Before we start the Year of the Vark, let’s hear from Victoria Park
When From The Intercom first met Pictoria Vark (real name Victoria Park), we found her humbly teaching herself how to skateboard in her music video for “Radio Silence.” Behind this modest temperament, a budding collection of experiences set a solid footing for Park in the DIY world. Park’s talents on bass led to her opening for acts like Julien Baker and Big Thief as a touring bassist for Squirrel Flower. Her debut EP, Self-Titled, showcased an unfeigned approach to songwriting that endeared all who listened.
Since then, a physical foundation for Park felt rocky as she uprooted life from where she grew up in New Jersey to tour in Paris, then she spent brief moments in Wyoming before settling in Iowa City. Life went further awry as the first waves of a global pandemic almost shut down the world. But despite moving three times amidst all that, Park was establishing an ever growing presence online. Campaigns for New York public office and recurring manifestations for Year of the Vark added internet micro-celebrity to her growing list of trades. At the same time, Park found substantial connections that led her to working at Cleveland indie label Refresh Records and signing with Lenape Haki-nk (aka Philadelphia) DIY stalwart Get Better Records.
Pictoria Vark is set to release her debut album, The Parts I Dread, a reflective work showcasing Park in a malleable, more evolved form. To kick things off, Park has shared the first single from the full-length entitled “Wyoming.” Here, we see Park make sense of conflicting feelings of aimlessness and belonging from moving through multiple cities during her adolescence. The song’s more placid power-pop verses capture Park going through the motions of aloofness then swells into cathartic, resolute choruses.
“As I spent time hopping between Wyoming, Iowa, Paris, and New Jersey, these places that inform where (and what) is home started to bleed together,” Park recalls, in a statement about the song. “I felt like I was missing New Jersey in Wyoming, and missing Wyoming in Iowa. It didn’t make any sense to me — this track is about that feeling.”
I spoke to Park in January about how being chronically online can be good, actually, the creative processes behind The Parts I Dread, and how she’s further manifesting The Year of the Vark for 2022.
How are things with you? It’s getting pretty close to the album announcement and “Wyoming’s” release. Are you excited for that?
I’m definitely excited and a little nervous. We started recording everything for the album almost over a year ago and it’s so weird that it’s like not even announced yet and it’s a few weeks til we announce (at the time of this conversation) but I’m really excited to share it with people. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much for what it will turn into when it’s out, but I’m excited to share more music and finally be able to say that there’s an album coming.
I did a podcast interview and on three separate occasions I mentioned the album and I wasn’t supposed to! I had to redo the question and they were like, “Oh my god.” At least I don’t have to worry about that any more.
So much has happened in the past year for you. Like your signing with Get Better Records, your job with Refresh Records, your tour with Squirrel Flower, all that stuff!
It’s definitely been a wild year! I’m feeling like starting it in one place and then so much was changing with people getting vaccines and tours/shows happening again, and then at the end of the year Omicron [spreading around]. So it’s been an up and down year but I’m really grateful for making the most out of the situation and trying to connect with people online. That’s how I found my job for Refresh and that’s how I got connected with Get Better Records. It’s been super cool to have the internet as a resource and a tool to meet people
Yeah, I’d say the same for myself with making connections through the internet and everything that’s happened from the pandemic. I think it’s safe to say I spend a lot of time on Twitter.
Yeah, me too, I mean we met on Twitter *laughs*
*laughs* Yeah! Meeting you, then coming across all these opportunities have been major highlights from making the most with what we’ve got.
When you were writing The Parts I Dread were you writing it with the mindset of releasing with a label or was it something that has been in the works for a while. Cause like you said, [writing] “I Can’t Bike” started in 2017.
It’s definitely the oldest song on the record. I think it’s been an evolution of these songs I’ve been writing and accumulating for the past few years. I got to a point where I was like “I think I’m ready to record an album” and was focused on making it. I would say sometime last year I thought, “Maybe I could see if a label could be interested in putting it out.” At first I thought there would be a cool tape label that would be interested. Then working with Get Better has been much bigger than anything I could have imagined when I was writing the songs. It’s been super cool and validating to find them and find that community. Everyone there’s just really really nice so it’s cool to put it out on vinyl and have the support to do that. It’s really exciting.
