Worth Knowing, Worth Going

Hazy, stargazy Richmond rock band Rikki Rakki will celebrate the vinyl release of “Breaking Skin” at Plan 9

Worth Knowing, Worth Going is a new Style Weekly spotlight on music-makers worth tuning into and upcoming events where you can get to know them better. This time, we spoke with Erika Blatnik, primary singer and songwriter for the hazy, stargazy Richmond rock band Rikki Rakki, whose 2023 album, “Breaking Skin,” is set to be celebrated at Plan 9 on Thursday, May 23 with a vinyl release and listening party.

Style Weekly: How did Rikki Rakki get its start?

Erika Blatnik: I was writing songs and playing solo for many, many years and had one band in the past, but at the stage that we began playing together, I was doing a lot of solo recording and not playing a lot of shows that often. I was mostly hunkering down in my little studio. It was a really small little closet studio that I had at the time, and I was recording a lot of layers and writing songs that would hopefully be able to be played by a band …

I went to a Woman Crush Wednesday [in 2019] and played at it, and Matt Luger — he’s the guitarist in Rikki Rakki — he and Jay [Kole], his best friend who plays drums, they were both there. I started talking with them and connecting with them, because they were digging the music that I was playing. Basically, right then and there we decided that we would try to work together. I hadn’t even heard Matt’s music yet, but then I listened to it — he does solo music called sourlips — and it was awesome. I was a big fan of his at that point, and he was a big fan of mine, and then we decided, “Let’s just try it out and see if we can work together.” Matt knew [bassist] Andy [Brown], because they had played together before, and they knew each other back from college, and I asked Andy if he’d be on board…

We quickly bonded as friends and musicians. We realized we all work really well together, and they were able to take the songs that I had already created demos for and they took what I did as their inspiration but then added their own flourishes and their own parts that I couldn’t come up with.

What are some of the common musical reference points within the band? What have you been inspired by individually?

EB: One of the big ones that we are all into is Neil Young. That’s definitely a meeting point for all four of us. Tom Waits, Bjork, Pinegrove, Bright Eyes, Broadcast — we’re all over the place.

I was highly influenced by Elliott Smith when I was younger, and that was an influence that stayed with me throughout my life. Also some Lucinda Williams for sure. Bob Dylan was a really early influence for me, and I’ve always been an English nerd. I’ve always loved poetry and literature and I went to school for that, as did Andy and Matt, actually, so we’re all a bunch of English nerds, except for Jay. Also audiophiles. Me and Matt and Jay are all into audio, and Andy has his own side of that; he’s obsessed with vinyl. So we all have that stuff going on. I would say more recent influences would [include] Angel Olsen. I love Adrianne Lenker and Big Thief. That’s definitely a band that I’d say most of us are really into. I love Japanese Breakfast and a lot of these more current, younger bands I’ve been really drawn to: Jay Som, Bachelor, Palehound. I love Palehound. I feel like Palehound is the modern reincarnation of Elliott Smith, or something. She is such a badass.

 

Which venues and shows have been especially significant during your journey thus far?

EB: The Camel is definitely a home away from home for us. We were asked to do the first installment of their residencies on Sundays where they do staff picks … We had a lot of fun with it. We’re a band who loves a bit. If we can make something themed, we probably will, and we’ll probably put too much effort into it. We love going all-in on stuff like that, so for the residency, we did a twang night, where we countrified our set [and] we did some covers. We did a Lucinda cover. Then we did a ’90s night, where we had ourselves and the other two bands we played with all learn ’90s covers, and that was super-fun. There was another themed night we did … That was definitely a turning point because we were going there feeling that love from them for picking us, and also, “Hey, it’s kind of low stakes. It’s a Sunday night, we don’t have to bring out the whole house.” But it felt really homey. Ever since then, every time we play at the Camel, it feels that way.

Gallery5 has been amazing. They’re so open to us curating everything. For our [“Quarantine Sessions”] EP release, we made it like a prom theme, but it was ‘50s, ‘60s, prom. We decorated the whole place and made it a nice, fun party with lots of pretty colors and a photo booth with Em White [and] had themed drinks. We’re all about that stuff. Then when we put out our album last year — our full-length — I actually made these art prints that are big panels of the album art, which I made myself, and put them up on the wall, so we kind of made it like an art exhibit also. People seemed to really love that stuff, and we love it too… Gallery5 has been awesome in being like, ‘Yes, you can do whatever you want.”

What are you excited about for the “Breaking Skin” release show and listening party?

EB: I recently quit drinking a few months ago, which was big for me, so I’ve been really into [non-alcoholic] stuff. I’ve been going to [alcohol-free bottle shop] Point 5 a lot … Jody [Sidle] from Point 5 was really into the idea of coming over, and they’re going to have a couple of mocktails that I came up with. I was a bartender recently so I was able to give her some recipes — really simple stuff — and they’re going to make those there and have some canned beers and stuff like that for people. I feel like that’s a great way to get those two worlds combined, because alcohol and the music scenes are so enmeshed, and I feel like it’d be great to get more of the NA stuff involved in the scene. So we’ll have that, we’re going to have all of our merch, hang out with people, listen to the album, hopefully sell some records. Then we do have a show two nights later, and that’s going to be with Dogwood Tales.

Is there anything else on the horizon for the band that you’re especially excited about?

EB: We are working on an EP. It’s just going to have three songs, but we’re really excited about these three songs, and I feel like they’re going to really represent us as a band. The songs for “Breaking Skin” — I had already written most of those before we ever formed. And with these songs for the EP, I wrote one of them a long time ago but the other two are really recent. While I still wrote them, I brought them to the band without having demos, so they were able to really come up with their parts fresh without any of my influence weighing in on it, which I think is really cool, because those guys are excellent musicians and they’re really creative. We’ve also just grown as a band, so having the time and space to work on these songs now that we’re four years in, and then being able to present that to people — it’s going to be a whole other level of the expression that we have as a band.

The “Breaking Skin” vinyl release and listening party will take place at Plan 9 on Thursday, May 23 starting at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Rikki Rakki will perform at the Camel on Saturday, May 25 with Dogwood Tales and Nancy Raygun. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at thecamel.org. To hear “Breaking Skin,” visit rikkirakki.bandcamp.com.

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