RONiiA | 7th St Entry | Friday, December 12
Several years ago, Dark Dark Dark's Nona Marie Invie attended a showing of Ronia the Robber's Daughter in uptown Minneapolis. Invie was so taken by Ronia's plight that she eventually decided to adopt Ronia's name as a moniker for her latest musical endeavor: RONiiA.
Ronia the Robber's Daughter is a children's fantasy book, published in 1981 by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren and was repurposed into film several years later. Ronia, a young girl growing up amidst a clan of robbers, finds herself reaching out to an opposing clan of robbers, befriending one and finding means of bringing him food through the harsh winter. Watching the film, Invie saw herself in Ronia's character. The young girl's struggle for peace stayed with her.
"I've experienced lots of loss lately," Invie says. She and bandmate Fletcher Barnhill (Joint Custody, FUGITIVE) check in with us from the road, in a van headed back to Minneapolis after a spate of West Coast performances. Their counterpart, Mark McGee (Father You See Queen, Marijuana Deathsquads) chimes in from home. The three are in good spirits, preparing for their release show with Marijuana Deathsquads and Bliss U.K. at 7th Street Entry.
Invie's sadness is palpable on the album. Her familiar voice, cascading ever so gently down a tunnel of reverb, draws it words out for just a moment too long. We are strung up along with it, above whatever it is she so misses. It's almost as if she's taking a moment to recognize what she once had, while beseeching it to return to her.
It was the friendship and trust between McGee and Invie which allowed RONiiA to come to light.
"A couple summer ago in my basement studio, we started writing songs," McGee says. "We didn't really plan it out." The duo recorded and self-released a cassette with the help of Colin Weiland (Daughters of the Sun, Dreamweapon, and too many other local bands to name) including a couple of songs that have been reworked and will be featured on this week's release -- "Bells" and "Slow Daze."
"Working with Nona is so easy," McGee says. "She just gets in a zone. Most of what we have came from those sessions." Interested in exploring new themes with their sound, Invie and McGee found themselves heading into darker territory. "When you listen to it, it's dark... but not dark," McGee remarks. "It's calming. It gives an escape, and the obsession with Ronia's daughter provided a storytelling element. It was a release for us. We're doing so many other projects that are somewhat grueling, and we didn't know where this would end up. It became a world that we built."
After the release of their cassette, RONiiA was asked to open for TGNP label-mates Polica at their sold-out First Avenue performance. Unsure if they were able to perform their songs live without additional bandmates, Invie and McGee invited keyboardist Fletcher Barnhill to contribute. Barnhill had been living at a local punk house for five years, where he forged friendships with Weiland and many other local producers and performers. The connection between Barnhill and RONiiA's founding members was instantaneous, and Barnhill entered the band as they officially began to record their first album.
"The spirit of the band is what's most important to me," Barnhill says. "Putting yourself out in the world and being okay with that -- that's what I hear in the music. We have to take care of ourselves and each other, and I'm interested in communicating more deeply in the future, but that's our beginning."
"Fool's Game" is a velvety tune that begins with Invie's ghostly voice, lingering over a spidery synth line. It's almost as if we can hear tiny spider hands moving underneath her, as the synth line expands and rises from the mix. The approach is entirely minimalist. "Fool's Game" is not a party song, nor is RONiiA a party band.
"Last Words," the opening track, is a testament to all things that are RONiiA. Beginning with a sharp and even drumbeat, Barnhill's synth-playing rises up to meet with the staccato and is joined by Invie's deep and sensual voice. Though we were somewhat frustrated in trying to make out the lyrics of this song, Invie's tone remains comforting. Again, their minimalist approach proves effective. Each song is like a skeleton draped in thin cloths, the delicate innards barely hidden by these flimsy covers. There are few audible production tricks, staying true to the basement mentality.
The whole release isn't just a display of sadness, regret and loss. It is a celebration of emotion and a move by Invie to allow herself vulnerability. On the song "Dearest," she sings lustily over a dreamy synthscape: "Our love will grow old...You may be a million miles away/Please believe me/When you hear me say/I love you." Listening to "Dearest" is like returning home after a long time away, returning to your lover and all of your familiar things with a new appreciation. "I'm gonna treat you right," she sings, and we believe her.
Though all three are involved in other projects, Invie, Barnhill and McGee are committed to the future of RONiiA, and are already planning a European tour in early 2015. After their initial release show tomorrow, RONiiA will also host a CD/vinyl release show for the album this coming January. Now, they are confident that the seven tracks on RONiiA will set the stage for what is to come.
"We're creating a world," McGee says again, "a bubble for you to exist in for 45 minutes." This world is a welcome refuge.
RONiiA celebrates their self-titled debut release with Marijuana Deathsquads and Bliss U.K. $10, 18+, 9 p.m., Friday, December 12 at the 7th Street Entry.
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