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A Classical Take on Bold Rock: Skye Carrasco, June 17 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 13:36

Skye Carrasco

For her forthcoming debut album, violinist, songwriter, and singer Skye Carrasco initially thought big. “I had envisioned all these different instruments – piano, trumpet, trombone, string bass, maybe even some accordion,” she said in a phone interview promoting her June 17 Rozz-Tox show.

“It ended up being much simpler that I had originally imagined,” she said. “As I recorded the songs – the vocals and the violin parts – ... and really listened to them a lot, ... we decided that perhaps we should start with some drums and electric bass.”

That’s where it started, and that’s where it ended. The first half of the album – which the Iowa City resident hopes to release this fall – is so lightly adorned that it might escape listeners’ notice until the relative cacophony of “Empty Buckets.” That track signals a distinct change in tone, from elegantly lyrical to abrasive and often discordant.

That shift is certainly assisted by the drums and bass – both in what those instruments bring and in the absence of the orchestral accoutrements that were never added – but Carrasco’s strident violin and vocals lead the charge. “They don’t cover me up at all,” she said of her collaborators, brothers Brad and Cole Highnam. “The parts that they play ... accentuate moments that I can’t necessarily accentuate as well when I’m playing by myself.”

I prefer the articulate playing on the album’s first four songs – especially the plucking of “The Moon & You” contrasted with the track’s tense violin melody – but the rock aggression of the record’s second half is striking and forceful. The album is most successful for me when it finds a comfortable midpoint between those two extremes, as on “Eleanor” and “Grace.”

Even with a proper band, Carrasco is undoubtedly the main attraction, and she admitted that being the center of attention is sometimes scary. “Every time I perform a song I try to approach it as if I’m getting to know the song again for the first time,” she said. “I try and focus on the importance of each note, and the subtlety and the different ways to say and sing words. And I find that when I focus on the actual delivery of the art, I’m much less nervous in the moment. That, and a shot of whiskey before I play.”

As a woman singing and using a classical instrument in the service of original material, Carrasco draws obvious comparisons to harpist Joanna Newsom. But the two are very different; while Newsom’s work is so baroque and fey that it seems to have arrived from another planet, Carrasco’s music is far less precious – concrete and urgent instead of otherworldly, and clearly drawn from classical training. And in her vocal phrasing, Carrasco is under the admitted influence of Regina Spektor.

Yet despite her album’s modernity and boldness, Carrasco hasn’t abandoned the classical. Before we talked, she said, she had been practicing Bach: “Playing the repertoire keeps my technique at high levels so playing the music that I write and perform is just easier, because my fingers are in shape. It’s kind of like an athlete working out.”

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in violin performance, Carrasco went to Portland, Oregon, where she played in a symphony and taught. But fierce competition among musicians for jobs depressed wages, and after a year – in August 2009 – Carrasco returned to Iowa City. “I couldn’t make ends meet in that kind of environment,” she said.

When she returned to Iowa, she began focusing on her own songs. She doesn’t rule out returning to classical music professionally, but that will need to wait. “I try not to write anything off anymore,” she said. But “I really enjoy what I’m doing now.”

Skye Carrasco will perform on Friday, June 17, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue in Rock Island). The show begins at 8 p.m. and also includes Alex Body, Centaur Noir, and Low/Lives. Cover is $5.

For more information on Carrasco, visit A Daytrotter session with Skursula (her old band) can be found here.

For a 2010 feature article on Centaur Noir, click here.

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