The Minneapolis-based trio RONiiA—Fletcher Barnhill (Joint Custody, FUGITIVE), Nona Marie Invie (Dark Dark Dark, Fugitive), and Mark McGee (Father You See Queen, Marijuana Deathsquads)—will release a new EP, Sisters, this Friday, March 25. Filled with richly atmospheric music, it derives its hypnotic power through its intricate dance between subtle intimation and emotional verve. On tracks like “Hell,” lead singer Invie’s hazy vocals seem to float, disembodied, over the noirish synthscapes created by her bandmates. In a word, this music is cinematic, which should come as no surprise to anyone who witnessed the members of RONiiA perform their Walker-commissioned original score to the silent film classic The Adventures of Prince Achmed last summer.
The band’s experience with that project has informed their latest music in ways both direct and indirect. I asked the members of RONiiA about their new EP and its relationship to their 2015 Summer Music and Movies score.
Mark Mahoney: Mark, the last time I spoke with you, you were preparing to debut your film score to the silent film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a project also featuring Nona and Fletcher Barnhill of RONiiA. What kind of impact has that project had on your work together since then?
Mark McGee: Most of the songs were heavily influenced by the score I wrote for the Walker. The song “Hell” developed purely from the score, adding lyrics to it later. “Sisters” was another song that I used most of the drum sounds and synths from the score, and we developed a more structured song out of it. Working on soundtracks is something we are all super interested in, and this project allowed us a break from the heavy tour schedule we had earlier that year. There’s no doubt the project helped us to explore new sounds and textures that we probably never would have used if we had just written an album without that experience.
Mahoney: Your band name was inspired by another fantasy film: Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter. There seems to be an element of (sometimes dark) fantasy running through your music. Do you see parallels between these films and your music?
Fletcher Barnhill: No doubt. We based our project off the character from the Astrid Lindgren novel. In the book, Ronia embodies a wild spirit who makes her own way through the world and we try to celebrate that theme in the music.
Mahoney: The three of you each come from different corners of the Twin Cities creative music scene. How do you reconcile the wide array of influences you all bring to the table? Is the strategy to find common ground, constructive difference, or to go somewhere else entirely?
Barnhill: As lovers of all types of musics, it is really a blessing to be able to work with artists who aren’t exactly on the same trip as you. Our styles balance each other out, and we each bring different strengths to the table. That being said, we found out from the start that we have a real chemistry together when it comes to writing. The outcome is really a blend of our experience and our excitement about crafting songs.
Mahoney: When you’re writing and working out the music, do you tend to start with smaller ideas and build on them, or do you start from a more formal conception of the piece?
Barnhill: We have different approaches on a song-to-song basis, but one that works well for us is writing a song and then testing it out a bunch on tour before recording the final version. The song “run” came together that way and we have some new new material right now that is going through the same process. Be on the lookout for RONiiA Mixtape Vol. III.
Mahoney: What can we expect from the new album? How do you see it in relation to your previous (self-titled debut) album?
McGee: This album has a more direct and raw sound. The vocals are not affected as much and the rhythms are up front and bigger, but the sound of RONiiA is still there. The songs are shorter and more to the point than the previous album.
Mahoney: Were there extra-musical influences or sources of inspiration for the new album? More generally, who outside the world of music has influenced or inspired the band the most?
McGee: I was living in Venice Beach when we made the album. Venice Beach and the canals was a definite influence, at least for me, when writing it. The poverty and super rich all existing together provided an eerie and sinister world for the album to breathe. Nona and Fletcher were dealing with the harsh reality of the Minnesota winter, but really, our environments typically seep through during the writing process.