Badass bassist, and not to mention total sweetheart, Karina Rykman might be on the younger side compared to her peers, but at age 24 she’s already built herself one extensive resume. Originally influenced by 70’s rock bands, Rykman has since expanded and diversified her palette, and has made quite the name for herself in the jam scene, impressing fans and players alike. Following her teenage days in punk bands and a three year touring stint in eclectic rock band Sound of Urchin, she got one of her bigger breaks at age 22 when Dave Dreiwitz of Ween tapped her to fill in for him in Marco Benevento’s band, as Ween reunited with a heavy touring schedule in 2016. Since then, as they say, the rest is history.
Rykman’s talent and on-stage energy has granted her the opportunity to play along side some notable musicans including John Medeski, Billy Martin, Nels Cline, Joe Russo, Dave Dreiwitz, Scott Metzger, Eric Krasno, Jackie Greene, Grahame Lesh, Aron Magner, Robert Randolph, and more. She’s been able to play some of the country’s most famous venues, and even gave us a little secret insight into some backstage action (think: pool parties and Marco’s record collection).
Rykman has even begun to head her own stage with the Karina Rykman Experiment, actively booking shows, with their next performance going down at Brooklyn Comes Alive on September 29th. In addition, she will also be hosting the festival’s first ever Jam Room alongside Turkuaz guitarist Craig Brodhead. Karina is super stoked about the event and all it has to offer and shared her sentiments with us!
FW: You’ll be gracing the stage playing with the Karina Rykman Experiment and hosting the Jam Room at this year’s Brooklyn Comes Alive (September 29th) – how does the excitement differ between those two performances?
KR: I’m wildly excited for both! My Experiment will be joined by Robert Walter and Dave Harrington, so for that I basically know that the two extra ingredients are those two brilliant fellas, and we take it from there and we create together. My core band (Adam November and Chris Corsico, respectively) stay the same. So while the whole performance will be 100% improvised, it feels ever so slightly more contained, if you will, than the Jam Room portion. As for the Jam Room, my pal Craig Brodhead and I are curating the evening, or at least curating the jumping off point, and I expect things to get wild and loose, with musicians jumping in and out and celebrating the vibe of BCA – a beautiful collision of spectacular musicians playing late night in Brooklyn after a day of musical exploration? Doesn’t get much better than that. Not to me, at least!
FW: What or who are you most excited for at this year’s festival?
KR: I can’t wait to run around when I’m not on stage and catch as much music as I can! I’m really looking forward to the Henry, Glaspie, Metzger & MonoNeon set, to name one specific performance, but honestly, I feel like something is going to take me by surprise just by virtue of there being so many performances and so many unique combinations.
FW: Why do you think BCA is a great event for the neighborhood?
KR: Williamsburg, Brooklyn is loaded with some spectacular clubs within walking distance from one another, and honestly, I think it’s wild that there aren’t more promoters trying to do things of this sort, and present a whole day or a whole weekend of shows in conjunction with one ticket, under multiple roofs. Of course, it’s a serious endeavor, and you’ve got to hand it to the Live For Live Music team for making this happen. I’m often caught wandering from one venue to another – I remember most recently, this past spring, I went from Rough Trade seeing Scott Metzger’s Wolf!, to Brooklyn Bowl for the Soul Rebels, to Music Hall Of Williamsburg for Theo Katzman. And I managed to see a good bit of all three shows, all in one evening. It’s incredible what we have here in NYC in terms of sheer volume, and I’m so glad Brooklyn Comes Alive is making use of the proximity and the population to put such a cool event together.
FW: What do you think an event like this, with performances being so improvised and unique, does for artists?
KR: An event like this provides a platform for musicians to really expand and experiment in front of audiences who are captive and hungry for it. To be given the opportunity and encouragement from the event organizers to put a unique lineup together helps us as musicians step outside our musical comfort zones…which is when the real good stuff happens, I find.
Off stage you can find Karina working on her passion project as Rocks Off Cruises General Manger, booking shows and responding to emails in between gigs, or indulging in some fresh raw bar with friends around the city.
Just from a short interview, we can tell how truly awesome she is, boasting a positive attitude, an eagerness to learn, and hardworking spirit. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing her play, then you probably already know all about her killer bass playing and captivating stage presence. We know that this is only the beginning and we can’t wait to see where it all takes her!
