Breaking Skin: The Music of Rikki Rakki

by | Jul 22, 2023 | MUSIC, ROCK & INDIE

My FaceTime call with Rikki Rakki opened up on the picturesque scene of the four band members drinking cocktails on a wooden porch in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. I felt as though I interrupted a most intimate moment of not only a band, but a dear group of friends in the midst of a hang out in which I was not invited. Of course I was, if only for a brief phone call during which we were to discuss their music, but the scenario could not have been more intoxicating to an addled mind sitting at a desk in the city dreaming for a Summer night.

The framing proved to be a problem, as not every member could get onto my screen, so they picked up their laptop and went inside of the Airbnb cottage that they were staying in. Once past the threshold I saw a disaster area of the most beautiful kind: guitars littered the floor, a drum kit sat center stage, and the lighting was low, I can only guess, to evoke the kind of creative energy that only a laid back environment late at night surrounded by those you love can provide. 

The band was on a writing retreat with their whole studio set up in tow. They had gotten as far away from home as they reasonably could, and about as much isolation as the east coast of the United States can provide. The goal was simple: to work on new material. This seemed an odd choice to me, for reasons that will become evident momentarily, as the group was just wrapping up another large project, but I dare not question the artists.

Seating themselves around a dining room table, I was formally introduced in turn to the members of the band who I had met in passing a few months ago at an all too common bleary-eyed night at The Camel. From left to right sat Erika Blatnik, singer and principal songwriter, Andy Brown, the band’s faithful bass player, Jay Kole, the slickly named host of the band’s practice space, and Matt Luger, the multi-instrumentalist lurking behind the band’s vibe. After a few quips with my fellow Andrew, our conversation began in earnest.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Rikki Rakki is a rock band from Richmond, Virginia. The band, having played together for a few years, put out an EP in May of 2022 and since then have played up and down the east coast, have appeared on WRIR’s Commonwealth of Notions, River City Sounds, and has collaborated with Hourglass Sessions to perform their song “Souls” live at Maymont. They put in their lap around the block and then some, and now it’s time for the group to release their first full length record.

Released yesterday July 21st, 2023, Breaking Skin, not to be confused with the single of the same name the band released in May of this year, is the first studio album by Rikki Rakki. The group will be celebrating this momentous occasion tonight Saturday Jul 22nd at Gallery 5 with Ruth Good and Knifing Around, two local favorite bands. Recorded by the band over the course of approximately a year, everything was done in house save for the mastering which was performed by Dan Millice, a Grammy winning mastering engineer based out of New York. 

Although principal production began last year, Blatnik, the songwriter for this work of music, says she had been writing the pieces since approximately 2016, and had been laying down demos for them up until last year. The year of 2016 onward has been, to put it mildly, a trying time for the world, and Blatnik was not left out of that turmoil. “It was written during a period that was tough for me, so it’s a lot of processing… I was doing a lot of walking, but I was basically walking all over Richmond all the time, and a lot of the time at night, so I think a lot of [the music] is the vibe of the city at night,” said Blatnik. When I asked what they were trying to achieve sonically with their music, Kole cut in with, “walking through the city at night by the river; can that be our genre?” much to the band’s amusement. He elaborated in more concrete genre terms by saying “we call it stargazy instead of shoegazy.”

This DIY ethic allowed them to do what they wanted when they wanted to without the money and pressure of booked time at a pro studio breathing down their necks. “Jay and I recorded way more bass and drum takes than we could have if we had been watching the clock… what we were able to put on the record feels good and relaxed.” said Brown. 

The demos in which Blatnik recorded her ideas for over 5 years before the band began putting them together didn’t get left behind in this process either, as many demos turned into the basis for the actual finished product. The at home process additionally allowed for a freedom of instrumentation that would be hard to lug to a studio for a hard day at work. Blatnik used a variety of found sounds and children’s instruments in the initial recording, and the group felt that scrapping those ideas and attempting to replicate them in the studio would have diminished the spontaneous nature of their birth. 

Discussing the lyrical themes, Blatnik kept harkening back to those nights she spent wandering around the city in a haze. In 2020 she found herself, like many others, furloughed from her job. With little else to do she took to those walks through the city for solace, and usually wandered down to the river where she would gather various objects and pick flowers. She waxed poetic about themes of traveling through time, moving through different spaces, and looking at the makeup of ourselves as atoms. “It’s not exactly a concept album, but to me it is, because, it’s like, my life,” said Blatnik, adding to the somewhat rambly nature of her witticisms, “It’s hard to put it into words, but that’s why I write songs instead of essays.”

In addition to writing all of the songs for Breaking Skin, Blatnik has done not only the artwork for it, but the artwork for all of Rikki Rakki’s past releases. During the same time that she was furloughed in the Spring of 2020 Blatnik built a darkroom in her bathroom. She would create photograms; artworks made by exposing negatives on to photo paper obstructed by an object and creating a negative image of it on the paper. Blatnik would create little scenes that she began matching up to songs that she was working on at the time. 

In a unique twist on the standard album release show, Rikki Rakki will be featuring these artworks at Gallery 5 for the public to witness and they showcase their passionate music. In addition to that, to accompany the digital release the band will be releasing a zine of all the artworks. This return to physicality, to have some kind of artifact to accompany the music that is almost 100% digital these days, is a common theme among those bands who strive for album work and don’t play the singles game. On the subject Blatnik said, “I think we all grew up doing the same thing where we would get the CD and go home and put it on and read through all the lyrics and look through the booklet as you’re listening to the record… There’s something really beautiful and nostalgic about being able to hold that piece of art in your hand.”

All of this is unique and exciting, so why on Earth is Rikki Rakki on a writing retreat the week before the release of their first record? On this Brown said, “we’ve been doing these songs for so long, but we’re stoked to write some new stuff together, and use this time to bring on the next chapter.” Luger was equally as excited about the new material, saying, “It’s nice to step into a group where they have songs, and a vision for how they want them to go… [but] we haven’t just created just the four of us together. I think yesterday we did that for the first time.”

Rikki Rakki represent the kind of dynamic personalities, chemistry, and love for their artform that money can’t buy. Breaking Skin is out today everywhere you get your music, and if you find yourself unable to stop thinking about the jangly rock tunes pouring out of your sound system, then head on out to Gallery 5 Saturday night July 22nd for an evening of unforgettable music with a truly one of kind band that pour their heart and soul into everything they do. 

Give Rikki Rakki a follow @rikki_rakki_music

Andrew Bonieskie

Andrew Bonieskie

I'm a writer and musician living in Brooklyn, NY after having served as the Associate Editor of RVA Mag from 2023 - 2024. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in music and a minor in creative writing I have gone on to score feature and short films, released a book of poetry, recorded multiple albums of original music with my band Pebbles Palace and as a solo artist under the name Lawrence Bones.

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