San Francisco's Group Rhoda (a.k.a. Mara Barenbaum) is following up Out of Time, Out of Touch with her Not Not Fun debut, 12th House. Where her previous record was murky from signifiers of industrial, 12th House is a brightening of the edges. On “Heart” the synth-structures are the veins and arteries pumping into the bodily organ – giving the track life. Barenbaum's repetitous juxtapositioning of a welcome mat axiom is a reminder in the midst of challenging times. She declares she has lost herself, and yet as the refrain is repeated it neither strengthens conviction nor blasts out like a fleeting postulate. Group Rhoda is seeking within “Heart”, but in the duration of the single discovers no answer and the phrase “heart is where the home is” is deserving of ending in ellipsis.
Stream “Heart” below and read on for our brief email interview with Mara Barenbaum.
The Group Rhoda bio describes the project as an effort to negate the sound of safety, among other things, but many would consider the mantra “heart is where the home is” a comforting refrain, do you have an opposing vision of this axiom?
Heart was written during a time when there was a lot of conflict within my own home. I faced the harsh realization of a failed communal living situation that I had a lot energy and effort invested into and struggled with rapidly growing dissonant home environment as well as the end of an important relationship. It was a heartbreaking moment for me and I found myself repeating those words as a means to calm myself. True the notion of home is often about safety and security; I find a sense of home very important. Within regards to the song meaning, I believe that it reaches much deeper and that feeling of home is truly psychological.
I used to imagine that I would have the time to make a music video for “Heart,” in which I would solicit an active drag performer I am a fan of to have creative liberty and do her own rendition of the song. I have often found drag to be quite inspiring in its ability to be imaginative, captivating and take charge of the situation. I kind of got it in my mind that it was this kind of spirit that parallels my ideas about home. It's where you feel comfortable and free to do as you please.
My statement regarding a commitment towards opposing the idea of safety has more to do with counteracting conservative mentalities. Notions about safety are often based around poor examination of facts and assumptions, a gated community mentality. As for music, too much of it sounds like it aims for a safe trajectory. It is never clear to me whether it is about reaching maximum listeners, what a label pushes for, what is seen as successful and then just turned into a poor imitation of itself, the appeal of immediacy, amongst many other pushing and pulling forces. I am interested in working with sound in a way that completely ignores these norms and safe or stagnant avenues of expression. I do not feel I need to shelter my ideas and I am completely comfortable being critical towards music, allowing my ideas and observations to extend into thoughts about the music and how it functions in its current cultural and social state.
San Francisco is a city that inspires, simply by its picturesque terrain. Did you write “Heart” with your home of SF in mind?
No. As mentioned before it was derived out of a actual home environment situation and the social life and memories that surrounded it. I live in a pseudo compound and it is often where I want to spend my free time. It is almost as if I feel like San Francisco is something on the outside; I go there only when I need to. Otherwise I have built up some psychological fortress against its fast paced economical shifts.
It's true that San Francisco has one of the most stunning city landscapes and I love its shape shifting and dynamic views. It's certainly a striking contrast against flat and vertical cities. Though, to be honest, my love for San Francisco has rapidly diminished over the past 6 years. Sure it is vibrant compared to many places in the US, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up here, but it's no where near what it used to be.
San Francisco is a long complicated discussion, but “Heart” is in no way a part of it.
In crafting 12th House, is there a conceit at play? What was the inspiration for these collection of songs? Or does it vary from song to song? Mostly I'd like to know how they relate within the album construct.
It varies from song to song. Most songs are wrapped up in metaphor, distorted allegories and distopian dreamscapes. Such forms give me the opportunity to explore words and play with meaning. The initial idea to set the tone for 12th House was about a relationship to the unconscious and the inner dream factory. It is a place of solitude, imagination and escapism, yet still an active response and critical stance against conservative thought and socially detrimental practices.
I hope to create songs that can be relevant to the present but feel timeless, as age-old stories. Once you make the decision to sing, I find it important to feel expressive and political. More and more I am realizing that I am drawn to a punk ideology, and believe that many of the issues that the overall arch of the movement addressed and spoke out against still exist. There were so many variations of expression and performance; no right way to say something and no right way to do something, but still the insistence to act. Such a greater deal of music used to be very political and introspective, and through whatever means or type of voice, I feel like it's something that needs to be revived. I hope that this aim can extracted from the record.
What did you learn from Out of Time, Out of Touch that informed how you approached 12th House?
I received valuable constructive feedback from Out of Time, Out of Touch and I learned a great deal from the entire process. The record helped set a tone for 12th House, from the type of sounds and equipment I am drawn to as well as the kinds of melodies and phrasing I naturally gravitate toward. Despite limitations, I have been able to make the type of music I was imagining which was something inspired by synth, psych, experimental, and industrial music. I had to find a balance between song writing, sound experiments, generating lyrical content, managing technical challenges, and how to weave all of this together to make the right environment for each song.
This new album was a shift as 12th House was the first time I took on all creative and production related decision making and a great deal of time and energy was spent navigating through processes that felt completely unfamiliar. It was a tiring but necessary challenge and I admittedly learned from an uncountable amount of trial and error approaches and exploration of techniques.
Group Rhoda's 12th House is out October 15 on Not Not Fun.