Pictoria Vark on platonic love songs and 'The Parts I Dread'
Pictoria Vark (the stage name of bassist Victoria Park) looks back across state lines on her April debut The Parts I Dread. Composed in the wake of a sudden move from her New Jersey hometown to Wyoming, the album reflects on emotional changes and the meaning of home — with a deep love for friends and family at its core.
VPM Music caught up with her to learn more about the album, her recent work with musician and producer Rain Johannes and her upcoming show: Feb. 26 at Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington, D.C.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Annie Parnell: You've got brand new music — a remix of "Bloodline II" from your April debut, "The Parts I Dread." Tell me about this track.
Pictoria Vark: I have been friends with Rain [Johannes], who did the remix, for a few years now. We met at a house show, and he did the session for the single version of “Good For” in 2020. And he's this amazing acoustic singer-songwriter. But in his spare time, he makes beats and does bass and drum music. So I thought it would be so fun to work with this person in this new capacity that I already know and trust. I just said, “Have fun, here are all the stems, do whatever you want with it.” And what he turned around was just so awesome.
It’s the kind of music that I know I right now can't make — I'm so bad with technology and synths and all of that stuff. So, to be able to work with someone who is a little more competent in those areas, and to make music like that, is just so fun and a different way of collaborating than my songwriting process.
The new remix is called “Bloodline III,” and it's a bit of a style shift. How would you say the two versions are in conversation with each other?
What I love about “Bloodline III” is that it adds kind of a fun energy to the song, whereas I think “Bloodline II” is a lot more mellow in order to accentuate the lyrics and the bassline. Being able to hear the new melodies in a different context is super fun, and I think speaks to the strength of the song as a whole.
You mentioned it's a different style. How does your songwriting process typically tend to go?
I am such a slow writer. I have some friends who are like, “Yeah, I wrote like three new songs this week.” And I'm maybe a “two to three songs a year that I like” kind of person. I write really slowly. But I also do it with a lot of care, and it's a very interior process. I don't really have a lot of collaborators — when I write I usually work through things myself. And I like that. It offers me a sense of reflection, and a place to do creative problem solving with music, and figure out my own voice as a songwriter.
I was going to say [“The Parts I Dread”] definitely has a reflective element.
I feel like so much of that was coming from that space of reflecting on things and trying to look for questions, and answers, where I didn't really know where else to turn — except inward. It means so much that it's resonated with people.
“The Parts I Dread” opens with the song “Twin.” I love that Mountain Goats reference in the lyrics to [the characters] Jeff and Cyrus. What other influences informed the album?
I grew up listening to the Mountain Goats. I remember hearing “All Hail West Texas” and just feeling so enraptured by the way [John Darnielle] tells stories, and I think really isolates individual moments, which is something that I think [his work] shares in common with “The Parts I Dread” even though it doesn't necessarily match .
In addition to that, I was really inspired by Snail Mail and My Bloody Valentine, Cat Power’s album “Moon Pix,” and Boris for more of the aesthetic elements — some of the really fuzzed-out sounds that we get on the guitar work, the overall vibe.
Jeff and Cyrus are in “Best Ever Death Metal Band [Out of Denton],” and in a way it is a platonic love song. Do you have other favorite platonic love songs?
I love “Graceland Too” by Phoebe Bridgers. I think that's also a great song about friendship, and you hear Julian Baker and Lucy Dacus come in with the harmonies. My friend Lainey Gonzalez also has this one song, “I Love You a Lot (Marty’s Interlude).” It's this ambient guitar and violin undertone to this voicemail she receives from one of her friends, and it's just so beautiful. I also have to shout out Hemlock: Her latest album has a lot of voicemails from friends and family.
There's a million and one romantic love songs. So much of [“The Parts I Dread”] is about friends and family in both positive and negative ways. When you love your friends so much, but it’s embarrassing to tell them — that’s a feeling that shows up in my music quite a bit. It's been so meaningful to show appreciation for the people in my life that have been there in a platonic way. And it's, in some ways, even more powerful.
When Lucy Dacus’ last album [“Home Video”] came out, she talked about approaching and sharing it with the people it was about. Is that a process that you went through?
In an indirect way. In the vinyl insert, my friend Steven did this really awesome collage, and they include a lot of photos from my life. They're mostly photos that I took, [including] photos of my friends. So I had to ask, “Can I put you in the album artwork?” And they said yes. They didn't know that in “Friend Song,” their voices would be on it too. That was a surprise I had for them, knowing they would hear it.
So in a way I was like, “They know that they're somehow related to this,” but it was nice to be able to also add in that extra touch of a surprise gift.
That sounds like such a beautiful moment to be able to share with someone, playing that song.
Oh my gosh, making that was just so fun. We pulled all the audio clips from times we had spent together, and we tried to make it sound like a party. And it just felt so fun being able to visualize those moments too, as the song is playing. It was so fun to share with my friends, and then also be able to get that sense of intimacy — to have them think about their own friends and cherished memories.
Obviously, there's a few songs on the album that are named after places But a lot of them take up themes of location and closeness, or the lack thereof. How was that on your mind?
That is definitely one of the main throughlines of the songs, and it’s because that's just how my life was unfolding at the time. Being uprooted from where I grew up in New Jersey to Wyoming — where I'd never been before — while balancing between being in school in Iowa and going abroad to Paris, it was a confusing time for me in terms of locating what and where home is.
The geography of it is really the backdrop for the internal changes and emotional turbulence that follow. So much of moving around felt out of my control, so making music about it felt like a way of harnessing that, and it gave me an outlet to put those feelings and frustrations somewhere else.
You’re on tour throughout February. What can listeners expect to hear?
We are going to be playing a lot of songs from this album, which I'm so excited to do with my longtime friends, Jason and Gavin, who also played on the record. And I'm going to be trying out some new songs, just me solo. I'm excited to bring those into this space and see how people respond to them.
And what's next?
Trying to rest and write a little bit more. Last year was a lot for me. It was the most I'd ever toured before. Between my project and some of the other projects I played bass for, I was gone for like six months, and I don't think I can do that again this year. So, trying to balance out being on tour with being home a little bit more, get settled into routine and create space to keep writing.