Written By Alexander Greco
May 2, 2020
Following the release of the 2019 EP, Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, Clarissa Rodriguez has recently released the sophomore EP of their solo project, Holy Kerouac: Closer Now, More Than Ever. Nearly anything Clarissa creates possesses an intense passion and a courageous freedom of self-expression, and this most recent EP is no different. Just as I had the pleasure to talk with Clarissa about their first EP, we were able to have another great discussion about this latest release. The two of us spent nearly an hour on the phone discussing the influences on their music, their progression and growth as a musician, their new record label and, of course, the styles, themes, memories and ghosts present in Closer Now, More Than Ever.
Carrying similar themes of nostalgia, loss, growth and self-overcoming as Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, Clarissa’s newest work develops and matures these ideas as has been developing and maturing as both a musician and an individual. The title of the EP, Closer Now, More Than Ever, captures the intense emotions of longing for our distant friends. We take for granted so many of the people around us on a daily basis, to the point where we’re almost not present with them when they’re right in front of us. It’s only when they’re dozens, hundreds or thousands of miles away that we become painfully aware of them, or rather the memories of them.
As Clarissa explained to me, we sometimes become closer to people when we’re dragged farther away from each other. We think about these people more and more when they’re farther and farther away, and we appreciate those people more deeply in this way.
The EP begins with the bright, upbeat tune, “Coolant”. In this song, as well as others, Clarissa makes quite an effective use of distortion and synth, which creates a dreamy quality, both jarring and soothing. The added distortion of the vocals blends with the guitar and synth, creating an atmosphere of sound emanating from Clarissa’s words, surrounding you in the bittersweet emotions of nostalgia, longing and letting go. In various parts of the song, Clarissa also plays around with altering the key of their song by playing half note steps rather than whole steps, which adds to the chaotic energy of the song, and grabs the listeners attention with a jarring alteration of sound.
From the first song, we can already hear an influence of the now-classic post-punk, shoegaze and dream pop genres, but also present in the song is the influence of contemporary pop punk, folk punk and indie rock.
Clarissa told me one of the biggest influences for this EP was Modern Baseball, and right from the get-go, “Coolant” brings back my own memories of jamming to songs like “Your Graduation”, “Fine, Great” and “The Weekend”. While listening to the EP, I was also reminded of a variety of songs from bands like Tiny Moving Parts, The Front Bottoms and Dads. All of these bands manage an emotional rollercoaster ride from song to song, while still expressing a wide range of very personal and vulnerable topics and filling the listener’s ear with an expansive palate of unique sound, and Clarissa’s EP certainly accomplishes the same feat.
The next song, “Darling Value 5”, is a much more melancholy song than “Coolant”, still using distortion and layers of sound to create an atmosphere of sound, but this time scaling it back to an acoustic guitar and vocals. For this song, Clarissa focused much of the energy on the guitar-work, opting to trade a wall of sound for a somber intensity, which gives every word and every note of the song amplified meaning and emotion.
To further increase this quiet intensity and musical intentionality, Clarissa recorded “Darling Value 5” to sound like they were playing alone in a small room. Partially achieved by the light distortion and reverb in the song, this effect creates a feeling of confinement and isolation. Rather than exploding outward in chaotic sound, Clarissa’s thoughts and emotions are collapsed inwardly.
Here, we hear a similarity to another one of Clarissa’s major influences, Slaughter Beach, Dog. As with “Darling Value 5”, much of the power in Slaughter Beach, Dog’s music comes from its solemn acoustic music and quiet intensity. Half of the emotions don’t come from what the songs tell you, but from what the songs don’t tell you. As much as these emotions, these thoughts and these memories may haunt Clarissa inwardly, as much of an internal maelstrom as they may be, they are not allowed to explode outward as in “Coolant”, but rather Clarissa captures the small, powerful, intense expressions of thoughts and feelings that are deeply bottled up.
Part of what makes the song so powerful is not what is revealed, but the knowledge that this song reveals only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the small ripples of acoustic picking and the calm surface of gentle lyrics are vast oceans of years of memories, deep trenches of nights long-gone and unexplored miles of lost connections.
Next in the EP, “New Apartment” begins with a slow, almost reverential recollection of drastic changes, great tensions, and personal growth of one’s life. As with the layered blending of synth, guitar and vocals present in “Coolant”, Clarissa’s voice becomes something like a one-person choir, which then transitions into a dream-pop bridge, like a eulogy to ghosts of the past, before launching into the second half of the song—a driving, pop-punk Viking’s Funeral for these old memories.
The transition between the first half of the song to the second, as well as poppier bridge in the middle, mirrors the transition Clarissa is describing with the song—of moving into a new apartment, while moving on from their old life to their new life. We begin with the somber reverence of what once was and the mixed emotions of moving on from the familiar into the unknown. Then, we’re greeted by the growing excitement and new rhythm of our new lives as we begin to accept the major changes we’ve gone through.
Then, with the realization that everything is okay, we can allow ourselves the realization that everything is more than just okay. The second half of the song is filled the energy of potential and possibility of our new lives, the joy of making new memories, and the driving, raucous bravery to push forward into great unknown that lies before us.
