For Rin Tarsy, life is filled with beautiful contradictions and imperfections.
The Grand Rapids folk singer-songwriter and guitarist embraces authenticity, yet re-examines her purpose on the aptly titled album, Paradox.
“For a while, people would ask, ‘What’s the theme of Paradox?’ And for a while, I didn’t know. Finally, it dawned on me one time when I was listening through all the tracks – it’s about self-trust and self-discovery,” said Tarsy, who grew up in Portland and started singing in church.
“I hope all these songs make sense together, and I really like them, but I wasn’t sure if they did. It’s comforting and scary at the same time. Are these thoughts ever gonna go away? Am I always gonna be questioning everything? Maybe I will.”
Tarsy’s lingering questions slowly spark an emotional and spiritual quest of self-discovery on Paradox that spans several years. Each poetic track celebrates intuition and explores emotion.
“The first songs I wrote for this album – ‘Stay,’ ‘Dear Heart’ and ‘Suitcase’ – were in the summer of 2016 after I got back from Africa. It was the first time I had examined who I was when I took away all of the pursuits that I had and the things I had wanted to go after,” said Tarsy, who visited Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia.
“At the time, I had asked myself, ‘Who am I if those things don’t go exactly the way I want? Or if my idealisms of what they could be don’t match up with the reality of what they actually are?’”
Tarsy starts her personal Paradox journey on the brief, uplifting opener, “New Wine,” as spiritual organ provides a sense of peace and renewal while self-doubt dissipates. She sings, “It’s new grass under the snow/It’s a new wave to behold/It’s new wine you’ve never tasted/It’s the feeling of being elated.”
“With that song, I hear something different every time I listen to it or sing it. I wrote it inspired from a line that I read in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron,” Tarsy said. “I feel like there’s something inside me that I’m tapping into on that song that I can’t even articulate. It reminds me that I have the capability of trusting the process even if I don’t feel like I do.”
That self-trust continues on the thoughtful highway anthem, “94,” which drifts through moments of wonder and uncertainty. Churning acoustic strums, airy synths, pensive bass, echoey electric guitar, subterranean drums and peaceful piano pave a promising pathway to the future.
Tarsy reflects, “I can’t recall a time when I felt quite as lost, as lost as I feel right now/I know how to force a smile, I know to make it seem like I have no doubts.”
“I was commuting to Our Lady of the Rosary church (in Detroit), and I was playing for a lot of masses out there. On my commute was where the song just started coming into my head, and I wrote the majority while I was driving,” said Tarsy, who was living in Ypsilanti at the time.
“I was allowing those avenues of music to be my primary way of engaging in music. I had a dream of my own with music that I had not given myself permission to pursue. I have always been involved with church music, and it’s comfortable for me, but I already know how to do it … it isn’t my music dream.”
With her dream in hand, Tarsy searches for additional adventure on “Suitcase,” an emotive ballad featuring producer Chris DuPont. Jubilant violin, soft drum taps, shimmery cymbals, contemplative acoustic guitar, sunny electric guitar, transient piano and rooted bass elicit a sense of wanderlust.
Tarsy sings, “And I’ll go with my windows rolled down/And I’ll go straight through the next town/Only stopping to write a song/And every day I’ll be where I belong.”
“When we started recording it, new life was breathed into it. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this song I wrote is still very relevant.’ I wrote it so long ago, and it follows a typical song progression,” she said.
“Once we started adding instruments to it, it felt empowering to me and reminded me that I could go out and do my thing. You don’t have to do the same things you’ve always done just because you know how to do them.”
Tarsy also finds gratitude in everyday life on the buoyant Americana-inspired track, “Simple Things.” A countrified symphony of thumping drums, ecstatic trumpet, fervent hand claps, uplifting acoustic guitar, traveling banjo, soaring cello, energetic mandolin, triumphant violin and bouncy bass inspire the soul.
She sings, “Taking kayaks to the water in the summer/Drinking up the sunrise/Getting goosebumps from a song you haven’t paid attention to in quite some time.”
“It’s so easy to get lost in worry and the state of the world. ‘Simple Things’ is a reminder of what’s actually real. Worries are real in a way, but at the same time, they’re not. You know what is real … that tree outside and this walk that I’m going on right now,” Tarsy said.
“Going for a walk became a daily ritual for me during the height of the pandemic. This is my simple thing that I’m going to let reignite me every day when I could choose to drown myself in worry. I’m gonna choose this simple thing and love it, and it’s gonna love me right back.”
For Tarsy, Paradox chronicles a significant milestone in her career – a seamless transition from worship music to folk. In 2018, she released her inspirational worship album, East, and worked with longtime friend and producer DuPont.
“As I was recording East, I still had these other songs because half of them were already written. I knew that folk was the genre I wanted to be in. When it came to the recording process for Paradox, I knew I liked working with Chris, and I had already met a bunch of great musicians I liked working with,” said Tarsy, who’s inspired by Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Whitney Houston and Ingrid Michaelson.
“Chris and I both share that relationship of exploring our own Catholicism and faith, and then also appreciating lots of varieties of music. I knew he was the person I could trust with that.”
Tarsy started recording Paradox at DuPont’s home studio in June 2020 and completed additional work at Grand Rapids’ Second Story Sound. They assembled a magnetic cast of collaborators to weave a poignant, folk sound throughout Tarsy’s latest release.
Guest musicians include Luke Jackson (drums, percussion), Billy Harrington (drums), Madison George (percussion), Ian Thompson (upright bass), Jay Lapp (mandolin), Christina Furtado (cello), Geoff Hansen (trumpet), Nate Hansen (saxophone), Brad Phillips (violin) and Sydney Canlas (violin).
“Collaborating is one of the coolest things ever. Hearing a song come to life because of what somebody else can bring to it that I can’t bring to it … this is life and what we all do as people,” Tarsy said.
Tarsy will bring her Paradox tracks to the live stage tonight at The Stray in Grand Rapids with Sarena Rae. Tomorrow night she’ll be opening for Amy Petty at Trinity House Theatre in Livonia.
“I’m trying to let myself be in the presence of Paradox actually being out in the world. Even though these songs have existed to me for a long time, they haven’t existed to the world for as long a time,” Tarsy said.
“I’m trying to enjoy that and go out and perform these songs from Paradox before feeling the haste to get back into the studio. But I do have a lot of songs that a part of me is itching to record right away, too.”
8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5
Trinity House Theatre, 38840 Six Mile Road in Livonia
One thought on “Perfectly Imperfect – Rin Tarsy Celebrates Life’s Contradictions on ‘Paradox’”
I’ve seen you perform a few times, including a solo with Harkup one Christmas. Your performances are beautiful and faith enhancing. I know you’ll continue and share your prodigious talent with all of us.