Praying to our own Beat: The Music of Clarissa Rodriguez

Written by Alexander Greco

May 13, 2019

Released Saturday, May 11th, Holy Kerouac’s first EP, Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, is a nostalgic walk through our old emotions, dreams and hopes, and a bittersweet reconcilement with the world we live in now—the world that threatens what we once held sacred. Holy Kerouac is a solo project started by Clarissa Rodriguez, a member of Solace Sutra, and is Clarissa’s expression of deeper, more personal emotions and sentiments. The EP is about hope and hopelessness, the sacred and the absurd, and the journey to find meaning in meaninglessness.

When I interviewed Clarissa, she told me that this EP was more personal to her than her work with other musicians. It’s all at once an homage to her literary heroes—Ginsberg, Kerouac, and others of the Beat Generation—an exploration of sound and emotion, and an entirely self-made creation. From the music and lyrics to the recording and mixing, Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird is entirely a product of Clarissa’s imagination, design and effort. It’s three songs that say, “This is me, this is who I am, and this is what I have created.”

The first song, “Delirium” is a somber and dark track about depression and anxiety. It is at once a lucid, simple and arid song, and a distorted, dissonant and chaotic song; a song about clarity and a song about confusion. The song seems to be saying that what is most clear with our lives is how unclear our lives are. The simplest explanation of our lives is that they are complex. At our most lucid, we see how insane we are, and our rationality does little more than reveal our irrationality.

In this song, Clarissa combines steady, solid percussion with digital sampling, electronic distortion, and poetic lyrics to form a landscape of rumbling, rambling emotion. Clarissa’s lyrics borrow concepts and language from the poetry of the Beat Generation, though Clarissa seems to have identified her own, unique voice across this EP. She couples this with the beats and ambience of lo-fi, and the subtle psychedelia of

 “Delirium” is dreamy, haunting, and bittersweet. It is an homage to our past, a march toward our future, and a photograph of our present lives. It’s a remembrance of what we once were, of a life that felt sacred, and a questioning of who we are now, what is sacred anymore. It is the confusion of facing unsolvable dilemmas, asking unanswerable questions, and bearing arbitrary crosses.

The second song of the EP, “Oh, Little Bee”, is easily my favorite song on the EP. I kind of can’t get over this one.

Everything from the flow of the song (the rhythm, the pulse, the starts and the stops, the rises and the falls), the subject matter of the song, the layering and harmonization of the upper, mid, and lower range, and the haunting use of distortion, reverb and chorus effects.

The song stands on the edge of self-love and self-loathing, and drifts through old memories and spectral emotions. It explores the dissonance between our dreams and ideals, and the realities of our life. The song ebbs and flows between the tumbling events of our strange lives, and the breath-taking epiphanies that define our hopes and fears. The staticky reverb of Clarissa’s soulful croons ring like a choir of doubting angels, and blossoms in your ears like a moaning congregation.

I think this song best epitomizes the sentiment of this EP. It mixes the holy with the fallen. It mixes something pure and angelic with something broken and confused. There is a somber certainty mixed with an ironic doubt and cynical self-deprecation. It approaches the proposition of Ginsgberg’s Howl, that all is holy and nothing is holy, and asks, “Then what am I?”

And yet, there is a sense of bittersweet hope in the song. There is a feeling that perhaps the absurd can be sacred. Perhaps broken lives can give birth to powerful lives. Perhaps a cure for our doubts can be found in doubt itself.

The last song on the EP, “Picture of Health” has an almost bluesy feel to it, though it still uses elements of synth/electronica, lo-fi and pop-punk. Once again, the pacing of this song is half of what makes it great to listen to. The delivery of each line is impactful, and the steady rhythm of the song matches the relaxing melancholy of the upper-end.

The song is about the day-by-day journey of survival. It’s about the endless march we all take through our lives, and the dim hopes we cling to as we “get by”. It’s about the vast deserts of purposelessness we must cross as we search for some oasis of meaningfulness. It’s about the beating drum of our personal marathons, the reeling listlessness between one moment and the next, and the stumbling crawl of modern life.

Though the EP is short, it is dense with haunting vocals, a unique blend of lo-fi and pop-punk influences, and the enduring sentiment of the Beat Generation. Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird is a glimpse from the bottom, a glimpse from the lowest of lows. It is glimpse from the bottom, which stares at the distant ideals of the divine far above us, and searches for the path forward, a path toward the divine. It is a beacon of light amidst the grey fog of suburbia.

