The Unit Circle - Septemer 18th, 1996


Kevin & Nicole Interview Melora from Rasputina
The Showbox, Seattle, WA


KEVIN: Do you realise that President Clinton is driving by less than two blocks away right now?

Yes, I had some idea that he was in town. I didn'tknow that he was so very close.

KEVIN: If he stopped by to say hello what would you say to him?

I'd talk music with him, the international language. Cello to Sax conversation.

KEVIN: Have you ever heard of a local band here called The Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet?

Yeah.

KEVIN: Well this is a question we like to ask everyone. If Rasputina got in a fight with the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, who would win?

They would win, we pride ourselves on our... chicken-shit... ness.

NICOLE: You probably get a lot of attention because of the way you are dressed when you perform which is very uncomfortable and cumbersome, and I'm wondering how difficult is that to handle while you're playing. Corsets are a very restricting thing. I'm wondering if that was a conscious choice or a natural choice?

It was a visual choice because it's an antiquated kind of thing, like the cello in a way, and to put it into the modern setting is interesting to us. Gradually, it's also become... our attitude and the way we work... it makes it harder, and we like to make things harder for ourselves for some reason to overcome some obstacle.

KEVIN: So what was the path? You decided you wanted to do the group and you put an ad out, and what happened from there?

I met lots of strange people who played the cello. Some people even responed who didn't play the cello, but would like to, but I didn't really have the time for that. I met Julia four or five years ago when I placed the ad. She was an editor at the Voice [Village Voice - ed]. We've been through lots of drummers and lots of third members, but we did meet Agnieszka recently through the same sort of ad. It was in kind of a lame trashy rock ad area, but very special cellists as well read it.

KEVIN: Even though you have sort of a weird instrumentation, your music is definitely in a rock vein. How conscious is that? You do pull in classical things, but you do mirror the rock asthetic, but also the rock patterns. How much of that is conscious and how much of that just flows?

I think I don't have the attention span personally to do epic pieces, and the pop song structure works for me because you can have five little ideas squeezed into three minutes rather than elaborating is not my interest so much.

NICOLE: Is this your first time playing in Seattle?

Uh huh.

NICOLE: What was your impression of Seattle before you came here?

My mom lives on Vancouver Island and Julia is from Vancouver, so we think of Seattle as just kind of down from Vancouver.

KEVIN: Is this your first national tour?

Yeah, even though we've played together a long time and we've played live very much, up to three or four times a month in New York for a long time, our playing out of town is pretty limited because up to now just because moving the stuff seems insurmountable.

KEVIN: Is it really hard to travel? Do you have to take very special precautions with your instruments?

There is a guy in New York who made these wonderful flight cases that we rent from him when we travel. They have airbags inside them, like a car, so we use those.

KEVIN: What kind of cellos are you playing?

I have a very run of the mill 70s German factory cello. The same one I've played since I was a little kid. It seems to get better with time and I'm pretty happy with it. I thought it was not such a good instrument, but so far so good, I like it. Agnieszka, her cello, her father bought it from some sort of old mans hut full of instruments in Poland. Julia has an incredible 18th century english cello, but she does not take it out.

KEVIN: She has a traveling cello.

Yeah.

NICOLE: You probably wouldn't consider yourselves strictly goth, but are you aware that that element is certainly attracted to your music?

That's something that is a suprise to us, but everyday we're being made aware of it. It's something that's not that big in New York. We joke that we are goth in New York because that seems campy or something because it couldn't be true.

NICOLE: When you are playing, what kind of experience are you hoping that your audience will have when they're listening to you?

I think people get a very personal feeling and I get very direct feelings. Give and take with an audience, just of communication. Sort of a very specific complicated emotions and I think that people get that while they listen. Our music reminds people of different images and things like that. People enjoy what it makes them imagine. "I saw horses on a hill..." [laughs]

KEVIN: You mention the images that occur to people. You are presenting both lyrically and visually a sort of gothic, victorian image. Is this something that you were into that this gave you an outlet to present or this something that you thought would be a good differentiator in the fierce New York Club Scene?

Uh...

KEVIN: I didn't mean to make that as cruel and calculating as that sounds.

Uh yes, we're very mercenary and there was a huge plan.

KEVIN: Was that how you wanted it from the start, or did it develop over time?

It was sort of an idea that came to me fully formed. It hasn't changed much. I think there is sort of a vocabulary we work with and we try not to be period specific or scene specific. I think people can also have different levels of understanding of us. A basic understanding is "it's victorian" or something like this, but there are lots of elements. You can go deeper and I think people get that.

