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Larisa Bryski: Authentic Classic Rock And Proud Of It
By Susan Frances
(more articles from this author)
2007-10-13
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Female artists like Lita Ford, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Christina Amphlett from Divinyls, and Anne and Nancy Wilson of Heart are some who have made a lasting impression on musicĎs history as women who rock. A lot of focus was drawn to their feline beauty and sex appeal and the industry allocated them to short-term status for it. Nancy Wilson mentioned in a 2004 ďCrossroadsĒ show on CMT that people did not take female artists in rock Ďní roll seriously when Heart first came on the scene. The industry believed that women in rock were merely a fade with no real longevity like the Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen.

Singer-songwriter Larisa Bryski (www.myspace.com/larisabryski) has proven skeptics wrong as she continues to hold strong to her classic rock roots balancing a long term relationship with rock íní roll and possessing a knock-out beauty that people appreciate about women who rock. Presently she is writing songs with her band of the last four years - Andrew Houston (bass), Willy Seltzer (guitar), and Darrell Hale (drums) for her fourth studio album. ďThese guys are my family,Ē she expresses. ďPlaying live with them is the most natural feeling in the world.Ē

Larisa is finding motivation and satisfaction by writing and performing classic rock melodies as compelling as Aerosmith, the Eagles, Foreigner, and Styx which she shares with Teslaís guitarist Frank Hannon who contributes guitar parts on the new album. Brought up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, Larisa Bryski was captivated early on by the melodic rock sounds of Ď70s rock arena bands like Aerosmith, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, ELO, Cheap Trick, and The Pretenders. She began singing ďTV theme show songs at the top of my lungs,Ē she recalls, when she was 5 years old and began playing the piano when she was 8 years old.

She recollects, ďLearning piano not only gave me a general understanding of music theory, but it gave me the ability to accompany myself when I sang. When I was about 12 years old, I spent a summer at the Pacific Music Camp at UOP in Stockton, California,Ē about an hour from her hometown of Murphys, California. ďI studied choral music there. Thatís when I really started learning about what my voice could do: warming up, blending with other voices, singing harmony, etc. While there, I met other kids who had studied voice privately. I was totally inspired by that, but there were no vocal coaches where I lived, so when the fall came, I began commuting to Stockton twice a month after school for voice lessons. There was also a wonderful music teacher at my high school. He really supported my talent and eventually arranged for the school to help pay for my private lessons.ď

Her experience at music camp would have a huge impact her. Today she makes time to be the director and vocal instructor for Stairway To Stardomís Summer Music Program ( www.skipsmusic.com/strwy.html ) at SkipĎs Music Shop in Sacramento, California where she resides now, while living out her desire to write, record, and front a rock íní roll band. She embraced her desire to front a rock band as a teenager when she joined her ďfirst real working rock band,Ē she says, at the age of 14 and was a freshman in high school. ďEventually I went on to study music in college (CSU Sacramento) and beyond,Ē she notes.

Her early musical experiences were ďIntimidating!!Ē in her words. ďI was not only the only teenager in a band with four adults, I was the only girl in a band with four guys. I thought, ĎWhat am I doing here?í But something in my mind told me to get over it quickly. I knew that I wanted to be a performing musician, so I had to work hard to get past the insecurities. I learned my parts, figured out how to transport and set up my own gear. I played keyboards in the band at the time and learned how speak my mind when I had an idea for a song. The guys in my first band were more experienced musicians than I was at that time, so I watched them closely at that very first rehearsal. Eventually, I felt like an equal member of the band, and I was able to rock just as hard if not harder than they did.Ē

In 2004, she won the SAMMIE (Sacramento Music Award) for Best Female Vocalist. She released her debut album The Long Way in 2000, her second album Violet in 2003, and an acoustic rock album HowĎs Your D String, a duet with her guitarist Willy Seltzer in 2006. Being a musician has not only been a way for Larisa Bryski to make a living but it has proven to be therapeutic for her. Her songwriting abilities and performance attributes are so ingrained in her that she cannot image ever retiring them.

[Susan Frances] What does being a musician mean to you?

Larisa Bryski : As a musician, the benefits are all-encompassing. Among other things, music is creative therapy, a language, and a lifestyle. When I was younger, if it hadnít been for music I would have probably been in big trouble all the time. Music gave me something to positive to focus on, and it forced me to set goals for myself. Nowadays, playing music is a way to relate to people and situations that I wouldnít relate to in day-to-day life. When I connect with a stranger through a performance, itís cool because I probably wouldnít be able to connect with that same stranger in the same way if I saw them in a grocery store. Overall, I truly believe that playing music gives color and expression to life. Everyone relates to it somehow. How would we exist without it?