Nice! Yeah, it’s really exciting to hear that you’re doing vinyl too. Is manufacturing generally the same where you have to wait a few months before it gets made?
Yeah, so we submitted the stuff for vinyl back in July for the album to come out in April and it’s probably not even going to be ready by April. It’s probably gonna be May or June. That’s the timeline for vinyl as of this summer. I think it’s only gotten worse since then. But it’s still super cool!
Also, thinking about From the Intercom [and its mission statement], what I’d also really love to do on this release is work with a lot of other Asian Americans. My friend Steven did all the package design, and my friend Meanz Chan took photos, and Koji Shiraki (who works at Get Better Records) also share that experience. So it’s been really cool to fold that into my work and my process even if it’s not marketed outwardly as an “Asian American record” or commodifying that identity, but being able to engage with people who share the same experiences and values.
Was it the same when you were writing/recording the music for the record? How was it like doing that in general?
Writing it was a slow process but one that I think I was figuring out as I went along. “I Can’t Bike” is almost five years old now. So learning how to song-write as the album went on was really exciting and I’m glad to be able to come out of this having written more music and have that as a foundation for anything I write in the future.
Recording was interesting because we did everything remotely and we just had a big email with a Google Drive. We’d upload stems and trade stuff with each other but we checked in every morning as if we were going to a job which was really cool and surprisingly a lot of fun. It was cool to be able to track drums while tracking bass and guitar at the same time. So in some ways it was speeding up the process. I think there were some moments that were hard, but that’s like any recording process. It was definitely still super enjoyable but I miss my band mates a whole lot.
Would you say that you enjoyed the creation process of The Parts I Dread better than the self-titled or do they just feel different?
I think both were definitely fun and I think also different at the same time. A friend used the analogy of– So you know when you have a Pokemon and it starts as one thing but then it evolves into a more advanced Pokemon? He said that when we did self-titled it was like Squirtle and then in The Parts I Dread, you become the one after Squirtle. Is it Wartortle?
Yeah I think it’s Wartortle.
Oh it is Wartortle? Cause I thought that was– yeah I forgot the last one.
I think it’s Blastoise?
Yes, it is Blastoise! Yeah, so it was like self-titled is like Squirlte, then from that experience in making more music, we evolved into being Wartortle. So it was definitely us having a better idea of how to get a good mix and what all these different things do and that being exciting. Whatever we do next we will take from both of those experiences and make something even better that we couldn’t have if we didn’t make it. So I think it’s cool that we have a growth process.
Would you say then that the next album or whatever you write next will be the Blastoise or– I don’t know, because Blastoise is a final evolution, would you have an end goal to strive for?
I don’t know. I think part of it is not knowing what the next thing will look like. Like I’m still writing stuff but I have no concept of what an album or EP or anything I’m doing now will turn into. I’m hoping to keep growing, become a better writer/producer, acquiring more skills and focusing on having fun and enjoying it while I’m doing it.
Is there a common theme with the songs on The Parts I Dread? Or is there a central theme for the album?
Yeah I think there’s a few different themes. I guess it’s about this move from New Jersey to Wyoming that my parents did in the middle of college. Then I was in Paris for a little bit, then also in Iowa, and all these different places where I didn’t feel a founded sense of where home is. That being the surface level issue and there being other stuff underneath that, and me coming to terms with all of those things. There’s some rising action and then descending action. I think it wraps up nicely.
Yeah I really like the ending of “Friends Song” or the general sonic feel of the whole album. There are definitely exciting moments with the guitar solo in “I Can’t Bike” and the fuller band sound in “Wyoming” [as examples], but I also got an introspective, kind of calmed feeling? Would you say that’s accurate?
Yeah, definitely. [“Friends Song” is] one of my favorite songs and how we put it together. There’s a very dreamy feel to it. In the production, as we were thinking about it, the production elements kind of like will mirror what’s going on in the lyrics. So when we talk about going into New York there’s some cityscape noises that start playing. Then we made what we called “The Friend Collage” which is like videos that we had of our friends that we layered into one recording to make it sound like a party of people. Then there’s little roads that my friend Gavin recorded with a mic farther away so you can hear clicking in it to make it sound like a jewelry box or one of those music boxes. So I think all of those things together came to make a peaceful, introspective kind of song.
