While living in Italy in his late 20’s, Derek Virta of BVRTH wasn’t playing or listening to any music, he was just riding his bike all over Tuscany. By the time he moved back to Chicago six months later, he was an amateur bike racer, later winning three Minnesota (he is now based in St. Paul) state championships.
Virta refers to BVRTH music as “psych sludge,” which is not a total misnomer, but is likely overly influenced by Virta’s history playing in Graveface Records “house band” Dreamend and touring with Black Moth Super Rainbow. In actuality, Virta’s music takes that rich goo of a sound and bathes it in precise production values that make it not just rich, but wealthy.
Virta also counts Aphex Twin, Grails, Air, Stereolab, Suicide, and Low as influences on BVRTH.
The music on Virta’s self-titled debut BVRTH album (out April 19th) is immediately impressive, especially for a guy who only jumped back into writing and recording in late 2018, handling all of the guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and programming himself.
So what put Virta off of music and onto a bike in the first place? Before escaping to Tuscany, Virta was on another fast track, when after quickly forming a new band, he even more quickly started attracting the attention of the music industry.
“We got an entertainment lawyer and all of a sudden we were talking about our clothing and image and ‘average age,’ and I didn’t want any part of that,” he explains. “This is about the time I went to Italy. I didn’t have the intention of ever playing music again.”
It’s a story that drives some musicians in their late 20’s to an early grave, but it literally drove Virta (via his bike) all over the world. Eventually the path led him back to music, but at a pace he would now set himself.
“The love for music didn’t come back in a flash, it was slow,” he says. “Hundreds of unfinished musical snippets recorded here and there, lots more travel and biking all over the world. I recorded a little bit with friends, and it was like pulling teeth to get me to record, but if you asked me 99 times, on the 100th, I’d say ‘okay.’”
Growing up, Virta discovered Fugazi, Bad Brains, and Unwound in high school, and also found himself getting into jazz at the same time. His love of hip-hop can be heard on BVRTH, too, especially on the upcoming single, “Warden,” inspired by Digable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest, and Digital Underground.
“I was pretty much a sponge,” he says.
Everything Virta soaked up gets wrung out on the eight-track BVRTH album, contributing to the instantly familiar, but intensely layered, quality of these instrumental (save for “You Walk Alone,” which features vocals by The Nurse) tracks.
Even Virta loses his place sometimes.
“My writing process is all over the map, it’s a challenge working with myself,” he jokes. “In the past, I’d be able to use my jazz knowledge to figure out what to play over something that was already written. But there’s a freedom and weird internal struggle that comes with working alone, that when it goes right, is worth it.”
Sounds like a different kind of ride.
BVRTH is the self-titled debut album by BVRTH aka Derek Virta, out via the musician’s Virtageaux Records label on April 19th .—Josh Bloom