D: Hey Vents, we’re good! It’s been a busy few years since we last spoke. We took some time off the road to write and record a brand new record and it’s finally coming out this month. Besides that we’ve done a few US and European tours as well as our first tour to South & Central America as part of the American Music Abroad program last year. We’re about to release our second full-length album Ghost Light, on Oh So Nice Records. We have a record release show April 27th at C’mon Everybody, 325 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn!
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Wasted Time”?
D: “Wasted Time” is the first song Karikatura wrote for the album that would become Ghost Light, the root of the loneliness and questioning of life choices that runs through the whole song cycle. It’s hazy, an insomniac’s dream of a tune that swims in struggle, sacrifice, and doubt that can’t be shaken.
Musically, it’s a fusion of a 2-tone ska feel and a bachata bass line. This track is also the first time we experimented with using samples of our singer’s voice as a synth. The lead line in the song is the result of a vocal we recorded directly into a laptop mic in my kitchen and then pitched and chopped up to be unrecognizable. This spirit of experimentation permeated the whole album process.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
D: I started writing this song after finishing up a few months of touring back in 2015. Before that there were so many months of planning and pre-production for the tour. I was just sitting my in apartment in Brooklyn late on a summer night and realizing I’d barely seen my wife in 6 months because I had my head down, pursuing a dream. Sometimes you just get tunnel-vision when you are focused on pursuing a goal and then, when you finally come to a stop, everything you’ve been ignoring or putting on the back burner just hits you. The majority of the song was written in about 10 minutes and then we spent a year and half filling in the details.
How was the filming process and experience behind the video?
D: The video was filmed in a medieval town called Cividale del Friuli near Udine in Italy by a brilliant director, Luca Tarondi, with a small crew, organized by our dear friend Rachele Conte. We met with Luca while on tour in Italy last summer, we vibed about the song and life in general and he showed us some rough plans for the video including one that involved a duck, yes a duck.
The whole video was filmed last fall while we were back in the US. The duck had bitten someone so the plans had to change and the concept was adjusted. The whole cast and crew shacked up at an old farm house in this beautiful village and our friend Rachele was sending us live updates and photos as the shooting went on.
Luca completed the edits soon after and we really didn’t know what to expect until we got the first edits. Luca prefers to only work in black and white, and, at least to our eyes, the aesthetic of the video is reminiscent of Fellini or Goddard. We knew that he was super creative and we loved seeing his visual interpretation of the song, which is often the best part of collaborating with other amazing artists.
The video ended up being a part of his Unmattagita Series which is an interactive video series and story he’s developing.
The single comes off your new album Ghost Light – what’s the story behind the title?
R: A ghost light is a solitary light that sits in the center of the stage in a theatrical space when the crew closes down for the night. It vigilantly illuminates a huge, void-like room, waiting for the moment when someone opens the door the next day and needs to be able to see where they’re going without falling to their death. In a way, chasing a creative dream can be similar. You’re up late when no one else is around, working and trying hard to keep your creative fire lit, longing for the moment when you connect with your audience and can serve your true function once again. I think with the title we’re trying to recognize that this really important job that serves life in a really cosmic way can be a very lonely and isolating pursuit that puts you out of sync with the people you love.
How was the recording and writing process?
R: Long! Since we released Eyes Wide in 2014, we had released an EP, Speak Now in 2016 and after that we had written more than 40 tunes that we were considering putting on the album, many of which had been demoed, re-written, and overhauled again and again. Once we finally settled on a concept and song-list for the album last year, the actual recording process flowed a little more easily, but we still gave ourselves a lot of freedom to experiment in the studio and revamp arrangements. This was also possible because, for the first time, Dima produced and recorded the band himself, at his studio Horosho Records in Long Island City. So, instead of the usual stress and time-constraints of going to a commercial studio, we had the liberty of late nights with nobody around.
What role does Brooklyn play in your music?
R: We used to all live there, but now only a few of us do. Dima, our bandleader and one of the primary songwriters, wrote a lot of this album over the course of many lonely, sweaty nights in Sunset Park, and we’d hang out in his apartment trying out vocal and lyrical ideas in his home studio. For me, when I’m singing them, many of the songs feel like they’re located in that apartment, though any listener will likely imagine them wherever they live. Since then, Dima moved back to Brighton Beach, the neighborhood of Brooklyn where he grew up.
How have your different cultural backgrounds influenced your writing?
R: When it comes to culture, even as I say “we,” I can mostly only speak for myself. I think I can say that much of our music is and has been inspired by our travels, domestic and international. We have been incredibly privileged to enjoy freedom of movement across many borders, and to enjoy interacting with musicians in many different countries, playing many different kinds of music. We’re pretty omnivorous. We soak up everything we see and hear, and then spit it back out in a quirky cornucopia of sound that makes sense to us and to some other people too. We have always aimed to create music in Karikatura that is authentically inauthentic, exploring the places where different people and cultures rub up against each other here in NYC, and internationally. Personally, as I examine my own ancestry and engage more deeply in anti-racist movement work, I’m trying to be more open, honest, and curious about culture. Many of my ancestors went through long processes of assimilation to become white here in America, scrubbing themselves of their names, their religions, their rituals, and eventually their ethnicities altogether. When I talk about culture, it’s often about trying to reconnect with something that feels like it’s been lost, or about appreciating someone else’s culture and the meaning it brings into their life and wanting to be a part of something like that. A lot of the time it’s also about making culture and building community; learning about how to do that intentionally and collectively.
In my work outside the band, I’m often trying to envision and embody ways of being in community where white people don’t need white supremacy to feel like they belong to something, and can act in solidarity with people of color fighting for freedom and equity in America; where we all start to feel like we can trust and value each other, and where we can talk about things like reparations and honoring treaties and abolishing prisons and borders and other things like that. There’s a lot of culture we’ve got to make before we get there, I think.
The band is known for playing with different genres – do you tend to balance them together?
Morgan: Yes, that has been a central part of our music making since the beginning of the band. Finding the places where, for example, cumbia and reggae meet, combine and become something else. While we continued that work on this album, I think this is the least ‘genre’ specific music we’ve ever created. We’re sounding the most like ourselves.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
R: Anywhere and everywhere. I’m writing a song about you right now.
Any plans to hit the road?
R: We’re hitting a bunch of regions up and down the East Coast in June, and then heading back to Europe for our 8th European tour, playing festivals and club dates through mid August. Come out and see us!
What else is happening next in Karikatura’s world?
R: We’re going to be putting out more music videos and also tons of live videos in the coming months from a special expanded ensemble performance we did, called the Ghost Light Orchestra. The first video, for an unreleased song, “The Minute,” is up now on YouTube. Our new album, Ghost Light is out April 27th, you can preorder it already. Stay tuned!