Ziemba Grieves For Her Father On Christmas-Tinged LP Unsubtle Magic

Photo Credit: Ian Torres

“Destabilizing.” That’s the single word René Kladzyk says best encompasses her experience after the death of her father and through rising flood waters of grief. The singer-songwriter, best known under her musical pseudonym Ziemba, lost her father in early 2020 after he spent two weeks in the hospital over the Christmas season.

Her life all but burned to the ground — and with her brand new record, Unsubtle Magic, she sifts through the ash, both literally and figuratively. When her father’s health took a turn for the worse in late 2019, everything began to shift dramatically, even her relationship to holiday-themed music. “Losing a loved one over the holidays made all Christmas music take on a new tinge to me,” Kladzyk tells Audiofemme.

Admittedly, she never intended to make a record stitched with references to such classic Christmas songs as “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” but perhaps it was a necessary conduit of catharsis to confront her pain so boldly and brutally as possible. “I just kept writing songs that had this holiday frame or holiday lens. That was the context of my dad’s death,” she recognizes.

Beyond her father’s death, Kladzyk also experienced the loss of an aunt, uncle, and good friend. “My experience is not all that unique. A lot of people have really had to grapple with mortality and loss. It’s like the ground falls out from underneath you, and you have to relearn how to stand,” she says. “I wonder about all the different ways that people are going to be struggling this holiday season.”

In the weeks and months immediately following her father’s death, Kladzyk scrawled out the stray lyric and melody, but it wasn’t until late 2020 that she finished the first song. “Sandia Crest” finds her wondering, “Are we truly gone when we go?” over a bedrock of wind instruments and piano, making a lyrical reference to scattering her aunt’s ashes, which she says was “kind of a complicated process.”

“She died tragically, too,” Kladzyk recalls. “She had been a really bad alcoholic for many years, and I had stopped talking to her. She was a big part of my childhood, but in adulthood, I ended up stopping talking to her, as most of my family did. We all were estranged from her, which is really sad. She had very serious mental health issues — and she was alone when she died.”

As a result, the performance is sullen and weighted down, like shoving a boulder into the ocean. All the sorrow and the heartache bubbles around her as she sings, “The last time I heard her voice before she lost her soul/A goodbye to the swirling skies, swallowed by the stars,” bathing in the moment, simply existing without any concrete answers.

Kladzyk prompts another investigation into the afterlife with “Will You Haunt Me?” in which she retraces the moment when it “hit me that [my father] was actually going to die. We had to make the decision to take him off life support, and it was very fraught and confusing,” she recalls. “At first, they were really optimistic, but it quickly changed when he didn’t wake up. I remember walking down the hospital hallway and feeling my head hanging low in a way that it never had before. I don’t even know how to describe it. But it was like this utterly defeated feeling of helplessness that there’s nothing I can do.”

Meanwhile, the world around her continued to flicker right, as there were “literally babies being born. Every time a baby was born, they would play a little melody from ‘Rockabye Baby’ throughout the entire hospital. So you could always hear when a baby was born,” she says.

As her father died, the song’s sweet, bright melody washed over her. “It was a reminder that everybody’s just going about life,” she reflects. “Life is happening all around me, and my life had totally collapsed.”

The album cover, designed by Robert Beatty with art created by Dian Liang, frames her father’s final moments with a glimpse into the sun’s glaring, hopeful rays. “It’s this moment of looking out the hospital window to watch the sunrise on Christmas morning and trying to feel some amount of hope in it,” she explain.

Unsubtle Magic, co-produced with Don Godwin, relies heartily on “devastating defeat and overwhelming sadness” but filters the experiences through twinges of “sweetness and a feeling of home,” she explains. With “A Nightmare,” for example, Kladzyk observes the literal caving in of her childhood home, which her father bought in the ’70s. In 2020, she and her sister “had this incredibly painful problem of trying to deal with this property,” she says. In the song’s most incisive depiction of her ongoing struggle to cope, she sings with a quivering lip, “Part of me might die here.”

It’s a nail in the coffin, to say the least. “It felt like a whole new way of losing him,” she adds. “It was like losing the metaphysical home and physical home.”

She remembers the moment like it was yesterday. Kladzyk returned to Michigan to attend to things while her uncle was dying, so not only did she say final goodbyes but she closed an important chapter of her life. It was 17 degrees out, and snow capped decayed architecture and rotting beams offered a sobering depiction of everything in her life. “The second floor was caving into the first floor and I was running down the stairs as I heard the floor starting to cave in. I ran out of the house in a panic, and that’s the last time I ever went inside that house,” she recalls. “I was actually in the house, and the feeling was like it was falling in. My dog got loose in the yard, and it was really scary and overwhelming and sad.”

