Darja Vaarsi of California Widow and Deeper Graves...
Actress, vocal, and visual artist born in Estonia and immigrated to America with her family as a political refugee. Her father Igor was an Estonian freedom fighter, her Moldovan mother Olga an award-winning USSR English teacher and author. Darja is also the founder of alternative music project California Widow where she combines elements of gothic country with rock and shoegaze. She enjoys contributing music to soundtracks (Amazon Prime) and working in concert with other artists on projects of all genres, most recently post-rock/gothic outfit: Deeper Graves (Yakuza, Nachtmystium, Wolvhammer) and post-black metal project Chrome Waves. As a Vocal Artist, her musical compositions speak from the heart and oftentimes cover very intimate and personal content. As a mezzo-soprano, she can perform in any style or genre.
Where were you born, and where are you now?
I was born in Tartu, Estonia, and reside in Chicago, IL.
As an Estonian, what would you say made you who you are and what did you take away from that place?
I am incredibly proud of my heritage; Estonia is a beautiful and unique country that nurtures creativity and individualism. My family's lineage has a background in shamanism and is why I possess such a kinship towards nature, animals, and am drawn to helping others. I was born during the USSR occupation when our entire culture was banned; we were forced to flee as refugees and had a harrowing journey that lasted over half a decade. As a blended family of opposing nations at war, we experienced constant persecution, yet my parents always fought for human rights and justice. Despite any negative personal consequences that even included wrongful imprisonment of a decade and nearly losing their lives on many occasions. I come from a long line of musicians and artists of which my parents were both; I'm a firecracker inspired by their righteous and inventive spirits and was blessed to grow up surrounded by gems of artists that were national treasures. When my mother was a teacher, it was illegal to sing in church choirs due to the separation of state, so she went so far as to disguise herself as an old lady to participate! We always harnessed our experiences into creativity, compassion, and empathy; due to that, I also worked in Veterinary Medicine, Law, and various nonprofits.
You're a multiple project artist, could you list and describe them for us:
California Widow is my personal project; it initially arose as Gothic Country with a cinematic aesthetic, which is why it's been incorporated into soundtracks. My introduction to America was living in Texas, watching westerns, listening to oldies and blues, so I've drawn inspiration from that. However, it's expanded to include rock, shoegaze, metal, and my solo ventures into industrial. I'm a massive fan of the diversity within Opeth, Bjork, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, and enjoy exploring that myself.
Deeper Graves is a Post Punk/Rock/Goth project founded by Jeff Wilson (Nachtmystium, Wolvhammer, Chrome Waves, etc.) where I contribute vocals/lyrics/melodies. We released the debut EP this past July; it also included Bruce Lamont of Yakuza and cellist Chris Brown (Kakophonix). We premiered a music video I produced/directed and performed in: "Last Transmission" on Decibel Magazine this past August and hope to release a new EP in upcoming months. We've discussed my contributing vocals to Chrome Waves as well.
You mentioned shoegaze as a musical direction; where did the inspiration arise from?
My introduction was through Jesus and the Mary Chain, A Place to Bury Strangers, M83, Blonde Redhead, and influences to the genre such as The Cure, Siouxsie, and the Banshees. Being a metalhead, I also found those elements within blackgaze/atmospheric black metal bands such as Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room, Drudkh, and Agalloch.
I've known you as an alternative model; your work evokes your individuality. Are you still modeling from time to time? What do you miss about it?
I've always perceived myself more as a visual artist than a model, as I'm more interested in storytelling. I'm currently prioritizing my passion for music after taking a break from acting; the beauty of being a performing artist is that you can integrate that into music videos and live performances. I'm making one of a kind masks by hand influenced by Estonian mythology, with plans to incorporate them into self-portraits. I picked up many skills to be more self-sufficient in modeling, but I miss collaborating with others as everyone has something different to offer.
Top three favorite artists: Dissection, Johnny Cash, and Alice in Chains
Describe what your perfect evening would consist of:
Anywhere in nature under the stars, away from the city pressure, whether it's boat or land camping, grilling gourmet food, listening to music against the backdrop of the wilderness. Sipping champagne in a jacuzzi surrounded by snow, exploring a foreign country, or dancing by the beach in a tropical climate. Surprise me, I'm a wildcard!
What would you like to be doing one year from now?
Living elsewhere, running my own business, I’ll be launching a lifestyle brand shortly and surfing regularly. I love fitness and adventure sports, so I'm considering starting my own fitness program. I hope to be more adept at theremin, guitar, and utilize Russian more in music and participate in new music projects in varying genres and capacities. Perhaps finally land an action acting role where I perform my own stunts!
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
It holds significant personal meaning as I'd been published in it as a model before, and I remember it's inception. It's lovely to see the global reach and impact it's had from art to music. Growing up as an outcast that never fit in, it's a community, respite, and a pioneer of exposing unconventional art and beauty into mainstream culture.
New song "Dirt" Vocals/lyrics by Darja Vaarsi in Deeper Graves
Originally published on Dark Beauty Music