Facing her challenges head on, Austin based artist Larissa Rook releases her new single “Exit” available everywhere now. Her anthemic single tackles her battle with breast cancer and walking away from past trauma and relationships. Her songwriting is transformative and allows the listener to plug in their own story. Rook is a self made self produced artist, creating the electric track on her own on garageband. She toured with her former band Wormwood Scrubs throughout the US and UK. Recently her song “Lucky” was featured in Wildfire Magazine. Rook proves again and again that she can conquer the battles she is given and transform them into relatable stories and songs.
We had a moment to sit down with Larissa Rook and talk to her about her song inspiration, songwriting advice, future goals, and much more!
Q&A with Larissa Rook
Q: How has your year been so far? Any highlights?
ROOK: Thanks for asking. It’s been really good. I started off the year having lyrics to my song “lucky” published in a beautiful magazine called “Wildfire” which is a magazine made up of writings by people diagnosed with breast cancer, I released a new single called “exit”, and my routine follow-up CT scans for my cancer came back “stable”!!!!
Q: Can you talk about what the singer/songwriter scene is like in Austin?
ROOK: It is incredible and very intimidating. Even in the small town of Wimberley where I live, we’ve got Ray Wylie Hubbard, Paul Simon and Edie Brickell. And every café, bar, winery, brewery and grocery store has jaw-droppingly amazing singer-songwriters performing outside on their acoustic guitars 24-7. The amount and the quality of talent here is overwhelming. When I first moved here, I thought, “well, that’s it for me.” I don’t do what they do. I play slow moody songs on an electric piano and run my voice through an effects pedal. I didn’t think I could ever compete. But that’s just it. It’s not about competition. They don’t do what I do, either. I think there is room for everyone.
Q: You’ve got your new single, “exit” out now. Could you expand on the themes that inspired this song?
ROOK: The song is about endings and new beginnings. It’s about closing doors and opening new ones. My song “exit” was written when I lived in St Louis, Missouri and played in the band Wormwood Scrubs. It was after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer the first time. I had just been through chemo, and radiation, and multiple surgeries. But after treatment ended, and I was left with the remains of myself, it got really quiet. During treatment. I was focused on one thing: surviving and getting through it. But afterward, when the circus ends and the welcomed help and support packs up and goes home…then what? I felt bitter. I was angry. I wanted something to blame. Like my surroundings.
Q: Who did you work with when producing this single? Any stories from the recording process?
ROOK: I worked with me. That’s all. Just me. It was a year after I released my first Larissa Rook solo album “solipsism is lonely” on Bandcamp. It was a year after the pandemic began. I had come back from a trip to see my family and I suddenly lost all hearing in my left ear and developed extreme vertigo. It was terrifying. I thought I might never be able to hear music the same again. Luckily, I got in with an ENT doctor immediately and began treatment to hopefully restore my hearing. During this time, music sounded horrendous and distorted. Playing piano hurt my ears. And I couldn’t really tell if music was in key or not. It was so frustrating and disorienting. But I knew I couldn’t NOT play music. I had to do something. I picked up my iPad and began messing around with the Garageband program.
I found that if I wore headphones and adjusted levels, it was tolerable. It was also the first time I ever played with samples and drums and loops. Just for fun, I worked out a cover of “C’mon Billy” by PJ Harvey. I shared it with my IG and FB followers. They seemed to really like it. So, I released it as a single. I released several more covers during my ear-healing time. And it was during this time I decided to cover two of my own songs “crocus and the daisies” and “exit”.
So, “exit” was recorded entirely in Garageband using loops and sounds within the App. And I even recorded my vocals directly into the iPad’s microphone. And when mixing the tracks, I only used the Garageband effects. You have to get kind of creative to make it interesting. I would go into the effects and mess with the settings or layer them. It was definitely challenging. But sometimes I think the challenge of working within these types of constraints can help the creative process. I like to see how far I can stretch the boundaries. It motivates me.
Q: What message are you hoping listeners take away from “exit?”
ROOK: The song is about knowing when to walk away from people, places or things that no longer serve you. It is also, at its core, a love song. So… I would hope people feel empowered to be brave and choose love over bullshit.
Q: What advice would you give to your younger self or young songwriters aspiring for a career in the music industry?
Take chances. Don’t pass up opportunities. Be open to new experiences. Believe in yourself. And to practice something I like to call my ABC’s: Always Be Creating. Create something everyday. It doesn’t have to be a song. It could be a poem, a photograph, a painting. Somedays, when life is really swampy, it might just be the way you arrange your kids’ food on their plate to look like a face. But the key is to always keep that spark alive. That muscle moving.
Q: You share a lot of your cat and singing covers on your instagram! What has been your favorite song to cover?
ROOK: Yes! I love covers. I just can’t play ’em straight, though. I have to change them up. Play with the timing and the key. Create a backstory. I like to become the character when I perform them. They are like little films in my head. It is so hard to choose a favorite.
I loved covering “A Beautiful Thing” by the Handsome Family. It was the second Garageband-session cover I released when I was regaining my hearing. I really love how it came out. It reminds me a bit of the film “Tideland” by Terry Gilliam (based on the book by Mitch Cullin). And I adore the Handsome Family. I had the honor of being their opening act in the UK for several dates back in the day.
I also just launched my own Patreon account last October. I wanted a place to share covers, and videos, and unreleased material. For the kickoff month, I released three Halloween-themed cover song videos. The music was recorded live and then mixed with video I shot myself. I went all out with costumes and makeup and video editing. I got to be a tormented vampire in my version of Jan Verstraeten’s “Vampire in My Bed”, a coffee-drinking Texas Hill Country walking werewolf in “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon, and a work-from-home zombie in “Frankenstein” by New York Dolls. It was so fun making these. And I love all three of these songs so much and not just for Halloween. Monsters have a special place in my heart.
Q: What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you?
ROOK: Good question. Success is so often measured by dollars or streams or likes or sales. In those terms, many artists including me would be considered failures. But art and music are lifeboats. They get people through hard times. Music helped me get through cancer. If that is the only thing it has done, it is a success. If I can also help other people get through their hard times, then how could I not think it is worthwhile.
Q: What are some of your goals – whether musically or otherwise – for 2023?
ROOK: Now that I can hear in stereo once more, I plan on heading back into the studio and recording with my Nord Electro keyboard again. I have a bunch of new songs to record. And since I often think of my songs as little films, I would love to have one of my songs land in a movie or television show. That would be cool. It is a definite goal of mine.
Reviewed & Interviewed by Katie Power
Photo by Larissa Rook
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