Rocking Rykman: An Interview With Marco Benevento Bassist Karina Rykman
So, Karina Rykman totally rocks. At the ripe age of 22, she offers a storied list of accomplishments that many would only dream of achieving in a lifetime. And thanks in part to her passion for sharing musical expression, in part to her raw ability and instrumental talent, and in part to the high-frequency energy she exudes that just makes her a joy to be around, it’s likely just the beginning.
Embarking on the southern leg of Marco Benevento’s tour last night at the Luna Light Festival, Karina has been slaying the bass in his trio for the better part of 2016. Since Ween reunited back in February, she has been filling in whenever bassist Dave Dreiwitz has conflicting brown dates. A big Ween fan independently of this, Karina humbly explained it is one of her greatest honors to even be approached for the opportunity. This will be the longest run with Marco’s band at six consecutive dates for Karina, as well as the lineup’s first pairing with fellow Royal Potato Family label brethren, the Eric Krasno Band, who will team up with Marco for five co-billed shows.
When not on stage with Marco’s band, Karina stays busy and well-balanced in other areas across the music industry. A recent NYU graduate with a degree in Music Invention and Distribution this past May, she has previously studied bass and guitar at Sound of Urchin’s drummer Tomato’s House of Rock. She produces live shows as the General Manager for live music/party boat extraordinaires, Rocks Off, and helps promote and distribute products for Toronto-based guitar-gurus ToneConcepts. For a high school project she produced an engaging four-part video interview series featuring Tomato, Alex Skolnick (of the metal band Testament) and Phish frontman Trey Anastasio.
If you’re old-school, Karina – who was born in 1993 – should give you some hope for the future. If you’re new-school, it should be known that while Karina is a millenial by definition, she is positive and hard-working, which definitely goes against the norm. Karina seems to be living the life she loves and in doing so, is inspiring so many along the way.
JamBase: Thanks for meeting with us today, Karina! When we recently talked with Dave Dreiwitz, he explained that you two knew each other from his side project Crescent Moon. Can you elaborate at all?
Karina Rykman: Absolutely, it’s really my pleasure. And Dave is just the best. I first met him when I was in high school, I was part of this after-school program called THOR (Tomato’s House of Rock), in Manhattan. It’s kind of an off-shoot, if you will, of The School of Rock. Tomato is in Sound of Urchin, which is also a band I played in for about three years. During that time, he (Tomato) would bring in lots of guests to come jam with us, and we would do shows together, that kind of thing. Well, one time in 2011, one of his guests was Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman).
During those Aaron Freeman rehearsals, Dave would come by because he and Tomato are old buddies. I guess that’s where he saw me play for the first time, on both bass and guitar, I think. I didn’t know him as well yet, but I remember it was at Mountain Jam 2012 right before Bustle in Your Hedgerow. I was just walking around before the show, and Dave ran up to me! I didn’t know he even remembered me, and I was really flattered. I’ll never forget it either, he asked me then and there, he said, “You should play in my band, Crescent Moon.” And here I was just like, “Holy shit! Really?”
And this was like, two days, or shortly after Aaron had spoken to Rolling Stone about giving up the name Gene Ween and, all the rest of it. So, I was super honored and stoked that he would ask me to be a part of one of his projects, and it was a crazy moment, that he would ask me to be in his band. Then we did a bunch of gigs together as Crescent Moon, which was really fun.
JB: That’s really cool. And the relationship really has developed over time, since you’re now playing with Marco’s band pretty regularly whenever Dave is playing with Ween at the same time. He told us about one occasion where you were both home in New York and played double bass together! Do you recall the show?
KR: Of course! That was insane. It was in June, earlier this year at the Brooklyn Bowl that it happened. This year Marco played at Mountain Jam between Umphrey’s McGee sets, and when we were there we were all joking that Dave and I were gonna both be there, and that we should both play. Because, you know, at Mountain Jam, we were both there and I was just sitting-in on one song, doing “Queen Bitch” on guitar with those guys for their David Bowie set.
