The City Morgue - Issue #2, April 2004
Curing the Cabin Fever
I'Ching, little weirdos, corsets and Spinal Tap likeness. These things together could only mean one thing - Rasputina. These sirens that have been entrancing audiences since the early 1990s. They stopped in the D.C. metro area for a single night and delighted us all. While still getting back into life on the road and sound checks, they took a break to indulge The City Morgue for some fun conversation.
When we arrived at the venue, they were on stage completing the final sound check. Making sure everything sounded just right and finalizing cues. No wailing guitars in between monitor checks or crunchy heart-stopping bass lines, just cellos cradled between the legs of these musicians on a small intimate stage. Three chairs and a small drum set waiting for the audience to come listen to their wares. With all the knobs tweaked, and strings finely tunes, they headed upstair. Shortly after, we followed.
With K. lounging across a comfy chair, Melora strewn about on the couch, and Nana finding comfort in another chair, we entered their space. After a few short pleasantries, we hit the ground running.
How has the tour been so far?Melora: It has been so nice. You know we have been out of commission for 4 years. We were last out playing live in '99.
So you are getting back into the ravages of the road?Melora: Yeah, and we are not with Columbia anymore. We used to have a big management company and have all these people around us. This...we are just doing it alone and it's totally different doing it this way, but I think it's way more fun.
So, you guys are doing it and having more control?Melora: Well, most of the things that we have to do are a pain in the ass, like move equipment and do our own driving. Everybody has a better attitude.
You guys played in Baltimore last night. How was it playing in a hometown again?K.: It was a lot of fun and I saw a lot of friends there, my family is coming tonight. But it was really fun. I saw a lot of friends from high school.
I know, Melora, that you're the founding member and have been the guiding force for the whole thing. Do you do the artwork and everything for the website?Melora: Yes, all the covers except for Lost and Found. I used lots of antique things and beads and crayons. For this record coming out I actually went to the computer and it actually was all Photoshop and scanning in all the things and placing. The first album I sewed a pillow the exact size of a CD cover and took that to Columbia.
You obviously have lots of musical influences given the range...Melora: I can't think of them all right now.
No no - that's ok. I think that's one of the great things about you. Rasputina is so eclectic, almost a little bit for everybody to like.Melora: That's what has made it hard for a major label to market it. There's a few people in each different genre of people who would like it, not just one kind of person. That's a really hard thing to get out.
They can't stick you into one genre.Melora: No, all those kinds of people aren't going to like it - a few old people, a few young people, a few goth people and a few, you know, rock people.
The music is somewhat non-conventional but there are even tracks that you guys have done that are, I think, more experimental than the other ones: "Christian Soldiers" and "The Donner Party." When you sit down and do those, is it 'go into the studio and have a little fun' or do you actually plan out those since there is a lot of music involved?Melora: Those I look at totally different from songs. I call those "little weirdos." Those are done kind of last minute, usually not like in a studio situation where I work it out on paper and a 4-track before hand.
You mentioned a 4-track, what type of standard writing process or creation process do you use? Is it sit down at the computer and hammer out stuff, or do you still stay with pen and paper, record it and get together saying, "I like this and that," and then do the lyrics?Melora: Well, it changed over time. I think originally I did cello lines, making up a song with one cello and I'll work on a 4-track and I'd do all the parts that way, put them on the computer. The bassline has gotten more important to me. Early on it was more classical sounding because it was rolling cello lines, but it is becoming more drum influenced and I'm more interested in other sounds like rock and coming from a classical background I was like, "What is that?" I learned about bass line. I became obsessed with that.
I was studying some of your lyrics and I noticed that in just reading them you have an Emily Dickinson feel to it. Is she someone you like to read?Melora: I'm embarrassed to say that I have never read her.
I was just wondering.Melora: Reading...even when I was a little kid, I was interested in non-fiction.
Well, what do you like to read?Melora: I like really dry stuff. I...you know what they say, "Reading gets your imagination going more than movies"? Well, dry non-fiction really gets my imagination going because you are trying to imagine the humanity and these weird situations of these people in the past. Like with "The Donner Party," I read a book about them and a book about the Pilgrims and I was really into it and that was all so sincere.