NICOLE: Are there any specific benefits to having a mostly female band? Are there any negative things?

I don't know if there are any negative things. It might make people prone to say that we get extra attention just for being girls, or dressing up. I don't think we appear girlishly victimized by anybody so I don't worry about that. I like it just because it's just very sisterly, clublike. Just the personal relationships are nice that way.

KEVIN: You've played in a lot of bands, you toured with Nirvana. How is it different being in a mostly female band as opposed to being in a mostly male band?

I don't know whether it's us as people or if it's a feminine thing, but we are kind of reticent, we don't want to hurt each others feelings. We are more unspoken, we try to ESP each other. We would never have an argument. Three introspective people working together.

KEVIN: In a lot of songs it sounds like you each take a segment of the sonic range. Is that the same for every song or do you switch off?

We switch off a lot. I think I do a lot of bass because I'm singing and a certain part is easier to do when I'm singing. I write all the music, but I try to make each part suit everybody's strengths. If somebody is good at very technical fast things, I try to give them technical fast things.

KEVIN: I heard a lot of different influences, but there was one that was really struck me. One piece sounds very influenced by Michael Nyman.

Yeah, he's a big influence.

KEVIN: There are probably a lot of rock influences, but what are the classical or new classical influences?

I don't really come from a fan background. I have the records that I like and I tend to listen to those over and over instead of buying new stuff all the time. Classically, Bach really speaks to me, the way those chords are formed. The Bach cello suites are a big influence. Arvo Pärt I like very much. I don't know how much influence there is. With Michael Nyman, that was kind of an epiphany or something. He uses the blues chords in classical kinds of patterns. I thought that was pretty cool.

KEVIN: Did you deal with any of the indie labels before signing with Columbia?

We haven't gotten any reaction or affection from indie kind of circles. A lot of people liked us in those circles, but they didn't know what to do with us.

KEVIN: How did you get signed to Columbia?

Our A&R guy, Jimmy Boyle saw us at some festival shows. Thought it was great, believed it would actually sell, and somehow convinced Columbia. They've been very nice so far.

KEVIN: You're playing some big shows with Bob Mould. You've toured with Nirvana, so you have some experience...

Nirvana was so huge that it doesn't really relate to anything. That was my touring experience.

KEVIN: You weren't the focus as much.

I wondered why I was there sometimes...

KEVIN: You worried about this big tour, or are you excited?

Just to feel pressure and just to realize that there was actually pressure on us was really surprising. "What are we doing right now? What's wrong with us?" To work so long... it doesn't matter... it's just different.

NICOLE: Where do you get your shoes?

We love shoes. We actually have lots of John Fluevog shoes. He's a Seattle and Vancouver guy. There's a place called Amazon Dry Goods which is a mail order, sort of anachronistic living victorian lifestyle catalog. They make great shoes, you trace your foot and send it in. They're actually kind of evil because they're a middle-man warehouse. They cover up the manufacturer so you don't know where it came from. Corsets and shoes we can't get at flea markets, we have to get them new, because corsets and shoes wear out and they're so tiny from when people were smaller.

NICOLE: Where do you get your corsets from?

We had them made from someone I think in San Francisco and I have a friend in New York who made some based on patterns we bought from Amazon.

KEVIN: A lot of bands that come out of New York City, have a very New York City-ish thing about them...

Attitude or Sound?

KEVIN: Attitude or sound, there are just certain bands that breathe New York. Even some of the new stuff, like DJ Spooky, it's definitely a product of the City. How much do you feel like Rasputina is of New York or attached to New York, or do you not feel like there's a connection at all?

I do in that I think the crumbling architecture is a good environment for what we do. I don't go out much, we're not actively involved in some scene of bands, so it's our own little New York. It's sparsely populated.

NICOLE: What's it like to play with a corset on while you are on your period?

We talk about that so much! Well, we get them together, because we're together a lot of the time. So, it's really bad. A lot of the old underwear is made so that you don't have to remove things. It's just made split, like bloomers are split, because all those ladies couldn't be taking off all these layers to go to the bathroom either. It's hard to be historically accurate enough to get that concept to work. If we have a body suit on or something... Our last show in New York, I had my period, and I had the corset, and I had a bladder infection, and that's like forget about it.

KEVIN: Do you ever not want to bother with the corsets?

Well, I got sick enough from that, that I can't wear the corset for a week or so. It's really bad for my kidneys, so I'm corset-less for this small west coast tour.

KEVIN: Are you flying in between shows?

Yes.

KEVIN: Just curious...

We're tired!