Maria BC and Rachika Nayar Don’t Wanna Be Bogged Down by Perfection

The two friends catch up.

Maria BC is an ambient artist based in Oakland; Rachika Nayar is an experimental artist based in Brooklyn. Maria’s debut record Hyaline was just released last month on Father/Daughter, so to celebrate, the two friends hopped on the phone to catch up about it, and much more. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Maria BC: You and I talk all the time, and now it’s like, you have to talk in such a formal way.

Rachika Nayar: For an audience to witness. I already don’t like group interactions where the conversation that’s happening is being witnessed by more than one person. My ideal group interaction is two people, and I’m one of them. And then having a whole audience of, like, who knows, 7 billion people reading it?

Maria: At least 7 billion! I’m also pretty nervous about this. I really don’t like having to commit to words. Up to this point for this album, I’ve only done interviews that I could like write out. Which is a blessing and a curse, because I get to feel like I have a bit more time and freedom to say what I want to say concisely, and choose something close to what I think is a satisfying answer. But then I end up spending five hours responding to, like, three questions that are like, “What’s your favorite movie?” [Laughs.] But I want to choose the right answer. 

With that in mind, I’ve been listening to a lot of other artists’ interviews, and I feel like I’ve gotten some stuff that’s generative out of that. And I think that you’ve been listening to a lot of artists’ interviews also.

Rachika: Yeah, there’s a few artists that I like to hear how they conceptualize or frame their work, but I think not as extensively as you have been. But I feel like the last time we were talking about that, you were describing a thread between many of the artists that you get invested in as often being pushed to release their work kind of prolifically, and in that sense, a certain sense of speed in their process. What is it about artists whose process is kind of, quote-unquote, “fast” in that regard, feels appealing or intriguing to you? 

Maria: Well, I wonder if part of it has to do with [how] I’ll then get this kind of secondhand feeling of openness to imperfection in the creative process, and openness to playful feelings, less self-criticism. I’m just naturally attracted, I think, to music that is kind of rough around the edges, that has kind of the human element. Like, it sounds made, if that makes sense, as opposed to music that’s recorded perfectly. I’m attracted to stuff that’s kind of sloppy. Though, I don’t like to use that word either because it has such a negative connotation to it.

Rachika: It’s kind of pejorative, yeah.

Maria: So I’ve been encouraged by listening to interviews with artists whose work is like that.

Rachika: It opens you to your own sense of vulnerability, or something, with your own process.

Maria: Yeah.

Rachika: Do you find that you end up getting into perfectionist spirals when you’re writing?

Maria: What I think I’m always working towards is, the organic place people talk about that they go to when they’re actually inspired, which is that feeling of being submerged under water and then when the work is done, you surface and you think back on the making of the thing and you can’t really describe it and in words. Getting too bogged down with perfection and detail gives the work too much of a calculated feeling.

Rachika: It can feel contrived or something.

Maria: Yeah. You don’t want it to feel worked on. 

And the place that the joy comes from is the place where you’re not in a place where mentally where you could be criticizing yourself or the work to such a degree…

Rachika: It’s when you’re in kind of a flow state that’s outside of yourself and outside of verbalization, kind of your subconscious mind. It’s like what you were describing with that Jackie Wang article.

Maria: Yeah, my favorite article, I think — “Oceanic Feeling and Communist Affect.” That’s where that metaphor of being submerged first came up for me, and then I’ve kind of seen it over and over again, artists making that same analogy for the creative process. I think it’s really beautiful as someone who already feels drawn to water in a literal way, and who is also drawn to music where water is kind of the natural association — like music with a lot of reverb, music that kind of cradles you, music that is slow. 

Rachika: Yeah, I relate to that. I feel like all of the songs that I write that I feel the most attached to kind of get into their own compulsive circuit like that. If I’m just tinkering slowly and meticulously over time, I think it’s really hard for me to write something that feels organic. And when I’m writing a song that feels really resonant — when I think of all of those songs, I start writing at 5 PM and then I finish at, like, 5 AM. A lot of the songs, I’ve written in one day. Or it’ll be like, I start that process and then I kind of get lost and then I come out of it, but then much farther down the road, I take two of those kinds of unfinished paths, and then I connect them.

