From "East" to Best: Ypsi singer-songwriter Rin Tarsy makes her debut at The Ark with a new batch of tunes
Rin Tarsy is drawn to creating albums with “[l]yrics that inspire, vulnerable songs that create connection and tap into feeling, organic and raw instrumentation, and energy in the music that is just plain fun to groove to!”
The Ark describes her music as “Midwestern soul-tinged Americana with an arresting, bone-shaking voice.” Currently, she is going in a new direction, the singer-songwriter genre, which is a departure from her 2018 spiritual-folk album, East. She’s in the process of recording new songs. She’s also relatively new to the area after moving to Ypsilanti from Grand Rapids for a job two years ago.
Rin Tarsy will perform new music at The Ark on Tuesday, June 25, at 8 pm with free admission and nonperishables accepted for Food Gatherers. She shared about her creative process, sources of inspiration, and love for music with Pulp.
Q: How did you get started playing music?
A: I very first got into music when my sister tricked me into singing the National Anthem for a high school basketball game! I was in eighth grade, and she and my brother told me they were going to record me singing the song on tape and just play the recording at the game. ... [W]hen we got home from school the next day, she told me, “Hey, you’re singing at the game tonight.” I was terrified! But to this day, I owe all my thanks to them for getting me up in front of people doing what I love. From then on, I started singing at church services and for weddings, and I did lots of musical theater. I studied classical voice at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids and continued in all of the music outlets I had been involved in thus far.
About two years ago, I moved from Grand Rapids to Ypsi to pursue an opportunity as a worship leader for a non-profit ministry in Ann Arbor. I’ve since become involved with other endeavors outside the ministry, but I am grateful for my time with them and so overjoyed to have become integrated into the generous and homegrown songwriter scene in Ann Arbor. Performing my original music has always been what I wanted more than anything deep down, but it’s also the most nerve-wracking for me. When lines are planned and memorized, it’s easy for me to be relaxed because I’m not the one coming up with everything from start to finish. It’s kind of a constant give and take -- I’m terrified of performing my own creations, and yet it’s the one thing that I’m rewarded by more than anything else.
Q: You are working on new music releasing your first album, East, in 2018. Tell us about this new direction.
A: East was a really special and intimate project for me for many different reasons, especially with it being the first music that I officially released into the world! Interestingly enough, I always viewed it as somewhat of a “side” project. As far back as I can remember when thinking about what kind of music I wanted to make, I knew I wanted to create music that reflected my beliefs and perspectives, without it being overtly Christian worship music. About a year ago, I found myself with a handful of worship songs I had written, and an opportunity to record them sort of surprisingly fell into my lap, and so I went with it! I absolutely loved the process of recording East and am excited to be in the planning of my next work, which will embody the type of music that I’ve always envisioned myself creating and performing. Lyrics that inspire, vulnerable songs that create connection and tap into feeling, organic and raw instrumentation, and energy in the music that is just plain fun to groove to!
Q: It sounds like you focus a lot on lyrics. What is your approach to writing lyrics? What inspires them?
A: Wow, lots of approaches for me! Sometimes a melody will pop into my head first. Sometimes a phrase will come first, and then I’ll experiment with melodies, sometimes, though less often, guitar first. What I’ve learned over the course of my relationship with lyrics and songwriting as a whole is that the less focus I place on being a songwriter, the better. Additionally, the more I can focus on the task at hand instead of my feelings toward the task at hand, the better. When I let go of results and commit to the routine of writing and practicing, then the pressure goes away, and I have permission to try and fail, to experiment and play. Lately, I’ve been most successful when I write in a type of stream of consciousness way, and then go back through it and find the gems that want to be molded into songs. I am inspired by getting out of my head and interacting with the world! I recently started working for a gardening company, Atzinger Gardens, and it’s been one of the healthiest things for my creativity. When I do manual labor, whether it’s spending time weeding, washing the dishes, chopping veggies, or cleaning my room -- that one happens all the time -- I find that it’s a great way for my thoughts to organize themselves into ideas and have a chance to become songs.
Q: Let’s talk about your new, yet-to-be-released songs. In “Simple Things,” the lyrics ask, “Could it be that it’s not what we do together? It’s just that we’re together.” What’s the story behind this track?
A: I love giving the story behind this one! I was having a particularly difficult time writing anything that I liked, and my songwriter friend Connor Flanagan said, “Rin, your assignment is to write a stupid song. Write something you don’t care about.” So I started “Simple Things” as just that -- a song I didn’t care about. And magically, it became one of my favorites! It’s really just an exploration of the could-be mundane or regular experiences in life that, when given love and the gift of presence, become the most beautiful joys that we have. I love melodies that stick, lyrics that are easy to understand but also have depth, and being able to really belt out a song. That’s exactly what “Simple Things” is.
Q: What instruments do you play, and how do you incorporate them into your music?
A: I play guitar, a little bit of piano, and I’ve had some fun with ukulele too. When I write, it’s typically on an acoustic guitar, which most of my songs incorporate. I gotta say though, I am by far happiest when I put the guitar down, pick up a microphone, and just get to sing alongside some stellar musicians. I love collaborating, and that’s been one of the most life-giving parts of playing and recording my original music over the past year. I really can’t say how much I enjoy being in the moment of a song and digging into it, making it come alive. It’s an absolute gift to be able to share the creation of music with others -- I never get sick of it.
Q: What musicians do you like to listen to?
A: My top song on Spotify right now is probably “Use Me Up” by Lake Street Dive. Rachael Price’s voice gets me to the core, and I love how funky their tunes are. The lyrics are clever, melodies are really engaging, and I absolutely love the instrumentation! Other artists that I like are Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles, The Steel Wheels, Brandi Carlile, Amos Lee, and Ed Sheeran. I listen to lots of jazz, and I’m a total sucker for Hamilton as well!
Q: You play The Ark June 25. What’s next for you and your music?
A: Yes, I can’t wait to play at The Ark! As I prepare for that show and continue writing songs, I am very excited to be putting plans together to record again this fall. It’s pretty amazing that when I let go of control and embrace what life offers, opportunities come and I just have to be present enough to see where they are -- or where they could be -- and say yes. I went on a short tour earlier this spring with some great friends and musicians, Chris DuPont and Christina Furtado, and it was an experience I’m excited to do again, when I am ready to release the new tunes!
Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.
Rin Tarsy will perform new music at The Ark on Tuesday, June 25, at 8 pm (doors 7:30 pm). Free admission and nonperishables accepted for Food Gatherers. Visit theark.org for tickets and more info.