[Susan Frances] What is the songwriting process like for you?

Larisa Bryski : It totally varies. Sometimes Iíll wake up in the morning with a song in my head and Iíll make a mad dash to my piano to get it out. When that happens, I can usually finish it within an hour or so. Other times Iíll have a part of a melody in mind, and Iíll sing it into a handheld recorder to save it for later when I can finish it. Sometimes those little half-melodies will stay in the recorder for several months before I find a way to work them into a song. Most of the time it starts with a melody and a groove. Iíll hear a little something in my head, and itís fueled by a particular rhythm. Then I sit down at the piano and build chords around the melody and set the tempo. Thatíll be the skeleton of the song. It comes together pretty quickly with the band after that. Iíve found that itís never good to force a song just for the sake of finishing it. For me, songwriting flows when it flows and jams when it jamsÖkind of like traffic. Lately itís been flowing pretty well. The themes of my songs tend to revolve around situations and feelings that are hard for me to describe in normal conversations. When I feel something deeply, Iíll write a song about it because it helps me deal with those feelings. I donít always write about my own life. Sometimes I write about things that happen to people I know, or things that are happening in the world. I think my music is pretty straightforward. I write personal lyrics about things that have happened to me or things that Iíve witnessed. I guess I hope that someone somewhere can relate to a song that Iíve written and that itíll make them feel somethingóthat itíll stir up some kind of emotion.

[Susan Frances] How do you know when a song is right for you?

Larisa Bryski : We try to work songs out live before we record them. Whether at a show or just in rehearsal, we play each new song as a full band, and whatever vibe the song has when weíre all playing it is the sound that we shoot for when we record it. Of course we can add more embellishments in the studio, but for the most part the energy of the recording is dictated by how the song comes across in a live performance.

[Susan Frances] What has been your biggest lesson working with other musicians?

Larisa Bryski : Generally speaking, Iíve learned that itís important to surround yourself with people who fuel your creativity and support your craft. On that level, Iíve worked with some incredibly talented people throughout my careerómusicians whoíve inspired me, and musicians whoíve shocked me. I just take it all in.

[Susan Frances] What is it like producing your albums? What do you focus on?

Larisa Bryski : I focus on everything! Of course I love arranging vocal parts the most, but every part of each song on an album is important. I think that producing a song must be kind of like building a house. You start with a foundation and then add the floors, the walls, the windows, the roof, the paint, the furniture, the art, etc. Depending on the care you give it, youíll either end up with a home that you can be proud of, or a dodgy shack.

[Susan Frances] Where are you finding inspiration for your new album?

Larisa Bryski : Iím actually in the studio right now working on a new album, which should be out by this spring (crossed fingers). Iím super excited about this particular album because it draws a lot of inspiration from classic rock, which is the music I grew up listening toóartists like Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, the Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac. There are lots of guitars, layered vocal parts, and big melodies. I also have some special guests appearing on this albumómost notably, Frank Hannon from Tesla. Heís an amazing guitarist and an awesome person to work with.

[Susan Frances] Where have you been playing to test your material in front of a live audience? How has the audiences reacted to your music?

Larisa Bryski : Itís funnyÖI just looked at our 2006 calendar, and there wasnít a month that we were not booked. We stuck mostly to our hometown and to other areas of Northern California . My favorite Sacramento venue is a place called The Boardwalk. Itís a larger all-ages club, which makes it great for younger fans who want to see our shows. We have some amazingly loyal fans. They stop me often to tell me which songs are their favorites. The all-time favorite seems to be ďButterfliesĒ from the Violet record though. People are always giving me butterfly trinkets and mementos. I love that!

[Susan Frances] Have you noticed a change in your singing patterns or your style of writing? How have you grown since 2003ís Violet album?

Larisa Bryski : Iíve definitely grown. I donít have unreasonable expectations for myself anymore. Iím letting ideas come to me organically and allowing myself to see them through to their natural conclusion. Iíve also decided that I will forever be a vintage rock chick, and Iím done apologizing for that. I wear ripped jeans and canvas sneakers and a leather jacketÖand I have big blond hair and I wear red lipstick. So there! Iíve really embraced who I am as an artist and Iím not trying to look or sound like anyone else. As a younger artist, I think I was always looking over my shoulder or out of the corner of my eye to see what other people were doing, and I was listening to what other people thought I should do. Now, cheesy as it may sound, I just focus on whatís comfortable and what moves me musically, even if it sounds like something that should have been written or recorded in 1972. As long as I dig it, Iím happy. For me, success in music is now defined by how authentic I am.