I actually do want to be more of a slow songwriter. I’m learning how to plan out and create some kind of intentional journey, or structure or space — even physically — or a set of tools for how I make music. Because I think the way that I end up making albums becomes so disjointed where every single song is kind of made up of a completely different set of sounds or timbres or instruments or methods. And then especially with live performance, it becomes really difficult to know how to translate any of that when every single song arrives at two totally different means. I feel like it would be beneficial for me to move out of that. It’s something that I kind of want to deconstruct a little bit.

Maria: Do you ever feel stuck?

Rachika: Yeah, all the time. I feel like I have hundreds and hundreds of songs on my hard drive that are little tiny ideas or even semi-fleshed out songs that never felt like they really got anywhere for me, and I don’t see any definition for. Any tinkering that I do with it just feels like it’s sucking more of the life out of it instead of adding to it. Yeah, I think I get stuck way more often than I feel.

Maria: I suppose that’s encouraging, because I was getting the impression that every time you start a song — I don’t know if that’s me romanticizing you, as always, but I’m imagining that once a week you’re like, OK, it’s 5 PM, time to start the song, and then 5 AM you wake up and it’s like, Here’s another masterpiece. [Laughs.] 

Rachika: Yeah, I wish. I mean, I think the fact that I wrote that first album over the course of three or four years or something speaks to the fact that it’s rarely quite so fluid. So I wish it were. I feel like you embody that more than I do, but maybe that’s me romanticizing you. I feel like you wrote all of Devil’s Rain and Hyaline over the course of, like, a month or something. 

Maria: Well, Devils Rain I made in, like, three weeks-ish. Hyaline took me a year. And I was actually kind of frustrated by that because originally the intention behind making the LP was like, Oh, I’m going to take a week off of work, I already have four songs written and I’m going to write and record the rest of it, and it’ll be done so fast. And of course, that didn’t happen. A lot of stuff that was blegh came out of that week, and maybe one or two things I actually liked came out of it. Whereas with Devil’s Rain, it just felt like I kept getting lucky. I kept falling back into the inspired place. Hyaline was a lot more work. And, in fact, one of the songs on the album I had written a couple of years before, so it draws from a much broader range of time than the EP did. 

And now I feel still kind of in that same place. The songs that I’ve been writing, I’ve been allowing to take up months of my life. Or I’ll write the music pretty quickly, and then the lyrics, because I always write lyrics last, will take so long. 

Rachika: Yeah, it’s such a sense of unexpected fortune or discovery whenever I’m finding something that feels resonant when I’m songwriting. It’s kind of frustrating how impossible it feels to form a creative time line around. Sometimes it’ll be a week where you write three different songs that you’re going to want to perform for the rest of your life, and then sometimes it’ll be a year where I only write one. I feel like no matter how much I construct my studio or compositional space, or how much I am or am not in tune with my inner world, I can never really I can never really predict the timeline or what those moments of discovery will look like.

Maria: Yeah, it’s like there needs to be a perfect confluence of things. I haven’t figured out exactly what all of those things are. I need to have had enough sleep, or not enough sleep — I don’t know, it’s some extreme.

Rachika: Yeah, either feeling very centered and grounded in my sense of self, or completely off kilter and unhinged and needing to work through something inside of myself, or untangling that. 

Maria: I wanted to ask you how you go about naming your songs. Because putting words in the music is something that is endlessly frustrating for me, but feels necessary for whatever reason. You have really specific and evocative titles for your songs, whereas there are plenty of artists who are doing work kind of in your wheelhouse — composers who title their songs like, “1” through “10,” and that’s the album.

Rachika: Yeah. I guess naming things feels like an opportunity to expand the connotative world around the music for myself and inject something into it that feels like it binds me to the song in its framing. But it’s never really something that feels related to the song, per se. I can never really name a song because it evokes an emotion that’s related to the title actually — it’s always some kind of oblique connection that I feel like I’m putting in, and inputting two things that are kind of unrelated together in my mind, but build to some type of profound importance to me. Something new emerges. It’s like a poetic connection.

Maria: Do you sit with the song for a while and think about what it brings up for you? Or do you just kind of free associatively match the title with the song?

