Penchant for Sarcasm: The Karina Rykman Story

May 14, 2020
Marty Halpern

Karina Rykman | Photo: Steph Port

Karina Rykman headed out on tour before she finished college, happily bouncing around as the bass player for Marco Benevento. Despite being “new” or “green,” as Rykman likes to say, she has already released two singles, “Plants” and “Elevator,” and accomplished one critical element to success – credibility.

Through her podcast, DJing gigs big and small, adding to her growing art portfolio, or playing the bass, Rykman is rapidly becoming more and more visible in the indie music and jam band scene. It’s that continued visibility – mixed with talent and timing – that has solidly established Rykman as a presence in the artistic world she wants to live in. And she’s only in her mid-20’s.

“Karina’s love of music, dedication to her craft, and effervescent energy, all combine to make her a great bass player.  Her personality shines through in her music…. she’s got the groove.” – Dave Dreiwitz

There is no question where the Karina Rykman story begins. As a teenager she joined a music program called Tomato’s House of Rock, which featured musicians and students collaborating to put a performance together. While Aaron Freeman (aka Gene Ween) was working with the students, his Ween bandmate/bassist Dave Dreiwitz would often hang out at the rehearsals. A year or so later, Rykman bumped into Dreiwitz at 2012’s Mountain Jam. Rykman must have made an impression on him at Tomato House because Dreiwitz asked her to play guitar in his trio called “Crescent Moon.”

Rykman eagerly accepted the offer and the band played several gigs. It was around this time Dreiwitz decided to step away as bass player for Marco Benevento’s band. Before moving on, Dreiwitz insisted to Benevento that Rykman was the perfect replacement. That moment of interstellar dust exploding created the Karina Rykman star, and she doesn’t take the moment lightly.

Photo: Steph Port

“Nobody has done more for me than Dave Dreiwitz. Talk about an immeasurable amount of trust to put in a 22-year-old kid. It’s never lost on me how incredibly lucky I am to know those guys and they thought of me in that light when I was 22…young, dumb, and green,” Rykman states. “I was in four or five bands going nowhere. That’s where I was when this all went down. It changed my life. After three years of the school of Marco it has given me the confidence to write my own music, which is not something I did a ton of before that.”

Benevento says that Rykman’s contributions to his band are pronounced. “I can definitely say she adds so much to my own band. It’s undeniable. She is so much fun to play music with and equally as important to tour with. She’s looking out for everyone in the band and crew and you can really feel that. I mean she was personally recommended to me by the already legendary Dave Dreiwitz so that’s an immediate yes for me.”

Confidence is another pillar of success. Looking back, you can see Rykman’s transformation from someone thrilled for the opportunity to be on stage to someone who knows they belong there for the foreseeable future.

“In the past, I would always shoot down my own ideas and be like ‘this isn’t dope enough,’ or doesn’t stand on it’s own two feet,” Rykman remarks. “Now, from watching Marco more than anything, I have gotten the confidence to be like, ‘this is the riff.’ It’s dope enough and totally stands on its own.”

While the serendipitous meeting with Dave Dreiwitz opened a huge door, Rykman continues to put in the work to keep the momentum going. She has a degree in music invention and distribution from NYU. While finishing her degree and touring with Benevento, Rykman was also the general manager of independent concert promoters Rocks Off.

Juggling so many things at once has taught Rykman how to maximize her time. She will book concerts in the back of a tour van or reply to emails backstage before a show. Whatever it takes to keep up with all of the opportunities she is interested in.

“Being born when I was born and being able to do all this stuff leaves one kind of open to letting the muses play you,” she says.

Photo: Andrew Scott Blackstein

“If you’re open to seeing inspiration, following what you want to do in a given moment, and not being bound by labels. That’s how I’ve lived my life and how I’d like to continue to do so. I’m very grateful to be able to say that.”

A constant for Rykman that has endeared her to so many fans is her laid back attitude and perpetual smile. She freely admits she’s a smart ass and has a vocabulary that could make a sailor blush at times. Even though she takes the process of building her career seriously, anything else falls into the category of “We’re using our time for fun,” the slogan on the white t-shirt she wears for a Benevento show.

Along with her ingrained smile, Rykman also has a unique bounce to her when playing live. She will get so entrenched in the music, she’ll start moving in a unique (and involuntary) rhythmic bounce.

“Sometimes I’ll look at videos of myself playing and be like, ‘Jesus, what is she doing?’ Literally, I don’t even think about it. None of it is thought about. It shifts from song to song,” Rykman jokes. “If I see a video, I’m like ‘wow you were shifting back and forth a lot.’ It’s like, ‘what are you doing?’ I’m telling you nothing is premeditated.”

A big advantage Rykman will have as she furthers her career is the use of social media. Rykman uses multiple formats and platforms to get herself directly in front of her target audience. To quantify Rykman’s social media presence (as of 04/2020), her first single “Plants” released in June of 2019 has just shy of 170,000 listens on Spotify. Her second single, “Elevator,” released in November of 2019 is getting close to 70,000 listens. By contrast, “Oh Baby Can’t You See,” off of Marco Benevento’s 2019 release “Let It Slide” has 42,000 listens.

Rykman is thrilled with her early listening numbers, and comments “For me, I consider it an unprecedented amount because I have no label, no management, no agent, no nothing. I’m just some random girl that put out two songs. I’m so appreciative of anyone who listens to my music and can’t wait to give them more to listen to.”

Rykman is building a foundation for her future, brick by brick, as she tries to be as hands-on with her fans as possible. “I’m not an internet musician. I don’t have millions and millions of streams but with few tangible fans. I have lots of fans that really take the time to write to me and comment and tell me what my music and vibe has meant to them. I don’t take it for granted it all. I think it’s incredible. I love to interact with people. I love to take pics. All that stuff.”

Photo: Steph Port

When not performing on stage, there’s a good chance you can catch Rykman in the crowd at music venues throughout the New York City area. She was raised in New York City which gives her the ability to see almost any touring act. With so many options, it’s not surprising Rykman got bitten by the music bug early.

“Since I was 14 or 15, I became completely obsessed with live music and needed to be near it in any shape or form. I love seeing other musicians do what they do. It’s even more interesting to witness how other musicians play together and what they are bringing to the table. I see a wide variety of stuff. It’s not just jam bands or just rappers or something. I’m all in for a wide variety of stuff.”

Another area Rykman has been able to successfully balance is her different artistic interests. She co-hosts Relix’s “3 From The 7” weekly podcast with Raffaela Kenny-Cincotta. The “week in review” show gives Rykman valuable visibility and more credibility covering the ever expanding indie and jam band scene. With her Sharpie art and DJ gigs (with or without her bass), and you can see the importance of keeping everything in focus.

“I try not to be too hard on myself in terms of my creative output. Whatever is inspiring me in that moment is what I have to pay attention to. You can’t force capturing lightning in a bottle. It’s more of an ebb and flow throughout the days,” says Rykman.

“There will be times like it’s not going to be anything but music. Then sometimes in the midst of that, I’ll be like ‘I really want to draw right now.’”

For a musician that has yet to put out an album, Karina Rykman is way ahead of the game. She’s known, she’s talented, and she’s liked. Although she’s had success in many artistic avenues, Rykman is a musician and that’s where you would expect her to have the most success in the future.

“Being on stage is where I’m the happiest. There’s no doubt about it. I love to look out and see everyone dancing. Every time I do it, I say ‘this is what I was put here to do.’

“I can’t imagine anything bringing me more joy than that.”

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