Interview with Rykarda Parasol

Photo Credit: V. Palsdottir

Photo Credit: V. Palsdottir

Greetings, Rykarda!  I’m not sure where in the world you are at the moment, but I hope all is well with you.  It’s so good to be in touch with you again after first interviewing you in 2010 for this site.  Your latest album, the masterful, arresting, and personal Against The Sun, has an April 15th release date for Europe and possible distro in the U.S. this autumn.  The rock-noir album is also available digitally worldwide on April 15th.  Does that mean that even though there’s no physical CD for the U.S. yet, Against The Sun can be purchased at iTunes or other digital vendors?

Greetings to you too! Thank you so much for checking out the new album. Right now I’m in San Francisco and will be pushing off back to Paris, in a couple of weeks, then to Poland.

The physical release is April 15th in Europe only and to my knowledge, it digitally premiers at the same time worldwide.

You’ll be promoting your album with a tour of Poland, Germany, and Holland this May.  Have any other countries been added to the list?  Do you have plans to play in the U.S. too?

Shows are still being added. I’ll be announcing dates shortly, but there will be some festivals and concerts in June and July as well in Europe…. I’ll be back in San Francisco in autumn; wherein there will be some SF and LA dates.

Against The Sun treads a quieter path than your previous albums, yet is still stark and captivating.  On your albums there is always an emphasis on your distinctive vocal gravitas and your acutely perceptive lyrics, but this time around you added mainly acoustic guitar, piano, and drums.  What spurred you to ‘go acoustic’?

I think I had about a hundred reasons and each one was better than the next. Firstly it seemed a befitting way to echo the themes running throughout the album: introversion, isolation, and independence. I had a lot of experiences and I had grown and changed in various ways – so it made sense to change musically too and to be on my own as much as possible during recording. I did as much instrumentation by myself and opted not to record with a live band. There was the added benefit that I came cheap and available especially since I was self-funding. Such limitations aren’t too terrible for me however. If I’m short on ingredients, then I am plentiful on spice.

Also, this album came about when I wasn’t too interested in performing publicly and yet, I still had a strong desire to create. When there’s no one around to boss you around, you get to set your own standards and focus on the process and not (gasp) a “product”.  Things developed, of course, but I wanted to keep to the introverted spirit. And I can’t say that doing things the same in the same way inspired me any longer. In being creative one should expect change…

Rykarda Parasol - Against The Sun

Rykarda Parasol – Against The Sun

Speaking of change, you also used your own voice in all the vocal layering of background choruses and, at times, multiple main vocal lines.  Is this a difference from your previous albums?

Yes. It was something I’d always wanted to do, but there was never enough studio time or resources to add more vocals. This time, I used the voice where a guitar or an organ might have been instead. In some parts the vocals add percussion, for example. There were people popping in when I was recording telling me to get electric and huge. They didn’t get it. There were a few tussles, but I won them over in the end. I guess they wanted me to do a “big album”. I felt small. I am small. My response is “So?”. Vermeer made small paintings. There is power in not raising your voice to be heard.

I know you’ve expressed a musical kinship with Greg Dulli, but on this album your vocal delivery on, and the subject matter of, certain songs brings to mind Mark Lanegan and Nick Cave (“Island of the Dead (O Mi, O My)”).  There’s a grave finality to your words on “Atheists Have Songs Too” and I couldn’t help thinking of Mark Lanegan when I heard the bleak line “Suffering is life’s common thread.”  Did those artists inspire you at all for those songs or for the mindset of your album?

I may’ve just screamed into a pillow. I didn’t think of them. Not at all. I feel it’s important to say that music is not my life – but because I have a life, I am able to give my experiences to it. I am certain those guys don’t share my day-to-day experiences or know what it’s like to walk in my shoes. They’d prefer their own, I’m sure. When I write a song, I sing about what I observe and experience. That inspiration is derived from things other than art. It comes from the life each of us leads. And when I look to other art or music, then it’s quite at the end of the process.

The commonality that I feel connection with in Dulli’s earlier work comes from taking one’s worst faults and deeds and laying them out for everyone to see the ugliness. It’s as vague as that. The notion of “Duende”. I felt the kinship more towards his narration rather than his instrumentation. I’m sure that’s audible to a degree. I can look at his work and make that connection in hindsight, but I don’t start to work as a result of it. If that makes sense…

The songs you’ve mentioned were reactions to the overwhelming spiritual voices in the world that often seem to hold their power over the rest of us. This was my way of raising my hand and saying “Hi. I’m here and I have a voice”. Inspiration is a bolt of breath from within. (“inner respiration”) It comes from within oneself. Also, I fear being pigeonholed. I should get over that.

