LPTrendsExtraordinaryHumanBeings. Larisa Bryski. She could be your sister or in your iPod. You should be so lucky to have this original voice sing you to sleep (Willy knows what we’re talking about). One thing’s for sure, this rocker-mother-teacher-leader of a woman is the epitome of what we all want our daughters to be when they grow up. Feature by Christopher Karne Frost
This past summer we had the opportunity to spend time with Larisa Bryski; mother, musician and molder of young minds. Bryski’s creative energies are always being put to test with shows and writing new songs for her band and their fourth new album due out in 2013.
And then there is the time she invests with the Stairway to Stardom project, founded via Skip’s Music in Sacramento, CA, a staple of the regional music scene for decades, giving young, aspiring musicians a look into the real workings of the music industry and mentorship in songwriting and performing that you just can’t buy.
We first caught up with Larisa as a performer at Thunder Valley Casino in Northern California where she electrified the house in opening up for Berlin, setting the audience to fire with her rapt lyrical range and presence. Having shared bills with Berlin, Bad Company, Peter Frampton, Journey, The Motels and Tommy Castro, to name but a few, Larisa is no stranger to the stage and knows how to rock, but that is not all who she is.
Larisa is by no means either limited or defined as a musician’s artist by rock and roll exclusively, although it is as if she were born to do it. Her voice, recently showcased in a concert called Voices, promoted by DIG Music, a rare, “still-working hard” small label for indie artists, stood next to up-and-coming indie artists such as Parie Woods and Autumn Sky. And while the younger generation’s voices were edgy and clearly standouts themselves, Bryski’s was accomplished and honed to a fine glean that you only get when you’ve been in the game for a while. We could not help thinking why she wasn’t a known brand name along with the best vocalists in the world.
Larisa, as a singer, is bold, powerful, lyrical, and impossible to turn away from. When she sings, drawing you in and making you forget you’re at a concert rather than somewhere in your own head, Larisa speaks to that inner part of you, who is instantly reminded why music lifts the soul.
She debuted as a solo artist in 2000 with her album “The Long Way,” and then in 2003 released something a little more on the wild side with “Violet.” Larisa currently works with Willy Seltzer (guitar/vocals), Tommy Armstrong-Leavitt (guitar), Andrew Houston (bass), and Darrell Hale (drums/vocals), her band, who all take pride in bringing it loud, bringing it strong and laying it down. We’ll keep you posted as to the release of their new album as we are looking forward to rattling some windows with it. You can explore Larisa and the band’s latest at their website.
When we set out to do this feature a year ago, we had hoped it would wrap itself around our larger issue format (a stand-alone 60 pager of cool), but since last summer we have changed our process to publish more content weekly and now features go online, syndicating to more than 50,000 eyes.
Our readers love connecting with people doing extraordinary things with their creative and innovative lives, so Larisa is a natural pick. Larisa also navigates a wild schedule, but she found time to respond to a few questions on our mind. We loved them so much we present them un-cut, un-filtered.
My publisher also wanted to share the following.
“While this article is not about being a woman per se, you can’t help but acknowledge the powerful impact Larisa Bryski has on women and young girls. Someday her own daughter will be the beneficiary of that.
There are people who lead and people who follow. People who never lay down, and always give of themselves because that is what they are made of. When you consider Larisa has written for Broadway, gives tirelessly of her time in countless ways to charity and that supports so many, yet has still found the time to develop her own skills as a writer and performer while making so many other’s musical dreams come true, you then remember she is a wife and a mother, a daughter and sibling, a best friend and leader in her community and industry. She doesn’t prove you can have it all; she proves you can choose what you want to have and go get it.” – Tracy Saville
So, meet Larisa Byrski, our friend and a regional treasure of Sacramento and Northern California, of rock and roll, and of women everywhere.
When did you realize you are an artist and how? Any particular memory or moment from your youth that directly correlates to your musical guise now?
I wrote my first song at age five and performed it a capella at a talent show at my elementary school. I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. Not long after the talent show, I was sitting on the living room floor and my grandma and I were watching “Laverne and Shirley.”