After, Dave and Marco suggested we do the double-bass thing and we high-fived on it and it was really exciting in that moment! Like, “Yeah! This is awesome! We’re doing this thing!” [laughs] But then come day of the show, I was so nervous! Making up excuses, like, “Wait, what this doesn’t make sense! Dave is here! I’m just his fill-in! He’s here! He should just play!” [laughs]
But, in the end we both played on twin basslines and it was a glorious evening of music. It was with [John] Medeski, and Yuka Honda, Ryan Montbleau Band, and a bunch of great music. It was a benefit for clean energy.
JB: Didn’t Dave and Marco do the fracking song for that benefit a few years back?
KR: Yes! “Freakin’ Frack!” I played that with Dave in Crescent Moon, too. I love that song.
JB: You just reminded me of a great question sent in from Twitter user @DavidBowieUB40, who asked, “How does playing without a guitarist in Marco’s band change the way you attack the bass? And has that change been strictly in working with Marco or does it carry over stylistically elsewhere as well?”
KR: That’s a great question. It’s interesting, because, yes, we’re “just” bass, keys, and drums. But in a lot of Marco’s music, especially on the newest record, The Story Of Fred Short, there’s so many lead-fuzz basslines that I get to take. Which is cool. So I almost act like a guitar player, sometimes, even tho I’m playing on a bass.
And that’s cool for me, because I started playing guitar before I started playing bass. It’s fun for me to do fun, lead stuff. I like it. But you know, it’s funny, because of all the loops Marco does, it doesn’t feel like a naked piano trio. There are a lot of sounds going on, and it feels very involved musically. So even if we don’t have “a guitar player,” Marco may as well be our guitar player. You know? He just has so much going on over there [laughs].
I do think overall my chops have gone up over the last few months though, just because working with musicians like that makes you better. It’s such a wild experience for me to keep learning and playing as part of such an awesome band.
JB: That’s really so cool. Marco even has that guitar neck sautered into his touring piano, which I guess does make him the guitar player when you really think about it. No one else does that, he is one of the best there is. And you’ve always been interested in learning from the best. You even put together a live interview segment with Tomato, Alex Skolnick, and Trey about Popular Success In Music back in 2011. What was that all about?
KR: You saw that?! That’s is so awesome. I can’t believe how many people have seen that now.
JB: I did, and it’s amazing. How did that all come about? Since you were involved in Tomato’s School of Rock, that pretty much answers that. But Alex and Trey?
KR: So, the Trey thing actually had nothing to do with Tomato’s House of Rock, but the other two did. I went to private school on the Upper West side of Manhattan with Trey’s kids. I got kind of connected to them early on, and we had to do this project our junior year. I wanted mine to be on the topic: “Is there a formula for popular success in music?” and those three musicians were the ones available to me in some essence. They were also all willing to work with me for my high school project [laughs]. So we went for it.
So, you know, I put it on YouTube for class, and now I think it has like 20,000 views or something like that.
JB: It’s actually up to 23,500!
KR: Wow! I can’t believe that. Or that you have seen it [laughs]. That is just hilarious. It was such a cool experience to talk to all three of those guys who have had varying experiences in music, and hearing all their insights. It was just really cool, and I’m glad I got to share it.
Trey was so open with me, and so willing to talk to me about the deep, intangible elements of music, and songwriting, and even discussed artistic integrity. I was so lucky to be able to do that at the time, and it’s so cool that it has lived on and now you’ve seen it, and all kinds of people are getting to share in the experience of what they were able to share.
Alex Skolnick of Testament, who also has his own jazz trio, was pretty instrumental in my career so far as well. He actually introduced me to the guys at ToneConcepts, the guitar-pedal manufacturing company out of Toronto. They’ve brought me on to do some really cool artist interviews with their roster of musicians, which includes Nels Cline, Jim Campilongo, and Dweezil Zappa, among many others, but there are videos out there of me with those guys too. Which is so fun! I do hope one day down the line I can put together a big video of all the interviews I’ve done together in one place, where all these incredibly inspirational musicians get to wax poetic on the creative process, which I just can’t get enough of.