FW: So I would love to hear about the road that got you to where you are today. I know Dave Dreiwitz played a huge role in introducing you to Marco [Benevento], but if you could just elaborate on that and also talk to the pivotal moment in which you really became apart of the band?
KR: Sure thing! Let’s take it back to 2016. Driewitz had been touring the past four years with Marco when Ween was on hiatus. Ween came back in 2016, and they were coming back hard. So when that all came to light, he couldn’t really keep up with Marco’s touring schedule. Marco and I were casual friends, we’d hung out at shows but he had never seen me play before. Dreiwitz said to Marco ‘There’s only one person I want to fill in for me and it’s Karina’ And in an act of blind faith Marco said ‘Oh yeah, I love Karina, let’s give her a shot!’ And so I basically had maybe a month and a half to learn about 40 songs, and I just dove in. Basically every second of the day that I could be listening to Marco Benevento music, I was. Whenever I would get home I was shedding, practicing all the time. Dreiwitz was kind enough to once in a while come over and show me some things and answer my questions, and he was just so kind and believed in me so much. We played all these songs together, all in preparation for one 3 night run. The shows were in Boston, Kingston, NY, and Brooklyn, which coincided with Ween’s three shows at Terminal 5 in New York, which is why Dave couldn’t do them in the first place. We had one rehearsal with literally a month between that and the gigs, and that was the first time I played with Marco.
FW: What was Marco’s reaction after that rehearsal?
KW: He was stoked! He was just like, ‘Oh wow you nailed it, you nailed it!’ I took it beyond seriously; I was not going to leave anything up to chance. Before coming into that rehearsal, I buttoned up every lose end. I really wanted to come into it and be super pro about it, and I guess I did and it all worked out!
So that was all they originally approached me for, but then before I knew it the month after there was another three night run. And then there were some shows with Guster, and then there were some shows with the Claypool Lennon Delirium. And so in late August/early September 2016, it was right before those shows that Dave said to me ‘Karina this is your gig now, I just can’t keep up being in Ween and JRAD and in Marco’s band. Everyone loves you you’re killing it, and you’ve made me proud.’ And I accepted this position with so much gratitude, and I’m so thrilled with where it’s all taken me these two years. It’s been an absolute whirlwind.
FW: So what’s it like to play with Marco and how would you describe the energy on stage?
KR: I literally couldn’t even fabricate a better band vibe. I’ve never experienced anything like the way me, Marco, Andy [Borger], and our crew – our LD Jeff Volckhausen, and our tour manager/front of house Julian Booker…the way the five of us roll, we just laugh our way around the country…and once to Europe as well. It’s just unbelievable to play music with Marco and Andy. Marco is a fearless musician, over the top talented, completely ridiculous, and I learn from him and Andy every night we’re on stage together. I’m just always trying to learn something, always trying to pick something up. Even the smallest things, from the music he’ll play when we’re in the car going somewhere. I’ll turn him on to something and he’ll turn me on to something and we’re just total music nerds, just doing it all one gig at a time and it’s just a whirlwind of growth for me.
And it’s also cool because I’m 24, and they’re all 40 basically so they have almost twenty years on me in terms of life experience too, and of course playing and gigging. It’s just awesome for me to be surrounded by people who have this extra experience, and I’m all ears. I don’t claim to know anything, because I don’t. I’m just thrilled to be a part of this crazy, traveling circus of fellas that I love.
FW: That’s awesome. Super happy to hear how positive your experience has been with that. I would love to know who were some of your earliest influences and has that changed? And how does the music you listen to reflect in the music that you play?
KR: Good question! When I first picked up guitar and bass when I was 13, I was playing mainly straight rock and roll. I was obsessed with Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, The James Gang, Blind Faith, Humble Pie, Led Zeppelin, Cream. I was a 70’s rock girl. And then I saw Phish for the first time in 2009 which definitely changed things for me.
FW: As it does for many people! What show was that?
KR: It was the third night of the Jones Beach run in 2009 (06/05/09). I very quickly went from not knowing a thing about Phish, to, with that being the summer between 9th and 10th grade, by 10th grade I don’t think I listened to much other than Phish (laughs). I mean of course I did, but I got very deep very quickly. And while that sounds very black and white, it’s not at all. My ears are so open to everything. I love hip hop, jazz, funk, heavy metal, etc. I really run the gamut. And I’m weird, like, I’ll go from listening to Metallica, to listening to solo acoustic Jeff Tweedy, to listening to Pheobe Bridgers, to Medeski Martin & Wood, to Chet Atkins, to Ween, etc. I just like to soak it all up. I’m an eclectic, give no fucks type.