What about everyone else? What do you do to unwind? Do you get into certain types of fiction or non-fiction?K.: Recently I read all the Harry Potter books, I thought they were fantastic. I read a whole variety. I read all books about serial killers this summer.
Do you think that costuming you guys use on stage is beneficial and adds to the performance for the audience?Melora: Yeah, that's because we sit and don't walk around. Some people play standing up, but you can't play real well that way. What we can do is give the audience something more, and the costumes stand out and we have fun getting dressed. Close contact is good because there's so much detail to the clothes. So much detail to them you probably can't see in a bigger place.
I've heard that people have tried to define Rasputina for people who've never heard it before. "Neo-chamber grunge" is one and "Gothic folk" is another. Do you think these labels are interesting or just not what you are about?Melora: The "Neo-chamber grunge" I made up, I thought it was like a joke. You can use all the words and it says nothing, like, "the new chamber grunge." There was never an "old chamber grunge." You don't want to be pigeonholed. People need words to express what it might sound like. But if it's hard to explain, it can only be good.
In the Goth/Industrial scene, there are a lot of people who are very anti-Marilyn Manson. Did you hear of or know of any backlashing when he took on your "Transylvanian Concubine"?Melora: A lot of people thought that record was bad, but a lot of people got exposed to us by that record and a lot of people liked it. He is somebody that is really easy to pick on, but we got exposed to a lot of people and his audience in general was really young and open. You know, ten year old kids with kooky make-up and I was really happy to play for those kids.
How did you choose the cello? Did you start playing music because you wanted to, or was it the parental influenece and you kinda grew to love it and you're like "WOW?"Melora: I studied pretty hard as a kid and played in the orchestra, but I came from a musical family, everybody played an instrument. I stopped as a teenager because I wanted to be cool and it was uncool. I started back when I was at art school.
So, K., did you listen to Rasputina before joining?K.: A friend of mine, who is now studying at Julliard, came up to me and said, "Oh yes, you have got to listen to this band." So, I was like ok and we put on How We Quit the Forest and I was like, "Oh my god, this is so cool. This is what I want to do." He was like, "Haha, you could never do anything like this." I think he is still bitter.
Nana, did you listen to Rasputina before joining?Nana: No.
Are you surprised with what you ended up playing?Nana: I sent over my resume and tried out and got the job. I'm just totally glad. I never thought that coming to America that I'd be playing cello.
Do you find it enhances you musically?Nana: Oh yes.
I know you have a message board on your website. Do you ever pop in and read or want to respond to people that post?Melora: I keep a pretty close track of all that and I feel I know the characters that are up there all the time. A lot of times I want to correct people but I think it's for the best if I stay out of there.
So how long are you going to be able to keep this drummer?Melora: (laughs) He's definitely my favorite drummer so far. I would like him to stay on as long as he is willing. A lot of times with us, drums come as an afterthought. In all our recordings, the drums came last, so it's not really a part. But it's really really fun to play with him and we feel like we are playing together. And we are not just four seperate people trying to get through together.
You are really starting to gel as a group.Melora: Yeah, it's more musical.
What do you foresee trying to do in the next few years?Melora: Well, in recording this last record I really got into the I'Ching. So, I made a lot of decisions using that. I only ask a few months ahead, so this record is going to do really good according to the I'Ching. That's all we know right now.
Well, we look forward to hearing the new CD and seeing you all on stage shortly.
And so with copies of The City Morgue travelling around the table for all to sign, we packed up our things and headed back down the stairs into the realm of the patron and not the inquisitor.
After time passed and more people started to gather around the stage, it came time for the show. There was no big curtain dropped. No voice from the beyond announcing the arrival of the evening's talents. Three ladies clad in corsets and one guy in overalls made their way to the stage and chose their respective location. On a dimly lit stage not too far off the ground with a mass of people clamoring for the best eye-line, Rasputina started playing.