Friendlies, this month I interviewed one of my very favorite musicians, Karry Walker from Ultralash. Based out of Oakland, California, Ultralash is a folk electronica project made up by Karry Walker with a revolving cast of characters both real and imagined. Karry has several musical projects (we'll learn more about those in a bit), but Ultralash is her solo project. Her new album, A River Listless, is wildly compelling, atmospheric, spooky. I wanted to know more (and so will you), and so I asked.
Here you go.
Q: Can you describe Ultralash for a new listener? Who is Ultralash?
A: Ultralash is a character based on this young girl I used to see riding around in my neighborhood on a low rider BMX bike with a banana seat. She had freckles and flaming red hair, and she always had this huge backpack on. She would ride down the street on her way to wherever, and one day when I was sitting out on the front porch having a smoke it occurred to me that she was perfectly Ultralash. It was one of those moments when I didn't try to question what came out of me. I just went with it.
About 5 years later I walked into a bank and there she was, working as a bank teller. All the spark in her had been tucked away or discarded, as she greeted the customers in her black bank suit and bright, contrived smile. It was a sad day for me, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. It happens every day, to all girls who grow to be young women, unless you are extraordinarily vigilant about protecting that light within you from the pressures of conformity.
Q: How did you begin A River Listless? Did you set out to make a concept record, and/or did the concept arrive as you wrote?
A: Well, one day I was looking at my iTunes music collection. It contained a huge lot of recordings I had made over a period of about 10 years and I thought "geez what is all this stuff?" Most of it didn't even have names, just numbers and dates. So I began listening to the recordings, and then I thought "hey, some of this stuff is pretty good. I should catalog it." So I created two folders named "Light" and "Dark" and I just started shoving stuff into each of the folders based on my first impression.
When I was done doing that, sez me to myself "Let's make a record." So I flipped a coin - Heads for Light, Tails for Dark. Tails. So then I started listening in earnest, stitching together the tracks that told a story. I never really know where it's going. The story reveals itself as I work on it, and it's based purely on what makes me happy as I listen - what makes the little hairs rise up on the back of my neck.
Later, just like when you try to tell someone about a dream you had, the plot presents itself. I always have mixed feelings about this part, because it can become confined by it prematurely. I have my ideas about what that plot is, and there are certain elements built into the finished album that are my own meaningful bits, but those are personal.
The final decision to dispense with track numbers came after Myles Boisen and I mixed the record. Determining where one song ended and another began was proving difficult. Around that time I was with a friend and we were talking about how visual artists - painters, sculptors, film-makers get to have installations - a one time showing of their work. It was then that I came up with the idea of doing it as a sound installation - one complete composition, listened to one time. Several songs are available for download online for anyone who would like to listen in a shuffle.
Q: What was the timeline for this record? Did it all happen at once, or was it gradual? Both?
A: Fits and starts. The labeling project began in 2011. I stitched together a rough mix of about half of it in the next couple of months. Then I abandoned the project for a while because I was involved in other music projects like She Mob, an all girl garage rock band fronted by Joy Sue Hutchinson. I played bass, which I'd never done before! That resulted in recording She Mob's album Right In The Head.
I was also writing songs with Myles Boisen for a ukelele/slide guitar duet we call The Hollywood Laundrette. That also resulted in an album with brilliantly illustrated cover art by Michael Wertz!
But I didn't pick up the Ultralash project again in earnest until a year ago, April. I was reeling emotionally from some personal changes, so I threw myself back into the project to distract me from my own misery. And it did, because hey. There's working on yer shit, and then there's working on yer shit. And the latter has always, without exception, been more productive. At least for me.
Q: What's your writing process like? Acoustic guitar and recorder? Piano? Notebook? What's your best time of day to make music?
A: I daydream a lot. Occasionally there's something in that stream of consciousness that's worth writing down. And if I'm lucky and paying attention, I will. Some of my most favorite lyrics were written in less than a minute, and most of my favorites were written in ten. It's just a matter of paying attention at the right time. Often it happens when I'm outside on the front porch having a smoke. But my favorite time to record acoustic songs is first thing in the morning, sitting up against the wall, dog at the foot of the bed. That's how I recorded two songs on A River Listless. I used Garage Band to record "Skin." I used my iPhone voice memo app to record "Do You Ever Think About Me."
Q: Upcoming shows or events? What should we know?
A: I'm throwing around ideas and footage for a music video for Terminal Velocity, one of the songs on A River Listless.
I'm also currently working on a contemporary remix of Kitka. Kitka is an internationally renowned women's choir who perform traditional Eastern European women's music. The Ultralash remix should be released sometime in the latter part of this year.
So there she is, folks. I'd like to thank Karry for the interview, and for all her beautiful music.