What would you say the album title means? How does that tie to the themes of your album?
So I guess when people say– or if you think of Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown, it’s like parts being placed, like it’s being in a sense of place or being in different places. In the lyrics it comes from the song “Demarest,” a line where I say “There’s more to you than the parts I dread.” So that refers to more emotional depth and I think the kind of duality of both of those things speaks to the broader two themes of the album, like this physical place idea where you’re in multiple different places, but also these emotional parts as well.
How did you come to a sense of “Oh I’m finished with this album” or what was that point where you felt you had enough material to say that you have an album ready?
I think it was early fall in September of last year. I had gathered a few different songs and started to make a track order for the thing. I was like, “Okay, I think these tell a story in this way.” Then I thought, “I think I need one more song in the middle” so I wrote the one song in the middle and thought “I think that’s it.”
I wanted to draw on different themes and make sure they repeated throughout the album. I was like, “there’s just one piece in the middle that I think will hold it all together,” then I thought, “Yeah I think that’s right.”
When I was listening through the album I noticed the bass held more of the melody lines than what I conventionally think would carry a melody like guitar. With your background in bass is that a heavy influence in how you write your melodies? Do you write songs with bass in mind first?
Yeah, absolutely! I think I wrote all of them– yeah I wrote all the songs on the record on bass instead of guitar or piano. So even if there are parts that I transferred over to guitar or other instruments it’s very bass focused and used it more as a melodic tool forsure.
I remember back when you had that live stream performance with Disposable America, it was just you and your bass and I thought “This works”! I was really surprised and impressed with that.
It’s super fun to play bass solo and sing on top of it. I feel like I sing in a higher register and the bass fills out a lower register. It sounds balanced and there’s a nice separation that wouldn’t happen if I was playing guitar or something like that. It’s also fun cause I feel like there’s some things that I play on bass that would not be super impressive on guitar but because it’s on bass people are like, “Woah! Sick power chords!” So yeah, it’s really cool stuff actually
What are some other goals you have for this year? Things you like to achieve besides the rollout of the album?
I’m definitely hoping to go on tour, especially with the way my last tour got canceled. Getting comfortable driving again after the car accident stuff. Hoping to just write more than I typically do in a year which is approximately two songs a year, so maybe three or four would be great. I guess also outside of my solo project, I hope I can record more bass for people and play bass in other bands cause that’s where I have the most fun
So I know we’ve been saying “It’s the Year of the Vark” a lot, but would you say THIS year is definitely The Year of the Vark?
I don’t know. I want it to be. I’m trying to manifest it as people do. I think it’s also mostly for jokes and I don’t know why it has stuck particularly but I think it’s funny. It’s Vark Year, yeah. *laughs*
This has also given me an idea for merch that I think I should make. You know how there’s those New Year’s glasses that say the year on them? What if they just said “Vark” instead? You could wear them every year!
Yeah I wonder how it works for the lenses, like where would the eye holes be?
I guess like the A and the R would have to be where the lenses are? So you’d make the hole a little bigger
Or the glasses have to be really big so the lenses in the A and R can fit an eye– Do you have other merch besides the vinyl for this album?
I think we’re going to be doing T-shirts. We still have to get them printed and what not, but I think t-shirts are happening and that will be fun. I think for Get Better Records’ Cassette Club Monthly, we’re gonna be doing tapes. It’s like an annual subscription to the label and we’ll be doing copies of that. If live stuff happens this year I made some mini vinyl with some digital downloads. They’re very cute and I hope shows happen so that we can sell them. It’s a fun project and they’re very cute looking. Nothing crazy with merch but I’m glad to be doing something because I never officially released merch before so I’m very excited to do so.
This interview was conducted by Karolyn Jaranilla via video call on January 13, 2022.
The Parts I Dread is set for release on April 8, 2022 via Get Better Records, with “Wyoming” out now.
Press photo by Meanz Chan.