Becky Stark’s Incorruptible Heart

Published September 28, 2012

ABOVE: BECKY STARK. PHOTO COURTESY OF AUTUMN DEWILDE.

The New York Times once compared Becky Stark, the lead singer of Lavender Diamond, to “Lucille Ball and Tinkerbell engaged in a duet.” As we speak with Stark over the phone, it seems an increasingly fitting description. Enthusiastic and chatty, Becky is eager to share the backstory of Lavender Diamond’s band name—and it involves a puppet opera, crystal alchemy, and world peace. It’s been a while since she’s had a chance to talk about the band; five years after their debut LP, Lavender Diamond is finally releasing a second album. In between Lavender records, Stark toured with the Decemberists and She & Him, recorded with her other band Living Sisters, worked on a children’s show with Michel Gondry, and started a country duo with Oscar-nominated actor John C. Reilly. Entitled Incorruptible Heart, the band’s sophomore effort is a melancholic dance-record that mixes ’50s pop with slinky ’70s disco.

We recently called Becky to discuss Lavender Diamond’s origins, what she’s up to next, and the music she most likes to dance to.

EMMA BROWN: Your first Lavender Diamond album came out five years ago; why did you wait so long before recording a second album? Had you kept in touch with the rest of the band?

BECKY STARK: That’s good question. I ran into Steve [Gregoropoulos] and Ron [Regé Jr.] at a coffee shop, actually, it was so mysterious, and we all wanted to start playing together again. We fell out of touch for a while, ’cause I was doing other things, I joined the Decemberists for their album. I was in a different universe. I never thought Lavender Diamond could be over, because Lavender Diamond’s eternal, but I didn’t think there would be another Lavender Diamond record. It was so magical— Ron and I made a date to have coffee because we hadn’t seen each other in so long, and then Steve was there, we ran into him. I thought it was a setup. It was so unlikely.

We got started, and all of these songs came out of us in an hour. It was incredible—this explosion. I’d been writing a bunch of other songs by myself, and I had so much music that I was carrying around with me that I hadn’t been sharing. The weight of it became too heavy; I had to let it go. I couldn’t exactly see how it was going to make sense because the range of emotions felt too disparate and I didn’t understand how to make it fit into one thing. I wanted to make a couple of different records—a solo record called Agony, Agony, Agony. [laughs] They suggested that we make it a Lavender Diamond record and take these songs and make one record and take it to Damian [Kulash, of Ok Go], who mixed this record.

BROWN: How did you originally meet Ron and the rest of the band? Was it through university?

STARK: I met Ron in Providence, Rhode Island. Lavender Diamond was a character that I played in a punk puppet operetta that my friend Xander Marro [was doing]. We toured for two and a half months with this play called Birdsongs of the Bauharoque. I really need to put a picture of that up. We travelled across the country with our psychedelic puppet mansion in these outrageous outfits that we made. We played in libraries and puppet theaters and we made this fairytale operetta about these two ladies whose job is to invent peace on earth. It was so fun.

I was living [in Providence], preparing this operetta, and Xander founded this artist’s collective called the Dirt Palace. I was staying at the Dirt Palace and Ron came to party and Ron and I became so in love, he was in an artist’s residency in Rhode Island, and we became inseparable. We got to LA after [the play] and started the band.

I had met Steve through the music community in Los Angeles. I studied Russian literature in college and he wanted me to give him Russian lessons in exchange for helping me [with] this opera I was writing.

That’s how I met Ron and Steve.

BROWN: I really like your song “I Don’t Recall.” Can you tell me a little bit about it?

STARK: I especially like that one, too. We like to call that song business casual style. [laughs] I’m so happy that we made a song that you can dance to. And it feels kind of tough, but I think it’s just a simple expression of a really intense vulnerability. You come to a point in life when you have to forget some thing, you have to activate your power to forget and it takes strength to do that. Hopefully what’s in that song is some strength to forget—with a little groove. That’s what it takes sometimes.

BROWN: That’s interesting; the idea of actively forgetting something seems sort of paradoxical. 

STARK: Yeah, it is.

BROWN: Have you ever been able to do that successfully?

STARK: Music can help do that, when you have to craft your consciousness and take control of your experience. I feel I have to play a role in the transformation of my thoughts. Music is the most powerful way for me to do that, through my own music, through listening to other people’s music. This record really came of that—they were such painful experiences that I was having. I was feeling so heartbroken, but also so heartbroken from the world, that I felt like I needed to shift my whole framework. I think it’s amazing that music does that for us. Dancing and music get into our bodies and it gets into our minds and it gets into our souls and we can be connected to something else. Music connects us all to each other, and I think that’s just magical and beautiful, and I need that in my life. Heartbreak is the pain of separation. To me, the cure that music offers and that dancing offers is complete integration. I think this record was really a discovery of that for me.  

BROWN: Do you have a go-to song for when you need to dance it out?

STARK: There’s so much I love dancing to— “These Arms of Mine,” by Otis Redding. “Come to Me,” also by Otis Redding.

BROWN: I know that you’re currently doing a mini-tour for the record, what are you up to after this?

STARK: I’m going back to L.A. and in October I’m going on tour. I’m in a country band with [the actor] John C. Reilly and we’re going on a little tour on a train—it’s the outrageous thing called the Railroad Revival tour [with] Band of Horses and Willie Nelson. We all ride on this train together and we have these concerts at the train station. [laughs]

BROWN: How did you meet John Reilly?

STARK: I first met John because when I first moved to Los Angeles I was singing in a children’s band—I think I did it two times. We sang at John’s son’s birthday party, and John and I just totally hit it off. Then he came to a Living Sisters concerts, this band that I have with Inara George and Eleni Mandell, and John is the biggest Living Sisters fan. He asked if I wanted to sing country duets with him, and I’d never really been interested in country music at all, but I wanted to duet with him because I love him because he’s hilarious and amazing.

It felt so great to sing together, so we just kept singing and this project evolved and we went down to Nashville and recorded this single with Jack White last year. This is our first longer tour, so we’ll see how that evolves. We’re planning to make a record.

BROWN: Do you ever feel torn in various directions between your different projects, or has it all worked out smoothly?

STARK: I feel like it doesn’t make sense for us to shut down; I need to find avenues to express all of my creativity. There’s always polarizing forces. Sometimes I feel like my work is going in different directions, but hopefully it’s just expanding. And I think as much as possible to just let ourselves be in all the various aspects. I feel more inspired by people who just will let themselves be as creators, and I don’t think it has to be contradictory.

INCORRUPTIBLE HEART IS OUT NOW. LAVENDER DIAMOND IS PLAYING SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, AT GLASSLANDS IN BROOKLYN. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.