You also ply a style on certain songs that I’ve not heard before in your repertoire.  “The Cloak of Comedy” “Your Arrondissement or Mine?”, and “Withdrawal, Feathers and All” have a dreamier, 70s singer-songwriter vibe.  I’m not sure if I’m describing this style accurately… Do you feel that those specific songs are in a different vein than what you usually play?

You mean that mid-60s melancholy jangle, yes? Well, yes and no. I’ve played around with that style before. I think “Candy Gold” from my first album harkens towards that as well as “My Blood” on the last one. You know, I wasn’t interested in making the same album as the last two. I look at this new album cover and I think “I’ve turned my back away from some things and towards others”.   I’d changed. I can’t comfortably call myself creative if I am doing the same thing over and over.

You’ve noted that the themes of this album are “isolation, independence, and autonomous travel”.   Your vocal delivery and outlook is world weary and emotionally stoic, but strong in spirit even in the face of adversity, change, and the inevitable.  I don’t want to be too presumptuous, but it feels like this album embodies you.  I know you said that your lyrics be traced back to your own experiences and emotions, but is there some element somewhere in there of the removed story-teller too?

For the most, yes the lyrics are about my experiences and emotions. I find a more authentic voice this way. However in “Take Only What you Can Carry” I am conveying my father’s early life and then, how our stories have entwined. He told me at an early age to always travel light and to always have a bag packed “just in case”. He’s a Holocaust survivor and till this day, he’s always got a small suitcase in the back of his car. Being adaptable, being independent, relying on yourself as much as possible – all these messages played part in his survival. And like most of us, my parents had a hand in shaping me. I can see where some of my quirks developed, yup. It connected to the other songs this way.

Not to take away from your instrumental arrangements, but based on the strength of your vocals and lyrics I can envision you creating an a cappella album.  Would you consider doing this or am I completely off my rocker in regards to this concept?

Hmmm. I’m not sure I foresee a full album à la a cappella. That being said, rehearsals would be a snap to coordinate… I’ll think about it!

Your album title is such a neat conceit in regards to your last name, with the French, Italian, and Latin translation of ‘para sol’ meaning ‘against the sun’!  How on earth did this wordplay strike you?  Speaking of being a wordsmith of high order, have you thought of publishing your lyrics in book format?  Did you ever end of publishing a children’s book that you were working on?

Many years ago a poetry professor told me I had to think like a detective: Take apart each word just in case it proved to unfold further meaning, connection, or irony. Who knows? But why not do that with the words you come across every day? It seemed good to ask “Who am I and what is this word connected with myself?” It was word play and irony.

For now, I am content with making my own little chap books for friends, but would love to do a full book if there’s an audience for it. As to my children’s series, we’re taking that more seriously as I am doing some rewrites and shopping for agents. I think it has a large potential.

Performance in Warsaw, Poland

Performance in Warsaw, Poland

In 2011 and 2012 you lived in Paris while working on this album and studying the French language.  How did this city and your time there influence the creation of Against The Sun?  Did you become immersed in the culture and only communicate in French?  I have to say, the best pastries and confections are made in France.  What is available commercially in the U.S. is abysmal!

I think traveling in general was influential, but France has some distinct characteristics in its social and political character that certainly were refreshing and contemplative to me. It took me outside of myself internally, not only physically. Of course, not being fluent means I can’t immerse myself, but what happened instead was I became part of a circle of ex-pats from everywhere. Each of us was dealing with nomadic and new situations. Being nomads gave us this “purgatory” feeling. You are everywhere and nowhere. Your world is your suitcase.

I live across the street from a chocolatier. Life is sweet in Paris I have to say.

I’ve been a long-time viewer of French films, although I haven’t caught up on the classics.  What are some of your favorite French films?  Mine are Diva, Les Voleurs (Thieves), Nettoyage à Sec (Dry Cleaning), Les égarés (Strayed), Ma Mère, Pola X, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (The Lovers on the Bridge), and La Petite Voleuse (The Little Thief).

Funny, I still listen to the Diva soundtrack… Right now, I’m lower than lowbrow. I truly believe OSS 117: Lost in Rio is the best French film ever made. It’s hilarious.  Other than that, I have a sucker for costume dramas and there have been some fine ones of late: Mozart’s SisterHouse of Pleasures, Farewell, My Queen… There’s history in the details, which I enjoy.

