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POP MUSIC

Lavender Diamond's positive glow

Singer Becky Stark has overcome poverty to share a message of love and an upbeat attitude

The name Lavender Diamond originated as a role Becky Stark created for the punk operettas she wrote and performed while a student at Brown University. 'The character of Lavender Diamond became my voice,' she says. The name Lavender Diamond originated as a role Becky Stark created for the punk operettas she wrote and performed while a student at Brown University. "The character of Lavender Diamond became my voice," she says. (damian dovarganes/associated press)

NEW YORK -- As Becky Stark , the ebullient lead singer of Lavender Diamond, performs "Open Your Heart," she sings a chorus of "Oh oh oh oh oh oh." With each "Oh," she flashes her palm outward, alternating each hand, as if giving gentle, imaginary high-fives to the audience. She just might be. After all, Stark is on a mission to bring joy and peace to the world.

"Dancing should be the number one priority of the nation," the 30-year-old singer says. She laughs when saying this, but she's not joking. For Stark, Lavender Diamond is a vessel to inspire positivity and love.

Though the group performs melancholic torch songs, Stark endlessly spouts her vision of a brighter future. "To me, honestly, it's like the difference between thinking the world is round and thinking the world is flat," Stark says. "We're at that kind of moment where we really have to understand that everyone is totally connected and everyone is important." Stark is a classically trained soprano who, when told her rib cage was too small for operatic singing, turned to pop music. The influence of a classical approach is still evident in Lavender Diamond's debut album, "Imagine Our Love," which came out earlier this month on Matador Records . The band, which plays at the Museum of Fine Arts on Friday , includes Steve Gregoropoulos (a classical pianist), guitarist Jeff Rosenberg , and drummer Ron Rege Jr. Stark calls "Imagine Our Love" a country-pop album, but acknowledges the group's music isn't easy to categorize. "I still get flabbergasted," she says. "Folk? Classical punk? Um, nursery rhymes? It's peace rock? No, no, no. Love music?"

Stark grew up poor outside Washington , D.C. , in Maryland and was raised as a Unitarian. She says she felt ostracized because her mother was a stripper.

Her musical world opened up when a classical teacher heard an 11-year-old Stark singing and took an interest in her. He took Stark on as a student for five years, only to then inform her that she wouldn't physically make it as classical singer because of her tiny rib cage -- a limitation Stark compares to a 4-foot tall person trying to play professional basketball.

She learned about another side of music as a teenager when friends took her to see the band Fugazi in concert. "For me, discovering that punk existed, it was like church," she says. She then attended Brown University in Providence, where she began writing and performing punk operettas.

After college, she infused herself into the city's music scene and her "Birdsongs of the Bauharoque " was especially popular, yielding a national tour in 2003. The play's main character, played by Stark, was a bird-woman named Lavender Diamond, whose job was to invent peace on earth.

"The character of Lavender Diamond became my voice," she says. "That was, to me, a metaphor for the sound of the original unity of life."

Stark's dreamy, existential musings on the nature of life may sound bizarre (as she'll admit), but her sincerity and innocence is disarming. One can imagine she would in less than an hour transform the most cynical of people into wide-eyed optimists, rhapsodizing on the simplistic beauty of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

She says her perspective was born out of depression and poverty. "I reached a point in my life where I couldn't survive anyway, so I had to try something else out of sheer necessity," Stark explains. "As soon as I made that choice to just give from my heart out of love in the service of peace, my whole life just went like (raising her hand upward) ssshhuuu!"

When Stark moved to Los Angeles, she began playing in duos with each of the musicians who would join together in Lavender Diamond. But it took some convincing.

"We'll be a pop band -- like Blondie!" she told them. "We'll make really beautiful, amazing music and it will uplift people and it will be really idealistic and we'll send love energy through the radio!

"And they were like, 'No way.' " But Stark inspired them nevertheless, and Lavender Diamond released a four-song EP in 2005 titled "The Cavalry of Light." The disc was led by the glorious "You Broke My Heart," which -- like many of their songs -- culminates in a high-pitched crescendo.

Performing it, Stark will often jokingly point at individual audience members while repeatedly singing "You broke my heart." This brings up an important quality in Stark: She may want to sing crystalline melodies that sound like "the resonance of everything" -- but she's also very funny.

Performing dressed in vintage gowns, she'll tell stories in between songs and congratulate the audience on achieving world peace.

"Comedy doesn't really have any meaning without sadness," Stark says. "The most meaningful comedy comes from some really serious pathos."

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