JB: That’s so cool. You really keep such a well-rounded schedule! You also work with Rocks Off in New York as well, right? You are the General Manager?
KR: Yes, exactly. That is another big element of my life. I was playing in Sound of Urchin, and in 2012 it was the summer between high school and college for me. That summer there was a Rocks Off concert cruise, which is their big flagship event, so the founder of Rocks Off was there, Jake Szufnarowski.
I dug the Rocks Off ethos and vibe, so after we played, I went up to Jake and told him, “If you ever need an intern, I’m your gal!” He just looked at me and said, “I haven’t had an intern in about five years because they’re all goofy. I can tell you’re not goofy, though. Or, maybe if you are, it’s just the right kind of goofy.” [laughs] So my first semester of college I started out as an intern, and now I’m kind of running the day-to-day aspects of it, because Jake actually moved to London to be the main buyer for Brooklyn Bowl London.
So, I’m just emailing all the time, making things work, putting teams together, staffing the shows, making sure everything is marketed well, and you know, all of the above. It’s a lot of fun, but it can be crazy when I’m on the road with Marco! On the phone with agents and managers, from the tour van, making sure everything is going well. Then when I’m finished the show, I check in to make sure everything is going well, and all that. I can keep it all up for now! But it’s definitely a crazy schedule.
JB: So did you set up the party for the Bustle In Your Hedgerow boat that happened recently?
KR: Yup! Exactly. Jake actually assembled Bustle 13 years ago for his birthday, so it was all really special.
JB: What a cool send-off to London. And so cool that you just played over there with Marco’s band, too!
KR Oh, yeah, talk about a trip. Jake actually booked some of those shows.
You know, sometimes when it’s hectic, or I’m on stage, I’ll zone out for a sec, and look over and be like, “WOW. I’m in London playing with Marco Benevento and Andy Borger. Holy crap.” It’s nuts! We opened for Vulfpeck there, it was a sold-out show, and I loved every second of it!
I’m soaking it up, enjoying the ride. I am really super excited about all that’s going on right now. We also opened for Moon Hooch in Brighton, and Oxford, then did the two at the Bowl- the one with Vulfpeck, then our own headlining show the next day. Talk about a whirlwind! It felt like a month, in the best way, even though it was only a few days. What an awesome time.
JB: So it’s safe to say things are going well with the current arrangement then with Marco and Andy?
KR: Oh, yeah, totally. When this whole thing started, I was just supposed to play for the three Terminal 5 shows when Dave played with Ween in New York that conflicted with Marco’s shows. And here we are in October, and it’s been like, 20!
JB: So have you guys talked about you moving into that role more permanently now that Ween seems to be playing more shows regularly?
KR: Well, nothing’s been said concretely in any way. But, as long as the Ween shows keep getting booked, I’m ready, willing and available, and humbled by the fact that I’m the one that gets to fill-in for Dave. Who is not only the greatest bass player ever, in the greatest band ever, he’s the greatest dude ever. It’s my pleasure and honor to be able to make things easier on him, on the Ween management, on Marco’s management, and everyone involved. I just want to be able to make everyone, hopefully, happy, and like things are left in good hands when Dave isn’t around.
So nothing’s been set in stone or anything, but we’re about to leave for the southern part of the tour this week, when Dave is out West with Ween. Marco really is that brilliant from up close too, and so is Andy. He’s so ridiculously talented, he’s played with Tom Waits and Norah Jones and Ani DiFranco. He’s so seasoned, and so cool, and they’ve been nothing but cool to me. I mean, you know, we spend a lot of time together on the road and we have such a good time, too. I couldn’t be luckier to be playing with two more awesome dudes. They haven’t given me a hard time yet [laughs]. So, I just love it.
JB: Speaking of Ani DiFranco and Norah Jones, what’s it like to be a touring female musician? There are not a ton of female bass players around, especially at 22.
