Artist Spotlight: Rachika Nayar

    In her music, Brooklyn-based composer and producer Rachika Nayar oscillates between the extremities of emotion as much as she’s capable exploring the vast, abstracted space that’s in between. Her debut album, Our Hands Against the Dusk, was a haunting meditation that showcased her ability to use the guitar in ways that could be warm, playful, ghostly and enveloping, imagining beyond the expressive potential that’s normally assigned to the instrument. Even when she pulled back the curtain on its companion EP, fragments, the effect was revealing but still otherworldly, suggesting more about the range of influences permeating it rather than any concrete identity. Today, Nayar has released her sophomore full-length, Heaven Come Crashing, which leaps all the way to the other end of the spectrum, approaching something revelatory and transcendent by merging yearning guitar, sweeping ambience, and dancefloor euphoria in a way that’s almost theatrical. Even at their most ecstatic, like the Maria BC-featuring title track, the songs bend and transform with a visceral fluidity: no amount of burning light can exist without darkness. The thrill lies not in the explosion itself, necessarily, but in sifting through the debris.

    We caught up with Rachika Nayar for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the role of fantasy and desire in her music, collaborating with Maria BC, the future direction of her sound, and more.

    Because your music pulls from so many different sonic worlds, I’m curious how your relationship to music emerged and has evolved over the years. When you were first drawn to it, did you form different kinds of attachments depending on the genre, or did it all have a similar effect on you regardless of any stylistic distinctions?

    It’s hard to synthesize because it’s such a fundamental fabric of my life ever since I was a little kid. But I do feel like ever since I was like in middle school or so, I started exploring a bunch of different genres online, because there was never really much of a physical musical community in the place where I grew up. So it was mostly through URL explorations, especially with one of my best friends at that time and my musical partner growing up, who’s still a good friend of mine. We’d get into a new genre every few months and torrent like a million albums with whatever were the most foundational releases in that style. We listened to it together and tried to learn how to make drum n’ bass break beats on Ableton, or we had a phase of being into jazz fusion and Pat Metheny and stuff in middle school when we were first learning guitar and bass. I feel like every genre opens up a different part of my emotional terrain to explore. When you have different language for it, you recontextualize your own emotional relationship to self through it.

    I was thinking of it in relation to the idea of melodrama, which you’ve discussed around the new album and that’s maybe associated more with certain genres. You’ve said that you’re both attracted and hesitant around that kind of expression, partly because it involves “taking massive emotions at face value.” What made you more comfortable, or compelled, to embrace those emotions going into Heaven Come Crashing?

    I feel like at some point I developed some deep suspicion of my own baseline desires or feelings, especially if that comes out in the realm of something like fantasy, which has always been a place of refuge for me and growing up. I feel like at a certain point, you come to reckon with the ways that so many of the things you feel aren’t aligned with the things that you believe and the things you think and have to learn how to negotiate that distance. And obviously, there’s so many political things that come up within desire. I think that the album, for me at least, felt in tandem with learning to approach and to see that part of me as shadow self; something to have conversations with and something to learn from, but not something to shut down or dismiss within me. It feels less like something dangerous or frightening; it feels like another self to dialogue with.

    Speaking of desire and fantasy, how did you come across the Roland Barthes quote that you’ve included in the album’s Bandcamp description? Were you already thinking about these ideas, and how did you relate it to your experience and your music?

    I’m not sure how I came upon that book originally, but it’s this really beautiful series of lectures by Barthes that are just a series of discontinuous fragments that never amount to a cohesive argument or whole. They’re all a bunch of suggestions that come off of different words and ideas. The general thematic thrust of the work is that he is fantasizing about a type of social being together or togetherness that marries the freedom of people’s solitary paths with these inherent forms of control that come with any kind of group or collectivity, and also marries that with just the meaning and necessity of being with other people. It’s all pretty abstracted, but it came to me at a certain point where I was grappling with a lot of my own conflicts in relation to other people and collectivity.

    That’s interesting, because this idea of solitude and collectivity relates to something I wanted to bring up later on, but I hadn’t thought about it in the context of this quote.

    That’s how I like it to be whenever I do give a little bit of thematic suggestion along with the album; I never really want anybody to read it in the context of what it means for me or where it came from for me, or even really the context of what it comes from in the text. Just as some kind of connotation to merge with their reading of the music and bring their own meaning to it. But I never really want to put too much interpretive structure around my music. I don’t want to ever attach it to my own life story or personhood, really. So, I’m curious what it means for you.

    The thing I latched on to is this idea that fantasy is “always very brief, just a glimmer of the narrative of desire.” I kind of experienced the album as being this sweepingly euphoric experience, but that made me wonder if those euphoric moments are only a glimmer of what’s possible within the realm of desire.

    Yeah, I like that a lot.

    I wonder if it feels like only a glimpse for you too.

