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Karina Rykman
Karina Rykman
08/09/2017

Karina Rykman: Loving life on the bottom end

By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // With a huge Manhattan personality, bass player for Marco Benevento finds her groove in the fast lane. She wouldn't have it any other way.

Describing the speed of life in New York City to someone who has never spent time there is pretty difficult. Imagine people constantly being hyped up on triple espressos, walking faster than the traffic moves, and talking at you in a manner that not only leaves your head spinning but makes sense in a way that you never thought hearing every fourth word could. That comes close to describing your average New Yorker.

Now, multiply that by a factor of three and you start to get close to matching the unbridled pace and enthusiasm of Karina Rykman, bassist for Marco Benevento.

Rykman comes at life full-throttle. Only 23-years old, she has landed a spot with a very well-known artist, graduated from college with a bachelor's degree, and is part of a management team that runs a very successful business operating concert cruises around Manhattan.

And the pace to keep all that going?

"I love that, though. I'm born and raised Manhattan and I'm still here for a reason. I like high octane. I don't like to feel useless, I don't like to feel time passing too slowly. I love to be thrown into it," she explains.

Landing the Marco gig

Thrown into it is an apt description for how she landed the gig with Benevento. She was introduced to Benevento by Dave Dreiwitz, the longtime bassist for Ween. After Ween's run slowed in 2012, Dreiwitz began playing with Benevento.

Around this same time, Rykman was enrolled in a rock school called THOR (Tomato's House of Rock). Dreiwitz saw her playing one day and the two struck up a conversation that evolved into a dual mentoring and friendship role.

"He comes over all the time and we just practice, jam, and play music together," she says. "He's the best person in the stratosphere as far as I'm concerned."

When Ween reunited in early 2016, Dreiwitz realized it would be nearly impossible to work with both Benevento and Ween at the same time. Knowing Rykman's talent, Dreiwitz went to Benevento and insisted she be the only one to fill in for him during his absence, which was slated to be temporary.

During the first part of 2016, the two shared bass duties for Benevento before Dreiwitz officially left the gig last August and passed the torch to Rykman.

Since then she has been Benevento's full-time bass player, which is how I came across her this past spring when they played the Wonder Ballroom in Portland.

Rykman's performance that night was so solid that I paid more attention to her playing than I did Benevento's (my apologies, Marco).

Dave Butler, Marco Benevento, and Karina Rykman

Incredible versatility

Simply put, she can throw down some serious thump in the bottom end. Her lines were tight, solid, and the perfect groove for Benevento's heavily modified acoustic piano.

Her style of playing stood out to me and I was totally surprised to see her play parts that were closer to melodic leads than plucked bass lines, someplace most bass players never even attempt to venture.

Guitar was her first instrument at the age of 13 and she started playing bass shortly after, so it makes sense that those two distinct styles of playing would intermingle during her development.

"When I take my big bass solo (during Benevento's set), it is very full throttle, almost heavy metal-esque guitar riffing. I'm trying to build my groove so it is a mile wide. My technique that comes from playing lead guitar hasn't left, but I'm really trying to hone into these thick seventies grooves that are just unwavering."

Suddenly being thrust into a gig where you have to learn another artists entire repertoire might seem daunting, but Rykman approached it like everything else she tackles: head on and seriously.

One rehearsal followed by a month of angst

When she first landed the gig, Benevento's manager sent her some thirty songs, telling her these were the ones she absolutely had to learn.

She started by just listening. Her first goal was to commit the songs and their bass lines to mental memory before beginning to try to play them.

"Every free moment, or not free, moment of my day I would listen to the tunes just over and over. The entire list on repeat."

When she got to the point where she could hum the bass line, she began putting fingers to the frets and strings.

There is a difference, however, in learning to play the studio version of a song and the live version.

"A lot of these tunes vary live, so there I was on YouTube trying to figure out what they did on this night in 2010 or what they played at the Bowery Ballroom this other night."

Once she learned the songs, it was time for rehearsals. Or so she thought.

