If there’s been a theme for music in 2013, it’s been defying expectations. We saw Said the Whale experiment with hip-hop, heard the polarizing anti-pop of Kanye West’s Yeezus, watched Vampire Weekend completely renovating their sound to come out back on top of the indie rock scene, and witnessed Hannah Epperson, a Salt Lake City native who plays music with only a violin and a loop pedal, become one of Vancouver’s biggest rising stars. Shame on us for thinking we had music all figured out.
When it comes to breaking expectations, there’s no better example than Rykka, who possesses a musical palette that’s just as volatile as she is talented. After establishing herself as a successful folk singer in Vancouver under the name Christina Maria, she decided it was time for a change. With the release of her latest album, Kodiak, she ditched folk for dark, swelling electronica and rock, backed up with powerful, fluxing vocals that sound old-school enough to be blasting out of an record player but modern enough to be playing in any dance club. If that wasn’t enough, every song off Kodiak is written from the perspective of an animal.
It’s certainly served her well. On the back of Kodiak, her hit single “Blackie”, and some serious musical talent, Rykka was declared the winner of the Peak Performance Project, taking home a cool $102,700.00 in the process. We gave her a call to talk about her album, the project, environmentalism, and whatever else goes on in the musical mind of Rykka. A full transcript of the interview can be found below.
LotusLand: Hey there! How are you?
Rykka: I’m great, how are you?
Awesome, thanks. Care to introduce yourself?
I’m Rykka, a musician from Vancouver.
Congrats on winning the Peak Performance Project!
Thank you so much!
What are you going to spend all that dough on? Bling? A farm?
[Laughter] A farm! Well, it’s a grant, right? So I’m gonna be recording my new record a little bit and touring a bunch. I’m really excited for the new stuff coming out.
I was kidding about the farm, but you actually wrote Kodiak in a farmhouse in Europe.
Yep. I was in Switzerland—I’m Swiss-Canadian—and the farmhouse that I lived in and still sometimes live in is super old. It has no heating or anything. So I guess that was one way that I was definitely closer to nature.
What inspired you to write an album in a farmhouse?
Nothing special really—it’s just where I live when I’m over there. A whole bunch of roommates living in a gigantic house.
The songs off of Kodiak are written from the perspective of animals. How did that happen?
I wanted to take the chance to strengthen my writing skills. Also, it’s an answer to living in a world where we’re constantly hurting the environment, all the time. So I wanted to change perspectives and get into a sort of nature mind-frame.
When you were thinking of animals whose perspectives you could write from, did you get inspiration from animals in Switzerland?
Each song is more based around a theme than a specific animal. Not in all cases, but usually I just kinda thought of a theme and then started writing from different animals.
If you could actually be an animal, what would it be?
A human, definitely. [Laughter] It’d be fun to fly though. That would be pretty sweet. I’d love to fly, so that would be my second choice.
The producer of the album—Ryan Guldemond, of Mother Mother—recently recorded The Sticks, which is another concept album about nature. Did his vision as producer influence Kodiak?
I influenced him, that album came out after mine! Bjork also just did that in an album, right? And she released her record right as I was recording. Maybe it’s just a collective “artists” thing that’s happening right now. People are starting to look back to the environment. It’s always happened throughout history, you know? And I think that it’s time. Definitely well overdue.
Agreed. Speaking of Mother Mother, both you and them have flirted with folk a lot, but have moved to dark, powerful electronica. Why the genre switch?
Well, for me I was writing—it took like, a year to write it all out—and I was writing everyday, long, long hours. I just started incorporating computers and keyboards and stuff. By the end of the whole year of writing, I just happened to be… something else. More rock. I just rolled with it.
You’ve done a few tours of Germany, where they have a strong culture of house music. Any inspiration there?
Hmm. I’m not sure, probably though. I’m really affected by everything that I hear, whatever is fresh in my ears. Whatever is around me really, even what friends are listening to. I wouldn’t specifically say yes, but how do I know what my brain is doing when I’m not paying attention?
Where else are you looking to tour?
I’d really like to start touring the States, the South, maybe even Australia and England. I like to tour, so anywhere is great. It looks like we’re gonna be touring around a lot soon in the second half of the new year.
Sounds exciting. As you’ve mentioned, you’re Swiss-Canadian—do you write anything in German?
No, not really. Most of the people in Europe who I know only ever write in English. Just because, if you were to tour, and you were writing and singing in Swiss-German—which is cool, and it’s rad, and there are so many great artists who write in their mother tongue—it’s hard to tour anywhere outside the language boundary. The language has a territory, you know?
Very true. You live part-time in Zurich; how would you describe Zurich to a Vancouverite?
It’s really similar to Vancouver actually, you’re just allowed to drink outside! It’s hard to just suddenly describe it, but you have the mountains, and you have the lake there like [Vancouver has] the ocean. There’s a lot of great people, a lot of support for the arts, so it really is similar. It’s just Zurich. There are a lot of old things there. That’s about it. And more drinking in public.
If you could bring anything from Switzerland to Vancouver, what would it be?
I would bring all my friends, and then they could meet my friends here, and then it would be really, really fun. It’d be a really good time because sometimes when I travel around and I meet someone I’m like “Oh my god, you’d be like best friends with my friend in this country,” but they’re probably never gonna meet. So basically if all my best friends could meet each other.
I thought you were gonna say “public drinking.”
You know, there are definitely a lot of people in Vancouver who shouldn’t be drinking in public, they shouldn’t be allowed to. [Laughter]
You bring up a good point though; is it ever stressful switching between two places, half the time being in Europe, half the time here?
Yeah, it’s definitely a lot of moving around and a lot of shows, but it’s such a wonderful life. I’m not gonna complain.
Now that you’ve won the Peak Performance Project, and the hearts and minds of the people, what’s next?
I’m writing a lot now with different people and with people in my band. I’ve been writing with Steve Bays and Ryan Guldemond, we’re gonna start doing more around January, and we’re gonna record this new record! Then we record videos, do some photoshoots, and off we go on tour!
One more question: a lot of bands go through some pretty bad names when they first start playing music. Any bad names before you settled on Rykka?
Well I only had one name I used before Rykka, and it was my own name, and I’m not gonna diss my own name! Although I did change it, I was just Christina Maria before I was Rykka. Then the music just changed, and well, everything just changed, and so I just changed it to Rykka.
Anything to say to the fans out there before we finish?
Just “thank you!” It was so amazing doing the Peak Performance Project and having everyone there and everyone here with me. It was so wonderful, everyone helped me in some way, and it was just a really great thing to do.
Thank you so much, Rykka, that’s a wrap!