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Pictoria Vark Is Heading Into Parts Unknown, And Finding Herself As She Goes

Who is Pictoria Vark? She’s the spoonerism who serves as a rock handle for rising songwriter Victoria Park. The 23-year-old Iowa City singer/bassist just made one of last year’s finest indie records with her breakthrough, The Parts I Dread. It’s a road trip of an album—it’s full of the places she’s lived and left behind, from suburban New Jersey to rural Wyoming, from Brooklyn streets to Iowa prairies. But her songs all share that nomadic sense of wandering. As Park says with a laugh, “I love being the Carmen Sandiego of indie-rock.” 

Park has been making her bedroom pop for a few years, when not on the road playing bass for Squirrel Flower and Pinkshift. But she really began turning heads in late 2021 with her single “I Can’t Bike,” a relatable anthem for pedestrians that flips into a Dinosaur Jr.-style guitar-solo freakout. The Parts I Dread has a delicate, poetic, soft-spoken charm in ballads like “Friend Song” or  “Wyoming,” where she asks, “Can’t I blame you for everything? / Market crashes, mood swings?” But she really nails that vibe of a restless 20-something heart, trying to figure out where she belongs.

“The sense of placelessness really informed the music,” she says, chatting from her extremely indie-rock-ish pad in Iowa City. (She has to pause mid-sentence when her roommate’s guinea pig starts squeaking too loud.) She made Parts in lockdown with childhood friends Jason Ross (of Moon Sand Land) and Gavin Caine. “We never met at a studio or anything—the whole album was done remotely. At my Brooklyn show last summer, it was the first time every person who played on the record was in one room at the same time.” 

But ironically, that meant she was recording all these emotional travelogues while stuck at home. As she admits, “Me doing a hundred takes of vocals in my room is not exactly my picture of catharsis.” 

Park grew up a New Jersey emo kid, digging bands like The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die. (She salutes her roots on the album, with a Bandcamp bonus cover of the Promise Ring’s “Nothing Feels Good.”) “When I was in elementary school I listened to Paramore and stuff like that,” she says. “But in middle school, I heard Neutral Milk Hotel and Bright Eyes and said, ‘These are the best songs I’ve ever heard in my life.’ I remember the specific moment I heard this one Bright Eyes song ‘Waste of Paint,’ which is so angsty. I thought, ‘I can’t write a song. I can’t become a songwriter or musician, because this is the best song that’s ever been written and this is everything that’s ever needed to be said.’” 

Fortunately, she kept playing anyway, obsessing over the bass. She explains, “I was listening to a lot of Pet Sounds with Carol Kaye, one of the greatest bass players ever. What I love about her parts on those records is if you strip away all the vocals, and just listen to her, it’s almost a different song. But it all fits together.” 

Park writes all her tunes on bass, which helps give them a spacious feel. “My voice has an airy tone to it and I sing in a higher register, so the bass notes fill it out,” she says, “I’m okay on guitar, but just okay. Something about the bass made me feel so much more confident.” She started songwriting at age four, when she began showing up for her piano lessons with originals about her stuffed animals. She played in high-school cover bands, but never summoned up the courage to do her own tunes until college. “The first show I ever played was in my dorm room. And even in the safety of my room, it was still so scary.” That night she sang covers by two of her heroes—Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and Mitski’s “Frances Forever.”

Park nicked her album title from—of all people—Anthony Bourdain, in his book Parts Unknown. “It refers to someone’s emotional depths and layers, but the way Bourdain uses it, it’s also geographical. I love that dual sense—geographic and emotional terrain. That’s what the album is trying to cover.” It’s also the hook of one of her loveliest ballads, “Demarest,” where she confesses, “There’s more to you than the parts I dread / More to live for than I know yet.”

Her sly humor comes out in her alias, a twist on her “somewhat common” name. “I didn’t know what to name my project,”  she says. “I can’t be ‘Victoria Park,’ since there are actual parks in Canada and England called Victoria Park, so it’s not very searchable. I’m Korean, my last name is a Korean last name, so there are definitely a number of Victoria Parks in this world. So I thought, what can I do to make sure everything in this digital space is mine?” Pictoria Vark came to the rescue. “The spoonerism is catchy and sounds almost like real words. But it’s also a mirror image—it’s a reflection of me, with parts of me, but not quite me. It’s like Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing Larry David, Pictoria Vark is very much based on me and my experiences, but it’s not exactly me. It’s me playing myself.”


Like so many other young songwriters, she’s a Swiftie to the bone. “‘Enchanted’ taught me how to write a bridge,” she laughs. “I’ve loved her since I had Fearless on CD when I was little. I love ‘Dear John’—it not only feels vulnerable and confessional, but it’s like standing so close to something, you feel it in your body. It’s too close for comfort. You can’t hide. So you just have to go there and face it.”

Park has a new remix of “Bloodline” that drops on February 7. She spent much of 2022 on the road, but this wanderer has no plans to slow down, heading back out on tour. “I honestly love the feeling where I need to win people over live,” she says. “It feels like when you’re playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band with the animated crowds, doing bad, but when you start doing it right, they go nuts. You get to see that moment happen in real time on a real stage.”

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