“Time doesn’t freeze just ’cause you want it to,” Kladzyk sings on “Time Doesn’t Freeze,” the exact phrase her sister said to her when dealing with the ramshackle homestead. “My dad just kind of left it as though it would stay how it was. He often wouldn’t deal with things, and he would just put it off as though you could keep putting it off forever. If we hadn’t sold it, the town was about to condemn it. It was a huge burden to put on us, because my dad hadn’t maintained it and hadn’t cleaned it out. Then, it was this emotional burden of not knowing if dad had things in there that were of value to him or would be of value to us.”

Furthermore, the piano-laced song grabbles with “the nature of change and entropy, and just how there’s no way to argue with it — and all the ways that silly humans try to pretend we can. We can try to hold onto a moment forever, but we just can’t. And then we’ll forget.”

“That’s another thing with death; you start really grappling with your own memory. You immediately start realizing all the things that you are slowly forgetting, like what it was like to hug that person,” she continues. “It’s a gradual process of going from being a very clear image in your mind’s eye to being a fuzzy image. That’s a horrible feeling. But it’s unavoidable. You can do things to improve your memory, like learning language or whatever, but you can’t bring that person back. You can’t feel the feeling again, except maybe in a dream, if you’re lucky.”

Kladzyk keeps her father’s memory alive through using the same family piano, now residing in her El Paso home, that she played growing up and her father used in his own musical career. “When my mom got pregnant, he just quit playing music entirely. He was operating at a time when the financial hurdles to record were much greater. So, even though he wrote and did demo recordings of tons and tons of songs, he only captured recordings with maybe four songs. During his 12-year musical career, he was a touring musician and had a circuit that he played and made a good living.”

Now, in possession of a collection of tapes, only four of which were complete, basic recordings, she found herself drawn to “Set In Ice,” which her father wrote in 1974. “I tried out a number of songs with the idea of covering them for this album. I really liked where [this song] sat in my voice. I didn’t change the key for that one, and I really liked how, thematically, it fit in the album,” she says.

One particular lyric struck her most. “Living by myself for so very long/Get up every morning just to sing these songs,” she sings amidst a flurry of percussion and guitar. Surprisingly, the visual brought her great comfort, “to imagine my dad in the ‘70s having those same feelings that I was having now. It felt like a way to connect to him, and it feels that way playing his songs, like a new way to get to know him and expand my relationship to a version of him that I never knew.”

Her father never spoke much about his musical days, except to “drop a crazy bomb” like the time he said he “went over to Tom Waits’ apartment, and the whole floor was covered in Burger King wrappers,” she shares with a laugh.

Unsubtle Magic is fraught with emotional tension. Kladzyk both surrenders to her grief and pushes to extricate herself from it. It’s that vital tug of war that acts as a heavy duty glue to keep her from falling apart, shockwaves vibrating through songs like “Only Lonely Christmas,” “Fear,” and a driving performance of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

The holidays are in full swing, and a lyric in “Sandia Crest” ensnares these complicated strands of her emotional state. “I hope to someday love Christmas,” she sings, the phrase nearly swallowing her whole. It’s hopeful but doesn’t skirt the pain.

In our conversation, she admits to feeling like “I am doing a great job of forcing myself to get over wanting to cry every time I heard a Christmas song. While it was all happening, that first holiday season, literally hearing any Christmas song made me feel this pain in my stomach, a sadness like everything that was gone would never be again — that sort of thing. I think I’ve done a good job of reminding myself all of what I love about this time of year and the magic I’m still working on.”

Raised Catholic, Kladzyk doesn’t gravitate to the religious iconography or gift-giving aspects of the season. Rather, it’s about “believing in impossible things or believing in mysterious, beyond the realm of the material things in some ways. It’s been more like smelling pine in the air and the winter experience. It has always held this magic for me.”

Unsubtle Magic is Kladzyk’s lifeline. It’s a fearless, imposing, and visceral snapshot of her life in the throes of inevitable tragedy. It’s not the sort of record you’d expect in the Christmas season, but it’s one with unfortunate universal appeal — and one the entire world needs to witness.

Follow Ziemba on Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Brooklyn Supergroup Rhinestone Mine Campy But Heartfelt Country Aesthetic on Debut EP

Photo Credit: Elizabeth LoPiccolo

René Kladzyk says she’s always been drawn to melodrama – but some of the songs she found herself writing were almost “too embarrassing” to record, at least for her more esoteric, conceptually-driven musical project Ziemba. As she developed a taste for the oft-maligned country and western genre – particularly outlaw country courtesy of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, or the folk-adjacent Americana of Bobbie Gentry and Townes Van Zandt – she realized that its heart-on-your-sleeve lyricism lent itself perfectly to sitting with those uncomfortable emotions. The only problem was, she was living in Brooklyn, where the prospect of finding like-minded musicians to start up a country band seemed a bit like finding needles in a haystack.

