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The best kept secret in music


31 July 2007
tell your friends... tell your friends...

Words by Sean Moeller // Illustration by Johnnie Cluney // Sound Engineering by Brad Kopplin

The flies and horses, the goldfish and the turtles in Skursula songs don’t live in Candyland or the universe of the Care Bears, devoid of all Cloud Quakes and evil spirits influencing wrongdoing camp goers. They are spoiled by their innocent longings, but they exist in gothic temperatures and churning waters that feel boiling to the bare touch. Though these characters give off the feeling of being the products of straight-up anthropomorphism, they’re actually reflections of the opposite procedure – the girl as the field mouse and the heart as a bird of prey, perhaps just circling, but perhaps more when the steely night vision kicks in. These animals and insects can be the people that you meet while you’re walking down the street tomorrow or the next day, but the revelations of these characteristics is more that they aren’t naked eye material. One thing that Ursula Dial and Skye Carrasco (women with two names like that were bound to meet at some point on a college campus, taking some of the same classical music classes) might have to deal with in their giving of these feathery, noble, honest and occasionally sexy qualities is that once they give animals the characteristics of real life human beings that they know – or even those of people completely fabricated for the sake of a yarn – they’ll find that getting them back can be a real headache. Whomever they borrowed these characteristics from should be prepared to never have them returned. They should operate under the assumption that their abilities to rationalize and problem solve, in some cases, might be gone forever. The turtle’s got that. There are tradeoffs. For the guy whose qualities were used to invade the horse’s life – one that will see a self-inflicted co-habitation with a mouse that constantly whispers sweet nothings into its ear – he’ll suddenly and potentially forever be able to open it up and stampede or rumble a china chest with a whinny from the guts. Who knows what’s put into these humans to replace the stolen characteristics – cotton or balled up Sunday newspapers would be my guess. -

Skursula is on the bleeding edge of Iowa City's chamber-rock scene. These two ladies -- one on violin and vocals, the other on cello -- take the best parts of their music theory backgrounds and mix them with energetic indie-rock flavor. They are one of the hottest and most interesting bands in town, sometimes joined by guest percussionists but most effective as a sharp and often surprising duo. - Cokemachineglow

When Karl Brown sent me songs by Skursula from their DayTrotter recording sessions, I instantly liked them. Skursula is a collaboration of two soon to be college graduates, Skye Carrasco and Ursula Dial, with the help of Harlan Muir. These amazingly talented ladies from Iowa City, Iowa have an unforgettable style. Using the cello and violin in their songs, they create a world that lets us look into who they are and how they perceive everything. I got to learn this through several phone calls that always ended up getting off topic of the interview. I grew to love them even more through our awkward conversations, and finally, it got to an interview, and here it is.

First off, what was your inspiration to start a band, and what made you choose to infuse your names together?
When we first met during our freshman year of college, we joked about having a band named Skursula because we spent so much time together.

After studying music for a few years at the university of Iowa, we realized we could use our formal training to write and perform music in ways that are normally unconventional for our instrumentation, and for audiences who don't typically listen to stringed instruments. Naturally, our adopted name from a several years back seemed to be the perfect title for our duo.

What would you say is the biggest influence for your music(Artists, Musicians, Authors, Anything)?
Our music is influenced greatly by the people that come and go in our lives, friendships, relationships and times when we are forced to face our own weaknesses. From these experiences, our songwriting can range from story-like to extremely abstract in character. In that way, we hope that our songs keep listeners intrigued.

What do you like to do besides play music?
In our free time, we like to make big and spicy stir-frys, lay in bed with our kitties, and go bicycle-riding. We also like to drink boxed wine and go the pool.

What do you think sets you apart from other bands?
Besides our instrumentation--cello, violin, accordion and vocals--being unique, our song-writing process sets us apart from other musicians we know...because we don't really have one song-writing process. Every time we compose new music , we arrive to the finished song in an extremely different way. We have both fulfilled very different roles in terms of writing the music and lyrics.

How did you meet each other and how long have you been playing together?
The two of us had orchestra together three times a week. We were both secretly drawn to each other because we felt equally awkward in the fashionably and artistically conservative environment in which we went to school. Since we lived in the same dorm, we would pass each other to and from class frequently, but we were both too shy at to approach the other. Then, one fateful evening after we had both mischievously consumed a few adult drinks in our respective dorm rooms, we spotted one another through the glass panes that surrounded the lobby. Surprisingly, the windows didn't shatter as we both ran to the glass and began pounding and screaming in excitement to be friends. We have been playing music of the classical genre in string duets and quartets ever since, which eventually gave way to the formation of Skursula in the fall of 2006.

