Ramona Lisa: Inside Arcadia

Ramona Lisa is the current side-project alias of Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek. Unlock Arcadia, the first recorded material under this moniker.

The making of Arcadia was a year-long process that began and ended in an empty studio in Rome’s Villa Medici and while on tour with her band, Chairlift. The record was made entirely on a laptop without instruments or external microphones — on the road, in hotel room closets, and in airport terminals. Although the album was created in a non-space, the result is a lush and uncannily tangible world of warm textures. Arcadia gives the feeling of looking out the window and getting lost.

To mark yesterday’s release of Ramona Lisa’s new Dominic EP, we’re releasing Arcadia as a BitTorrent Bundle: the full album, video, and art. Polachek describes the album as a “document of being alone”. It reminds us that we’re anything but — that the world around is wild, and electric, and connected. Listen. You can download the Bundle for free until September 26.

Ramona Lisa X BitTorrent Bundle

01 Dominic (Video)
02 Arcadia (MP3)
03 Support the Artist (HTML)
04 Backwards And Upwards (MP3)
05 Getaway Ride (MP3)
06 Avenues (MP3)
07 Lady’s Got Gills (MP3)
08 Hissing Pipes At Dawn (They’re Playing Our Song) (MP3)
09 Dominic (MP3)
10 Reprise (MP3)
11 Izzit True What They Tell Me (MP3)
12 Wings Of The Parapets (MP3)
13 I Love Our World (MP3)
14 Arcadia: Album (WAV)
15 Arcadia: Booklet (Art)
16 Arcadia: Cover (Art)

Download the Dominic EP.

See the final Ramona Lisa show in NYC: Le Poisson Rouge, October 13, 2014.

Ramona Lisa, BitTorrent

Words With Caroline Polachek: On Arcadia, Myst, and the Landscape of Goodbye

Where did Arcadia start? What was your inspiration? 

Caroline Polachek: Arcadia started off as a sort of streak I noticed in my experiments with laptop production. I was messing around making new demos while on tour with Chairlift, and the results were all over the place. About four of them stuck out though, in that they didn’t sound like contemporary electronic music, but reminded me of being a young girl and tapped into a sort of dream state. They were all love songs, and had this feeling of timelessness and longing, so I made more like them and slowly the idea for the album came into focus.

Although with Chairlift I use synth sounds, these new songs were based on a blend of digital organ, oboe, and bells with washes of synthetic insects. Once I fell in love with that combination of sounds, it became obvious that these songs were not for the band and had to have a world of their own, complete with a new name and way of being performed.

BitTorrent: The album was recorded on the road, in hotels, in empty rooms. What was behind this approach? 

Polachek: Urgency! I was so impatient to tweak away at the songs that every spare moment became an opportunity to crack my laptop open and keep working, even if it meant just adjusting one little detail at a time. The amazing thing about working in MIDI is that for the first time I didn’t need to have a studio, I could just open and shut my laptop, and it felt as simple as pausing and resuming a video game.

BitTorrent: The album is totally cinematic — a recording that feels like feeling; a separate, otherworldly place. What does the idea of Arcadia look like (or mean) to you? What role does visual art play in your work?

Polachek: I played the game Myst a lot when i was in middle school, which is an exploration game where you move in and out of these early 3D environments; forests, space age rock gardens, victorian ship cabins, etc. The world i imagined while working on Arcadia is similar in a way; it’s meant to be environmental, with the tingling sea grass sounds of “Lady’s Got Gills” and the twilight crickets of “Avenues”, but at the end of the day the agenda is really storytelling and situating these love songs.

Visually, it’s been amazing to full choreograph each song for the stage. I’ve been performing them with two other female singer/dancers, all of us dressed identically with extra eyes on our cheeks, and the album plays out like hieroglyphic theatre.

ramona lisa

You’ve described this album as pastoral electronic; song as a way of preserving some of the natural world. What do you see as the role of this album? Does art come from a place of obligation or social responsibility? Are these stories you have to tell? 

Polachek: Pastoral music exists in every culture, where the singer uses nature as a metaphor to describe a human relationship, or sometimes (as you see in folk music a lot) simply situates a romantic romp or a battle story in nature for contrast with the elements. In pastoral painting, the goal is often to make the person in the painting appear tiny and insignificant against the backdrop, or redeemed somehow. I realized that we don’t have pastoral music anymore, and so this album also became a way of answering “What is the 2014 equivalent of a shepherdess singing to herself about her love while she tends her sheep”?

Ironically, I don’t think Arcadia preserves the natural world at all; if anything it captures a tense moment in time where we’re obsessed with “green” while quickly destroying it. I also thought a lot about being alive during a turning point in world power, about having been born in the 80s when America and Europe were the cultural superpowers, and now how that’s shifting away and Europe is really struggling. I wrote some of the album in Rome, and during that time it almost became a goodbye ode to western classical music. That’s when “Arcadia”, “Backwards And Upwards” and “Lady’s Got Gills” were written; they all have this sense of shifting, or goodbye.

Arcadia came from a place of radical freedom — you did everything on your own. It’s maybe impossible to replicate… but how do we, as a culture, ensure that creativity has time/space to germinate and thrive? 

Polachek: I’m not worried about people. People will always be making art with whatever means they have available. Thanks to new technology it’s also getting exponentially easier to make high-production, immersive work with just a laptop. I think the real thing in question is what message we’re putting out to young people about what music IS. If people are saturated with music about making money or ‘being the shit’, I think that imprints kids and prevents the average young person from having transcendental experiences with music.

I think the best thing we can do is for adults to not tune out at the age of 27, but to stay passionate and keep exploring and digging for our whole lives. If people passionately support the music that speaks to them, then scenes and dialogues come together around that energy – it moves things forward.

bittorrent bundle, ramona lisa

Photo Credits: Tim Barber, Amanda Vincelli

About BitTorrent Bundle

BitTorrent Bundle is an alpha project made with and for the web’s creative community. Our mission is to help artists connect directly with fans, inside the content they share.

Each BitTorrent Bundle allows artists to distribute content directly to the Internet. And each Bundle comes with a key. Fans can unlock artist content with an email address. The idea is to make each song a storefront, and each file more valuable, every time it’s shared. Got ideas for the next BitTorrent Bundle? Hit us up.

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