While this pitiful position could’ve inspired another lonesome country-tinged tune, Kladzyk didn’t wallow; she turned to Facebook. “[My post] was like, ‘Who wants to join my weirdo country band?!’ and all these people reached out – none of whom I actually knew, we all just had mutual friends,” she remembers. From the first practice it was clear that the sort of people who would immediately respond to a post like that – and actually follow through – did so for the sheer love of playing music, and though the lineup changed slightly from those first practices, it solidified around an unlikely group of dedicated musicians, well-known in the Brooklyn scene for their involvement in rather disparate projects. These included: Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk alum Oscar Allen; Death By Audio’s Jay Heiselmann, who’s played in Grooms and Roya; and documentary photographer Samuel Budin. The EP also features John Bohannon (Torres, Ancient Ocean) on pedal steel, Casey Kreher on drums, and backing vocals from Jess Healy, the newest official band member.

Though Brooklyn might seem an unwelcoming place for a country band to flourish, the eclectic crew had a built-in audience. “Between our collective members, we already had kind of a musical following, so it was never as hard for us to bring out a crowd as it was for me when I was starting out with Ziemba,” says Kladzyk. “Because we have members with other active projects we’ve never played a ton. We’ve only played outside of Brooklyn once I think. We’ve never done a full tour. But within Brooklyn we’ve been able to play a lot of really cool shows over the years with really great bands. We’ve been lucky to have really great crowds who dance a lot, have fun, and rage.”

Rhinestone, in many ways, represents the growing appeal of country music well outside the genre’s typical demographic – whether that’s Kacey Musgraves’ critical acclaim, Orville Peck’s anonymous rise to indie stardom, the revelation of gender-flipping songwriting ensemble The Highwomen, crossover stars like Colbie Caillat making forays into country… the list goes on. Like Kladzyk, the members of Rhinestone were relatively late to the party, but they took that fateful Facebook post as a literal invitation.

“I had less than no interest in country music for most of my life. Right before I started high school, my family moved to Missouri, where I quickly fell in with a narrow vesica piscis of Nirvana obsessives, Lilith Fair attendees, and Toad the Wet Sprocket fans. My teenage filter regarded the slick insincerity of the exaggerated redneck accents leaking from passing pickups as a tool of the enemy,” admits guitarist Oscar Allen, who wrote the EP’s second track, “Maze of Love” and takes lead vocals on it. “Over time I realized that my beloved Roy Orbison, Breeders, and Leadbelly records hinted at an alternate history and deeper peeks behind that curtain revealed songs by Gillian Welch, Townes Van Zandt, and Neko Case more powerful than my prejudice against the label. Still, I went into that first Rhinestone practice with a bit of bemusement – I had to move to New York to finally be in a country band?!”

Healy came to classic country in the early 2000s via alt-country artists like Clem Snide. “I don’t think I would have sought out a country band to join prior to Rhinestone because I don’t identify with the idea I have of the culture of country being like, white dudes in cowboy hats kicking the tires of their Trump-stickered pickup, chewing snuff, and whining. I am not a huge fan of the shiny new country radiosound,” she says. “But Rhinestone feels more like campy traditional country – we put on costumes and personas and sing the shit out of the songs and it’s a joyful rollicking good time with some heartbreak thrown in. Rhinestone’s songs seem to extract the elements of country I like – the soulfulness and universality of heartbreak, straightforward melodies – while bringing in just enough Brooklyn weirdness to turn me on.”

Named for a film that sees Dolly Parton attempting to turn NYC cabbie Sylvester Stallone into Nashville’s next big star, the campy aesthetic is certainly integral to Rhinestone’s identity. Partly, it’s about world-building, creating an immersive experience. But beyond that, it’s pointing out an interesting irony specific to a genre that “often inhabits that space where it’s simultaneously really showy and flamboyant and campy but it’s also totally earnest and heartfelt,” Kladzyk says. “And that’s something that I really like about it. Some people think if you’re wearing sparkly or shimmery clothing then you can’t be sincere. I would be so angry at myself if I didn’t take advantage of this fashion opportunity. It’s like, why not go all the way there?”

“Very early on, René laid down a clear earnestness-over-irony mission statement and that, more than anything else, made me go all in,” Allen says. “It’s been fascinating to discover how this deceptively simple genre, with song forms older than Grimm’s Fairy Tales, holds a strange resonant complexity. You’re not solely bound to tropes and cosplay, but certain chord changes, word choices, guitar phrasing, and production moves will instantly announce themselves as unworthy.”

