Coming from an artistic Moldovan lineage, with a poet father and a musician mother, Varya Dominici sees her work as being a continuation of this heritage. “Nobody ever was famous, or trying to ‘make it’ in music. It wasn’t a thing,” she tells Post-Burnout of her upbringing in this bard community. “It was just kind of everyone’s hobby, and it was a big part of everybody’s life. So, funnily enough, I actually didn’t even know that I could sing or that it was a thing – because I always sang – until I went to my first choir thing in high school in the U.S. Before that, I already sang in every choir, I sang on stage with my parents, I did my own things. I just didn’t know that not everyone can sing. [Laughs] So, I was kind of brought into music very crookedly; it was just there.”
Varya moved between Moldova and various parts of the U.S. before landing in New York at 14 years old, where she lives to this day. “I feel like it’s a good age to be moving,” she says. “Because at 14, you’ve already lived a life, and I very much remember my upbringing. It was very different. I speak Russian fluently, that’s my first language, so you weren’t completely cut off before you were developed. And, at the same time, still young enough to where I speak with little accent and I’m very easily assimilated at 14, I think. So, it’s a good middle-ground age.”
Varya describes her upbringing in Moldova as being “very sheltered,” and she tells of how she was not really exposed to popular music outside of Russian rock until coming to New York. Noting the likes of Green Day, Avril Lavigne, and The Rasmus as acts that she was initially drawn to as a teenager, she began playing in bands. Yet, for Varya, it was the poetry, not the accompanying music, which held the greater significance in what she wrote. “I’ve always thought of myself as poet first,” she explains. “Maybe that’s my upbringing. To me, words were always more important. If you ever learnt anything about Russian bard music, my depiction of it growing up was lyrics that made my little four, five, seven-year-old soul, like, ‘Oh, my gosh! This is so deep and profound!’ And then it’s like three chords, and nobody can really play sophisticatedly. [Laughs] So, the music always came second, and I think that’s how I write.”
Not too long after, Varya got together with some friends and began making music under the eponymously mononymic VARYA (Note: When spelt in all-caps, we’re referring to VARYA, the musical group, as opposed to Varya, the person). “It’s been VARYA like this… – and that is my name! [Laughs] – but it’s been VARYA as the band name, as well, from the very start; since I was, like, 15, 16 is when we first formed the band with a bunch of my mates,” Varya tells us. “And I feel like, back then, I was still trying to very much find what my sound is and what I’m doing, and I was trying to, you know, as you do, write songs that people would like. I did not have a whole lot of life experience, but I’ve always known how to put my feelings into writing.
“You know, I was writing poetry long before I even started writing songs, like in school, and, in grade school, that was always something, that I would put my feelings into something, even if it meant making up stories that were [fictional]. So, that just came very naturally. But, yeah, that early music was very rock-ish, very upbeat, it was very funky, and not the vibe that I do right now, at all. And we’ve been with that band for maybe five, six-ish years. We put out our first album, now seven or eight years ago, Bugbomb. It’s still out there, it still makes me smile every time, but it’s so different from what I’ve now arrived at.”
What they have arrived at is their latest EP, Oh Them Rivers, which releases today. As opposed to the uplifting, playful and joyous nature of VARYA’s 2015 debut album Bugbomb, Oh Them Rivers is an earthy, foreboding and contemplative collection. The songs on the EP were written during lockdown when Varya was making money by working as a live-in nanny. While working in what she describes as a “giant mansion,” Varya converted the house’s basement into a practice room, where she could write when off-the-clock.
Initially beginning as an acoustic-driven home project in the bubble of isolation, Varya began sending her pieces out to the band’s other members, who worked on soundscapes and additional instrumentation for the EP. She credits longtime collaborator Gene Chaban (who studied sound design at the Berklee College of Music and has worked in the sound department for video games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Stray) for the electronic and atmospheric elements, and the EP brought her teenage band back together, who worked on the project remotely. “It was a big labour of love and a communal affair, for sure. [Laughs],” Varya says of the EP. “It took a total of, like, three-and-a-half years to really put the whole project together, even though you would think it would take less to put seven songs together!”
Despite the eight-year gap between Bugbomb and Oh Them Rivers, VARYA, having sorted through the growing pains of working remotely, have already begun their next project. “The next EP – which might even grow into a full-blown album right now; it’s still very much in the beginning stages of recording and putting together – is a little bit more straightforward,” says Varya. “I’d say that’s the most consistent commentary that I’ve gotten on these newer songs, that it’s a lot more straightforward, less abstract in its lyrics. But, you know, my sound is still what it is, I think. It came together and I like it a lot. I think my songs sound quite sad, and I hear that a lot, ‘Oh, you know, just sad music.’ But I don’t think it is. I think if you really listen to what it is that I talk about in my songs, you will find a lot of light and a lot of hope and feeling of overcoming something and growing and just inviting more beauty into your life, while going through really hard experiences and times and realisations in life, which, to me, is a very, very positive thing.”
VARYA’s latest EP Oh Them Rivers is available to stream on Spotify from today. You can follow VARYA on Instagram. For a more in-depth discussion with VARYA, check out today’s episode of POSTBURNOUT.COM Interviews… at 17:00 on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music Podcasts.
Aaron Kavanagh is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Post-Burnout. His writing can also be found in the Irish Daily Star, Buzz.ie, New Noise Magazine, XS Noize, DSCVRD and more.