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Rachel Lark is the Heroine We Need but Don’t Deserve

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Photo by @kwrez via @rachellarkmusic on Instagram

By Matt Haze

Within earshot of the 580 Freeway in West Oakland, sharing a block with two houses of worship, Rachel Lark literally lives in a walled garden. In contrast, Lark’s highly-collaborative, situationally-responsive approach to creating is anything but closed off and preachy.

We recently spoke at her home about what she’s been up to in the Time of COVID-19 and what’s next. For those who want to see her live, she’s also performing tonight, Sunday, November 14th, at The Independent in San Francisco. Tickets are right here.

“My trailer habit has grown during the pandemic. I started with a 15’ vintage trailer that I turned into a music studio. That’s where I do all my writing.”

With the help of a friend, she then built out a 24’ trailer in the backyard of a group house that became her “bachelor pad”.

“[When I got the trailer], someone had already done a lot of the grunt work, like straightening the frame, reinforcing the undercarriage – stuff that is not that sexy to talk about but important.”

One could argue that “not that sexy to talk about but important” is a cornerstone of the social commentary resounding through her body of work, one that exists demonstrably outside of the cliche-riddled leftist echo chamber. Her words are wholly her own and she owns every last one. Still, the missives are open-ended enough for listeners to apply Lark’s lessons learned to their own lived experiences. There is grief, there is anger, there is emancipation.

As an artist who is known for delivering intense live performances, she had to find new ways to connect with fans.

Our industry was the first hit and is still a bit of a question mark. It was already so hard surviving as a full-time artist in this country, especially in the Bay Area. When the opportunity to perform went away, I had to take a very hard look at my career choice and figure out how to make it work.

[When COVID hit,] I was fortunate to already have my Patreon supporters giving me continual support, so I was able to continue making art through the pandemic. I made a few music videos.  I made an album, I made a podcast. Through that process, I was able to employ other artists, which was really important to me.

The video for “Do You Wanna?”, released this past September, directed by Lark and shot entirely on her iPhone, flips her frustration with the patriarchal power dynamic into a clown-kink fantasy. Various stand-ins top a generic tormenter as the shibari rope-clad singer struts through a brick-walled garden overgrown with weeds.

She roars at the camera:

Yeah it’s so much fun to play around with these traps you set for me
Yeah you know I like it when you shut down the power left in me
Yeah I’m stretchin’ all my metaphors ’til I got the floor
‘Til I got your attention more
So what do you do now?

Rachel Lark often moves through multiple distinct moods in a single song. She’ll deliver plaintive self-examination in one breath, followed by acerbic satire with the snarling urgency of a punk provocateur in the next. She’s baring it all for us, so we don’t have to.

A word that comes to mind to describe Rachel Lark’s work and personality is generous. I think, sometimes, that we don’t deserve someone like her – pouring all that she does into her work as an artist, an activist and leader in her community, maintaining a level of integrity rarely evinced by those in the entertainment world.

Still, like the rest of us, she just wants to connect. She says:

I want to do my part to provide levity, healing and relief. That’s what artists do and have always done.”

Performing is how I get my emotional ‘food’. It’s not just about money. It’s about that feedback loop when there’s a crowd – something resonates when you’re sharing a collective experience. Not having that was just devastating. Now that it’s back, it’s like, “This is who I am. Right, got it!”

Now I’m really cautiously optimistic. People seem hungry for live shows. Even if there are moments where they can’t happen, they will still happen.

Once or twice a year, I do a big show where I bring in special guests, show a lot of new material, and conceptualize old material. Since this is our first show in over two years [as Rachel Lark and the Damaged Goods], there’s a lot to share.

There will be excerpts from my upcoming musical, Coming Soon, singers from the concept album (released in July 2021). We’ll have a string section. My good friend Snatch Adams will be there and Fou-Fou Ha, which is an absolutely brilliant performance troupe.

In her eloquent expressions of pleasure, suffering and social upheaval, Rachel Lark shows us a reflection of ourselves that we haven’t yet earned in therapy. The common threads through it all are radical honesty, daring vulnerability and an openness to the idea that perhaps, against all odds, things could get better for the lot of us, if we could just…come together.

Rachel Lark and the Damaged Goods play tonight, Sunday, November 14th, at The Independent in San Francisco. Tickets are still available here and at the door.

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