Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
Despite a proclivity for playing amoral, manipulative, conniving, borderline sociopathic characters — be they Chloe McGruff (a/k/a the eponymous character on ABC’s Don’t Trust the B___ in Apt. 23) or Jesse Pinkman’s junkie girlfriend Jane Margolis on Breaking Bad— as Krysten Ritter walks towards me from the Brooklyn waterfront, she’s all smiles and enthusiastic hand-waving in greeting.
The last time Ritter appeared on Breaking Bad was in a flashback: She had just dragged Jesse to an exhibit of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings and her red lipstick traces remained wrapped around a cigarette in his ashtray. Now she sits in a 5th floor walk-up studio in Greenpoint, griping at her bandmate Will Burnett for smoking cigarettes in the dingy, synth- and record-lined room. Ritter sits with her rescued dog Mikey neatly tucked in behind her, as if lumbar support on her chair. Ritter is about to release her debut album with Burnett as Ex Vivian, on Burnett’s own eclectic electronic label, WT Records. The two have been friends for over a decade and throughout, the two bicker and kid each other like siblings.
“I’ve known Will since I was a teenager,” Ritter says, the two meeting when she was still a struggling “badass angst-y deadbeat model” as she puts it. She was living in a models’ apartment in Manhattan and venturing out to Williamsburg to escape such drudgery, where she met Burnett through a mutual friend. “I learned how to play guitar because Will would teach me all of his songs,” she recalls. “We both played nylon-string classical guitar, and Will’s songs were these pretty finger-picking songs with cutesy melodies.” Even when Ritter’s acting career took off, prompting a move out to Los Angeles, the two would still swap songs online: “I wrote them and would email them to Will and ask what he thought. And he liked them enough to come out to L.A. and make a record.”
Watch the video for Ex Vivian’s “Microscopes and Cobwebs,” directed by Eric Ray Davidson:
To date, WT Records has been consistent only in the sense of being wholly unpredictable and confounding from one release to the next. There was the mighty Tour de Force EP from Berlin-based producer Hunee, who blurred the lines between cosmic disco drift and deep house soulfulness. Next was a barbed single from Connecticut producer Jon Beall (a/k/a Entro Senestre), who mixed together John Carpenter synthscapes with the type of analog throb that Legowelt has been minting for years. Traces of Italian horror movie soundtrack turned up on Hague-based producer DJ Overdose’s “Shouldn’t I Be Dead Already” EP while the solo release from Led er Est’s Shawn O’Sullivan delved into abstract acid-tinged vibes to great effect. So why not a full-length release from Ex Vivian, which finds Ritter doing her best to evoke her downcast ’90s heroes like Mazzy Star and Cat Power? With this set of self-penned songs and low-key instrumentals featuring her plaintive nylon-string guitar playing with Burnett’s own ’80s teen-flick synth and primitive drum machine accompaniment, Ritter hopes to avoid the cliché of being a starlet who also wants to be taken seriously as a musician. “I’m not trying to have a pop career; It’s just another creative outlet for me,” she says. “Writing songs is terrifying. It’s such a vulnerable thing.”
Judging by the Ex Vivian cover art, one would be hard-pressed to even guess that it’s her on the cover. Which is precisely how she wants it. And don’t expect Ritter to take her show on the road either. “I’m an actor and I write, so you can hide behind a page or hide behind a character,” she explains. “But writing songs and singing them is a completely different thing and it gives me hives. I always thought I would be a rock star before I became an actor. But it turned out that I don’t like to play live. I only played one time in Brooklyn and I nearly died from fright!”
For now, Ritter is far more comfortable with her regular acting career, even if it does get intense at times. “My schedule gets so crazy I can’t even return phone calls. When I’m busy like that, playing music goes on the backburner,” she says. “But I always feel better when I pick up my guitar, even if it’s only for five minutes. I feel like myself again.”