Clarissa comes from a diverse community of musicians, which is reflected in both the style and the quality of her first EP. Not only has she been influenced musically by local artists like Mallgoth, 49th Octave, and the regional art-collective known as Gulf Coast Ghost, but she’s also been influenced by the attitude and the work ethic of these musicians. Clarissa told me she’s inspired by the urgency, the creativity and the personalities of musicians she plays with, and her music is influenced by the widely-diverse genres of these artists.

If you haven’t listened to Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a sign of good things to come, both metaphorically and literally. Clarissa is still working on her solo project, Holy Kerouac, and expects to have a full-length album coming soon. While this EP was sad and somber, Clarissa’s next album will introduce more energy and hopefulness.

Until then, go give the music of Clarissa Rodriguez a listen. It’s worthy of a few play-throughs.

Pillars of Flesh

Jason stared at the corkboard above his desk. One of the flashcards he’d pinned to it was tilted so it leaned down on the right and up on the left. He held the cared against the corkboard, pulled the pin out, then inserted the pin a smidge further to the left. When he let go of the card, the right side swung down even further, and the left side tilted up even higher.

That’s not how that’s supposed to work, he thought to himself.

He repeated the process, holding the card against the corkboard, pulling the pin out and putting the pin back in even further to the left. The right side dropped even further, and the left side moved even higher. Jason stared at the flashcard. What first seemed like an easily-corrected oddity to him now seemed utterly wrong.

Jason sat there staring at the board, almost terrified to try fixing it again, but, eventually he mustered up the resolve. He held down the card, pulled the pin out, then pushed it into the top-left corner of the card. When the right end swung straight down, Jason jumped out of his chair and backed away from the desk.

Something was wrong. Not the normal, fixable sort of wrong. It was as if some rule that governed reality had been broken.

Jason scanned the room. Something about the windows seemed strange. Jason’s bed appeared to be standing on solid ground, but it might fall to the ceiling at any moment. Then Jason turned to look at his bookshelf.

When Jason looked at his bookshelf, a wave of horror overtook him. He couldn’t read any of the titles on the book bindings. They were all just shapes and lines—squiggles and sharp angles that should have been in English, but they could’ve been in any language now. They were titles he should have known, titles he should have been able to remember without reading them, but he couldn’t tell what any of the books were.

There was a knock on the door. Jason whipped around, almost yelping at the sudden sound, but then he was relieved. It was probably one of his parents, and they’d be able to help him. Jason walked to the door and opened it.

Jason looked where a face should be, but there wasn’t a face. Jason didn’t know what was there. He only saw an arrangement of shapes and colors—curves and colors and shapes and patterns—and Jason couldn’t understand what he was looking at.

Then the arrangement of shapes and colors began making sounds, but it was all nonsense. As far as Jason could tell, all the sounds he heard were disjointed scrapes, hums, clicks and hisses—some absurdist symphony of strange mutterings.

Jason’s mind reeled trying to make sense of what was happening. Something Jason couldn’t begin understanding was at his door, making noise at him. Panicked confusion galloped through Jason’s head. He slammed the door, locked it and stepped away from it. The thing on the other side started making even louder noises. Their pitch warped and churned into a tumbling of dissonant emotions.

Jason ran across the room to his desk. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out small, foam ear-plugs he used when he studied, twisted them, and pushed them into his ears. They expanded, filled his ears, and soon Jason couldn’t hear the sounds coming from the other side of the door. Jason then went to his bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him. He sat down on the floor and tried to calm himself down. What’s going on? he wondered. What’s happening?

Nothing made sense. Nothing, not a single thing around him. He looked around his bathroom, and only knew what the cabinets, the shower, the toilet and the sink were after he stared at them and pieced together what the shapes and colors meant. That thing is square and brown, with a small, white sphere on one side. It must be a cabinet. And that thing there is… That thing is…

Jason was now looking at the mirror, only the mirror wasn’t a mirror. It was a whole different dimension of the room he was sitting in that had exploded into the wall. It took Jason minutes to understand what he was looking at. Once he finally understood that it was a mirror—though only logically, he had no intuitive grasp of what he saw—he stood up and looked at it.

In the mirror, Jason saw another arrangement of colors and forms—like the one he’d seen on the other side of the door—except this one moved when he moved, blinked when he blinked, stared where he stared. It’s me, he thought. I know I’m looking at my own reflection, but… I can’t see myself. Then, Jason noticed a fork of red streaming down the arrangement. He moved a hand to his face—which also moved in the mirror—and touched the red.

Jason looked down. It took a moment to realize the segmented pink-white-red-tan pillars of flesh emerging from the warped square of similar, wrinkle-carved flesh was his own hand. He noticed there was red on these pillars of flesh now. What was it doing there? It came from his face, hadn’t it? Why was there red streaming down his face?