FW: Of course! You gotta listen to what you like and what you find inspiring!
KR: Totally! That’s carried on these days, and I’m always listening. If there’s a song that comes on in a restaurant that I like, I’ll shazam it and add it to a playlist (musicians- they’re just like us!) I’m just trying to learn all the time and just amass this body of musical knowledge that serves me on a day to day basis, for every reason. And Marco’s very open too, all the guys in the band are. I’ll put on some like weird, obscure early 90’s hip hop, and he’ll be like ‘What is this?!’ And then Marco will throw on some crazy 9 minute funk instrumental and I’ll be like ‘What is this!? It’s awesome to be in Marco Benevento’s band now and play a lot of improvisational music but also like three minute funk/rock/pop songs.
I played in a bunch of heavy metal bands when I was a kid. I toured in a band called the Sound of Urchin for three years when I was 18-21, and that was also on the heavier side but also rather eclectic. I played in a Thrash Metal band called ShitKill…. no lie. My first band ever in eighth grade was called False Arrest and that was a punk band. I love it all, but Marco’s music is particularly fun to play and he just dances all over the bass lines. It’s just so fun.
FW: It’s equally as fun to watch! Do you have any plans to release any solo albums or plans to move forward with the Karina Rykman Experiment?
KR: Yeah! Well it’s actually been a really interesting project that’s just kind of developed organically. I started doing that around June of last year with two guys, Adam November and Chris Corsico, who are the guitar player and the drummer in the trio. They’re two of my friends from NYU who are so shockingly talented, just incredible musicians, and I kind of enlisted them to jam with me in preparation for a gig I had last summer. It was an improv gig with John Medeski, Billy Martin, Marco, and Nels Cline … So I was like ‘wow that’s a bunch of heavy hitters right there, I’m gonna try and improvise as often as I can.’ I called up my two pals from NYU and they were like yeah let’s jam!
And then somewhere along the line of practicing for the other gig, I was like ‘Wow, you know, this is really cool’ and I was having a great time playing with them. So that brings me to present day where we’ve now played a few gigs, we’ve played Brooklyn Bowl, we’ve played Nublu, and most recently we just did this amazing gig at The Bell House with special guests Nels Cline and Skerik. And I have a thought to mix and master that properly and release that as a record, because I really do think the recording came out very nicely and it holds up. I’ve listened back to it a few times and I think it was so inspired, somehow. Everyone was very present to create simultaneously. So that’s been a great little outlet for me, and our next gig is Brooklyn Comes Alive with special guests Dave Harrington and Robert Walter. So that’ll be awesome and again that’s completely 100% improvised, off the cuff; it keeps things interesting!
FW: Right. So kind of going off all of that, how does it feel to be a girl in such a male led jam industry and what have some of your experiences been on the road pertaining to that both good and bad?
KR: I mean…it’s interesting. I of course have these experiences of loading into a club and someone working there will be like, ‘Oh the merch table is over there..’ And I try to just be super nice about it and just be like, ‘Yeah I don’t deal with the merch but thanks!’ And then I’ll get on stage and play, and after the gig whoever said that will be like, ‘Oh I’m so sorry!’ It’s whatever.
In Marco’s band, theres nothing that makes anything weird for a second. Of course for me I’m like yeah I’m not only surrounded by dudes but dudes that are much older, so that’s hilarious and definitely not the norm. But a lot of women will come up to me after the gigs and say ‘wow thank you for being a feminist emblem, and being a strong woman doing what you want to do and living out what you want to be.’ And I’m super humbled by that; I’ve always done what I wanted to do, and it has always somehow worked out for me. I haven’t gotten much grief for being a woman in the “scene,” and I do recognize that it is a male dominated world but I say man, woman, whatever you are, just do what you want do and keep your head up. It has all been good to me so far, and I’m so appreciative that women say things like that. And I never even really think about it, so when they do come up and thank me I’m just like ‘What?! Oh! Right! Thank you!’ I’m just playing music and having fun!’
FW: Right wow that’s awesome to be considered such an strong inspiration! So switching subjects a little, are you still involved with the Rocks Off cruises?