What message do you try to convey through your music?

We like to tell stories and convey emotion through our music that listeners can relate to and make their own. Oh, and of course we like to reveal all of our secret crushes that we are too shy to talk about.

How long have you been playing the instruments you play?
Ursula has been playing the cello since she was 4 years old. The first three years of her cello-playing career consisted of a lot of hugging and singing to her instrument. Skye has been playing the violin since she turned 5 years old. Today she plays an ancient German violin that was built in 1687.

What inspired Hip Hop Boi?
Ursula's little classical heart fell hopelessly hard for an east coast boy who had the fastest flow. As her obsession grew, she caught herself trying to impress him with her newly discovered hip hop knowledge. This was only the third song we wrote and is a twisted version of a "Popper" Etude that Ursula was practicing at the time in her classical studies. The core of this song is based around the hilarious contrast between classical and hip hop cultures.

What inspired Basket Weavin'?
Skye wrote the lyrics of this song at the ripe age of 18 before she became jaded by heartache. Luckily, she is a quick learner and this ignorance has never been repeated since (yeah right). When we first met we used to switch journals and write really bad love poems as therapy for our broken hearts. We discovered this charming Skye-scribble in a frantic rush before our Iowa City debut, which was the opening act for a noise show (weird). This is also the first song we ever wrote, so out of sentiment we end every show with it.

What would yo - Left of the Mainstream

Discography Session:

Twin City Blues
Rhinoceros Song
Hip Hop Boi


Feeling a bit camera shy


Vocalist and violinist Skye Carrasco explores the various timbres of her voice: a breathy, angelic upper register contrasting with her sultry, Billie Holiday-like lower voice. Carrasco is known for experimenting with vibrato and voice placement in order to thicken the vocal textures.

Meanwhile, strings gone mad from soaring melodies to abrupt, atmospheric squeals add distinct flavor to the duo. used in a deliciously unconventional manner, Dial's cello and Carrasco's violin are plucked, strummed and bowed, making their songs especially fresh.

Harlan Muir, who joined the duo in the spring of 2007, adds charming texture to this burlesque mixture with his ornamental accordion and keyboard playing and beatboxing.

Classically trained cellist and singer-songwriter Ursula Dial offers a fresh look at acoustic music by combining folk/pop structure with plucked and bowed cello. Wonderfully diverse, her music has roots in jazz, folk, hip hop and rock while not tasting like any specific genre. Ursula has studied cello for 17 years and has been writing and performing her own compositions since she graduated from the Arts High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ursula then set out to receive her training at University of Iowa, and the Hoch Schule fur Musik in Germany. Studying with the likes of Hannah Holman, Laura Sewell, Mischa Meiski, Leslie Marie Riva, and George Work. She also has performed at many music festivals around the world such as The Schlern Italy Music Festival, Madeleine Island Music Festival, and Wintergreen Music Festival in West Virginia. While living in Berlin she soloed in a documentary titled "A Berlin Day" that was premiered at the Berlinale in spring of 2007. Ursula has performed music with Tommy Lee, Rockstar Supernova, Paleo, and Nick Africano

Originally from Iowa City, Skye has studied violin for 16 years at the Preucil School of Music and The University of Iowa. Her teachers have included Kimberley Meyer-Simms, Christie Felsing, Margaret Gutierrez, and Tricia Park. Skye has participated in music festivals around the world such as Blue Lake Fine Arts and the Wintergreen Music Festival. With several years of voice lessons under the guidance of singer Marie von Behren up her sleeve, Carrasco strayed from her path as a strictly classical musician in 2005, joining Iowa City folk band: The Great Lakes. Shortly following her folk debut, Carrasco's versatile violin and vocal skills graced stages with the likes of Jandek, The Glowing Glass, Caleb Engstrom, Paleo, Nick Africano, and Michael Morris.

Harlan Muir, while technically a classically and jazz trained saxophonist, is a Jack of all trades when it comes to instruments. He can play most instruments as long as they aren't brass. He began to teach himself keyboard instruments at the age of 13, learning to play by aurally transcribing Bach organ fugues and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata mvt. 3. A real pianist once told him he had, "horrible fingering, yet he makes it work". Harlan picked up the accordion around 9 years ago, but only in the past few years began to play seriously. He is a composer for films and draws inspiration from classical, jazz, Gypsy, rock, and many others.