[Susan Frances] How did being a vocal instructor at Skipís summer music program affect you?

Larisa Bryski : Iíve actually been teaching voice privately at Skipís Music for 8 years, and have been the director of the Stairway to Stardom summer program for the last two. Young musicians inspire me. Iíve seen some of the most incredible talent come through the education programs at Skipís Music. Some of these young people have gone on to garner amazing success, and some are still struggling to be heard, but itís all part of the learning process. Every time I talk to a frustrated young musician Iím reminded of that. Weíve all been there. I do my best to help boost their confidence, but I try to remember to be realistic too. The music business isnít for everyone. Itís all about finding your niche. Iím grateful to be a music educator as well as a performing musician because I can be part of two different nichesÖfor now, anyway. One of my students will be featured on my new album. Sheís a brilliant young singer named Katie Kilbourn.

[Susan Frances] What keeps you motivated to play music and to write songs?

Larisa Bryski : I think most musicians would probably answer this question the same way. If youíre a musician now, chances are, youíve been motivated to play music your whole life because itís always been a part of you. Personally, I canít imagine a moment in my life when I wasnít infatuated with music. Iíve been singing since I was three and playing the piano since I was eight. I wrote my first song when I was five, which was around the same time I learned to tie my shoes. There are spells where Iím focusing on other aspects of my life and my songwriting will fall by the wayside. When that happens I tend to get restless and moody. I always find my way back to the piano so I can get plugged in again.

[Susan Frances] What has been your biggest challenge in being a solo artist?

Larisa Bryski : Question: ĎWhatís the name of your band?í Answer: ďWell, actually, Iím a solo artist supported by a band, so itís just my name.Ē Ugh. I get that ALL the time. In other words, the biggest challenge is simply the idea that itís okay to BE a solo artist. I guess thereís this engrained stereotype with female solo artistsóthat we all wear white flowy dresses and ride unicorns through meadows. Or, that we all wear trendy clothes and perform to prerecorded tracks with backup dancers. To actually ROCK and be a solo artist is virtually unheard of, so I suppose people see me and my band and assume we should have a name like Garbage or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In my town ( Sacramento ), the music scene is dominated pretty intensely by male-fronted rock bands. As a female rock solo artist, Iím pretty much alone. Sometimes that can work to my advantage, but other times people really donít know what to make of me.

[Susan Frances] What was the first music festival that you ever played? When was it and what was the experience like for you?

Larisa Bryski : The first music festival I ever played was the now defunct Nadineís Wild Weekend in San Francisco, which was sort of a smaller, more localized version of SXSW. I was terrified because it was my first time playing to a crowd of complete strangers. Not one person in the room had EVER heard my music before. It was exhilarating when they applauded. I was like, ďYES! They donít want to impale me!Ē I was able to parlay that experience into more gigs at that particular club. It was definitely a good thing. I went to SXSW in 2005, which was mind-blowing. Austin is completely overrun by musicians during SXSW, so when you play youíre mostly playing for industry people and folks from other bands from all across the globe. It was a completely different experience, but still a good one. I hope to do more festivals in 2007 but for now Iím focusing on this album, so weíll see.

[Susan Frances] What artists are you currently listening to today?

Larisa Bryski : One of my favorite new bands is this group from New York called Morningwood. I got to meet them about a year ago and had no idea what to expect until I heard them live. Chantal Claret (the singer) is a phenomenal young talent. Sheíll completely blow your mind. Around the same time I heard a band called The Shazam out of Nashville. I was totally inspired by them because they have that retro Ď70s arena rock style that I love so much. I also love young bands with strong female voices like Paramore and Flyleaf. I was also recently introduced to Muse, who are simply phenomenal. Thereís a ton of good music out there right now. I just recently got an iPod for Christmas so Iím going crazy downloading new stuff. I think my head might explode soon.

[Susan Frances] In your opinion, how has the music business changed since you first entered it?

Larisa Bryski : I think it all depends on what your expectations are. If you want people to have access to your music, thanks to internet giants like iTunes, Napster, and the like, itís somewhat easy to get online distribution for your music. And then thereís Myspace, which is an amazing networking outlet for musicians. However, with so many artists taking advantage of so many available outlets for sharing their music, the whole quest for ďrockstardomĒ has become more and more competitive, and artists have become more disposable. Itís a double-edged sword. Thatís why I say it depends on what your expectations are. Some people are content with being independent artists with small fan bases. Others want the brass ring. Every once in a while thereís an artist whoíll slip through some special crack in the armor of the music business and grab that ring, but for the most part itís still every artist for him/herself.

