In the ’00s, Los Angeles-based band Lavender Diamond earned fans and critical acclaim for their folk-tinged indie pop. They toured with The Decembrists and played events like ArthurFest in Los Angeles and SirenFest in New York. On December 4, the beloved band returns with its first album in eight years. Now Is the Time is a stunning collection of baroque pop that delves into issues of healing both nature and humanity.
The album’s evolution came as a result of singer Becky Stark’s work on environmental projects. Following the release of the band’s sophomore full-length, Incorruptible Heart, in 2012, she turned her attention towards the crises facing Earth.
“I didn’t want to keep giving concerts in the same way,” says Stark on a recent phone call from her home in Los Angeles. Instead, she wanted to bring the enthusiasm that people have for music and cultural events to gatherings where the planet took center stage. “There’s so much energy, always, for concerts and people gathering and ideas being shared and magnified through music,” she says. “And, I felt like, where is the energy for healing our relationship to the earth?”
Stark says that she wanted to build “a new system” to show that you could bring together people for an event like a concert and also encourage people to work on projects like habitat restoration. And she did get involved in efforts around Los Angeles, like soil restoration and building a habitat for monarch butterflies. Stark explains, “It also came out of my desire to heal my own femininity and my own relationship to elemental femininity.”
In the late ’00s, the singer co-founded Los Angeles Ladies Choir with Aska Matsumiya, which brought together singers from various creative worlds in the city for performances and released a now sold-out EP Sing Joyfully in 2010. “It was for the purpose of creating community, and healing our femininity,” says Stark of the project, “and I realized that I really wanted to combine that with actually healing our relationship to the actual Earth, which is the actual feminine elements.”
But, in this work, particularly when raising awareness about Los Angeles’ dying trees and the impact of that phenomenon on the city, Stark grew frustrated. She was also taking note of the city’s racial segregation and growing wealth disparity. “I’ve always felt like Los Angeles has the possibility of being the greatest city in the world,” says Stark, who was born in L.A. and returned to the city in 1999. Yet, she says, “it started to feel very heartbreaking to me that there was this huge influx of prosperity that was not moving in connection with building a city of peace and justice.”
It became clear to Stark that she needed to sing with Lavender Diamond again. “Lavender Diamond has always been this channel, this really clear channel, for songs that are like prayers, like healing codes, like anthems for healing, for the revolution,” she says. So, Stark reunited with bandmates Steve Gregoropoulos (piano) and Ron Rege, Jr. (drums).
“It was a great relief for me to let the music sing and let it resound in my heart,” Stark says. She and Gregoropoulos wrote together with what Stark describes as a kind of spontaneity. “When we write for Lavender Diamond, it really is like a channel and it pours in pretty instantly,” she says.
The ensuing songs speak with an urgency for social and environmental justice. On “Please Plant the Seeds,” she calls for listeners to “please plant the seeds of peace with me.” In “New Religion,” she looks to the future, singing, “This is our new creation/the world responds to imagination.”
“Ocean and Ground,” a song that Stark initially wrote years ago, is particularly poignant in its reference to the Greek myth of Persephone, who was kidnapped by Hades and whose life split between the Underworld to Earth’s surface represents the seasons. “This is the moment like in the myth of Persephone in the Underworld. We’re in the Underworld also,” says Stark. And, like in the myth, there’s hope of brighter days ahead.
Now Is the Time was made prior to the pandemic, but its messages have become all the more relatable in light of COVID-19. Says Stark, “I think that the cruelty of this moment, of not caring for our most vulnerable, is heartbreaking.” But, perhaps there is something to learn in the darkness of 2020. “I really hope that we that we can proceed now with a different consciousness,” says Stark.
And if listeners do take away something from Now Is the Time, Stark says she hopes it’s that “it is entirely possible for us to heal our world and entirely possible for us to heal our hearts and our communities and our society.”
She adds, “And I hope that the record gives people strength to continue in that path, and to understand that what every person does is valuable and sacred and everyone’s experience and everyone’s healing is in perfect relation to the whole.”
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