Interview with Karina Deniké | By Angela Kinzie
Karina Deniké, co-vocalist of Bay Area ska punk legends Dance Hall Crashers, was born to Czech dissident artists. At the age of 12, she moved with her family from Cambridge, England, to Oakland, Calif. Young Deniké performed street theater in Northern Africa, India, and numerous places throughout Europe, but one of her biggest influences was the renowned venue 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley.
Deniké began her career with Dance Hall Crashers at 18, but she was equally moved by soul and jazz styles, and greats such as Vince Guaraldi and Chet Baker. She studied and developed her immense vocal abilities, contributing—whether arrangements, compositions, or vocals—to over 30 records, including soundtracks and live albums.
This spring, Deniké self-released her debut solo album Under Glass. Mirroring the eclecticism of both her cultural and musical experiences, the record offers original compositions featuring rare vintage instruments like the Farfisa chord organ, bass clarinet, baritone guitar, vibraphone, and celeste, while highlighting some of the Bay Area’s most celebrated talent.
Why wait so long to do a solo record?
I’ve been a collaborator in a lot of bands for a long time, and I absolutely love dong that. It’s always been super fun, and it always felt like a really good atmosphere to be working with other musicians in that way. I started writing songs on my own, and I just had this moment of, “Oh, it’s time to create something that’s just my own voice.” It’s one of those things where I was in so many awesome projects that were hard to turn down, that I ended up getting to my own solo record a little bit later than I expected.
Under Glass has many cultural influences. Did any of your street theater experiences resurface on the record?
That’s an interesting question. I feel like I should have had a pretty wild childhood in a way. I grew up in Europe and was there until I was about 12. My parents were from the Czech Republic. A lot of my family history has sort of been tied up there, with my family being there, so I definitely feel like I have some influences from my European experience and my European youth. Also, just being in the early punk scenes in England before moving to the States.
So, not so much the street theater. Part of it, but being in French cafés and in the Czech Republic and places that have this beautiful rich, kind of dark musical, melodic influence. The Czech Republic has these beautiful lullabies and these incredible, gorgeous songs; the same thing with the French music. Being in different environments and absorbing these sounds… England has such a great music scene, and I was definitely exposed to all of that before I moved to the States. So, that part of it would definitely be a huge influence on this—and some family history throughout that.
A song like “Musee Mecanique” that’s on the record has this accordion-sounding instrument called a court organ, and it definitely reminds me of a French café or a Czechoslovakian sort of Gypsy song a little bit. So, there are definitely influences in there. It’s always a little hard to pin down until I hear them back, and go, “Oh yeah, I guess that is where that came from.”
How and when did you first discover 924 Gilman?
I was in my teens, and we all just used to go down there to shows. So, I saw a lot of really great punk shows, and I was definitely influenced by the whole DIY scene that was happening there. There was a big warehouse scene happening there; a lot of bands were playing in warehouses throughout Oakland and the industrial parks of Emeryville and Oakland. I was probably 17, well maybe 16, when I first went to Gilman. It was super thriving; it was really an amazing place that was run by kids. So many great shows. I had my 18th birthday there! It was just a real fun place to be and a really amazing, expressive outlet in the fact that it was so well run, even though it was often run by these, sort of, punk rocker promoters and kids. It was pretty amazing!
San Francisco is such a unique city. How has it inspired your lyrics and the mood of your music?
On this record, there are a lot of references. It just seeps into so many of my songs. “Musee Mecanique” is a reference to a beautiful antique museum. There’re a lot of ocean references. There’re references about the wind in my song “Golden Kimonos”: the constant wind of San Francisco. If you live here, you know it’s always windy, and it kind of drives you a little bit crazy. There’re just all these little parts.
Even “Boxing Glove,” and some of the songs that have a little bit of a 1930s reference are slightly influenced by the Victorian buildings here; the feeling of that time period in San Francisco’s history that was quite rich. And the buildings really create this mood within the city, and this given aesthetic that I’ve just always found beautiful. So, it definitely has influenced the record a lot, even if it is minor little things that aren’t noticeable. It was a mood that I felt influenced by for sure.