Chaos Control Digizine - 1996

Chaos Control Digizine Interview

  "I think it's really nice for all our parents, because to play these kind of instruments as a kid is a big investment," proclaims Rasputina's Melora Craeger on the subject of cellos. "The parents are involved, it doesn't just come from the kids desire and the kids own money! So for us to get to actively do this as adults is a thrill for our parents!"

  Melora has played the cello since age nine, and, along with her two bandmates, is now proving that cellos DO have a place in pop music. Aside from some drum accompaniment, Rasputina's music is created solely by cellos. The songs have an ethereal edge to them, especially in Melora's vocals, but are also extremely tight.

  Rasputina recently embarked on their first national tour, opening for Bob Mould. Melora says that she and her bandmates are all fans of Mould, so they didn't mind hearing his music night after night. It might not be the most obvious musical pairing, but Rapsutina like it like that.

  "I like contrast, and when we think of tour pairings I like to think of very constrasty pairings," explains Melora. "The audience, I think they have no idea what they're seeing so they seem a little stunned but they're very attentive. But sometimes, as a show, I think it may be weird, too goofy or theatrical for Bob. He has a very white boys of a certain age audience. If we can make them be quiet and pay attention it's good."

  The group has been around for about five years now, and has been playing out in New York City for most of that time. Melora says that in the beginning she was so shy about singing that the vocals were nearly inaudible. But the group improved and attracted the attention of a "very zealous A&R " person who believed in them. Prior to "Thanks For The Ether," Rasputina's only recorded output was one seven inch.

  The current line-up differs slightly from the one featured on the album. Carpella joined Melora and Julia in the studio, but she's left the country and has been replaced by Agnieszka, who came over from Poland seven months ago.

  "Fresh in the country, she came to an audition and we met her and we started playing together," says Melora. "It's very fun to have someone who's not a jaded and cynical NY musician." .

  Melora, who writes all of Rasputina's material, has played cello with a wide variety of bands on stage and in the studio, including Ultra Vivid Scene, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, and Babe The Blue Ox.  

  "Thanks For The Ether" features songs Rasputina have been playing all along as well as recent material. Melora says that she had creative spurts in the process of making it, so some of the tracks are extremely new. The spoken segments featured on the album came about very quickly. Melora did the cover art for the release herself.

Does touring with cellos present any particular problems?

Even a bad cello is very expensive so there's always a worry that they will be broken or lost or stolen. We're very protective, we don't even really like anyone to help us carry our cellos. I think a lot of people think 'oh it will be so easy to put these guys on tour it's just their cellos.' But we have the same amount of equipment as other types of bands, amplifiers and a drum kit.

When you were playing rock clubs, did you ever find that the sound people didn't know how to deal with the instrument?

We have our own sound guy with us now who knows what we're doing. That's a great luxury for us. Playing clubs for so long, there's lots of stuff we know - don't take the treble off, don't go direct, and it's very difficult sometimes getting soundman to believe it.

Have you had any feedback on Rasputina from past cello teachers?

I just had my one cello teacher, who was an old man when I was a little girl. He was from Boston, so in the mid west he was a very upper crust/East Coast scary kind of fellow. But he passed away, though I think his wife is still alive and and may be periodically informed of what I do.

Is it difficult doing pop songs with three cellos?

It's what comes naturally for me because I have limited classical experience. But things like syncopated rhythms and some keys that are common in popular music come very naturally if you listen to that a lot. For somebody who's very strictly classically trained it's really difficult and it takes almost as much time to unlearn a lot of that stuff. So rhythms that are natural and that I love, sometimes I have to work with the other girls who are better trained.

When you started playing, did you have any idea that the cello could be used in this way?

I had no idea of it as a child. I studied pretty hard. It was a very regimented thing, you dread practicing and lessons are really intense. I stopped as a teenager, social pressure, and moved to NY and went to art school. There was so many bands around and to hear that I played cello when I was a kid people they were like 'ooh, play the cello in my band." I also did performance art kind of stuff when I was in my early 20's and I think that helped form what I do now. I mixed it all up.

Besides the drum accompaniment, have you considered using any other instruments in Rasputina?

It was really important to me to have nothing else, especially on this first album. Just as a political statement, the cello can do lots of different things. The cello is our instrument, we don't look at is as a novelty. We see the word gimmicky used in connection with us a lot where it's an ancient and beautiful instrument and not a gimmick. But to take it out of context and play it in the new way, that should be a positive thing. But because it's unusual people will put that word on it.

I write everything, and I write it all on staff papers, score it out. Then we learn it from there. We don't do much jamming or changing it around, I think that's just the nature of the instrument because we don't have frets, and pitch and tone is such a delicate thing between the three of us. The arrangements are very tight, you have to be in the right place at the right time. We like to work that way, and we find that in popular music that's a little bit looked down upon. Because classical musicians are under no pressure to write their own material.

Where does Melora get her ideas for lyrics?

It's very much like setting myself on an assignment. I'm either a character or I'm inspired by whatever I enjoy reading. And I read a lot of history, so it's trying to imagine the personality and personal side of history. It's an enjoyable task for me, and it's where a lot of the lyrics come from.

In the live shows, I do talking between the songs, kind of like introductions. And in my mind it's jokes but I don't know if anyone else sees it that way!

What was it like being on Nirvana's European tour?

It was very intense, because I think like any tour there was a lot of waiting. I like the music a lot, and I don't like a whole lot of stuff so to go play with them music I actually like was good. Everyone involved, from the crew to the band members, the age level was pretty young for a large operataion and everyone was so nice. But there was clearly a cloud hanging over it. Kurt was obviously an unhappy person and that was very sad.

Did you get anything out of it that carried over into your work in Rasputina?

From seeing them, it was very clear to me the correlation between one human being having fanatical admiration from thousands of people, that's a twisted thing that most people can't handle. It's a scary issue. But the actual playing with them, it was very reaffirming.

What was the motivation behind the cover art?

I love to make things with my hands and was a jewelry designer for many years before I started to do this. To me it's similar in that the cello is an old instrument that hasn't changed much but it becomes antiquated by putting it in this setting. And needle work, that kind of stuff, is very forgotton as well. It's very tactile types of things, and the music is like that to me as well.