Larkin's strange trip

Brian Rademaekers - Philadelphia Weekly

Larkin Grimm might call Young Gods Records - shared by the likes of the Akron Family and Devandra Banhart - her current musical home, but other than that, this young and eclectic musician is a drifting gypsy making a name for herself in the world of psychedelic folk.

Her music is a richly textured amalgam of sounds and moods, with weird percussion and smoothed out by her forceful vocals. The 26-year-old singer and songwriter made her debut on Young God in October with the release of Parplar, a 15-track album that spans just over 40 minutes.

Produced by Grimm and Michael Gira, who has worked with Banhart, the Akron Family, Angels Of Light, Swans and others, Parplar is an album full of unique gems that range from creepy and haunting to the wild and seductive.

And while her bio seems to be one full of fantastical mythology, it might also give some insight to the bizarre, unconventional songs she calls her own.

Born in Memphis, Tenn., Grimm was raised by free-loving parents who were members of a religious cult known as the "Holy Order Of MANS." They moved on from that scene when Grimm was just 6, and landed in Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Her father was a fiddler, her mother a folksinger, and they raised five children in the southern wilds.

This upbringing might account for a taste in music that frowns on conformist structures; Grimm's songs wander along in a naturalistic pattern, taking unexpected turns and soaking everything from Eastern elements to banjo serenades.

Grimm left school at 10, but went to a boarding school at 13 with the support of a Coca Cola-funded program that helps gifted Appalachian children. Somehow, she jumped from those rugged origins to winning a full scholarship to Yale to study art. Then again, listening to her intricate and pleasant blend of psychedelic folk, it's easy to find the work of a brilliant mind behind the music.

Her free-spirited upbringing soon called her back, though, and she left Yale for a life of wandering, staying in places ranging from Thailand and Olympia, Wash., to Alaska.

It was in the great North where she says she learned to sing from a "forest spirit" after a beam of "golden light" broke through her consciousness. Wild as it may seem, it pretty much sums up the spirit of her music.

She later returned to Yale, where she began working music into her art studies and pursued songwriting in earnest. Over the years, she self-produced three albums and eventually did graduate from Yale, likely making her one of the few musicians in world of new folk with an Ivy League distinction.

She began talking with producer Gira in 2004, and he prodded the nascent musician to press on and master an instrument. His first introduction to her was a crude demo of her vocals backed by a double bass and "scraping metal sounds."

In the ensuing years, she mastered finger-picking styles on guitar and banjo, and further honed her wild, fractured musical vision, bringing her closer to the songs featured on Parplar.

Grimm and Gira didn't actually meet face to face until 2007, and by that time the roving musician had amassed an expansive library of original songs.
Working from Gira's home near Woodstock, N.Y., they eventually pared a list of some 50 songs to those that appear on Parplar.

On the album, Grimm is featured playing acoustic guitar, banjo, Chinese harp, mountain dulcimer and a Casio keyboard. Guests include Young God label mates Colleen Kinsella and Caleb Mulkerin, as well as Maine's Micah Smalldone and Chriss Sutherland.

The result is a jam-packed album that has the feel of a strange backwoods jamboree, with musicians and friends coming and going in a dizzying, dreamlike procession.

Grimm will come to Philly and stop at Kensington South's Kung Fu Necktie on Wednesday as part of her winter tour, courtesy of R5 Productions. ¥¥

Joining her onstage will be openers Ghost Ship, a new project from Fishtown's Rosalie Middleman and Mary Latimore that wraps together harps, guitars and processed vocals.

Also representing the Fishtown scene will be Audrey Smith's Hunter/Gatherer, a haunting singer-songwriter project.