Playback - December 2002

Radar Report: Cello Rock - Rasputina's Melora Creager pulls
strings to create goth rock that is both beautiful and bizarre.

By Karen Correa

  On Rasputina's raw new album, Cabin Fever! (Instinct Records), this quasi-classical cello band weave a set of songs that move effortlessly between delicate chamber pieces and acerbic rock tunes. Formed eleven years ago (circa 1891, Rasputina time) under the direction of headmistress/singer/songwriter Melora Creager (who used to moonlight as Nirvana's cellist), the band consists of three cellists, all wearing eerie white dresses, who use both beautiful melodies and menacing moods in songs that conjure up a strange and dimly lit Victorian world. It is a dark, crowded place teeming with macabre forest creatures, fanciful little girls, addled elders and charming romantics.

What did you hope to accomplish with Cabin Fever!?

Well, I made it almost by myself in my house. I thought I was making demos, but I sold it to Instinct as is, and they thought it sounded like a real record. That was a big surprise. I thought I'd have to record everything all over again. I just had a really good feeling about it the whole time. I wasn't going to worry about whether anyone would pick it up, or what would happen.

What was the songwriting process like?

Well, I had a baby who's now almost three, and you can't be doing whatever you want all the time with a baby around. It was really hard for me because I just really missed doing music, so I would write songs and work on that when she was asleep. She was never much of a sleeper. So, writing the songs was really disjointed because I would be running in my music room and doing things really quietly and trying to get something done. If I was going to make things at home with the equipment I had, I just had to figure out how to do it and I like challenges of problem solving.

Is it unusual for a classically trained musician to write original music - much less rock music?

I think that as a classical musician there is absolutely no expectation whatsoever to write music. So, with the girls I play with, who all come from the classical world, they have no interest in writing music and I have to answer all these questions from the press about "who does what? And why don't they get to do this?" And it's just that a lot of people don't want to.

Did playing rock on the cello always seem natural to you or did you ever consider switching?

I never considered doing that because in a rock setting you get a lot of attention for playing the cello. Everybody plays the guitar. I mean, nobody says "Oh wow, how do you know how to do that?" And I like attention, so that was okay. I've always just wanted to take it further and further and see what I could do. I've always been so satisfied with the instrument. It's never let me down. It's never been a shortcoming.

Do you feel that it has opened up a lot of possibilities?

Definitely. With the guitar, you play a chord. With a cello, the fingerboard is round so you can't play a chord all at once, it's all individual notes. So when I'm writing music I'll write one part then add the next one, so it's like building a chord and you don't know what's going to happen. It's really organic.

Rasputina has a unique look and vibe. What do you try to achieve by combining art with your music?

It's the same experience to me. Coming from art school, Rasputina is the same thing as performance art or a project. Take all the elements you can and do it thoroughly. And the performance aesthetic hasn't changed at all over the years. We never even changed our dresses! Lord knows we didn't wash 'em!

What is most important to you about playing music?

When I first had my baby and I couldn't just continue to do whatever I wanted, I valued it so much. All the silly career trappings didn't matter. I just knew I had to express myself in this way and make these things and listen to these things - I really have to do it. It was a good feeling to find that out. I'm really proud that Rasputina has lasted this long as a project. Things come and go so quickly. I feel like we've never followed a trend or been really popular or this or that - it's that kind of stuff that keeps you honest and lets you continue. It seems like there are still good things to come in the future.