LAVENDER DIAMOND at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (May 30). $12. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
You really have to swallow your cynicism when engaging Beck Stark in conversation.
The affable siren of L.A.-based folk-pop visionaries Lavender Diamond exudes so much doe-eyed optimism and such positive vibes, spouting VW bus slogans ("Peace on earth," "All we need is love") that at some point you find yourself biting back the words "What world do you live in?"
Is it not the same one currently ravaged by war, teetering on the brink of environmental implosion? Where exactly does this free bird, from L.A. of all places, get such a rosy outlook?
"These ways of our society that are archaic and destructive will come to an end," says Stark knowingly from her sunny digs in SoCal. "That's something to celebrate. And at our shows when we celebrate peace coming to Planet Earth, we're serious.
"We're serious about bringing that now through the power of celebration and the power of music to change the way people feel - using that as a simple reminder that we all have the strength within us to make choices, celebrate our lives."
Sounds more like a cult than a band, and various photos of her garbed in a Carrie prom dress, arms outstretched like she's ready to float skyward, only reinforce her mystical Earth Mother persona. But perhaps her most persuasive weapons are the beautifully sparse, hypnotically repetitious melodies she drapes over each thoughtfully composed song on Lavender's debut long-player, Imagine Our Love (Matador).
Stark, a classically trained vocalist, sings in a pitch-perfect soprano with a kind of AM Gold ethereal quality that's garnering her all kinds of Karen Carpenter and Linda Ronstadt comparisons that are, for the most part, valid.
But Stark insists that LD aren't grooving on a 70s California nostalgia trip, and that their agenda is definitely here and now.
"I think maybe we have a more simple idea of music, which I guess relates to the 70s," says Stark, whose band just returned from an extensive tour opening for the Decemberists. "People always say the past was more simple, but I think now is the best time there ever was.
"Sometimes I get nostalgic, but I think we have an opportunity now for a change. People forget that things always change in humanity. The world can change, and I think we're at the point now where we can make a change."
Don't write Stark off as some West Coast flake, cuz she's actually an Easterner from Maryland who studied music within the scholarly walls of Brown University in Rhode Island. And it was in that small outsider art scene where she first "tuned in" with local groups like noise-makers Black Dice, Lightning Bolt and, among other subversives, a punkish theatre puppet scene.
"I started doing puppet theatre there, which is way cooler than it sounds," laughs Stark. "There was this punk art collective kind of anarchic place where the puppet scene was happening, and when I went there it felt like it was springtime in my whole existence."
Stark moved to Hollywoodland with acting ambitions, but eventually turned to music, releasing LD in solo form, an effort she describes as "sad orphan songs."
In 2004, she formed the band with Jeff Rosenberg (guitars), Steve Gregoropoulos (keys) and celebrated L.A. cartoonist and drummer Ron Rege Jr., whose insert illustrations alone make the new CD purchase-worthy.
"Once I got to L.A., I didn't want to be an actress any more. I wanted to join the revolution," says Stark. "When you get here, you feel like you've entered the black heart of the world, but ever since I've lived here I've found an amazing artistic underground community.
"Because [L.A.] is so far progressed into this state of evil, it creates a natural reaction in you that's a catalyst for internal searching.
"And it's funny, people in L.A. are so cynical, but once you [get onstage] and say, 'Peace on Planet Earth,' everybody wants to cheer about it."
Music from Lavender Diamond
Bring Me A Song