I started singing the theme song at the top of my lungs (using the wrong words) and my grandma called to my mom, “I think Lari (my nickname) can really sing!” I was like, “yes, I can!”
How was it getting started? A rough road? And if so, how have you overcome the obstacles before you?
I lived in a small town. There were no clubs, no radio stations, no record stores, no internet, no MTV—at least not until I was in high school, and if you wanted MTV back then it was expensive to get in the foothills.
I had cousins who lived in Santa Cruz and Modesto and Huntington Beach who’d come to visit, and they’d bring me new “cool” music to listen to. I was rabid for it. I took piano lessons at 8 and the first song I played at a recital was “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor from the Rocky movie. My teacher thought it was an odd choice when all of her other students were doing Debussy and Brahms, but bless her heart, she found that sheet music for me!
I was shy, but I knew I wanted to be a rock musician. Beyond piano lessons, I didn’t know how to start. There weren’t any opportunities. I went to classical music camps in middle school and studied opera technique, musical theatre, jazz, etc. Girls didn’t rock.
But when I got into high school, I met a guitar player named Mike Walter, a bass player named Scott Klann, and a couple of drummers named Chris Ordile and Greg Peterson. We played “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger outside the music building during lunchtime. I played the piano and did the high “You’re MOTORIN’…” chorus part.
The Driver’s Ed teacher, who was in a popular local band called “Synergy” at the time, heard me and came out of his classroom to listen. He asked if I wanted to audition for his band. I did, and ended up playing in dive bars and at weddings and crab feeds for the next four years in that band as my weekend job. I was fourteen. The other guys were in their late 20s and 30s.
But people weren’t always cool to me back then. I was young and naïve and my mom wasn’t always supportive of me being in the band because I was so young.
I learned a lot about how to be tough when drunken guys would spill beer on me and try to hit on me. It was brutal sometimes, but somehow I felt at home in that band.
And when I left Synergy to go to college at Sac State, I felt like I was breaking up with the love of my life. I never thought I’d find another band again. When I moved to Sacramento, there were NO girls fronting bands. It was really hard to find a new project. It took me a very long time to get my foot in the door. Nobody knew who I was or cared.
I was still young and still a girl, and Sacramento was (and still is) a predominantly male-driven music scene. I think I’ve survived here for so long because I refused to give up, and I always tried to treat people with respect. Nobody wants to work with or help a new artist who acts like an asshole. Persistence and a good attitude will get you in line with your goal…eventually.
Where do you find your greatest inspiration for your lyrics? And when stuck, how do you overcome?
Like most, lyrics do come from my own personal experiences, but I think my favorite lyrics come from observing the experiences of those around me. When I don’t know what to do for a friend who needs help or advice, I’ll channel that energy into a song. I’m very empathetic, and I feel things deeply, but I don’t always know how to express those feelings outwardly.
When I write a song, I can say whatever I want to say, however I want to say it. Sometimes it’s obvious what the song is about, and sometimes it’s subtler. I wrote a song called, “Stand and Breathe” about a good friend who was drugged and date raped. I felt so much pain for her, but I didn’t know what to do to help.
So I wrote that song, and although you can tell it’s about someone’s pain, there are no specific references to the incident with my friend. And in general, it’s more of a song about empowerment. It’s relatable to many people on that level, I think. I hope, anyway.
When I’m stuck, I start writing stream of consciousness stuff. First thing in the morning, I start writing or typing whatever comes to mind. Then I put it away and don’t l
ook at it for a while. Then I come back to it and use it for lyrics, or else I go, “whoa…what was I dreaming about when I woke up and wrote that?”
How does being a mom compare with being an artist? Will your child follow in your steps?
You’re the first person to ever ask me about the mom thing. Being a mom is making me a better artist, although I have less time to actually create, if that makes sense. I see things differently than I did before. The world is more interesting, colorful, scary, stimulating… My instincts are sharper.
Some things that I used to think were really important before my daughter came along now seem superficial and trivial. I sacrifice going to shows and buying rock and roll boots in order to sit at the table with her and cover everything in glitter. She inspires me in a way that I’ve never been inspired before.
