Rykarda Parasol has been seducing audiences with her Rock Noir music for over a decade. Her voice is not just a well-trained instrument; it is sultry, dark and powerful. On her third album, Against the Sun, her poetic lyrics tell stories of isolation and self-discovery. Her style is retro-sexy. She is often photographed in 1940s pencil skirts and strapless dresses, although on her most recent tour in Warsaw she wore a tuxedo, and is now more prone to wearing suits. (She’s looking for a nudie suit, if you have one).
In person, Parasol is slight and chic. She casually mentions missing the Paris rain, reminding me that she has just returned to San Francisco from a sojourn overseas. Over coffee, we talk about her writing process, her obsession with watching costume dramas, and how San Francisco’s erotica scene makes her think of people dressed as clowns, and not well-dressed clowns.
RED LIGHT LIT (RLL): Where did you record your last album?
RYKARDA PARASOL (RP): I recorded here in San Francisco with Mark Pistel of “Room 5” [he is now a part of her live band with drummer Danny Luehring]. I told Mark that God forbid he should pass away. There is no way I’m ever going to work with anyone else. He just gets me. It is a really comfortable environment. I have anxiety of working elsewhere.
RLL: I’ve been listening to your last album, Against the Sun, and it sounds like a full band with back-up singers. Then I read that you made it mostly by yourself.
RP: I was just going to do a vanity project to show my nephews something when I was 80. I decided to record everything acoustically. It was just me and guitar and layers and layers of my vocals. Me, doing some piano and that’s when my manager came in. At that point, we had only been working together for a year, and he said let’s develop this more, and Danny Luehring came in on drums. We layered a few other instruments on top. There is no electric guitar and almost no electric bass. This has been the easiest process for me.
RLL: What instruments do you play?
RP: I think it is questionable that I play guitar, and I can play some piano. And maybe the vocals are questionable, too. I see myself as a writer, which is probably pretty funny.
RLL: Not at all. Your lyrics have an honest storytelling quality about them.
RP: With intimate music I would be doing my audience a disservice if I didn’t have something of weight to say. The story and the meaning have to be there, or else I’m wasting people’s time. I’m wasting my own time. There has to be a story before I write, and so it is pretty organic. If I’m not feeling something I don’t force it. There is no record label to tell me you got to crank these songs out. I just do them as they come.
RLL: Does your inspiration come from personal experience?
RP: In writing class, you are taught [to] write about what you know. In real life, I am trying to be a well-informed deep person. If I write songs about the crime in South Africa, I don’t think it is an authentic thing, even though I’m really thinking about it. Of course my own daily personal life is affecting me, and I’m trying to make sense of it, reflect on it, grow and change.
It’s like taking a photograph where I will choose lighting that may shadow some of the things that I don’t want to fully expose, so it also comes down to being a good editor. Especially in poetry. And I think that [poetry is closer to what I do, to tell the story. Do I need all the details to convey the meaning? So I have to edit and be economical about the language. I really feel connected to poetry and writing. I am working on the lyrics in a very detailed way, especially with my second album. A lot of the songs were written without music at first.
RLL: So do you always write your lyrics first?
RP: Not always. In the second album, it was lyrics first. There is usually a point to the story that comes to my mind. For example, I really wanted to talk about broken promises. When I wrote this song called “Covenant,” I had this sort of lull in the day. I was mad that someone broke a promise to me, but ultimately, I was the one who broke the promise to me because I knew better. So I had to tell it in a way that gave more weight to it. That was the pain that was eating at me and made me scream into a pillow…I love screaming into pillows.
RLL: Do you have any (good) bad habits? Like if you are gluten-free, do you enjoy eating muffins?
RP: I am gluten-free, but I’ve been good lately. I beat myself up a lot. I am trying to change that. I’m utterly addicted to costume dramas. Everything from BBC to German to Italian dramas. I don’t care what it is. I need to see a wig. I also enjoy the pleasure of beautifully crafted objects. I love thoughtful intricate design, and I’m either seeking it out or making things on my own with that intention.
The second album (For Blood and Wine) is about very bad habits. The first half of the album is devoted to drugs and alcohol. The second half is about relationships of varying degrees…right up to the very last song, where I have come down from the high.
All three albums are a continuous story. To me, they are fully connected and the artwork reflects that or should convey something like that. The first album is about wanting to belong and being really upset about it. And the second album is about deciding I’m going to reject everyone and everything and that is going to make me feel better. The third album is more like I accept being with me, and I like it. It’s actually kind of nice.
Parasol has not played live in San Francisco for three years. Come see her perform solo on January 26th at The Red Devil Lounge (1695 Polk Street), and with her new band on March 21st at Hemlock Tavern (1131 Polk Street).