K Á R Y Y N is just waking up over 9,000 kilometers away. It’s nearing the end of my work day in Berlin; restless and unsure what to expect, I am relieved when her presence on Skype immediately feels like drinking a kombucha – feel-good and serenely electrifying.
Growing up in Indiana in the early 2000s, K Á R Y Y N has fond memories of spending summers with family and friends in Aleppo. She has since forged a fairly nomadic path inextricably linked with her desire to create things to lift up herself and others, settling in Los Angeles after living in Brooklyn, Berlin, and the woods somewhere in the U.S.
With just three official singles unleashed into the world so far, K Á R Y Y N has already managed to carve out a meticulous yet mysterious presence in experimental pop music seemingly out of nowhere. Her latest track “YAJNA” begins with a rumbling, as if a seismic shift is about to happen. The beat drops and her voice floats in. It’s hard to describe how her music makes me feel, and its intangibility makes me wonder if it’s even a possibility to discuss it in this realm.
Luckily, K Á R Y Y N and I immediately connect over the fact that she used to live in Berlin. She considers it her second home; her sister lives here and it was where her career in music became both possible and inevitable. “Berlin definitely allowed me to blossom,” she explains. “I remember my friends just having these incredible apartments. They were able to make art. I realized, okay, this is a place that’s slow enough and affordable enough that you can have a side job and have a place to live.” She recounts meeting her now-manager at 6am at Watergate, one of the city’s dance music institutions, which to anyone who lives here or has visited is quintessential Berlin happenstance.
So often, we read about musicians after they’ve dropped a new and exciting track, and it’s as though they’ve conjured their art out of nowhere, suddenly materializing into the newest, genius tastemaker. I noticed her name popping up everywhere earlier this year, mostly in conjunction with Björk. The Icelandic queen of everything weird and wonderful listed K Á R Y Y N as one of her inspirations in an interview with The Guardian back in September, as she was captivated by an art-opera called “Of Light,” for which K Á R Y Y N composed original music. Frustrated by the lack of in-depth context surrounding the electronic explorer’s journey so far, I was eager to find out what happened before she arrived to Berlin in her twenties.
Music has always been a part of K Á R Y Y N’s life. Her recording career began at age 7 when she’d tape record herself practicing piano, some takes were perfect and others with intentional mistakes, which she’d later replay to trick her mother into thinking she was rehearsing. Instead of paying much attention to the bass and treble clef, she took delight in copying her piano teacher, learning how to listen and improvise. She moved on to recording anything and everything that caught her ear. Music became her refuge as a teenager, as she felt alienated from her peers due to her distinct upbringing. Inside the walls of her childhood home in Indiana was basically Armenia, outside were all-American corn fields, and her summers were spent in Syria, as depicted in her “ALEPPO” video.
In another video “PURGATORY,” K Á R Y Y N and her family are singing in their living room. Oral music is a common Armenian tradition – impromptu call and response songs would be sung in the domestic sphere by women and at work in the fields by men. Many of her family members are musicians or involved in some form of performing arts.
“Music sort of became the backdrop. It was a soundtrack,” she explains. “I would always approach music intuitively, it was always like – ‘That feels really good, and now I’ll add that note…Ah, that makes me feel like there’s a light coming into the darkness, the light coming through the leaves of the tree and the shady part of the woods.’ It was always always like that. It sounds a bit romantic, but it’s the truth.”
She’s been quietly tinkering away with her own music projects ever since she became obsessed with creating as a teenager. At first, she approached music as a way of communicating what she was experiencing and feeling, and her observation of others. At a certain point, she felt she needed to take a step back from it all:
“I decided that it was really important for me to take the time to cultivate myself, because I realized that I can only write about what I know. I sort of plateaued with what I knew. I was really kind of separated as an artist. It was like, yeah, I’m making work, but I’m just displaying what I feel. What about the part where you find out about what you feel?”
Taking the focus off of her own music, she spent seven years or so collaborating on operas and film soundtracks. As a result, she likens her songwriting to a kind of visual sound design – “I see a lot of textures, colors and shapes. I think about putting those together like a collage that creates a harmonious shape.” We are just starting to become acquainted with K Á R Y Y N, but K Á R Y Y N is fully aware of herself and what she’s trying to achieve, knowing that the songs she needs to write are within her as long as she honors what she calls the “seed of my higher self.” “Purgatory is about trusting yourself, and it’s about having the courage to sort of sit in this place where you’re unsure,” she tells me of her process.
Words like “otherworldly” and “ethereal” get tossed around a lot in music journalism, especially when referring to weird pop music made by femmes. Yes, her voice oscillates between angelic and gently robust, but her music isn’t otherworldly, per se. It firmly belongs in it’s own world. If you are willing, you’ll get there.
While exploring K Á R Y Y N’s sonic realm, I felt a tension between sounds that were leading me inside myself and others that were taking me inside my computer. Thinking about her song “BINARY” and remembering her reference a book uniting ideas about spirituality and quantum mechanics (Matthieu Ricard’s The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet, if you’re curious), I ask her how she feels about her relationship to technology.
“My computer is this amazing tool that is allowing me to actually go deeper into being able to express these ideas. That’s what’s so beautiful, and actually I think it’s bringing us closer and closer together. I think computer science or just science in general, and the science of reality, is bringing us closer to our higher selves,” she replied. Although many of us are inclined to believe our addiction to the internet is causing more harm than good, K Á R Y Y N just sees technology as another way different parts of our universe are naturally interdependent.
Switching gears back to the material world, I was curious to see if she’d given any thought to what she might wear onstage for her upcoming festival gigs. We discuss Japanese Buddhist and Star Wars-inspired looks, a young Armenian designer named Lauren Manoogian that makes gorgeous slouchy and sculptural garb and traditional Syrian accoutrements, like the tribal Syrian wedding headpiece she wears in her press photo.
“I don’t want to try. I just want to be,” she lets out, abandoning the costume cognitive dissonance. An assertion that may at first resonate as a New Agey platitude, even in a state of playful defeat she still manages to express something much deeper than the sounds she produces.
Can’t get enough interviews? Check out our recent Q&A with London Grammar right here as they chat up their sophomore album ‘Truth is a Beautiful Thing.’
- Photography: Derek Hutchison