Karina Rykman’s Onstage Style Is As Cool As Her Sound

New York native Karina Rykman’s star is on the rise. And, with her 70’s inspired rock ‘n’roll aesthetic that’s punctuated with a modern, street-style sensibility, she’s clearly one to watch – for both her guitar riffs and onstage style.

Rykman charted her musical path as a teenager before her prowess on the bass guitar landed a number of high-profile television gigs spanning America’s Got Talent to backing up pop star Julia Michaels on TODAY. By 21, she garnered the attention of pianist Marco Benevento’s band, with whom she performed countless shows, including dates with Vulfpeck, Dispatch, The Claypool Lennon Delirium and Guster.

Rykman soon formed her own namesake band and earned a reputation as an unmissable live act, lighting up an array of international stages with headline sets, show-stealing festival performances and shows alongside Khruangbin, Guster, and The Disco Biscuits and recent appearances sitting in with the 8G Band on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Now as Rykman’s tour kicks off in celebration of her debut album, JOYRIDE – produced in partnership with childhood friend, Gabe Monro and Trey Anastasio of Phish – we sat down with the musician to chat festival wardrobes, on-the-road must-haves and how style impacts sound.

Congratulations on the launch of your album. How would you say your style has influenced your music?

Thanks so much! I’d say that it definitely has, in the sense that I tend to reject fussiness in favor of effortlessness, and I’d like to think that proclivity permeates into my music as well. The desire to be unincumbered, by conventionality and otherwise, is something that is deeply rooted in me – both in my style and my music.

You’re gearing up for a tour. Take us through your packing list. How do you generally approach packing for shows?

If we’re gearing up for a long stretch of shows where we’re driving and have room to bring a bunch of stuff, I’ll fill one roller bag up with various t-shirts, button-downs, blouses, and long-sleeves. I have a real thing for horizontal stripes and polka-dots, as well as splashes of patterns and colors. I’m almost always wearing black skinny jeans, or polka-dot pants, or this one pair of black pants with vertical gold sequin stripes. It’s the top that changes every night of a tour, while the pants can often stay pretty consistent. I’ll then bring a separate bag for my growing collection of high-top Golden Goose sneakers and Modern Vice boots. That’s my kryptonite. I also bring my Nespresso machine and my duvet.

I take a very different approach when we fly in and out to festivals. I like to challenge myself to bring as little as possible, often not even bringing a bag other than my bass case. I’ll wear the clothes and shoes I’m going to play the show in, shove a pair of flannel pajama pants, a t-shirt or two, a toothbrush, and a phone charger in the pockets of my bass case, and just roll like that. Everyone thinks I’m insane, and I am, but man is it satisfying for a 24-hour trip.

I like to travel light in all senses. I have a pretty unique disdain for baggage, of any sort. I’ve never owned a purse, clutch, or handbag, and would never dream of carrying one around. I definitely have an impressive collection of jackets with pockets, instead, for shoving my phone-wallet combination in (one less thing to carry). My desire to be unencumbered is reminiscent of the music I make – completely free, ever evolving, not weighed down by expectations or genres or conventions.

How would you define your onstage style? What, if anything, do you try to convey through your aesthetic choices?

For me, running around the stage and conveying my jubilation for the moment is of top priority. If I can’t move effortlessly, I can’t express myself effortlessly – that’s the opposite of what I want. And the clothes I wear directly impact that – if I’m uncomfortable, the music is going to suffer dramatically. That’s why I’m almost always in sneakers and never in a dress – I want to be as free as possible, and I want the music I make to reflect that. My onstage style is confident and full of joy. I jump off of risers and roll around on the floor like a lunatic – I like to think that me being the truest version of myself encourages others to be the truest versions of themselves.

Where do you find inspiration for your show wardrobe?

Anything that emboldens me inspires me. My onstage wardrobe is whimsical, fun, classic, but it’s not overly flowery or ‘done up’. I’ve always been tomboyish, and I think it looks disingenuous when I have too much makeup on or I try to wear things that don’t suit my vibe. There’s plenty of classic New York rock ‘n’ roll style in me – think tight black jeans, boots, horizontal striped shirts, polka dot Commes Des Garçons button downs, mixed with psychedelic dip-dyed shirts and more patterned, colorful, and playful pieces.

What are five items – clothing or skincare or otherwise that you cannot live without on tour?

  1. Rag & Bone black jeans
  2. Elemis moisturizer
  3. Nespresso machine
  4. Parachute duvet
  5. Flannel pajama pants

Which musicians or performers, past or present, inspires you stylistically? From both an aesthetic POV and musically?

Karen O, Patti Smith, Tina Weymouth, Debbie Harry – these women exude vibe on stage, both stylistically and musically. The thing that resonates the most with me is authenticity, and they all have it in spades. They’re just intrinsically themselves – whether that’s Patti in a white button down and black pants hammering on a guitar on The Old Grey Whistle Test, or Tina bouncing around in a grey baggy jumpsuit and just owning the instrument in Stop Making Sense, their singularity is what draws me to them as style and music icons.

What’s your favorite performance look of all time?

I wore “Misplaced Swoosh” Nike Air Force Ones, black pants with gold sequin stripes from Di$count Univer$e, and a Bella Dahl white button down with patterned dots for one of my biggest festival appearances at the time at The Peach Music Festival in 2021. This look was so heavily photographed, and I think it just congealed in my mind as my favorite of all time because the pictures were so powerful. I was on cloud nine. The outfit was fun and playful, blending patterns and stripes, while also being cool and quasi-understated. Both feminine and masculine, youthful, energized, and ready for more.

How would you describe the connection between artists and their sense of style?

I think some people need to be more ceremonious about it than others. For me, I don’t “gear up” to make music. Music is just an intrinsic, and might I say vital part of my daily life. I feel similarly about my style choices. You can watch old Nirvana videos and see Kurt Cobain looking like he just rolled out of bed with a striped oversized longsleeve on and put on the most compelling performance of all time. I think some people are like that, while others need to get more “in the zone” of performance which they do through their outfits as well as other ritualized actions outside of the music making.

For me, this is who I am. I’m sort of always “on,” with a song or a riff or a joke on hand. Being on stage is where I feel the most natural in the world – and it’s just “me” up there, not some falsified or glorified version of me. I like to blur the lines between audience member and performer – we’re all just a part of a big energy transfer in the room, and the people dancing are no less integral than the people playing the instruments. I think my style is reflective of that philosophy – music and style are a part of life. They’re natural. It’s like breathing to me.

Do you change your look dependent upon venue or location?

I certainly change my look depending on whether playing an outdoor festival, a club, a theater, on television, or the like. I’ve made some extremely poor wardrobe decisions, like playing at a 100-degree festival in a long sleeve button down and black pants. These days if I’m playing a hot outdoor summer festival I’ll almost always opt for a T-shirt, oftentimes with cut off sleeves. When I play well-airconditioned theatres I’ll tend to go for something more classic than a t-shirt – typically patterned blouses or button-downs. When I’ve played in the house band on Late Night With Seth Meyers, I’ve gone for my most sophisticated looking blouses or jackets with boots with a slight heel – I’m tethered to my spot on that show, so mobility counts for less.

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