In-NYC - 2002

Insider Interviews: Rasputina
By Professer Jef

  Rasputina is the brainchild of Melora Creager, its principle songwriter, graphic designer, lead vocalist, and conceptual overseer. In performance, she is usually accompanied by two other women and a rock drummer. All three women play cellos while dressed in Russian Victorian attire.

  While assuming a Victorian appearance, Rasputina's music blends a pastiche of classical styles with rock and pop melodies, song structures, and tempos. As a consequence, Rasputina is not antiquarian per se, but postmodern in its self-conscious appropriation of incongruous styles. Further, it's an example of what French social theorist Jean Baudrillard refers to as a "simulacrum," the simulation of something that has never existed.

  The music produced by this unusual combination is no less distinctive than its concept. As the use of cellos suggests, some songs are dripping in melancholia and will surely have you dripping as well. Others offer macabre fairytales with playful melodies and sly irony. Yet others still re-conceptualize dance music in ways both effective and startlingly original.

  More than a decade of Rasputina has produced three proper albums, an E.P. of industrial re-mixes [Transylvanian Regurgitations], and an E.P. of rock covers [Lost and Found]. Rasputina's latest, Cabin Fever, is, in the ear of this writer, quite possibly the best one yet. It was released a few months ago by Instinct Records to considerable fanfare, and will do much to dress up any record collection.

  I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to ask Ms. Creager some questions. You will find my questions and her answers below. Yes, you may read them now.

The juxtaposition of rock/pop song structures and three chicks with cellos is novel and has led to all sorts of musical adventures. How'd you come to it? To my knowledge, each time you've reconstituted the group, it's had three cellos at its heart. Why three? Are you into numerology? Have there been more?

Some great writer said, "Write what you know." I've always believed you should delve into what you already know as hard as you can. Three is dramatic tension, it's holy and probably relates somehow to the Masons (I hope). Now we are three, including the drummer, for the summer at least. Originally, Rasputina was intended to be an electric cello "choir," and I had like eight girls or something.

How "thick" is the Rasputina concept? Do you ever write a song, like it, but decide that it somehow isn't "Rasputina"?

Rasputina is a side or part of me, so up to now, I haven't written a song that isn't Rasputina. Although it lends itself to interpretation and words, the concept is visual and aural, and very thick.

Your version of Led Zeppelin's "Rock'n'roll" (on Lost and Found) is just precious. Which rock bands have influenced your song writing? The only comparison I can make for your vocals is Phil Ochs, in his more somber, orchestrated moments, such as those on Pleasures of the Harbor. Are you familiar with the album?

No, I don't know him [Ochs]. Zeppelin has been a big influence just the past couple of years. Old David Bowie is a big one, and Cab Calloway.

To my ear, the new album seems to have broken new ground in your use of effects and in some of your vocals. Has motherhood changed your approach to songwriting? Has caring for your child engendered "cabin fever"?

Motherhood, of course, changed everything for me. It freed up my voice a lot, somehow. It makes me unconcerned with "music biz" and career, which is better for one's career in the long run. I've had to be un-self-indulgent. I've had to make new ways of getting things done, because there is no time alone.

How is it that you came to choose the Victorian age for your attire? It's often noted for its outwardly repressive mores and exploration of the depths of human interiority. Is the band a conceptual critique of contemporary mores, practices, art, subjectivity, etc?

It's all about incongruous contrasts. Ancient proper instruments in a scummy, smoky setting being played very loudly by some shy girls in their bloomers.

Are Rasputina's outfits Russian Victorian? If so, does it relate to your having chosen Rasputin's name for your moniker? Why did you choose this name for the "Ladies Cello Society"?

We could be like the Czar's daughters, but we never wear pearls, which is what makes a Russian outfit. It's more illustrative contrast. "Rasputina" implies sex, death, unkillableness, revolution, history, drama, religion...

Is Rasputina in any way antiquarian off-stage? Are you familiar with David McDermott and Peter McGough, two artists who lived in Brooklyn in the early 1990s, playing with themes of temporal/cultural displacement as well as gender/sexuality in both their art and their lives?

Although I live with all this stuff, we have a separate personal style outside of a show. Yeah, I know and love [McDermott and McGough]. I've seen one pulling the other on a rickshaw in Chinatown, and starting a Model-T with a gang of kids and dogs chasing them down the street, just like Norman Rockwell! We played in a corner of a bedroom at a birthday party for them many years ago.

Several somewhat antiquarian musical acts have sprung up in recent years [Reverend Glasseye, World/Inferno, Stiffs Inc, Dame Darcy, etc]. New York is a home to some of these, so I ask: Is there a shared sense of mission? A mood? A conspiracy? A movement?

It's postmodernism, I guess. In New York, you have to fight like an animal to stay alive and get ahead. There's not alot of "shared mission" or shared anything, although I knew and loved the Stiffs.

As Victorians, Rasputina is clearly closer to the gothic ideal than the techno which is taking over the goth scene. Does Rasputina point to a road not traveled for the goth scene or are you onto something else entirely?

People fight about the meaning of "Goth" so much. We do what we do, and if some scene likes us, that's cool.

Since Rasputina makes for a rather unusual pop act, it would seem hard to match with other acts. What is the strangest bill that you've ever appeared on?

Regis & Kathie Lee.

What would be your dream gig?

Opening for Nijinsky, but I'm sure Diaghilev would rip us off.

What was the best gig you've ever actually had?

An "alternative" cello festival at the University of Connecticut last summer. It was in a recital hall. It was the first time we had good sound.

While your music has a considerable range of emotion, so many of your songs are just seeping with melancholia. Do you find yourself to be a particularly delicate person?

I'm moody and passionate. Those down feelings are just more inspiring for me for music. I'm not together enough as a person to be unembarrassed acting happy in a song.

Your use of schoolgirl and fairy tales images suggests an invitation to an imaginary world. Aside from the music, graphic design, and live performance, is there more? Your spoken word bits seem to hint at yet more developed stories. Have you considered adapting your act for the theatre or film?

I would love to explore all these things more. There just isn't time.

What's the strangest interpretation/description of your act that you've encountered?

I think in All Music Guide we're classified as electronica..