Music is medicine, an elixir of sorts, and those who manifest it can offer some remedy for healing and renewal. This was the intention of the 11 soul-searching, orchestrated movements of Lavender Diamond’s third full-length album Now Is the Time (Petaluma Records), the Los Angeles band’s first release in eight years.
From the onset, Now Is the Time, written and recorded prior to the pandemic and produced by the band and mixed by Tucker Martine at Flora Recording & Playback in Portland, OR, had a clear vision, one that spoke more to 2020 than any previous year.
As the band started to regroup in 2019, the first time since 2012’s Incorruptible Heart, everything moved fast. Stark, along with pianist and composer Steve Gregoropoulos, and drummer Ron Regé Jr., were quickly brewing the tincture for a transformative piece of work.
“It was like lightning,” says Stark. “When we were making this record, the music and the songs came really fast, and we recorded it pretty quickly. We hadn’t made a record in years, but we just felt this incredible urgency to create this music.”
As the music started unraveling, no one could have predicted the year ahead, yet Stark was kept questioning the scale of the new material’s subject matter… in 2019. “When we did it, it didn’t seem quite to match the world yet, but the songs really revealed themselves in this way and became clear as the days wore on,” she says. “Lavender Diamond has always been this very clear channel for healing and transformation, so I just got it.”
For the band, the past eight years have also been transformative. Families were growing—including Stark’s with the birth of her daughter nearly five years ago—and in between working as a touring vocalist with John C. Reilly and The Decemberists, and collaborating with Bright Eyes, she also founded Earth Activation Group, an educational initiative to connect people with sustainable practices.
When Lavender Diamond disbanded after Incorruptible Heart, they had also parted ways with Matador Records, and Stark was feeling overwhelmed by a need to perform only if it included a sustainable element. Sometime following Lavender Diamond’s 2007 release Imagine Our Love, Stark started having a stronger urge to devote herself not only to the music but to infrastructural realignment.
“For the years after we made our first record, I just felt I didn’t want to do concerts and just make a lot of trash,” says Stark. “We’re bringing people together, so we can work in way that really creates a new path. I didn’t want to do any concerts unless we were also going to braid in an act of infrastructure. Then finally, after eight years, I really just wanted to give a concert without having to say ‘can you also plant a pollinator garden or some kind of soil rehabilitation at the same time? Otherwise we’re not playing.’”
Embracing the earth and its lifespan, Now Is the Time, featuring contributions from Bright Eyes’ Nathaniel Walcott, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, and Sasami, is an exploration of a greater regeneration. It’s something Stark believes humanity is facing head-on during a time of self-isolation around the pandemic.
“I don’t think that we can really underestimate the challenges of this moment of time,” says Stark. “It’s just such a harrowing time, but the hopeful part of me thinks it does offer such an amazing opportunity for transformation and healing.”
Throughout Now Is the Time, there’s a call for acknowledgement, action, and change. Delicately opening on “Look Out the Window,” Stark’s angelic croon is a pretty potion maneuvering into bursts of pop on “This Is How We Rise” and “In the Garden” (featuring Walcott on trumpet), through the more orchestral “Flashback” with a unifying If we hold each other / Work together / We could find our way. Nearly mid-way through, the title track offers another plaintive reminder of the times, beautifully segued into an ambient lullaby of “Ocean and Ground.” Shifting into the guitar-heavy “New Religion” Now Is the Time returns to earth on a tender chant of “Please Plant the Seeds” and its closing march, a call for action on “Calling on My Nation.”
Some forces pulled the band together again in early 2019, playing a few one-off shows, including a performance at the Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles last September, Stark says they immediately knew they had to make new music together. After this revelation, she says other opportunities started trickling in, including the band signing to Petaluma Records.
“I wish we had never disbanded,” admits Stark. “We missed a chance to make more songs about healing and anthems for the revolution… people need that. The world needs that now.”
Filled with Lavender Diamond’s own anthemic offerings, Stark admits she was a bit shy about releasing more sermonic tracks at first but remembered that’s what Lavender Diamond was always about.
“The band was like, ‘that’s always what Lavender Diamond has been—anthems revolution—so let’s do it. Just let it be what it is,’” shares Stark. “Hearing the songs and having them come to life, for me personally, was an incredibly, joyful experience.”
There is time for change, and thinking about the earth, Stark believes that climate change is reversible, referencing the Climate Clock art installation stationed in New York City’s Time Square, by her friend, artist Gan Golan, along with Andrew Boyd, which shows the amount of time left until Earth’s carbon budget is depleted.
“It’s not irreversible,” says Stark. “It does require people being activated and doing the small thing that they can to change this time. We can close schools. We can close buildings. We can shift, so we need to embrace that and find ways to stop destroying the earth.”
Music and musicians’ role in building a brand new world of peace and justice is also an incredible force, says Stark, reflecting more on this year’s events. “I’m so excited to see people waking up to the role that music and art have to play in that,” she says. “I feel like they should be completely braided together. When you’re speaking to an audience, you’re held together in a moment of transformation, of ideation, of imagination, of possibility, and what you’re calling forth in the soul.”
Now Is The Time was Lavender Diamond’s predestined message to the masses to take inventory, slow down, reassess, and make change.
“I may sound abstract, but we exist in three dimensional reality,” says Stark. “There are avenues of timelessness that I think we can tap into and call upon and send our consciousness into. There is an element with Lavender Diamond that’s definitely mysterious, where we are channeling this music and channeling the lyrics.”
Stark adds, “Music also exists in a realm of timelessness, and I think it’s really important for musicians to embrace that, the magic of it, and the power of it. I know everyone has their own path, but this time does make us see so clearly the value of all the things we have taken for granted, like how powerful and how magical it is to gather and to share, and to celebrate with music. These are actually the foundations of humanity.”
Songwriting has always been Stark’s calling. Songs that could help people through the portal of trials, healing and express the possibility are Stark’s primary mode of expression.
“They’re like codes, and they’re like objects,” she says. “They’re also prayers, so once they’re completed, I feel like that’s the offering that I have to share. We hope there are energies in the songs that you can take into your heart, and use and transform during these weird times. Lavender Diamond songs are our small contribution to the healing of the world.”