Two years ago, local singer, songwriter and poet LaRissa Vienna started putting her energy into a new band, LaRissa Vienna and the Strange. The group’s name was inspired by the Doors song “People Are Strange.” Through the act, Vienna took her heart and stitched it unceremoniously to her sleeve — so no matter what a given set brings, you can be sure that Vienna means what she sings. Her music is honest, emotional and poetic — and more than a little strange.
Vienna, now 23, says she’s been singing practically since birth, initially as a solo artist. Back in 2008, MySpace was the most effective way to push music to a large audience. The blossoming artist realized that she was on to something with her spooky, quirky alt-rock. Equal parts Marilyn Manson, Fiona Apple and Björk, the sound was tough to pin down back then, and it remains so today.
“I kept with the solo music for a few years, and it was all electronic at first. Then I slowly but surely found the perfect band,” she says of the Strange. “Once I had this group fully together, I realized that we were a really solid band. It was a real feeling that I had with them, very genuine and special.”
Vienna's band includes Nick Workman on guitar, Aaron Mendoza on bass, Luke Wolff on drums and Vanity Welch on violin. Each member has very individual musical tastes, all part of the creative chemistry that makes the act unique.
“My drummer is into jazz, my guitarist is very much into metal, my violinist is classically trained,” Vienna says. “There are so many elements that everyone brings to the table that I couldn’t just do by myself. And so it brings the songs that I write to a whole new level once they get ahold of them. It just completely changes: They add their own flavor, and it sounds really special.”
Those elements are also why the genre is so hard to nail down. Sure, it’s rock music. But trying to define it further is a fruitless endeavor. When pushed, Vienna makes a valiant attempt: “It has a dark undertone,” she says. “It’s kind of eerie, or spooky-sounding. A lot of it is also harder-hitting, so it lands somewhere in that rock spectrum. The violin really brings an extra element in there. I really just call it a rock band — that’s what it is to me.”
Although the band is only two years old, it’s grown in that time. According to Vienna, the evolution has been profound, and the contrast between the two released records, the EPs Strange Siren and Make the Pain Pretty, is crazy.
“It seems like everyone got better individually, and then we became better as a group. Just more solid — we can play off each other even more,” she elaborates. “We’re about to go into the studio for a full-length album, and this stuff is just out of the ballpark for what we’ve done before. Especially with our violinist; now her parts are very complex. You’ve got to keep practicing by yourself and keep getting better as a musician, and then when you come together as a group, it just becomes very apparent to everyone else who’s listening how much you’re evolving. It’s all very natural.”
Although she’s working with other musicians whom she respects and from whom she solicits input, this is very much Vienna’s project. She writes the lyrics and composes the music, acting as the band’s creative director. Her words express her thoughts, her emotions, her feelings.
“I write all the songs, then I show it to everyone, and from there, they add their own flavor to it,” she explains.
“It’s like I give them the skeleton to a song, and then they make up the rest of the anatomy. It’s really exciting, because it’s cool for me to know how the song started and then hear the final product. That’s not something I could have done by myself, so I’m very lucky to have all of them.”
In April, LaRissa Vienna and the Strange will go back into the studio to record a debut full-length album. The group already has an enviable local following, as evidenced at last August’s Girls to the Front event at the Marquis Theater. This weekend, the second iteration of Girls to the Front will hit the Marquis stage, and once again, Vienna’s band will top the bill.
“It was the coolest experience I’ve ever had,” she says of the August gig. “It just felt like everyone in the room was on the same page, so inspired, and it was such an uplifting thing to be a part of. It was very emotional at times. I was almost crying. The audience was crying at some parts. This will be part two, which is really exciting, because I’m ready to do that all over again, bigger and better.”
Of course, in the months since the first show, the United States has elected a president whose track record of making misogynistic remarks renders the continuation of women-centered arts events all the more important. Vienna, like many other musicians, believes the new administration’s policies and history of sexism will inspire bountiful, quality music.
“I’ve never been inspired to write music that’s political, but now, in spite of everything that’s going on, I can’t help it,” Vienna says. “It’s so prevalent in our society right now. Me as a woman, me as a person, seeing what other people are going through — that energy is so strong. There’s no doubt that all of that energy and that anger is gonna come out in music. That’s the best thing we can take from this situation. What do artists do when they feel strongly about something? They create more than ever.”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The group will play new material at the Marquis, looking to build on Music Connection magazine’s selection of Vienna and the Strange as one of the Top 100 Unsigned Bands in America in 2016.
“We’re not holding back, and I feel like the members in my group have so much talent that hasn’t necessarily been displayed yet because we’ve been getting so comfortable with each other,” Vienna says. “What’s cool about our shows is that we don’t hold back, ever. It’s one of the most energetic live shows you’ll ever see. I always tell people that, even if they aren’t into this kind of music, I know they’ll have so much fun at the show. In day-to-day life, I’m very...not shy, but monotone. I’m not super-outgoing and bubbly. So when people see me on stage, it’s like a whole new animal.”
LaRissa Vienna and the Strange
7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street, $10-$12, 303-487-0111.
Correction: The photograph was originally credited to Enrique Parrilla. The credit should have been assigned to Spookie Darling.