[Susan Frances] Do you keep in touch with any of the band members that you used to play with from your past?

Larisa Bryski : I try to, but there are a lot of them!! Iím lucky to have shared stages with some truly amazing bands in my career so far. The Oleander guys were awesome. Willy and I ran into Doug in a restaurant a few weeks ago. The one person I would really love to do a show with again is Poe. I think sheís recording a new album right now too so who knows? Sheís amazing too. Add her to my list of favorites.

[Susan Frances] What do you think of satellite radio like Sirius and XM Radio? Do they benefits new artists?

Larisa Bryski : I definitely think so. Commercial radio is selective and corporate and oppressive. I hate saying that because I have a lot of friends who work in commercial radio whoíve been very good to me, so of course Iím generalizing, but overall, satellite radio is innovative in terms of what it can do for independent artists. There are shows on Sirius and XM that will only play unsigned music. Thatís a dream come true!

[Susan Frances] Has the Internet benefited you in making contacts in the music business, or getting gigs for your band and getting your music out to people?

Larisa Bryski : Entities like Myspace and iTunes have enabled me to reach across international waters with my music. I love getting reports from my distributor that list all of the downloads I got from Germany and Italy in the last quarter via iTunes. I sit there and go, ď Germany? They buy my music in Germany?Ē It makes me want to go there and play some shows. Myspace is great for connecting with bands who are looking to swap shows and do mini-tours. Iíve made some great connections via Myspace that have really come through in big ways.

[Susan Frances] If you could go on tour with anyone, who would you like to go out with and why?

Larisa Bryski : Anyone in the world? Iíd open for Aerosmith for free while wearing a pink tutu and a fright wig. Iíd make the guys wear fishnets if thatís what the promoter wanted. Aerosmith all the way. Theyíre the perfect all-American rock band and theyíre legends. Their fans LOVE them. Itíd be amazing to tour with them.

[Susan Frances] What are your aspirations for your music?

Larisa Bryski : Believe it or not, Iíve already reached many of my goals as a musician. I can support myself financially as a musician and I feel that Iíve written some decent songs, which is a lot more than a lot of people can say, so I certainly canít complain. I wouldnít mind having my music featured on a TV show, and I also wouldnít mind being on a massive world tour either. But whatever. At this point Iím content with what Iíve created and Iím open to whatever else comes my way, as long as it doesnít involve karaoke bars or fast food jingles.

[Susan Frances] If you could perform a duet with anyone who would you choose and why?

Larisa Bryski : Annie Lennox, because I think just being in the same room with her would make me sound amazing.

[Susan Frances] What activities or projects are you working on that do not involve your band?

Larisa Bryski : Iíve just been asked to record vocals for some music in a feature film, which is very exciting. Iíve done quite a bit of music for indie films recently too, which has come as a surprise. Iím also co-writing and producing a demo for an incredible female country singer named Kellie Stroud, and, I have aspirations of recording a solo vocal/piano record. I have material written for that, but need to wait until the band album is done first.

[Susan Frances] Do you think that the integration of computer technology with creativity is beneficial like ProTools?

Larisa Bryski : Iím computerly challenged, so when it comes to instrumentation, I rely on real instruments. ProTools definitely makes life easier when engineering though. Every time Iím in a studio with ProTools I can see that for myself, but I always let someone else run with that. Our studio is PC-based so we use Sonar, which is comparable to ProTools. I donít touch the knobs or the keys though. I just bark orders (smile).

[Susan Frances] How do you think female solo artists are affecting the market?

Larisa Bryski : Good question! I think I touched on a lot of this in my answer (before). I think that the market is in need of more true female rock artists.

[Susan Frances] What are some things that have changed in your life since you entered the music business and began making records and touring?

Larisa Bryski : I guess the biggest thing is the realization that music is my livelihood. I donít have to work in an office or at a restaurant because my job as a recording artist and music educator is how I support myself. Itís a great feeling because itís all Iíve ever imagined myself doing. Itís not what most people would consider a ďnormalĒ life, but I like it. Iím happy and grateful.

[Susan Frances] What is the one thing you would tell someone to get them to pick up an instrument and start playing?

Larisa Bryski : DO IT! You have absolutely nothing to lose by giving it a try. In fact, if you have even the slightest urge, you owe it to yourself to explore the possibility. It could be the greatest gift you ever receive.

[Susan Frances] If you could make three wishes, what would they be?

Larisa Bryski :

1) Dinner with Pat Benatar

2) That Freddie Mercury never died so I could see Queen in concert

3) World peace! (Of course!)

For more information and to contact the author, click on the authorís name at the top of the page.


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