Karina Rykman has been all the rage in the jam band/experimental music scene ever since she joined pianist Marco Benevento’s band in 2016. If you haven’t seen one of her performances yet, either solo or as a side-person, Rykman, by her own admission, “Plays bass, sings, jumps around, and laughs a lot.” The ethereal, groove-filled and fun creative space Rykman conjures up at her live shows has earned her a reputation as an unmissable live act, and her rapturous unbridled energy has been garnering an avid fanbase and enviable gigs, as her recent appearances subbing in on Late Night with Seth Meyers can attest.
Rykman’s solo musical style can best be described as straddling the worlds of jam rock and indie pop, with an ample dose of psychedelia thrown in for good measure, but her influences also include punk and heavy metal, and her originals songs and performances are imbued with elements from all of the above. The 27-year-old bassist grew up in New York City playing in her first punk band at 13, False Arrest, before cutting her teeth professionally with groups and artists as varied as Sound Of Urchin, playing guitar on the Today Show for Julia Michaels, and of course, most notably with Benevento. Her solo songwriting musical stew draws from all of those varied experiences, as well as the aforementioned influences, and combines them into a tight-knit sound that catapulted “Plants,” Rykman’s first-ever solo single release, to over one million streams on Spotify in 2019. Subsequent singles (she’s released six so far), including “Elevator,” “City Kids,” and “Dirty South” (the latter two released in 2020), have affirmed her status as one of the bass community’s breakout artists of the last few years.
We caught up with Rykman recently, just as she was about to embark upon a short east coast tour, along with bandmates Adam November on guitar and Chris Corsico on drums, that kicks off in Ithaca, NY on November 30th.
How did you first get into playing bass? And who are some of your early influences?
Truthfully, I started on guitar when I was about 12-years-old. A friend of mine put an acoustic in my hands at recess, and basically taught me how to play “Seven Nation Army [The White Stripes].” I was just completely floored. I couldn’t believe that my fingers could do that [laughter]. And then it was a very instantaneous, complete compulsion and obsession that I had. Every waking moment was spent learning guitar riffs with my friends.
You were hooked!
Yeah. And then for my 13th birthday, my uncle got me my first electric guitar, which was an Ibanez. It’s the classic story where we went to Guitar Center to get it and they tried to sell us a gig bag. And my mom was like, “Gig bag? She’s not going to take this out of the house [laughter].” And I was like, “Well mom, what if I do take it out of the house?” She was like, “All right, we can get the gig bag.” And two weeks later, I was in my first band, the punk band called False Arrest—my good, old eighth grade punk band [laughter]. We used to play around New York City and swindle promoters into letting us play. So, that’s where it all started.
Were you playing guitar or bass when you got the call to join Marco Benevento’s band?
My entire life since high school revolved around music and playing in different bands. I was essentially playing guitar in two bands and bass in three—as much as I could play on either instrument was just such a thrill and joy for me. And it wasn’t until I was 22, which was in 2016, that I got the call to join Marco Benevento’s band on bass. And that was a pivotal moment. I was such a fan of his music and that was a big deal gig for me and is a big deal gig for me. So, at that moment I was like, “All right Karina, you’re a bass player now.” Up until that point, I played both instruments—if I was called for a guitar gig or for a bass gig, it was two sides of the same coin.
Speaking of two sides, you just played guitar on Late Night with Seth Meyers, correct?
I did Seth Meyers last week all on guitar because their guitar player, Seth Jabour, had the flu, and I did it on bass back in September filling in for Syd Butler who had a wedding to go to, so that one was premeditated. This one [on guitar] was completely out of the blue and last time I was there, they found out that I play guitar also, so it was a total shot in the dark on their end [laughter]. I literally got the call late on Monday, and Tuesday was spent regaining my guitar chops and convincing myself that I knew my way around that instrument and just shedding, shedding, shedding, and over-preparing. But my guitar gigs are very few and far between these days. I am a very proud and delighted bass player at this point.
You probably had to get used to tighter string spacing again.
Exactly. Honestly, I have such small hands, it was kind of refreshing. I was like, “Oh my God! My four fingers span these four frets perfectly!” Yesterday, I got into rehearsal with my band and I’m like, “All right, here we go, back to bass.” It’s funny, the mindset shift that one goes through when alternating between two instruments.
Do you think that learning guitar first gave you a leg up as a bass player in terms of navigating the fingerboard and understanding the relationship between chords and single-note phrases?
It definitely did. Knowing what chord shapes look like and knowing what notes are in each chord definitely gives you a leg up in terms of being a bass player. Especially if you’re trying to do any embellishments like, “I could play this note, this note, and this note, and it’ll all fit over this major seven chord that the guitar player is playing.”
Can you pinpoint how guitar directly affects your bass playing, sonically-speaking?