The four-track EP came out of an upstate recording session where the band set an album and a half’s worth of material to tape, on a machine they bought with licensing fees from a Sophie Tucker cover they recorded for FUSION TV’s Shade: Queens of NYC. “Among the songs we recorded, there’s four different songwriters and four different lead vocalists,” Kladzyk says. “Mixing and mastering the songs has been kind of a drawn out process but right now we have a whole additional album done. As Rhinestone releases more music, there’s a lot of different styles that we play even though we’re kind of framing it as country – country is a term that means a million things to different people.” Allen, for his part, refers to it as “David Lynch country.”

With an extensive playlist of references, Rhinestone hopes that their homage to music’s most misunderstood format might lead people down a rabbit hole of discovery. “If, through this project, that older-and-weirder world becomes even slightly more visible to people with the same preconceptions I used to carry, I’ll feel lucky and grateful,” says Allen. Budin, the band’s bassist, adds, “It’s solid pop music, and always has been. I hope [the EP] will inspire people to delve into the rich history of country music, which, among other things, is an integral part of the story of the American recording industry.”

Kladzyk says it’s also a transgressive history, despite its current-day association with a more conservative viewpoint. She points out that a lot of country music, particularly alt and outlaw country, was “responding to corporatized, highly commercial music and feeling resistant to that, so there’s a counterculture element that’s like, almost punk. There’s no straight lines and there’s no ideas that exist in silos. It’s all interconnected.”

“I guess I hope that Rhinestone can show others, as it has shown me, that there’s a flavor of country for everyone, and that beyond the stereotype are some deep roots to draw on and be inspired by,” says Healy, who credits joining the band with opening up her guitar-playing.

“If somebody likes Rhinestone, they should keep digging,” Kladzyk agrees. “I hope that if somebody listens to what we’ve made and likes it, that they feel motivated to deepen their relationship with the music in their life, cause it’s really fun. It’s like, a really nice way to live.”

Rhinestone’s debut EP is out tomorrow, 6/30. 100% of sales from the first week of the EP release (plus pre-sales) will be split 50/50 between Movement for Black Lives and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. Follow Rhinestone on Instagram for ongoing updates.

AUDIOFEMME PRESENTS: Backstage Pass with Ziemba

On International Women’s Day this year, Audiofemme curated a showcase of talented musicians to play the opening of For The Record, a portrait series showcasing women in the music industry shot by Ebru Yildiz, at Ridgewood venue TV Eye. Our videographer Molly Mary O’Brien shot a candid interview with Ziemba’s René Kladzyk before her performance, as well as the intimate sing-along version of “All Doors Have Keys,” from Part 3 of last year’s concept LP Ardis.

In a previous interview with Audiofemme, Kladzyk told me that she often incorporates co-operative harmonizing into her shows. “Creating spontaneous choirs reminds people of how joyous it is to sing with other people,” she explained. “I think there’s a lot of people who really long to sing but don’t, because maybe they fear judgement that their voice isn’t good enough or they can’t sing perfectly. But if you’re singing in a group of people, something happens. I don’t even know exactly how to name it. It forces you to be openhearted. You have to be vulnerable and you have to listen and respond and communicate in this way that’s not necessarily linguistic. Non-linguistic forms of communication are very helpful for enhancing empathy and being better humans.” This is reflected not only in Ziemba’s live appearances, but in the work Kladzyk does with Colin Self’s XOIR.

Now that live performance is momentarily side-lined, we hope you’ll enjoy this powerful moment from our IWD showcase. Tomorrow, Ziemba launches her Ampled page – Ampled is a new artist-owned cooperative music platform, where people can support artists directly (similar to Patreon, but specifically for musicians; the revenue goes to the musicians, not venture capitalists). Be sure to check that out as a means of keeping in touch with and supporting artists like Ziemba – you can also follow Ziemba on Facebook for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Ziemba Extends an Invite to Parallel World of Ardis with “Veritas in Terra”

all photos by Megan Mack

René Kladzyk has made it her artistic purpose to merge various media since the very beginning of her musical project Ziemba; her debut LP came with an incense made from flowers in and around her childhood home, and her live shows frequently feature the diffusion of scents she’s created to go along with the specific experience. Now, inspired by singing collectively with Colin Self’s XHOIR, feminist science fiction, Nabokov’s treatise on time, and the neofuturistic architecture of John Portman, Kladzyk has launched the first phase of Ardis, a high-concept three-part album that explores utopia from a human perspective.

Essentially, Ardis is a parallel version of Earth, with “necessary changes” having been made. Its creation was a direct response to Trump’s election, Kladzyk explains. “I felt really devastated by a lot of what I was seeing in America and I wanted to talk about it but in a way that didn’t just perpetuate me feeling devastated by it,” she says. “How can I talk about this in a way that’s not just dwelling on how upsetting it is, but instead thinking about possible alternatives and mobilizing in a way that’s fantastical and fun and uplifting? If you believe that cultural change is fueled by art and creative work, which I do, then people who are making work that envisions possible alternative futures can have a real material impact on the world we live in here.”

The first five songs from the LP, which comprise Part One, were released in February, along with a video for “Veritas in Terra” that brings Kladzyk’s concepts into the real world via John Portman’s architecture. His buildings have served as the inspiration for Delta City in Robocop, and appeared in sci-fi classics and recent blockbusters alike, from John Carpenter’s Escape From LA to the Divergent series. Kladzyk first encountered his work on a trip to New York City (which she now calls home) during her teens, when she ventured into the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. “Veritas in Terra” was shot in three Atlanta hotels; Portman’s architectural thumbprint is everywhere in his home city, characterized by the multi-storied arrangement of floors overlooking a towering atrium, often with a glass elevator that traverses it like a an electrical impulse running up a human spine. Indeed, this is the intended visual allusion, one which Kladzyk mirrors in relating humanity to the sprawling scale of a futuristic cityscape. “It’s an inter-scalar thing – it’s like, if you look at a building like a body, and a body like a song, you find the commonalities in the way we structure ideas to the way we structure our world on the macro level,” she explains.

The video was co-directed by Kladzyk, Megan Mack, and Allison Halter, and it wasn’t an easy shoot, considering they were forcibly removed from the Portman-designed Hyatt, Westin, and Marriott hotels. “We filmed in [the Hyatt] and almost immediately got in trouble… then I was like, okay, we have to be a little bit more careful. And then we got kicked out of another place,” she says with a laugh. “We were very cautious with the Marriott Marquis. We mostly filmed from like 4-6 in the morning. We got kicked out while shooting the last shot; I knew we would because it was right in front of the concierge desk.”

That shot became one of the opening scenes in “Veritas” – Kladzyk looks up through the atrium, wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit. Throughout the video she’s “simultaneously exploring but also a little hunted, but then also realizing that there are all these different versions of me.” She says that Portman’s buildings support an almost voyeuristic tendency that she wanted to highlight: “[The atrium] changes how you look at other humans – you can see people so far away and they look so tiny. They often aren’t aware that you’re looking at them, but you can’t help [it] because the nature of the space encourages you to look.” Overall, it was the fact that Portman’s buildings are like parallel universes unto themselves that attracted Kladzyk to his work, which has been both credited with revitalizing formerly desolate downtown areas as well as criticized for being too insular.

The two remaining segments of Ardis will appear in April and June, each with their own specific fragrance accompaniment. This March, Kladzyk begins a month-long residency at Red Hook artspace Pioneer Works, which will culminate in a musical version of Ardis on April 14. It will expand upon the excerpt she performed at MoMA Ps1 at the end of 2017, which featured herself and her sister Anna discovering, then destroying, a fragrant utopia before rebuilding it. “One of the narrative arcs [of the project] is me as a human, trying to open doorways to Ardis, failing and trying again, and in the process finding it in all these different places,” she says. The Pioneer Works performance, she adds, will feature “a number of other performers, there’ll be a large choir, and other musicians… I’m working with a really incredible set designer, and there’ll be wild costumes, but it will largely be the music interacting with visual signifiers of the world.”

Ziemba will also perform a handful of more straightfoward shows on the West Coast with Teeny Lieberson’s solo endeavor Lou Tides in the coming months, as well as some dates throughout the Mid- and Southwest. She’s performed some of the songs from Ardis in a live setting before – “Ugly Ambitious Women,” in particular, appeared on a 2015 EP, and Kladzyk says she has more material she’s interested in reimagining – and will do so again at Secret Project Robot next week. Ever prolific, she’s currently writing songs that are a little more grounded and personal, but whether she revisits Ardis in the future remains to be seen. “We’ll see what path it follows. Some of that may depend on how people respond to it, and the way that I learn from it after touring it,” she says. Though she hesitates to say that she makes therapeutic music, she does hope Ardis will offer others some catharsis, as it has for her to imagine such a place.

“[Someone asked] ‘What does Ardis look like? What’s it like there?'” recalls Kladzyk. “In short, I don’t exactly know. I’m still looking for it and I’m still learning from it. But that’s kind of the idea – maybe we need to reject this idea that we as humans can be certain, and instead focus on expansiveness, and listening and connection.”


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Photo by Megan Mack

Brooklyn-based Rene Kladzyk is Ziemba, a powerhouse of creative genius and freedom. She creates powerful music, visceral music videos, and experiments with fragrances in her performance and digital releases. She aims to transcend yet accentuate the human experience and our senses. Her work is honest, inspiring, and uplifting and she realizes her creative vision by conceptualizing the symbolism in situations and life experiences.

She is a presence with a starry energy that radiates. I recently had the pleasure of experiencing her performance at Knockdown Center in Queens, a bill she shared with the Charlie Looker Ensemble and Pavo Pavo. The Charlie Looker Ensemble started the night off with an echoing intensity. Ziemba took to the stage and cleansed our pallets as two ladies fluttered throughout the audience, misting us with scents that shaped the atmosphere and guided the vibe. I felt as if it brought the audience together to the same plane of experience. Kladzyk has an intuitive stage presence and utilizes as much of the space as possible to maintain attention and flow of energy.

Her debut full-length album Hope is Never was recorded in upstate New York at Black Dirt Studios with Jason Meagher and released via Lo & Behold! Records in 2016. She accompanied the album with a multi-sensory element by pairing it with incense containing notes of cedar, lilac, and lilies of the valley picked from the overgrowth surrounding her childhood home in Forestville, Michigan, where the video for “With the Fire” was filmed.

The album is rooted in the sensations of nostalgia and melancholy. Loss, destruction, and processing death are themes in these songs. She turned me on to the music of Jerry Yester and Judy Henske with her rendition of their song “Rapture.” She beautifully and cinematically interprets this song and created for it a music video that is vivid with color and lush scenery. She said she wanted to make a video that was as fun to watch as it was to create, adding an element of hope to otherwise dismal subject matter.

Soon after, she released another 4 track EP inspired by a perspective not her own: the perspective of a cave dwelling succubus. LALA, a play on the Berber slang term for a female saint, is a representation of imperialist tensions with feminism, and archetypes of feminine empowerment through sexuality. It is the first official release from the Ardis Multiverse, a “multi-sensory imprint,” creative alliance, and synesthetic platform pioneered by Kladzyk herself.

She proves to be prolific in sonic fragrance experimentation with “A Door Into Ocean,” an ambient track released in March. It’s named after the feminist science fiction novel by Joan Slonczewski about a planet that is populated entirely by women. There is no land, just water. This track also features the LIGO chirp, which is the sound of gravitational waves as two black holes collide. Its limited edition fragrance companion is composed of sensuous waves of ylan ylang, alder wood, Texas cedar wood, and stargazer lily.

She sat down with Audiofemme over some tea and records to expound upon LALA as a concept, fragrance, and what is next in her creative journey.

What inspired you or made you realize you wanted to create a multi-sensory experience with your music?

Well, I come from a background in feminist geography, and I think that as a performer I’ve always been very attentive to space, the spatial experience of sound, and the context I foster around a song. Thinking about making work in ways that are multi-sensory is a natural extension of this interest. Why is music powerful? Because it conjures feeling, it has the power to transform space and time, or even make you feel lost in a moment. I’m interested in enhancing that transportive capacity of music, of thinking of new ways to encourage audiences to engage in the sound. That they have many entry points for how they can build a web of associations, or approach the ephemeral world of a song – that’s a guiding mission for me.

How do you utilize fragrance in your live performances?

I’ve been increasingly using fragrance in live performance, and my curiosity and excitement about it keeps growing. I recently did a performance installation with artist Soojin Chang that was centered on activating emotional responses from the use of fragrance, and my last music show in NYC at Knockdown Center involved a series of timed fragrances, misted around the audience in association with specific song worlds. I’m also an artist-in-residence with art/science organization Guerilla Science and have been creating work for their fire organ. That performance will be coming up in the fall and will involve a fragrance that is changing in direct relation to the music. Meaning that I’m building an apparatus inside of the organ so that specific frequencies will trigger specific fragrance components, and the overall experience will be one in which the fragrance is a constantly undulating, evolving experience directly connected to the transformations and undulations of the sound. It’s an exciting project, and I can’t wait to share it.

Can you explain what exactly is the Ardis Multiverse?

Well, as a human, I just love to name and compartmentalize stuff, so Ardis Multiverse is a name I put on something that is actually very abstract and amorphous. “Ardis” literally means the point of an arrow, so an ardis is a nexus point for time and space, something flying through a landscape of metaphysic and material meaning. I think about making music in this way. One time I did a performance with Colin Self where we chanted we are the meaning makers, and that makes us weapon creators. And that’s how I feel about writing music, the process of generating shared meaning; it’s a similar experience to targeting and releasing an arrow. Then the concept of a multiverse relies on a premise of multiplicity, simultaneity, and kind of our big-picture way we decide to define reality.

