It’s been some two years since the 2017 debut album Party Naked Forever by Bethlehem Steel first introduced me to their grungy indie rock, fuzzed out sound. It also introduced me to one of the most underrated frontwomen of indie circles, singer/guitarists Rebecca Ryskalczyk. Just listening to Ryskalczyk’s social commentary and mantra on self-empowerment on Party Naked Forever and in particular on their latest self-tilted album Bethlehem Steel (released a few weeks ago now), reminds me of Liz Phair and all the shit young women have to deal with nowadays especially sexual harassment and intimidation. I know, it’s a huge call to compare Ryskalczyk to such a celebrated music icon as Liz Phair. But you ain’t going to find anyone of her generation more determined to speak up for women in music than Ryskalczyk. Well, at least I think so.
Here is some of what Becca and I recently talked about in between cities while she’s currently out on tour with Bethlehem Steel.
Becca, you have an amazing knack of connecting with your feelings and putting them in your songs. Is it something that comes easy or do you procrastinate over what you want to say?
Song writing is a way for me to process and heal so thats why a lot of my lyrics are pretty blunt and heavy. Songwriting has been my emotional outlet since I was a teenager. It scares me to think where I would be today if I hadn’t found that. Sometimes while I’m playing guitar some feelings I may have been repressing will reveal themselves. I am very grateful for that.
Do you ever worry about being misunderstood as a songwriter? You definitely seem unapologetic about what’s important to you?
I don’t. People will interpret songs in different ways to cater to their own experiences and emotions. I write about topics that are important to me and my own personal pain and know that there are others who can connect to this. I’ve accepted that there are people who wont understand.
On the new album Couches seems like a song that’s not talked about enough. It’s weirdly intense. Can you elaborate a little bit how it came about?
Couches is about a really painful loss that I’m still processing. Writing this song was my first step in dealing with this loss. It’s really personal and I’m not quite ready to dive into specifics of the song but it is the most important track to me on the record.
Is there a song on the album that was the starting point or template for what the album would become sonically and lyrically?
Unfortunately, no – haha. I feel like this record is such a mixed bag sonically which is something I appreciate about it. Christina and I have both been going through a lot of processing as well as personal growth and I feel like all of that is reflected in this record.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time. That said, I recently compared you to Liz Phair and her activism for women’s voices to be heard and respected. This is something that is very important to you too? And why?
It is. I feel this story rings true for a lot of female musicians. Often times it is hard to be taken seriously or respected simply because of where society has placed us. I remember a point in which something clicked in me that other women, other musicians especially are not competition. This competitive lens is something that is engrained in a lot of young women and we are finally breaking out of that. We need to hold each other up and continue to support each other. Professionally, I try and work with as many women as I can. This is something very important to me.
Becca, if you don’t mind let’s talk about your guitar playing. You don’t sound like anyone else I can put my finger on. It’s incredible. When did you first fall in love with the guitar and who were the musicians that inspired you to play?
Thank you for saying that. A lot of the men in my family played guitar so I grew up around it and was always surrounded with different types of music. I started playing guitar when I was around 13 as a means to start writing songs. My older cousin came over, showed me a couple chords and gave me a few Metallica tab books. I was also very into Roy Orbison. I was always very inspired by the Smiths and Johnny Marr’s playing. Elliott Smith is also a huge inspiration as a song writer though I don’t think my guitar playing reflects his. I was friends with a lot of kids who were making math rock and went to a lot of those types of shows, often times traveling 8 hours with friends to see a band like Maps and Atlases. I suppose I come from a mixture of all of these.
I understand you keep notes and doodles when it comes to making the band’s music videos. Is there a film director trapped inside you waiting to burst out!? And if you were a film director what movie would you have loved to have made?
I guess if I were to have directed any movie I would have to say True Romance. Or Top Gun. Love Tony Scott. Or That Thing You Do because it’s perfect. I would love to write and direct a movie some day.
The song that I keep hearing in my head at the moment isn’t Bad Girl or Govt Cheese this week. It’s the end track New Dark. It builds and boils over brilliantly. Can you tell me a little bit about it and how it ended up being the albums epic conclusion?
It ended up being the last song because of its darkness and builds. We couldn’t think of any other spot for it besides the last track. It’s another very personal topic that I’m still processing but feel that whatever ambiguity I left there may be help other women who have felt similar.
I understand Bethlehem Steel on tour promoting the new album. Have you had any weird experiences playing live?
I’d say a good amount of the experiences are weird. Playing new places surrounded by strangers who you hope to connect with is weird on it’s own. Sometimes there are the nights I’m not even spoken to and all questions regarding gear or song writing are directed to my male band mates. Other nights one of us is going through some personal shit. All of this can make a night weird but we keep doing it because we need to and love it. We are also a band of weirdos.. so.. that adds to it.
What sort of shenanigans does the band get up to on tour? Who’s the biggest joker?
Well.. sometimes we will drive down very busy streets and blast fart noises out the window. Pat’s probably the biggest joker – he’s got the fart noises on his phone. We crack a lot of jokes but shenanigan wise, we’re pretty old and tired – haha.
We hope Bethlehem Steel makes it down here (Australia) one day. In the meantime, what current tour date are you looking forward to the most? What is it about that particular place that excites you?
If there is anyone out there reading this who can make that happen – We would LOVE to come to Australia one day. We always love playing New Orleans and Buffalo, NY. We are playing Santa Fe for the first time and really looking forward to that.