In the woods: An interview with Klarka Weinwurm

Illustration by Kristian BauthusInterview by Andrew Sisk with illustration by Kristian Bauthus

The former Czechoslovakia had many nights like this. A young family pressed under the lack of opportunity and scrutiny of a paranoid communist government making the decision to leave. Fleeing in the night and leaving all of their belongings behind for a new life, they stepped carefully through the dark streets, out of the cities, and under the cover of darkness. Slipping across borders and arriving in refugee camps outside of the iron curtain, they waited for papers to bring them to a permanent settlement in far away places. Klarka Weinwurm was 8 months old when she left, what is now, Slovakia before spending several months in a Yugoslavian refugee camp en route to Ontario, Canada. She was too young to remember her father singing songs in the night or what the camp itself looked like. The old world remained behind as they slowly made their way to the suburban life she would come to know.

As an adult, she has found a home and small streams of income that allow her the time and freedom to create when she needs to in rural Nova Scotia. She has exchanged the large place of her youth for a small town with a vibrant arts community where everyone says hello to everyone else. A 26-year-old Klarka returned to visit her relatives in Slovakia and as they sat in a vineyard drinking wine and singing traditional songs she realized that there was a feeling that came from the music that had stayed with her in her own creations. Whether or not it’s possible to quantify the elements she has carried on from her ancestors, there is something that sets her apart as she embraces modern music as her vehicle.

A free spirit is hard to find these days, someone who is hard to get a hold of and seems to think in ways that illicit an abstract understanding of time and consequence. Klarka Weinwurm chooses to live in a house in the woods when she’s not on tour which only begins to explain the duality of her character and music. She sings so softly while playing sludgy melodic riffs and intersperses her dark folky ukulele songs throughout a set of a hodgepodge of influences.She stands out amongst the wave of singer-songwriters in her surroundings for the choices she seems destined to make as an artist.

How have you been spending your time this past year?

It’s been a year of changes for me. I must say, I feel quite alive. Excited and nervous at the same time. The release of my first full length album was a big accomplishment, a completed goal. Now that all that hard stuff is over with I feel like I am pumped to do it all over again. Other than that, this year has been about “home” and the meaning of that word for me. I think I am still searching for it in a way.

What have you discovered lately?

I have discovered the fun in learning new skills. It’s been very empowering. I learnt how to use a lawnmower for the first time this fall. My sister was always the one who did this growing up. I have become more skilled at painting too. The industrial kind. Although, the creative form would be just as nice to pick up sometime. I have discovered that the meaning of life is so so simple and that sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to fulfill.

Your new album “Continental Drag” contains a lot of interesting quiet/loud dynamics, how did that come about?

I think that reflects my personality a bit. I’ve got all those sides, like most people. In songwriting I tend to create both styles. especially lately. I started off as a folk writer and now that I have moved onto more of a band sound I still tend to be dragged back to the soft stuff. I think i’ll always do both. Those sounds and performance styles satisfy me in different ways.

When and where do you normally write?

I almost always write after smoking-blank, when I am alone and when I know no one can hear me. Once in a while songs come to me when I am walking, alone, in the woods or on a quiet road. It’s a private thing, and when it’s done I release it.

Your music seems to synthesize some muddy and sludgy sounds with softer feelings, do you think that is your sound or will that change in the future?

It’s bound to change but I am not sure how much. We are influenced all the time by everything. I feel good about what I am doing right now, it makes sense to me. Maybe I will go back to being a singer songwriter if I can’t find a band that lives close enough. And then I would be sad.

What rules do you have for yourself when you’re creating?

Be open to anything. If it sounds cheesy ask someone’s opinion who you trust listens to good music. Keep on it, even if you get sick of it. It takes a day or two to refresh from playing something over and over. Don’t over analyze the sound style.

What else do you do in your life that you find inspires you to write music?

I find traveling is when I am the most inspired. New people, new places, new spontaneous experiences. It’s definitely hard to draw away from the dark songs when it’s winter and you are doing similar things all the time. I could write about how my car only has two winter tires and how sketched out I feel when I am about to drive on these roads. I’d drive right into the ocean! I guess in these seasonal circumstances you have to pick out the little things that are special and write about them. Gord Downie is really good at that.

What is your relationship with your music? What places does it hold in your life? Has that changed over the years?

The music business aspect of things gets me down sometimes. The wheeling and dealing. I haven’t been so good at that. I just hope to keep doing what is true to me, along with the other things in my life that are important and bring me joy. I don’t want to get jaded about it all. That is a fear of mine. Music has always been something that has played a huge role in who I am. It’s the only thing I could confidently say that I will keep doing till the end. It’s my sunshine, my passion.

Is touring something you enjoy or is it a chore?

I love to travel and the thought of combining this with music has always been really exciting for me. I live in the country so being able to hang out in all those cities and see new faces in a nice change.Touring can also be very difficult for many reasons. It’s hard being crammed in a vehicle for long distances and it’s hard sleeping in random places all the time. On the other end it’s what I find so thrilling about it. Some days it’s a chore, all the deadlines and the late nights when you would otherwise stay home and do nothing. It’s a skill that could be improved.

What is something not related to music that you would like to do in the near future?

I would love to travel outside of canada again. Perhaps do a road trip down to new orleans for the food and music and interesting characters. I have also thought about opening a cafe/restaurant/music venue/ campground. My life is pretty open at the moment, who knows where it’ll go.

What are the best parts of making albums and playing music? The worst parts?

One of the best parts is writing a song in it’s simple form, bringing it to another musician and seeing where they can take it. Recording defines it all, sets it in concrete and allows me to share it with the world. It’s a gift that I really enjoy sharing. But I love being on stage the most. Thats where the thrill really comes from. It can be so personable and immediate. There’s nothing like that feeling after playing live, especially with a band behind me to livin it up. The worst part is the financial aspect. If you don’t have the money everything is harder and takes a lot longer. That’s just the reality of our world. It’s something I am learning to accept.

What is next for you?

I’ve got enough songs at this point to record an EP. Hopefully this spring I will get to that. I plan to do it more simply this time, more of a live of the floor sound with a few overdubs.