You’ve said that your album is influenced by ‘American soul’ and ‘French pop’, and if I had more knowledge of those styles, maybe I could ask a more trenchant question.  Instead, I’m going to ask what specific artists or albums/songs made an impact on you for this album?  I’ve always been a fan of Charlotte Gainsbourg, as an actress and a singer, and enjoy tunes by UNISON, Air, Indochine, and Daft Punk.

The ‘American soul’ and ‘French pop’ I’m referring to are from the early 60s and within that, there is a lot of subtlety and attention to backing vocals, harmonies, call and response, etc, but still all about punctuation and rhythm even in the words themselves. As a lyricist, I found it fun to explore the use of onomatopoeia and the use of nonsensical words such as “Yeah yeah” or “Doo wop, doo wop”. When you start to listen to a lot of foreign language music, you are aware that you have no idea what anyone is singing at first, so the sound of the word’s formation and its delivery are what’s potent. The meaning is in the delivery. I find that particularly interesting of French vocalists who seemed to do a lot of sing-talk. Certainly, Serge Gainsbourg is the grandfather of that. There are certain artists like Smokey Robinson, Jacques Dutronc, The Spinners, and Jacqueline Taïeb that come to mind as example.

"The Cloak of Comedy" video

“The Cloak of Comedy” video

You’re planning on shooting a new video this summer.  What song will be undergoing the visualizing process?

Yes, we shot a video for the single “The Cloak of Comedy”. It’s a low- budget bonanza.  I sewed my own costume. I just heard that is coming along. Perhaps we’ll see it within a month.

Moving on to other work you’ve done, you collaborated with Jeff Zentner on the songs “Fire in My Bones” and “The Failing Light” from his latest album, A Season Lost.  I recently interviewed Jeff for this site and he had only kind words to say about you.  How did your collaboration with him come about?

Jeff and I became pals a number of years ago and then one day he sent me a couple of songs to see if I wanted to write some harmonies along to. Other friends ask me to help them move; this is a more preferable way to show I care.

There is evidence at your Facebook site (https://www.facebook.com/RykardaMusic) that you shot a video with Jeff Zentner for “Fire in My Bones” in December.  Do you know when the video will see the light of day?  What was the shoot like?

Soon. The video is coming very soon. And of course, Jeff and our gang of friends in LA are a delight to work with. I was the only troublemaker. They now know I don’t want to swim in winter’s ocean at 5am.

Not only do you create, self-produce, and self-release your own albums, you also front a Polish indie band called Heart & Soul.  What is your connection to Poland?  I’ve heard that a new album is in the works.  Is this true and are you involved in it?

I’ve been so consumed with finishing my album, but am hoping to get back to work finishing songs with Heart&Soul shortly. We released an EP a year ago, which is only available in Europe. New songs would go towards a full-length album. I write my own words and melodies to songs I am invited on.  You know, my connection to Poland is twofold. My father never spoke about it because everyone in his family died during the Holocaust and he was able to escape by living underground in hiding. It was traumatic and he only spoke of his life after the war for the most part … My performing in Poland is a mere coincidence. It was part of a tour, but the response was strong and I met folks along the way who were truly supportive in helping me stay active in music. I probably wouldn’t be playing still otherwise. Of course, it comes with a deeper meaning to me and my family.

There used to be a song uploaded at YouTube titled “Panda” by Swedish band Dungen and you were credited as being the guest vocalist.  Was that another collaboration of yours or was it misidentified?  If it’s you, what language are you sing-talking on that track?

I did a cover of Dungen’s “Panda”, yes. It was just an acoustic version in the original language, Swedish. (I swapped a curse word out, however.) I 4-tracked it one rainy afternoon in Paris just for personal enjoyment. I’m probably going to perform this live at some point. I think covers are a great way to expose people to the original author’s work.

This leads me to ask you, how many languages *do* you speak?!

I speak broken English, broken French and broken Swedish.

Okay, totally superficial, but pressing question: Where do you buy/find your way-cool earrings?  They talk about statement necklaces in the fashion world, but your earrings are where it’s at!

Not since Jodi Watley has anyone seen earrings so big, right? Well, thank you. My favorite earrings are often souvenirs. Easy to pack! I’ve gotten my most favorite pairs from street vendors in Israel and Spain.

Lastly, please list the official site(s) where we can find out more about you and your latest album.

Sure thing. Folks can get the latest info at my web site: http://www.rykardaparasol.com/… We’re announcing concert dates and album news very soon.