Rachika: Yeah, completely the latter. It’s more just, I always have a running iPhone note of like a million different phrases from things I’ve been reading or parts of my life that feel evocative. And then whenever I finish the song, I kind of look back through all of that and there will just be something that jumps out at me, and I almost never have a articulable explanation or any clarification I can really give about why that connection is there. But it always feels really visceral to me. Which is like the process of writing the song — it’s never something verbalized, but something deeply felt, you know?  

Maria: Absolutely. I am someone who really likes having constraints writing music. Like, if I had infinite instruments at my fingertips, I would never write anything. It would just drive me insane. But the idea of writing a song about a subject gives me hives.

Rachika: [Laughs.] That’s the best way I’ve ever heard it articulated.

Maria: [Laughs.] So I procrastinate so much on putting words to the music, even though I feel like it’s necessary. And there’s a huge part of me that wants to just do it like Cocteau Twins style, but I guess I also like a challenge, so.

Rachika: I’m curious how you came to the album title. 

Maria: Well, that’s just taken from one of the track titles. But as to which track title I chose… Both times, I had a working title, I guess.

Rachika: For me, it’s the opposite: I came up with the album title and then I wrote the title track.

Maria: Really? Interesting. Yeah, I don’t think I could do that. I think, just like how I need to write the music first and [then that] tells me what the lyrics are going to be about, I need to see that album as a whole before I can name it. But that said, for both the EP and the LP, the working title just ended up being what I titled it. Devil’s Rain was one of the first songs that I recorded for it, and I knew that that was the name of the song. And I was like, OK, well, I’ll just think about the whole thing that I’m doing as that for now. And it ended up feeling appropriate. 

Rachika: How do you settle on that one being that the framing of the whole album?

Maria: With Devil’s Rain, it was just that it felt evocative and maybe provocative a little bit. I was just really attracted to the duality in that imagery at that time, of rain and sunshine happening at the same time. And I felt that that was one way of guiding the listener or something. And with Hyaline, it felt like kind of an extension, almost, of the name of Devil’s Rain — first it was a sky with all of this chaos in it, a lot of activity happening in it, and then Hyaline is complete clarity and nothingness. I felt like that might be an interesting contrast.

But maybe the next one, I’ll title it first and then write it, because I’ve been really into this imaginary album title regression. I’ve been really wanting to go back in my creative process and just become more childlike and, like, be worse at it. I’ve been doing so much recording myself improvising, because I can’t write music the way that I was for Hyaline and Devil’s Rain, because I now have a day job that I have to be at at like 8:00. I work a lot in the morning, and when I was doing Hyaline and Devil’s Rain, I had a day job that started in the afternoon most of the time. So I’ve had to rethink some things, and now I’ve been doing some stuff later at night and just freewheeling. I’ll go to bed thinking, Oh, that was garbage. And then I’ll listen to it at work the next day and I’ll be like, Actually, it’s kind of interesting to hear myself not editing myself constantly. So we’ll see if anything comes of that. 

Rachika: Yeah, I remember you also saying that, because music for both of us is such a private, insular process that’s kind of just us in our bedrooms, it’s this kind of effort in provocation of yourself — going deep into some kind of internal landscape and getting lost. It’s a kind of strange feeling to have that, and to talk about that in a public space strips away from what the core of our musical relationship actually consists of. Do you feel like regression plays into that, too?

Maria: Definitely, yeah. Because, I mean, both of us do really relate to music in the context of solitude. In the past year, I’ve been feeling more distant from that feeling — not just because of my music getting more exposure and not just because I’ve been playing music with other people much more often than I ever have. But honestly, I think it has to do with the fact that pandemic restrictions are being lifted, and I now live in the Bay Area so I can be outside all the time and it’s sunny and gorgeous. And I’m like, Why am I being a loser inside with my guitar? [Laughs.]

Rachika: I could be a loser outside with my guitar!

Maria: I could literally be frolicking right now instead just playing my sad songs. Though of course, that also brings me joy. It’s just a very different kind. And so I think regression does have to do with wanting to go back to this different interior place.

Rachika: It’s very fitting, also, that you got added to the Spotify Fairy-core playlist when you’re a guy who loves to frolic.

Maria: Don’t tell! [Laughs.] That was so offensive that they did that, honestly.

Rachika: That was a hate crime.

Maria: Thank you. What playlists have you been added to?

Rachika: I don’t remember.

Maria: [Laughs.] Good answer. 

Rachika: I think “Lava Lamp.”