Someday soon, when she’s a little older and more self-sufficient, I’ll probably unleash a HUGE body of work because of all the changes that have come in my life since she was born.
I don’t know if she’ll follow in our footsteps. Most people know that I’m married to Willy Seltzer, who is an amazing singer and musician in his own right. So I suppose she has music in her genes. She loves to dance and sing, but she’s three. So who knows? She’ll find her own path. We’ll let her figure that out.
Do you go into a song or record with a plan and process? If so, what is it?
When recording? Yes. When I’m producing? Absolutely. I’m a very organized person, and I don’t like to waste anyone’s time. When we go into the studio to record something new, the song is usually well rehearsed and most of the pieces are in place.
If it’s my own song and I’m singing lead, the vocals are the last thing that I tackle before the mix and they usually take a while before I’m happy. I’m hard on myself in that way.
I don’t claim to be an amazing natural singer so I have to rely on my technique and my stamina for a good vocal performance.
If I’m producing a recording for someone else, I’m a taskmaster, and a timeline junkie. I work by schedules and timelines as much as possible, especially when other people are involved in the success of the final product.
Greatest advice ever given you? What advice would you offer the aspiring musician?
On motherhood: “Being a mom is the hardest job you’ll ever love.” – Terri Nunn
On being an artist: “Music is art, Larisa. You can’t help but create it. It’s what we do.” – Gale Hart
On being a good human: “Be good.” – E.T. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
I do think it’s important to be good to yourself and others, to be honest and authentic, and to really think about the legacy that you leave on this earth after you’re gone. I think about that every single day. I really do.
What are your 3 proudest achievements and why?
1) My daughter. I never thought I’d have a child. She is an amazing little human.
2) The fact that I’m able to support myself, just barely, as a musician and music teacher. In this day and age, that’s something!
3) Leaving a small town and never going back, even though I often want to! I love my hometown. I love the people there, the vibe, and the scenery. But, it’s no place for a working musician.
Greatest let down?
Never really getting to know my father or his family, who are Mexican-American, and some of them are incredibly talented musicians–Mariachi, to be specific.
I feel like if I’d known them earlier in my life that their influence might have helped shape the musician that I am today. That’s a whole other interview, though.
How did Stairway to Stardom come to be, is it your baby or a collaboration of minds? And where do you aim to take it? (Would like to work a good deal of this project of yours into the article)
Skip’s Music’s Stairway to Stardom is an award-winning music education program that was created by key people at Skip’s Music back in the ‘80s. It’s Skip Maggiora’s baby, not mine. I became involved with the program as a coach in the early ‘90s, and then became the Program Director in 2005, when Tommy Armstrong-Leavitt (my good friend, teaching colleague, and guitarist in my band), stepped down after 8 years running it. (My page at Skip’s). I love the program.
I love seeing young kids who have little or no musical outlet for their talent come out of their bedrooms and garages to participate in Stairway every summer. We put them in bands and teach them how to work together, write songs, and become a band over the course of only 8 weeks. It’s crazy! The coaches, the families, the studio sponsors, the volunteers…it takes an enormous team of passionate, nutty, patient, creative people to make Stairway happen.
And when the kids all take the stage at the Crest Theatre in late August, we all get to sit back and marvel at how amazing they are. And they get to be rock stars. It’s awesome. I’m just the chick with the clipboard and iPhone who gets no sleep for 8 weeks.
What is next for Larisa Bryski? New album? New project?
Yes. There has been a new album in the works for a long time. I’m going to finish the damn thing this year if it kills me. I’m also interested in collaborating with new players. I have a few people in mind. And some solo shows.
And I want to find some new talent to help cultivate and share with the world. And I want to get my Master’s degree. And, and, and… But mostly I just want to take my daughter to the snow this winter.
Finally, how would you identify yourself? Both as human being and artist.
I’m a mommy and a musician. In that order. I could elaborate, but really, it all boils down to that.
Now That’s what we call rock and roll.
For more features by Chris Frost, you might also like: