Ricky Rasura: SXSW 2010

Typically, when you think rock ‘n’ roll, a guitar or drums are naturally the first instruments that come to mind, not the harp. Ricky Rasura wants to change that. After spending many years with the fanatically outrageous pop-rock choir the Polyphonic Spree and working on various side projects, Rasura is ready to set out on his own. Rasura isn’t necessarily new to going it alone; harpists are not only one-of-a-kind, but are also regularly put in situations where they either play solo or with few others. No matter the combination he is performing with, Rasura will be showing SXSW-goers that the harp can be a contender at the forefront of rock music.

Describe your sound in your own words.

I mean it’s not too hard. With being that I played the harp, I have a distinct sound, that distinct soft mellow sound. I try to get a little more rock ‘n’ roll with it, but the way the harp is set up it lends itself to classical music, but I try to add to it. The harp has its own algorithm and wavelength. Sounds of Chopin and/or Bach — a lot of that feel that comes out in my music. But I love to add discourse and use the building of chords into a full melody. I really like to save one special chord and build the song. Like, you hit it [the chord], and it’s the climax of the song. I have a few songs that are just built on one chord, and I finally hit it and it’s just amazing. The harp is such a diverse instrument. I’ve seen people play jazz and troubadour type Irish music and classical [with the harp]. The harp can do a lot of different things, but it’s rarely ever heard. With all the years I played with [Polyphonic] Spree I got the feel for rockin’. I saw Axl Rose play a harp chord when I was a kid and I said, “That’s what I wanna do with my life.” I’ve always liked rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve always had the rock element in the life, and [Polyphonic] Spree was the next step for me.

How did your band form?

I got the call out of the blue [for this years particular showcase]. I do my own thing, which is great, but this gives me an opportunity to showcase my talent and people will be there. I’m gonna go full force. I tried to get a singer, but she was too poppy. Another friend didn’t want to accept [the] invite to play with my small group for this showcase. But I started putting it all together, and friends from other bands accepted the invites and it fills out my music. Playing solo is great, but playing with percussion and bass, it really fills it out. I’m between two national bands at SXSW, so I feel like I had to add more elements to fit in at the showcase. Those are the crowds I want to play for. I don’t want to play for a bunch churches — then it’s like, “Where’s the bar?”! Being a harpist, it’s easy to make a good living just playing weddings, but I told myself I don’t want to be 40 and playing the theme to ‘Titanic‘ every weekend.

What are your musical influences?

Well, there’s always Chopin and Bach. Most major influences are bands like Pink Floyd. Right now, though, Clint Mansell [composer for ‘The Fountain’] is a big one. I’m also finishing a novel, so I listen to more classical music lately. Led Zeppelin. I really likeSmashing Pumpkins. I like the Posies and listen to them almost every day. All around I play a lot of classical, but I like rock music. I guess, its just …Chopin’s really cool, and Beethoven is, like, “Whoa!”

How did you come up with your band name?

Just going by my name, and I feel that it’s time. With the harp, it’s a lot of music that is usually just placed in the background. This time around, I’m putting the harp in front, no more background. People need to realize it can be performed in a rock venue and not think you’re at a wedding or out to dinner. It’s somewhat of an uphill battle playing harp. I mean, Joanna Newsom uses it, but it’s more poppy and it’s in the background, but this is the forefront. That’s all I can do and I can do that best. So, it’s just easier to go by my name. I’ll just try to get my name out there. I’ve got my CD already, and this is the next logical step in my career.

How often do you practice, and do you devote personal practice time to the outlet/group you are practicing for?

Most of the time it depends on the gig, so the answer is yes. A little less than month ago I was performing with Golden State Pops Orchestra playing movie music [like music from ‘Avatar‘], and it was great because I was one of two people to play that music. It was the people who performed the original score, and then myself. I practice for the next gig I have coming up because I do so much music and so many different parts in different groups. I have a lot of my music sectioned out, just my harp music. Realistically, I wish I could practice four to five hours a day. Having to treat my name like a business is different, though; it’s like saying a band name, and it’s just a lot of work on top of the music.

Of all the venues you’ve ever played, regardless of performance, which has been your favorite?

Wow. Well, Carnegie Hall is up there and I’ve played that twice. You walk out on that stage and the wood on that floor just hums. It hums for some reason, like you can just hear all the music that’s been played there before. As far as [Polyphonic] Spree venues go, I’d say the whole Bowie tour. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I was doing a solo at the end of the show and the spotlight would go on me. I’d write a new solo that day and play it at night. Most solos that I still play come from that tour. I was on a creative high. Having that pressure of knowing I had to play that night was aiding me to put out some great music. In New Orleans, Bowie’s dressing room was outside of the stage and I’d tune harp about 10 minutes before Spree went on. I’d played my solo real quick, and I stood up and there’s Bowie. He said, “I love your harp playing,” so I introduced myself and Bowie was like, “I know your name.” It was awesome! That whole tour was magical. As far as creativity, it brought the best out in me. With [Polyphonic] Spree you literally have to be comatose to not have fun at that show. With the dancing and singing, the band is together and creates a magical moment on stage at those shows. Playing with them for seven years [was] kind of a blur, but I had so many good experiences with them.

Do you have a favorite group to play for/with?

Definitely Spree. I had such a great time. I love my bands here [in LA] and have fun, but it’s so much fun with Spree, and you rock out and have a great time. It was just so magical and a lot of fun being on stage, but then again, there was times when the harp was behind everything and off to the side. Sometimes the stage would be set up where it felt offstage, including once when it was actually offstage. The disconnection sucked, but that’s the disconnection that you feel with an orchestra, too. I’m always so focused, like, you have to play every note perfect because if not, everyone knows. It’s the biggest instrument on stage. I love my harp. I’m taking advantage of this opportunity at SXSW and going to keep on trucking, that’s for sure.

What’s your favorite type of duet or combo to play harp with?

Definitely harp, bass guitar and drums and vocals. Rock is my favorite music and I like to think that it’s just one of those things where you have those instruments so you have that sound. You can play off a singer, which is great. With my other project, Soul or System, the harp mixes well with the drum machines and I dig that kind of sound. A drummer, though, can play the beats that I want to use. However, right now it’s great because I can focus on my original compositions. I’m fairly easygoing, but it wasn’t until I got this gig that it was my own gig, and now I have to get really serious.

Originally posted at Spinner on March 10, 2010.

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