KR: You know it’s been awesome thus far. I truly haven’t run into any adversity, and I know I’m lucky for that. Maybe it actually is my age! I’m not sure. But nobody’s telling me, “You play like a girl,” or anything like that [laughs].
After we play, I get a lot of women who come up to me and tell me that they’re so inspired to see a female bass player just rocking it and holding her own with the boys. And I’m really, honestly humbled by that. At first I was a bit taken aback to “be that,” but now I’ve warmed up to the idea of it.
If I’m the person that night that inspires you to do anything you want to do in life, whether that’s play music, or becoming a doctor, whatever it is! That’s amazing if I can be that person for women when they see me play. Not that I set out intending to be that person. But shit, I’ve always just kinda done my thing and not thought twice about it. I’ve had a lot of male friends, and a lot of older friends in my life, so it doesn’t seem so “out of the blue” for me to be playing with male musicians that are older than me.
This woman actually wrote to me on Facebook the other day and she said, “Your stoked energy is contagious!” [laughs] “And I want to let you know that I’m feeling it.” And you know, that’s what it’s about! If she takes that stoked energy that she feels from me and takes it to do whatever she does in her life, that is so awesome. And it’s so empowering. That’s the power of music.
JB: That’s so true, and so cool. In the same school of thought regarding the power of music, you asked Tomato, Alex, and Trey for their definitions of musical success. So, what is your answer to your own question? How do you define musical success?
KR: Ohhh, man. Good question. Man. I guess I asked those guys, so I have to answer it right?! [laughs] Too funny.
Well, I think Trey said it best in my video when he said that he “doesn’t equate musical success with music business success.” I agree with that. Just being able to play the music you want to play, and be moved by whatever music you are playing, is the greatest success of all, Not to sound contrived, or whatever. Because, I really do believe that.
You know as well as I do that music is the greatest thing in the world, and if you can find joy playing it with other people who are like-minded, that’s total musical success to me. Especially if you can inspire others in the process.
JB: That’s such a great answer. Do you feel like you’ve found that with Marco’s band?
KR: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Marco’s music in particular is just so, joyous, that I can’t help but smile my ass off when I’m on stage, because it actually fills my heart with joy to play his music. That’s a crazy, crazy feeling. Because, not gonna lie, I smile all the time on stage as it is! But in this particular band-it’s – wow. I just am constantly smiling. The way it all came to be, the music itself, the people, the vibe, it all just results in such a good time. That is happiness. That’s just the best.
JB: Is there anything you want to play with Marco’s band that you haven’t yet played?
KR: I’ve had to learn about 30 Marco songs I think? Which, I really did have to do my homework to learn to play them, and, well, I hope, play them well. I’ve always been a fan of Marco since the GRAB era, and it got me into the Benevento/Russo Duo, naturally. And no matter who I’ve seen him play with, whether Bustle, JRAD, or any sit-in’s, it’s always just a wild, mind-blowing experience.
But, to answer your question I’d really like to play a Duo song. I know that’s not even a thing, really, to have a bass player with them. But I had a dream the other day about sitting-in at Luna Light this weekend, where I sat-in on “Becky,” with Medeski, Martin, Benevento & Russo. We really do play a Marco set before they all go on, and I guess I just had a vision, like, “What if?” Since there’s no bass in that formation, I’ve been fantasizing about it. No matter what it is going to be wild to see that set, and I’m super excited about it.
JB: Is there anyone else around the music scene that you’d like to sit in or play a set with?
KR: Well, first let me just say that I’ll jam out with anyone! And aside from the Medeski, Martin, Benevento & Russo lineup this weekend, I’d love to play with Adam Deitch. Just because, you know, he is such a monster drummer and as a bass player, getting a drummer with a solid backbeat like that would be incredible.
We’re going on tour with the Eric Krasno Band too, which is super fun. I’d love to play with Krasno at some point down the line, that would be amazing.
JB: That should be such a great experience. Maybe you’ll get your chance this tour.
KR We’ll see! This is the longest back-to-back run I’ll have done so far with Marco (six shows), and five are with Krasno. I’m pretty excited about it!