There is a contrast and a tension between the first and second songs of the EP, “Coolant” and “Darling Value 5”. The first is of course wildly energetic and chaotic, while the second one is far calmer and solemn. Similarly, the same contrast exists in “New Apartment”. There is a tension between the past and the present—between familiarity and newness, between heartache and growth, between old memories and new hopes. Nostalgia clashes with anxiety, letting go clashes with moving forward too fast, remembrance clashes with carrying on with one’s life. In the fourth and final song of the EP, we are given a release from this EP’s ever-present tension.
“Caved In” is a cathartic resolution to the fears, loneliness and sorrows that come with moving on to new parts of our lives. From the beginning of the song, “Caved in! Sent a message, poured my heart out, let it all go…” Clarissa passionately puts their vulnerabilities out in front of everyone—letting out all the pain of being haunted by the ghosts of our memories, all the pain of losing the ones we love and care about, and all the pain of wondering if others love and care for us as much as we love and care about them.
Clarissa’s final song in this EP is both a confession of vulnerability and a crucifixion of that vulnerability. It’s a release of emotion releasing Clarissa from the past—a release of the emotion bottled up in “Darling Value 5”—and a funeral pyre whose fires give one the energy and empowerment to face the future. Clarissa’s voice calls out in long, keening howls of bare emotion. Their lyrics lay out her vulnerabilities for all to see—dispelling the ghosts by revealing them to the light of day. The drums and the guitar maintain a solid, steady beat, while also providing a solid backbone and tremendous punch to accompany the vocals.
I think it’s safe to say both Clarissa and Clarissa’s music are evolving in a highly positive direction. This EP showcases a highly intentional song structure, as well as a unique and well-developed voice in both Clarissa’s lyricism and music style. While borrowing from various other styles, including the homage to the literature of the Beat Generation that is central to her music, Clarissa’s music from both EP’s displays a highly original use and arrangement of sounds.
Something in much of Clarissa’s music that can resonate with any fan of bands like Modern Baseball is that Clarissa captures old, universal emotions that have been in art and music for centuries, but captures them in the context of a digital modernity. With Holy Kerouac, I’m often reminded of Modern Baseball songs such as “@chl03k” and “I Think You Were in My Profile Picture Once”. Many of the themes present in Holy Kerouac are either tempered with or only possible because of the complications of texting, emails, social media and long-distance relationships with friends and family.
We live in an era where everyone in the world lives on your phone in your pocket, and yet it feels like we’re growing further and further from each other. The themes of Clarissa’s music pick up on this, and many of the songs of Holy Kerouac feel highly aware of this new dynamic in society.
Something that comes up frequently in Clarissa’s music is the theme of “Holiness” (a torch Clarissa carried from Allen Ginsberg), and something that struck me from “New Apartment” was Clarissa’s reference, “Holy Ghost”.
The Holy Ghost is a complicated idea from Christianity, but one of the main components to the concept of the Holy Ghost is that it is a spirit which exists between people who love each other. While there can be painful ghosts in our lives—ghosts that haunt us with doubts, insecurities, confusions and complications—there can be those benevolent ghosts as well: holy ghosts filling out lives with good vibes and ever-present love.
There’s something that exists beyond the physical presence of friends—a spirit that can linger around people that we love and that love us. There’s a holy ghost that lives with us, bonds of friendship and love, and a sort of structure—a bridge—that we create between each other that is both undeniably ephemeral and non-physical, and undeniably tangible in the same way bittersweet nostalgia, growing pains of maturity, and the blessed pains of memory and hopes for the future are undeniably tangible and real.
Taken with Ginsberg’s declarations in “Howl”, in part an examination of the insanity present across modernity, perhaps it’s this Holy Ghost that helps us through the madness of our lives. Perhaps it’s the Holy Ghosts of not only friends and families, but the Holy Ghosts of our favorite musicians, writers and artists—present with us not in person, but with us through spirit in their creations—that give us the strength to carry on in the wilds of digital communication, the deserts of endless bureaucracy and the jungles of highways, city streets and urban architecture.
It was a great pleasure both to listen to Closer Now, More Than Ever, as well as talk with Clarissa about the EP. Clarissa has told me Holy Kerouac’s first full-length album is in the works, so stay tuned for upcoming releases from Clarissa.
Though plenty of praise should be awarded to Clarissa for this latest release, Clarissa acknowledged this would not have been possible without the record label, Lonely Ghost Records, and the collaboration with the sound engineer, Daniel Zasandy. Clarissa has spoken at length with me about how much they appreciate the work done by Lonely Ghosts Records, as well as their commitment to Holy Kerouac’s releases, and how wonderful it was to work with Zasandy on mixing this album.
If you want to check out Lonely Ghosts Records and the various artists associate with them, you can find them on Instagram @lonelyghostrecs.
Daniel Zasandy can be found on Twitter @DanielZasandy.
Holy Kerouac can be found on Instagram and Twitter @holykerouactx.
In collaboration, Lonely Ghost Records and Emo Trash Podcasts (@emotrashpodcasts on Instagram and @PodcastsEmo on Twitter) are going to be launching a YouTube channel called TrashGhost, where Clarissa will soon be featured.
In addition, Clarissa wanted to give a shout-out here to Superdestroyer and Nelson B for their encouragement during the development of the EP.