So Ardis Multiverse is both a name that I’ve applied to my multi-sensory releases and also a growing platform/ alliance for artists who are interested in investigating the multi-sensory, expansive possibilities for sharing their work. I’m interested in having more dialogues with artists about how we create sonic artifacts in the digital age of music. Walter Benjamin’s famous essay on art in the age of endless reproducibility talks about the loss of the “aura” in creative works, that this is a symptom of mass production. And so many musicians feel this dilemma; that the experience of buying a mp3 isn’t very romantic. I want to talk to more artists and musicians who are approaching their work like urban planners, who are thinking in terms of scale and interconnectivity across space and time. My goal is to facilitate that in performance, material objects, and whatever other ephemera happens along the way.

Have you ever experienced synesthesia? What is a favorite scent of yours that evokes a memory?

I think everyone experiences synesthesia, but the question is whether or not they are identifying that experience as such, or to what extent they experience it. And to what extent they train themselves to ignore it, and force a false distinction between sensory information. Nabokov said when he was talking about his grapheme-color synesthesia: “It’s called color hearing. Perhaps one in a thousand has that. But I’m told by psychologists that most children have it, that later they lose that aptitude when they are told by stupid parents that it’s all nonsense, an A isn’t black, a B isn’t brown.”

It’s perhaps similar to the way we distinguish thinking and feeling. We know there is a difference in the process, but they exist in concert with one another. That’s how senses interact with each other. They all work together to create context and association.

I used to work with blind people, back when I was a researcher for this lab that did tactile and soundscape mapping. And when I did that job I talked to a lot of people about perception and sight. When you interact with a blind person about the way that they conceive space, how they organize spatial information in their mind and then navigate the world accordingly, you realize how much work the brain is doing all the time just to get you from point A to point B. Senses necessarily swirl around each other when you build a mental map, and we do that constantly without considering it. It’s rote. I think synesthesia is so rote that most people take it 100% for granted.

And then when you do something that exacerbates those swirling connections between the senses, like the work I’ve been making, it’s fun and playful because it reminds people that the boxes we have put around these different parts of the human experience are totally malleable.

A favorite memory scent for me is the smell of lilacs. When I was a kid we had a lilac tree right outside of our back door, and so in the spring, I would smell that scent right when I walked outside for the first time every day. It’s such a beautiful scent, and when this time of year rolls around I get so happy to be able to smell lilacs. It’s very very nostalgic. When I made my album incense it was extremely important to me that it had lilacs in it, so much so that I had the neighbors at my childhood home updating me on the status of the lilac bloom so that I made sure to time my trip correctly and get them at the right moment. It ended up working perfectly. I started out my tour last summer with a trip to my sweet decrepit childhood home to pick flowers, and everything was in such crazy bloom I couldn’t believe it. I think picking flowers is possibly the number one most therapeutic activity for a touring musician.

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Photo by Dustin Senovic

Have you always wanted to be an artist? Did you have creative outlets growing up?

No, not really. “Artist” is a label I embrace kind of reluctantly. It’s so vague, and most of the associations with it are brutal and miserable. I think I’d prefer to have a long list of specific descriptors on my epitaph, rather than “artist.” Plus the rules governing what gets to count as art are so dumb, patriarchal, and capitalistic. I’m not looking for the key into the art world, and I’d rather be a pioneer or a volcano, if not just a nice person.

But I have always expressed myself creatively, in one form or another. Even back when I would have identified myself more as a scientist. I don’t view being an artist and being a scientist all that differently. I’m working with my sister, who is a civil engineer, on the mapping component of the new Ziemba album, and that can be seen as an indication of my attitude toward what gets to count as art or science, truth or fiction.

I had a lot of creative outlets as a kid. My sister and I staged elaborate backyard plays, and I was constantly singing and making up songs. The other day I remembered this rule that my babysitter had made for me: “no singing at the table or you’ll get your ear pulled.” I started laughing so hard, because it had never occurred to me how annoying I must have been. I started playing the piano when I was around three because my sister had started lessons that year and I looked up to her so much that when she would practice I would try to emulate her. And I would say that reading has always been a massive creative outlet to me. Since I was very young I’ve been an avid reader, and tend to get pretty disassociated when I read because I become so lost in the world of that book.

How do you feel liberated or hindered living as an artist in New York?

Living in New York has been tremendously nurturing and liberating in terms of actually building a life as an artist. I know most people would probably say like the cost of living or something is a hindrance to being an artist in New York, but for me, I’ve always been broke and I wasn’t always this productive. I’m so grateful for the amazing artists who I am privileged to call my friends and to be constantly surrounded by people who inspire me and push me to dig deeper, to overflow. There is a palpable feeling of opportunity here, and it’s so encouraging.

What messages are you trying to convey in your work?

