She can’t wait
Larisa Bryski only wants to rock your world
Look at the cover of Larisa Bryski’s CD, The Long Way, with its old black-and-white photo of a pig-tailed child holding an apple on what looks like a dusty foothill road, and it’s easy to jump to conclusions. Oh boy, you think, here’s another wounded girl with an acoustic guitar and a well-worn pile of Sarah McLachlan records …
Wrong. Bryski, it turns out, is a rocker.
The singer, who plays piano rather than guitar, sits in a Midtown Starbucks on a stormy Wednesday afternoon. Her willowy frame, casually draped in denim, is crowned by a head of long, unraveled-rope blonde hair; she peers through fashionable Lisa Loeb-style glasses. Despite the latte-folkie look, though, Bryski projects the kind of matter-of-fact intensity that plants its feet on a stage, grabs a microphone and wails.
She grew up in the Gold Rush foothill town of Murphys in Calaveras County, she says, and she got into music early on—piano, clarinet, classical voice. But that really wasn’t quite her style. Then she found something that was. “The first band I was in, I was 14,” she says. “I was in high school. And the driver’s ed teacher heard me singing with a garage band out on the quad at school, and he had a band, and he invited me to join as a keyboard player and vocalist.” It gave her a taste of the glamorous life at a young age—playing cover songs to that always-attentive cocktail crowd.
After high school, she enrolled in the music program at CSU Sacramento; she lasted a whole semester. “Then I joined a rock band, she says, laughing. “Sacramento was kind of a culture shock for me, because I was from a real small town. So being in a band made me feel like I belonged; I was having a really hard time adjusting to the city.” It was another cover band, this one called Streetwise: “We used to play at the Hogshead Brew Pub back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” she says.
Which is to say that Bryski didn’t spring into the music scene this year out of a vacuum. She’s been working on her music all along while supporting herself—writing grants and raising funds at the nonprofit Animal Protection Institute by day, teaching vocal technique at Skip’s Music in the evening.
And singing. “I was still singing in cover bands,” she says, “and also performing in a classical environment—I was a soprano with the Sacramento Master Singers for a while … “ Bryski pauses.
“But I had all these songs,” she continues. “And I had a good friend who was a producer, who was willing to help me with the album and co-write a couple of songs.”
She and her friend, Mike Walter, holed up at the Pus Cavern recording studio in North Highlands, with Walter playing Lindsey Buckingham to Bryski’s Stevie Nicks—"not romantically,” Bryski points out—for the better part of last year. “We worked our butts off,” she proudly adds.
The Long Way was released, officially, last October; however, it’s just starting to surface above the local music-scene radar. The 11-song disc, for the most part, contains music rooted in a classic Rock—with a capital R—aesthetic framework. You know the stuff: Kinda Tom Petty-like, with big-ass banks of guitars, acoustic and electric, over which Bryski’s voice—think a more muscular Natalie Merchant, or the aforementioned Ms. Nicks without the tarot cards and twirly lace dresses—rides.
“I love Sarah [McLachlan],” she says, “and I love Sheryl Crow. But all the people I’ve been playing in bands with have been guys.” Translation: Even though I’m a vegetarian, I like a little meat in my music.”
No chance of Bryski turning into Sammy Hagar, though. “I take myself seriously,” she says, “but not too seriously. But, certainly, I wanna rock.”
Can’t argue with that.