Before Sarita Farnelli became a musician, before she started dating Samuel Ramos II, and before the two of them founded their dream pop project Pressed Orchid together, art held a special place in her life–visual art, all the more so.
“There were long stretches of time when I would give up music because I just didn’t have the confidence for it,” says Farnelli. “But painting and drawing are instinctive to me and I would always use that as a creative outlet when I was too nervous to let someone else hear me sing. I’ve always been a tactile person more than anything specifically visual or verbal, so sculpture is like the ultimate expression for me.”
She channeled that into Pressed Orchid’s upcoming debut album, Velvet Confessional, slated for October 30 release on Brilliant Corner Records. With poppy melodies wrapped up in ambient soundscapes and field recordings, the project pays tribute to the works of Auguste Rodin; Farnelli has a particularly strong connection to the sculptor that goes back years. Before moving to Richmond, she lived in Philadelphia, home to one of the largest collections of his work outside his native Paris.
“I worked usually two, sometimes three jobs and almost never had a day off,” says Farnelli. “If I got lucky I would have a little time between shifts to go to the Rodin Museum, which was sort of my happy place/sanctuary in the city. Usually when I was there, it would be empty or mostly empty. It gave me enormous peace of mind.”
The concept for Velvet Confessional started to gestate in 2017, even before the birth of Pressed Orchid. That’s when she wrote the lyrics to what would become the album’s sparkling first single, “Cathedral”–named for Rodin’s sculpture of the same name, depicting two right hands intertwined. Farnelli calls it her favorite of his works.
“It’s so simple, but I get this wave of wistful energy from it, reaching out to someone and creating a special place from nothing with someone you love. I stared at it for hours at a time and always came back to it,” she says. “I wrote the lyrics to “Cathedral” as a poem in my sketchbook originally, but I came back to it a little while later with a chord progression in mind and made it into a song about craving a safe and sacred place with the person I love most.”
From there, Farnelli decided to write a whole series of songs based on the Rodin sculptures that had the biggest emotional impact on her, drawing the title Velvet Confessional from the first line of “Cathedral” (she briefly considered naming the record directly after another sculpture, The Gates of Hell, but felt it gave too dark an impression). In 2018, Farnelli and Ramos started working together as Pressed Orchid, and the project became a duo affair. It was during that phase that “Eternal Spring,” the last track on the record and the second single, came to be.
“I wanted to take the elements of Latin pop that I have always clung to and blend in dream pop elements to sort of be the bridge between worlds in the genres I take up space in. I know Rodin is French, but the pose of Eternal Spring is this deeply amorous kiss in motion, so I felt like it had to be a dancey song.”
Stirred in with its saxophone and sweet, dreamy synth pads, “Eternal Spring” also features Ramos on classical guitar–and not just any classical guitar, but one strung with serious sentimental value for Farnelli and her family. It belonged to her father, who became paralyzed and unable to play it; she says he ultimately passed away from brain cancer, the result of environmental contaminants released by fracking in the Farnellis’ hometown of Dimock, PA.
“My dad passed away about a year ago, but while he was in hospice, Sam and I would go sing songs and play guitar by his bed. My dad wanted Sam to play the Spanish guitar he and my mom had collecting dust in our old house, so that song is sort of honoring a promise to my dad to make good use of it and take good care of each other and what we have. ‘Eternal Spring’ sounds super happy, but in the lyrics, it’s mostly just wistful–about knowing everything ends, but wanting to have hope and not succumb to cynicism.”
For the release of Velvet Confessional, Pressed Orchid connected with Brilliant Corner Records through its founder, Nate Rubin. Rubin also plays drums in Captain Scrunchie, one of Farnelli’s other musical projects.
“Since I started making music in Richmond, Nate has practically always been involved in some capacity. He told us he was starting a tape label and asked if we would like to put out a release through it, and we were just so excited to be asked by a friend. I know most people really want to make it on big established labels, but everyone has to start somewhere, and I love small.”
The album also has the distinction of being Brilliant Corner’s first official release, with catalog number 1001BC. For Farnelli, that only compounds the honor, and it gels with the feeling that she and Ramos started Pressed Orchid from nothing.
“I feel like starting this album from the bottom up and releasing it on this blank platform makes me like Rodin sculpting The Gates of Hell out of all the mythology and inspiration and raw materials he started with, if I can be a romantic here,” she says. “I never had all the clout other people in the scene have because I’m so reclusive and self-conscious and bad at putting myself out there, so being supported by Nate and Brilliant Corners is a really huge deal for us. We owe Nate a lot.”
“Cathedral” and “Eternal Spring” are available to stream now, along with their 2019 debut EP, Thé Au Jasmin. Follow Pressed Orchid on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook for updates on the release of Velvet Confessional.