"Before my first show, we rehearsed together one time, all of us together in the same room, a month before the show and then never again. I remember that month being kind of nerve racking," she recalls chuckling a bit.

"Marco just had total faith in me and the first show was awesome and went off without a hitch. I can't believe the trust and faith he put in me and I had a lot of people to prove right. I wanted everybody to think they made the right decision in letting me sub."

Making it through school

Rykman's joining Benevento also overlapped her college studies and most likely wouldn't have happened at all had it not been for her attendance at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Unlike traditional college majors with set in stone curriculum requirements, Gallatin allows students to develop their own area of study building a concentration on a particular area of focus.

Rykman's concentration was titled Invention and Distribution in Contemporary Music. In addition to the creative and mechanical portions of music creation, the concentration included a considerable amount of learning the business side of the music industry.

The program's flexibility provided the space she needed to complete her academic studies while also launching her professional music career.

"If it wasn't for Gallatin and NYU, I probably would have been swallowed up in my scholastic learnings and wouldn't have been able to do something like (playing with Benevento), let alone touring. I feel very fortunate to have been in a place that fostered all that."

Nurturing and support also came from her parents, both of whom are academics. Her father is a philosopher at Columbia, while her mother is head of the French department at Barnard.

"My parents, God bless their souls, they knew from the second we found out about Gallatin that was the place I belonged.

"People ask me all the time if my parents are cool with all of this and I say absolutely. If you saw my parents at a Marco show, they have this (huge) grin on their faces at the side of the stage. They can't get enough, they're just so happy."

Empowering by not holding back

Gratitude and modesty are not typical hallmarks of out-sized New York personalities. Rykman, however, is full of both.

"I'm so grateful for music being the most inclusive thing I can think of. I get to play music with a band full of 40-year old men, whose to to say that could have happened to a girl my age ten years ago, twenty years ago?"

It was here that our conversation took a deeper, more reflective turn. Watching her play last spring brought questions to my mind about gender; there aren't that many female bass players, especially at the level Rykman is playing.

Her out-sized personality and sheer level of talent, combined with being in the right place at the right time, have brought her a long way. Which brought me to the question of whether she sees herself as a role model for other women.

"I am not shy, I'm not a diminutive figure. Whatever my loud personality brings to the table and makes people think about how a woman should or shouldn't behave, if it broadens their definitions of womanhood that Karina doesn't hold back, if women can be like that, then great.

"If I can be that person who empowers and inspires, then let it be so. I'm so grateful to be that for all these women who keep on telling me that. If I can inspire somebody to go for it in a male dominated field and hold their own, I'm grateful to be that person."

Staying grounded

For the moment, though, Rykman is loving every minute of her ride with Benevento.

"Every night on stage it is amazing to look over and see Marco Benevento and (drummer) Andy Borger. Complete masters of their instruments doing their thing and I'm just trying to hold it down."

Don't be fooled into thinking she's just along for the ride, though. Benevento clearly loves having her in the band and is effusive in his praise for her.

"Marco is so inclusive and he says my name several times during the show and wants me to shine. He really is to be commended for all of these things and not putting me behind an amp or not making me fall into the shadows."

In a music world full of huge egos, Benevento could very easily have gone in a different direction.

"He's always egging me on to be myself and myself is this big, boisterous personality.

"I've been really lucky to fall into this band in particular where I don't have to put on an image, I don't have to be somebody else, I don't have to reign myself in. This is a band where I can truly express who I am. It's an amazing thing."

ON TOUR: Karina Rykman will be appearing with Marco Benevento and Dave Butler in San Francisco at the Outside Lands music festival on Sunday, August 13, on the Panhandle Stage at 1:20PM. Limited tickets are still available.

BONUS ON TOUR: Marco Benevento appears in Portland on Wednesday, August 16, at the Jack London Revue in a rare solo piano performance. Doors 8:00PM / Show 9:00PM. Tickets are still available.

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Comments

Beth Krieger

So excited and proud of our alum, Karina, who was a major player in the jazz and rock music programs at The Calhoun School in Manhattan. Even then, we knew how talented she was!

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