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WATCH: Pictoria Vark talks new album, musical inspirations at 80/35

Pictoria Vark sits in front of a microphone on a couch for an interview.
Lucius Pham
Pictoria Vark is an indie singer-songwriter based in Iowa City.

Iowa City-based Pictoria Vark played the Bravo Stage Friday at this year’s 80/35 Music Festival. IPR Studio One’s Cece Mitchell talked with the singer-songwriter before her set about her musical background, her new album and upcoming tour and her experiences at the festival.

CECE MITCHELL: Hi, I’m Cece Mitchell of IPR Studio One. I’m here with Pictoria Vark. Thanks for talking with me today!

PICTORIA VARK: Oh my gosh, thanks for having me. I'm so excited to be talking with y'all at IPR and to be here.

MITCHELL: So, we’re here at 80/35. Is this your first time at the festival?

VARK: No, this is my first time playing my own music, but I was actually here in 2019 playing bass for Squirrel Flower, which was also the last 80/35 before the pandemic, I believe. So it's really cool to like, have those bookends.

MITCHELL: That’s awesome. So, you played with Squirrel Flower before — what’s your relationship with the Iowa music scene?

VARK: I have really loved being here. It's where I started my solo project and how I've gained a lot of confidence in continuing it. I'm feeling really welcomed pretty immediately, as opposed to kind of my experience in New York, where I was having a lot of trouble just finding a place or a home for my music to really be comfortable in. So that has been so rewarding to like, be here and have that experience.

MITCHELL: How would you describe what your music is?

VARK: Yeah! It's bass-driven, lyric-focused indie rock with like a little sprinkle of folk and a little sprinkle of like, emo.

MITCHELL: What are your inspirations for your songwriting?

VARK: Oh, good question. I feel like I have so many because I draw from a lot of different places. I'm really inspired by Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail because she's... her guitar playing is as characteristic of her music as her lyrics are. And I feel like that resonates really strongly with me as an artist in my creative practice.

MITCHELL: So, what can we expect out of your 80/35 set today? Like, what will you be playing? Anything from the new album?

VARK: Yes, I will be playing a lot of things from the new album. I'm really excited to be playing my song “Out” for the first time, which is very different from the rest of my sound. No spoilers!

MITCHELL: What do you want your audiences to get out of watching you in a performance?

VARK: I think whatever speaks to them in a performance. I'm really trying to think about my live show more and like, being able to do it with the full band allows for more dynamics and kind of a different reach or setup. So, I am really excited to both delve into the softer sides of my sound and the louder sides. And I think whatever resonates or both, yeah.

MITCHELL: So, can you tell me a little bit about this album you just released in April?

VARK: Yeah, The Parts I Dread is about this big move that my parents made when I was 19 from New Jersey to Wyoming, where I'd never been before. And I, in doing that, it kind of cracked open a lot of emotional and like, inner questions about not only my relationship with home and family, but with New Jersey and physical place as well. So, it kind of unravels into those themes as well, with the parts referring to not only like geographic place, but emotional depths as well.

MITCHELL: What’s your favorite song from the album and what’s that song like?

VARK: My favorite song is a song called “Demarest,” which is named after a town close to my hometown in New Jersey. And it's where the album title comes from. I think it's one of the most unique songs that I've written. I really love how subtle it is, and kind of the bass parts that I crafted around it as well.

MITCHELL: What’s your songwriting process? Have you been songwriting for a very long time?

VARK: Not really. I started writing songs when I was 18, and I'm 23 now. I started just as I was a first year in college at Grinnell. And I have often started with writing lyrics separately, like in a Notes app or in a notebook or something, and then writing these bass parts kind of separately from that. And then, kind of figuring out, piecing together which lyrics go with which bass parts is kind of how this first album was constructed. So, now I'm working on new music and trying to like, see if there are other ways of writing that speak to me or inspire me, but it's really nice to have that like, solid foundation of: this is how I like approaching music.

MITCHELL: I’m from Grinnell too! Love it there. What brought you from New Jersey to specifically Iowa?

VARK: I was really tired of the like, rat race and the competitiveness of the East Coast and didn't really ever feel quite at home there. And so, I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone and I really had a good feeling about going to Grinnell and really loved my experience there.

MITCHELL: So, you have a tour coming up. Where are you going to be headed?

VARK: We are going everywhere. It's my first national tour coming up this fall with La Dispute, who's from Michigan. It's really cool to be touring with another Midwest band, but from a different generation. So I'm really excited to travel the whole country with them.

MITCHELL: Who are you most excited to see here at 80/35?

VARK: Japanese Breakfast! Yeah, I've never seen them play live yet. I saw a little bit of their soundcheck and they sounded amazing. And this last album was just so inspiring and really beautiful. A beautiful celebration of joy, which I think is so often lacking in music. So, I'm really excited to rush off after my set to go to the main stage.

MITCHELL: Is there anything else that you want IPR listeners to know about you?

VARK: I'm just really excited to be here and share music and yeah, just so grateful to have a place like IPR that is so supportive of local music.

MITCHELL: Well, thank you so much, Pictoria Vark, for your time today, and good luck with your set!

VARK: Thank you so much for having me, so lovely chatting with you.

Cece Mitchell is a Music Producer for IPR
Lucius Pham is a writer and producer based in Des Moines, where he graduated with a bachelor’s of journalism & mass communication from Drake University. While there, he served as program director for KDRA-LP 94.1 “The Dog.”