    I mean, I guess that’s what music-making feels like for me, in a way – it’s some kind of decontextualized glimpse of an emotional kernel inside of me. And people see that really brightly lit fragment and bring their own whole world to that moment in their listening. And then, in the encounter between those two little glimmers, something new is metabolized. For me, my own relationship to other people’s music has changed how I relate to myself and other people and my basic ideas of what’s possible. There’s something beautiful in the contracted transience of the thing.

    Still, on this album more than anything you’ve released before, you’re really magnifying that transient thing, exploding it. Was that something that conflicted with the structure that you try to enforce in your compositional process? This time around, was it more challenging to know when a piece starts and when it ends, and to figure out how all its parts connect?

    This time around felt a little easier, actually, just in terms of technical side of it. I feel like a developed a certain set of methods or tools that I liked to use on the first album, and each of those songs was kind of a huge experiment or exploration when I was learning what was possible with how I can process my guitar and what can come out of it. But with this album, I feel like I had more of a sense of paths that I know I can go down, and then I brought new things in there to flesh it out. But whenever I’m writing a song, it always feels like a process of discovery and kind of fumbling around in the dark. But it came together a lot faster than the last album; most of the songs I think I finished in like five months.

    What keeps you grounded when you’re experimenting with or discovering new sounds?

    You know, I wonder that as well. [laughs] I’ve been feeling recently like every time I come to a song or come to songwriting, I have this feeling of like, Wait… How do I make music? What is it that I do to make music again? So often, so many of the songs are written with totally different means. But I guess the thing that’s always been grounding for me is my relationship to my instrument, with guitar, like a motor memory place that I can get lost in when I’m just playing around with loops and reverb and delay and pedals. And then using that core place that I feel grounded in as a jumping off point for the greater part of all my compositional process. But recently, I’ve been wanting to ungroup that because it’s starting to get a little stale for me again. Maybe I’ll even just stop using guitar altogether.

    Tell me a bit about your collaboration with Maria BC. I know you’re friends, but what was it like to cross paths and work together in this way?

    We met last year from having this really deep mutual admiration for each other’s music and a really deep emotional connection to each other’s music. We connected online at some point about it. I’d never really used lyrical vocals in my music before this point, so that was kind of a big transition for me. Like I was saying earlier, I like my music to be suggestive or connotative, I don’t really like to feel like I’m imparting a message or nailing it down into some kind of really clear, contained thematic world. And their lyricism just had this really gorgeously connotative, poetic sensibility to it, but it’s also very vivid and has this brightly lit aspect to it, like we were saying when we’re talking about fantasy. The title track that I wrote for the album just felt like it was yearning for a big sharp turn in my creative process, because it was also the first time that I used heavy percussion or drum beat component. So I kind of took a leap of faith into incorporating lyrical vocals with them.

    We’ve talked a lot about how we have such a similar relationship to the music that meant the most to us growing up with a lot of different particular albums that we were listening to at the same points in our lives and a lot of similar melodic sensibilities, a lot of shared ground in our relationship to solitude or quiet and how it comes up in our musicality. I feel like they can be more of a cynic that faces reality in this really powerful, barefaced, and courageous way, and my music can have a certain naive optimism to it or starry-eyed dreaming. I feel like they kind of come from the same place, though.

    Hearing those vocal tracks and Maria BC’s voice made me question how much this euphoria or fantasy stems from solitude, and that maybe a sense of connectedness is actually integral to it.

    Yeah. I guess that song especially has that burning desire to break away from oneself. I do hear that too.

    For you, how much do the feelings of ecstasy that you’re diving into verge on the spiritual?

    Yeah, I think especially ‘Heaven Come Crashing’ and ‘A Wretched Fate’ really reach toward this certain cathartic peak sense of overflow or boiling over. This sense of complete explosive iteration is something that I have always been reaching at accessing musically, for a long time. And I guess that sense of, not necessarily erasure of self, but erasure of the bounds of yourself is a fundamental part of spiritual experience to me. It’s kind of what I feel in like a rave setting or something, the strobe lights and the fog and everything is kind of annihilated except for this immersion in sound and losing yourself. And when I’m meditating or doing yoga practice, it’s about learning to erase your sense of being some kind of bounded subject or an ego, and learning how you’re caught up in this big web of mutuality and interrelations. You’re not really a separate object. I guess that sense of explosive emotionality sometimes connects in this circuitous way to spirituality for me.

    This continuous reaching is something I definitely associate with your music. I’m curious how much further you feel like you can stretch this maximalist approach that you’ve taken with this album. Now that it’s about to be released, do you feel an urge to kind of retreat from that a little bit, to reach further, or to try something completely new? 

    I feel like it’s definitely the former. I feel like I’ve thought about that a lot actually, with where I want to go musically, because I do feel like there’s a certain apex place that I’ve always been searching for that I feel like I’ve hit upon in a way that I feel really resonant with this album. And now I do want to reorient my direction, and I think the next album is going to be very minimalist, actually, dark and meditative and a lot more cyclical. The songs I’ve been working on for it are very different. I do feel like I swing between poles a lot, both in how I think about the world and how I create and express myself creatively.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Rachika Nayar’s Heaven Come Crashing is out now via NNA Tapes.

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