I’m a huge a musical chameleon and I’m such a fan of so many genres. I’m completely all over the place. Among all the different styles I played growing up, I played a lot of metal, and a lot of punk, and a lot of hardcore. As a result, a signature for me is playing fuzz bass. There are a lot of moments in Marco’s show, and in my show, where I shred or just go off and take these big fuzz bass solos, building these big fuzz bass moments that are theoretically derived from guitar—and when they’re not derived from guitar they’re derived from Cliff Burton and Geezer Butler.
Do you have a favorite fuzz pedal?
Yeah, the [Pro Co] Rat. I love a good old Rat. It’s great. It clips a bit of the low end, which just makes me turn it up louder, and I love the unpredictable, gnarly nature of it. You can always count on it—it’s never finicky, it never breaks. For octave stuff, which I also love, I have the 3 Leaf Audio Tim Lefebvre Octabvre, and the combination of the two of those pedals is a deadly one. I’m very stoked on all of that.
Is your musical approach different when you’re doing your band versus being a side person?
Great question. Marco is a very incredible human, and it’s an incredible gig in the sense that he very much wants me to be myself on the instrument. From the start, he has always emboldened me to be myself on stage. I don’t have to pretend to be coy or anything I’m not. But in my head, I’m a hired gun. I want to serve the song, and I want to serve the moment. I want to make him and his music sound and feel and look as good as possible for the audience. So, I’m definitely more concerned about filling my role properly than I am with my band.
With my band I’m the steerer of the ship, baby. I can be as much of a lunatic as I want to be or need to be in any given moment—which is liberating when you like to run around the stage [laughter]. I’ve come out of my shell in a big way and my band allows me to do that. I can truly be completely, unequivocally myself, both musically and as a front person. And then, whenever I take gigs, I of course want to suit the vibe in the moment and play the parts. Seeing me on Seth Meyers, people would write and say, “Was it hard to stand that still?” And I would say, “Yes, it definitely was [laughter]” It’s one of those things where you just have to serve the moment in every situation, musical and otherwise.
For your solo stuff, what’s your recording process like? Do you have a home studio?
I have a very excellent pal who is my producer and who I co-write the majority of all this stuff with. His name is Gabe Monro. He and I have written just about every tune together—not “City Kids” and “Dirty South,” but just about all the rest of them. “Plants” is an example of something that he and I wrote together at his studio, but then I took it to my band, and we recorded it at The Bunker, which is a beautiful state-of-the-art studio in Brooklyn, New York. That’s how that one came to life. When Gabe and I write together we do so in the box, but then bring in live drums, and bring in live guitars, and give it the treatment, that’s what elicits very exciting results.
Are you working in Pro Tools or Logic?
Gabe is an Ableton wiz. So, it’s a lot of Ableton, but drums are usually recorded in Pro Tools, guitars are recorded in Pro Tools. It basically just depends. And for me, I’m archaic and underdeveloped [laughter], so I like Logic to get my little ideas out there. That stuff never sees the light of day, but if I have an inspired moment at home, that’s the DAW that I’m comfortable on.
When you’re tracking bass, are you going direct or miking an amp?
I love a DI’d bass. I feel like when you DI a guitar, it is noticeably worse than when you record through an amp. But for bass, I find that not to be true, necessarily. Still, it’s definitely a combination of lots of different things. With the song “Plants,” that was basically both Rat and octaver live in the moment—hit the pedal board, as the song was recording. Plus, there’s some serious, extra shit thrown on top of those bass tracks to make them extra “808-y [referring to the Roland TR-808 drum machine],” and punchy, and crazy. I’m not afraid to do it the old school way, or the new school way—whatever makes the actual recording sound as cool as possible to my ears. I don’t care how we get there; I just care that we do get there.
Fingers or a pick or both?
I do both and it really depends on the tune and the vibe. When I was younger, I used to shy away from playing with a pick because I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t just a guitar player trying to play bass. But now honestly, seeing so many of my favorite bass players, especially in the jam world, play with a pick, and nobody bats an eye—Mike Gordon, Phil Lesh, Dave Schools, all those guys are pick players. Obviously, Carol Kaye, come on now. You can’t argue with any of that. So, I am not shy about playing with the pick these days at all. I find it gives me more attack and more definition.
It's funny, based on my experience of a being a bass player, and having written for magazines for 20 years, bass players get along so well… except when playing with a pick comes up. It’s such a divisive topic in this community.
That’s so funny, people get very uptight. I feel like there are new school and old school modes and methodologies to everything when it comes to doing this stuff, and to me it’s whatever makes you more comfortable, makes the song sound better, and makes the notes come out easier—that’s what needs to happen. So, if I’m trying to play a complicated part that I literally can’t play with my fingers, guess what’s coming out? The motherfucking pick [laughter]. That’s my school of thought with that.
For more visit: https://www.karinarykman.com/