Maria: “Cool vibes.” Everything is vibes these days. 

Rachika: Yeah, everything is vibes, everything is chill out. You’ll write the most grief-stricken song of your life that touches upon all of these core things about you, your biggest traumas and your greatest ambitions and dreams, and then 95% of the people listening to it are listening to it in a constant of chill out vibes.

Maria: Yeah. It sucks to be pegged in that way because your music is so maximalist and really intense, as we’ve talked about. But you have to be put either in the category of music to work out to or music to study to. [Laughs.] You’ve gotta fit in one place or another, so they’ll just do whatever you’re closest to. 

Rachika: The study-workout spectrum. On that note, do you see your music as slow music? 

Maria: It aspires to be slow but doesn’t, I think, ultimately get there. Recently, more and more I’ll write a song on guitar, think, Yeah, that was kind of pace that I was going for, and I’ll come back to it and it’s actually really fast.

Rachika: 250 bpms in 5/4.

Maria: [Laughs.] Yeah, you pegged me. 

Rachika: You love 5/4!

Maria: Yeah, I do. It feels like my inherent rhythm or something. I think everyone has their own internal groove to some extent. And there are points where I feel really frustrated by it, like it’s going to make all my songs sound the same, but I don’t think it does. Everyone has their little fingerprint rhythmically. I feel like you have a pulse — your music has a pulse to it in some way. 

Rachika: It’s good that I have a pulse — I’ve considered myself to be like a vacant corpse for time periods.

Maria: [Laughs.] That’s not what I meant!

Rachika: Even though I’m a drummer, I’ve never used drums on any of my music. I guess my next album, I do it a little — but not live drums. So thinking of it in terms of a pulse is interesting. I guess a lot of the songs on my first album have this kind of off-kilter pulse to them — not in a 5/4 sense, but kind of an outside of the grid sensibility, you know? And I feel like that has a certain rhythmic personality to it.

Maria: Yeah. Pulse maybe wasn’t the right word. I just mean… You know, a lot of Grouper’s music, the emphasis changes throughout, it’s always in motion, but there’s still like a center to it that feels consistent.

Rachika: Yeah, like a pulse not in the sense of a beat or a tempo, but some kind of core dynamic.

Maria: Yeah. There’s nothing about your music that feels erratic, you know? There’s plenty of music that I like that does feel erratic…

Rachika: So you’re saying I don’t make hyper pop?

Maria: [Laughs.] Yeah, that is what I’m saying.

Rachika: That is really good to hear, actually, reassuring. I often feel like my music is so discontinuous with the tones and sounds and energy that’s happening between all the different songs — that’s one thing I worry about, is being too erratic in the sense that it has no center. 

Maria: I just wouldn’t have guessed that you take fragments of works and put them together, because it doesn’t feel patchwork in that way.

Rachika: Yeah. Some of the songs I wrote on Our Hands [Against The Dusk], I reached back and found some guitar licks I made four years prior to that, and then pulled them into the project. I like that there’s a sense of having to be in conversation with many of your past selves at once. But I think it’s something that we both struggle with through kind of different [kinds of] music.

Maria: Yeah, definitely. Everyone who knew me before a year and a half ago didn’t, because I’m going to destroy a memory. [Laughs.]

Rachika: I’m glad I made it past that point.

Maria: Yeah, you can stay, but everyone else has to go. But yeah, I think that every song that I write gets to live — to some extent. I think that there’s always some kernel that is worth resurrecting potentially, because otherwise I just wouldn’t have remembered it, I would have let the fragment get lost. With Devil’s Rain, there’s a couple of parts where I borrowed a melody from a song that I had written in high school and sang it over totally different chords in a different key, and made interesting discoveries that way. I still kind of do that from time to time. Music that I made that I’d be humiliated by now, I can recontextualize and redeem.

Rachika: Yeah. Now I’m thinking about whether there might be value to resurrecting elements from my high school synth pop band.

Maria: It’s good. You should do it. And you should make a hyperpop.

Rachika: That’s true, though. It could be great hyperpop if we reconfigure it a little bit.

Maria: Should we end on that high note? Of the promise of your hyperpop debut…

Rachika: Yeah. Big things coming! [Laughs.]

Maria BC is an ambient artist based in Oakland. Their debut record Hyaline is out now on Father/Daughter.