound and look like it. In their recent Studio 1A performance, they strutted across the stage like rock stars (Manfredi even did hand-stands for the captive audience). “Cruel” is their spotlight moment, snapping into focus with an attitude that’s infectious.
It doesn’t take long for the darkness to come seeping out of the sunshine-and-candy-coated “Just One Of The Guys.” “All our friends, they’re getting on / But the girls, they’re staying young,” sings the 38-year-old Jenny Lewis, perfectly capturing the double standards placed on a female singer, not to mention women in general. Her previous album–2008′s Acid Tongue–seemed prescient, since Lewis has a way with twisting the lyrical knife. There’s plenty of that on The Voyager–one of the best-reviewed albums of the year–thanks to a confluence of stress that took five years to exorcise. “My band broke up, my father passed away, and I started experiencing insomnia for the first time in my life,” she told NPR, and these hefty topics all make for a sobering listen.
Yet Lewis doesn’t wallow; there’s something more powerful about sneaking these kinds of shadows into music that nods towards SoCal studio rock and folk (which Lewis grew up listening to). She worked with Ryan Adams and Beck on making the songs shiny and big, but also warm and inviting–the kind of “big tent” rock record that rarely gets made anymore. Her hyper-specific lyrics only draw you in more, and she’s got a lot to say.
Lewis stopped by our Studio 1A ahead of her set at ACL Fest 2014 and told KUTX’s Trina Quinn about some of the unusual techniques that Ryan Adams used in the studio (including blasting Creed at full volume and telling Lewis to write her own “Wonderwall”). She also showed off her live chops, built up from a lifetime of performing. Download an acoustic version of “Just One Of The Guys” below!