I often describe my music as a battle against nihilism, and that’s a very recurrent message you can find. I try to reveal pathways for hope and connection. I’m interested in uplifting people, in facilitating moments that can even be transcendent or ecstatic. I think it’s important that creators consider the energies they are proliferating in the world, and though I frequently explore painful subject matter, the intention is always to be helpful. I’d like the music, performances, materials that I make to all be supportive or delicious in some way. I don’t make the work for me, and I also don’t especially claim ownership over it. My goal is normally to see how radically I can set an idea free, to enable it to stand up on its own legs and do its own thing, and then I can watch it grow as this autonomous beast. I try not to get attached to outcomes, and instead cultivate feelings, to have the sensation of it be the actual thing. Bachelard describes the poetic instant as a form of vertical time because when you are experiencing a moment of profound poetry your sense of time can shift and expand. That’s what I’m after, a way to treat time like taffy and stretch out some glorious instant of connection.

What is your process for conceptualizing music videos? Do you have a videographer/team you often collaborate with?

I frequently work with my sister Anna, and my dear friend and collaborator Corey Tatarczuk on music videos. The three of us are all wackos, and normally the process for conceiving of a music video is a mixture of improvisation and brainstorming sessions. Even though the “With the Fire” video was different. The idea for that video came to me when I was driving in Arkansas, and I had to pull off the road because I got so overwhelmed with the vision of it that I couldn’t drive straight. It made me cry just to think about doing it, that it was possible.

What is your writing/recording process?

It’s all over the place. I have at least five different notebooks going at any one time and write songs in all sorts of different ways. Same goes for recording. I’ve recorded in many different configurations, in different types of studios, at home solo, you name it. Today I was recording in my bedroom and got my sister to send me an audio sample of her puppy barking, and now it’s in the chorus of my next disco hit. It’s all a big whimsy trip.

Do you have a set group of musicians you frequently collaborate with in the studio? Is it the same group in live performances?

The past couple times that I’ve gone into the studio it’s been solo, though there are some people who have a more permanent role in Ziemba. My sister is a key collaborator, and Rob Smith, who played drums on my album, is a dear friend and treasured collaborator. He plays live with me sometimes but is in several other active bands so it can be tricky to schedule. I play solo a lot and have a rotating cast of amazing musicians who have joined me on tours or for shows.

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Photo by Dustin Senovic

How did LALA manifest and make herself known to you?

I wrote the songs unintentionally from someone’s perspective that was not my perspective. Several years ago I went to Morocco for an artist residency and I first became acquainted with a hero cult figure named Aisha Kandisha. Some people say that she once lived in the time of the colonizers and would lure the colonizers away from their encampments with her beauty and murder them. For others, she is purely a spirit, and appears to men as a beautiful naked woman with camel feet.

For women, it’s a blessing if you’re possessed by her because she is this source of empowerment through sexuality. If a man is possessed by her he can never love another woman. I met a lot of men in Morocco who were married to the spirit of Aisha Kandisha. I found her fascinating and I was at her pilgrimage site, which I didn’t know beforehand. I knew I was going to a pilgrimage site to witness these ceremonies because I was interested in gnawa and djalali music, which is associated with the ceremonies that happened there.

A couple of years later I took a seminar on decadence and symbolism in fin de siecle literature. I encountered the book SHE by H. Rider Haggard that was a major hit in the late 1800’s. It’s about this character that is exactly like Aisha Kandisha. It’s a very much an imperialist western European fantasy of the exotic woman. She is this spirit that dwells in caves and she is a curse for men and her powers are located in her sexuality. I got very fixated on this figure and the archetype of the femme fatale and sexuality as a form of currency. All of the issues that it’s dealing with are not gone. We don’t know how to deal with women using sexuality as a form of power and feminists don’t know how to.

What is in LALA‘s fragrance? How does it enhance the experience?

I’m in a process of discovery with making fragrances. The way that I’m approaching it is not scientific. It’s much more intuitive. I wanted those songs to have a fragrance as a form of psychic energetic protection so that it could just be a positive experience.There are a number of reasons that I chose particular elements to include, including the color of the materials. I read about color associations that are symbolic and helpful. But it’s not a purely uplifting incense. It’s actually kind of a hard fragrance in some ways, kind of sickly sweet but also kind of metallic or alien. It’s not a fragrance I would burn on a date.

Can you talk a little bit about your upcoming album?

The album is called ARDIS which is connected to the Ardis Multiverse. It’s a parallel universe. It’s like earth if the necessary changes were made. It’s inspired by feminist science fiction. I’m working on a mapping project with my sister, meaning we are building a world from faux GPS data and bringing other artists in as well. I’m reluctant to get too specific because we are still testing out different things. But I will let you know, if you knew where to look you could access the recent release, “A Door into Ocean” through a specific point on the ocean floor on Google Earth. There are going to be a lot of portals on earth to access ARDIS. This next album is very much political commentary but the way it’s manifesting for me is trying to make something that’s very joyous and uplifting.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]