KR: I am! I’ve been working for Rocks Off since I was 18, since the summer between high school and NYU. It predates Marco, it predates everything. Jake Szufnarowski who’s my boss and my dear friend for 6 years now, is the greatest person and he lets me tour when I tour, and I work from the road when I need to. I’m answering emails and I’m picking up my phone. It’s really a nice thing for me when I get off the road to still have my job and it keeps me grounded in many ways. I really enjoy the work and I enjoy the hustle of it. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a manager or an agent or whatever and the guys in the band will be like ‘what are you doing?!’ and I’ll be like ‘I’m working over here!’ It’s funny. I’ve been doing it for what feels like a long time and it’s still a definite strong source of joy in my life. It’s hard to have a full time job and be a touring musician, but I’m allowed to work from wherever I am, and I thank Jake for that immensely.
FW: Working from wherever is totally key! That’s awesome. Moving on, what are some of your favorite venues to play?
KR: Oh so many! I’ve been really lucky to play some incredible rooms. Here in New York, Brooklyn Bowl is definitely towards top of the list. Bowery Ballroom, Irving Plaza, Music Hall of Williamsburg…those are my tops. I have yet to play Brooklyn Steel but I would really love to!
FW: Hopefully that should be coming up!
KR: Yeah I hope so! I love seeing shows in that room. And if we expand this to the country, I have a memory about a year ago almost to the day, Marco opened up for Dispatch and Guster on a five day run and we played Merriweather Post Pavilion. That was something else. It’s incredible. We had such a great hang there – they completely redid the backstage…there’s a pool, a massage room, it was like being at Club Med all day! And Marco tours with a road case that has a record player and all these records ad 45s. So after the gig was over, we brought the record player out to the pool area and we all were just hanging out, us Dispatch and Guster, swimming, causing a ruckus, blasting LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver on vinyl in the pool after playing Merriweather Post. It was pretty surreal.
FW: That sounds kinda fun!
KR: Yep! And you know what else I love? I love The Independent in San Francisco. That’s one of my favorite rooms and I hope to play there again soon with Marco. And I think we’ll cap it there! Or actually.. the Saturn in Birmingham, Alabama is an amazing room. They’ve tricked out the backstage where it’s just like a hotel! Bands stay there and stuff. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a super spectacular club. And Birmingham knows how to party!
FW: Wow I’ll keep that in mind for future trips! So cool. So when were you most star struck meeting a musician?
KR: Wow, you know, I’m usually pretty cool but I do remember when we did these two gigs opening up for the Claypool Lennon Delirium back in September of 2016 and as a bass player I’m huge fan of Les Claypool. I’ve been seeing Primus for a long time. When I was in 10th grade I once waited outside the Roseland Ballroom for like 8 hours to be front row at Primus, and then took my SAT’s the next morning. I kinda live and die for Primus; I love Les and have been awestricken by his bass playing for a long time. So we’re all hanging out in our green room before the show at the Fillmore in Philly, and I should have known something like this was going to happen, but Les just swings open the door and is like ‘What’s up Marco how’s it going?!’ Super nice and friendly. And I definitely had a moment where I was like ‘Wow, Les Claypool is literally here, and were gonna play before him, and my pedal board is right next to his monstrous rig, and I have to play bass before Les Claypool, and he’s here right now hanging out?! Holy shit!’ So that was a big one for me for sure.
Also…I was in Philly last week for Radiohead, and I was at the backstage hang after the gig on the second night, and allegedly Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood very infrequently come out to hang afterwards. But last week, the last night of the tour, I’m hanging out with some friends and Thom Yorke comes out and is sitting literally one table over from us, in arms reach. I didn’t say anything, but being in his presence really threw me for a loop. That was a wild one. And Jonny Greenwood was running around too. And Lars Ulrich, dummer of Metallica, was there, and there was a moment where I look over and Thom, Jonny Greenwood, and Lars are all chatting and I’m just wondering if this is real. And unless I was introduced I would never go up to him, but that was definitely the most recent example where I was just like, huh, this is really something.
FW: Wow thats so freaking cool. Okay so one more question that as a foodie I have to ask, what’s your favorite food to eat in the city?
KR: I have a seafood tower addiction! Raw bar is all I want all the time. It’s a thing. I live and die for seafood!
FW: What’s your favorite seafood spot?!
KR: There’s so many, but the seafood tower at Maison Premiere in Williamsburg is definitely one of the best! And Blue Ribbon Brasserie is open till 4am so there have been many late night oyster consumptions over there!
FW: That’s great to know! Now I want oysters. Anyways, thank you so much for doing this I really appreciate it!
KR: Of course, thank you!