Suicide Girls - April 19th, 2004
Suicide Girls Interview: Rasputina
By Sarah M. Moeding
When I was seventeen I was introduced to a band called Rasputina by my best friend. This was in 1996, grunge was dead, and bands like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails were becoming the voice of our nation's now supposedly miscreant youth. Rasputina had the same angst and aggression, pain and loss, dark humor and occasionally off-color subject matter of these bands--but they were three women, and they did it with cellos. I hadn't heard anything like it before or since. They played cello like electric guitars, singer Melora Creager's vibrato sounded like cooing pigeons, her delivery deadpan and ferocious all at once, and their schtick posited them as a Victorian Ladies' Cello Society. They called their concerts recitals, wore corsets, and witty stage banter consisted of jokes about the Olsen twins, Satan shoes (also known as roller blades), and Vagina Dentata. In short, this was something new, and it was breathtaking.
After years of consistently rotating the cast of band characters, the configuration saw Melora joined by Zoe Keating and Jonathon TeBeest sometime in 2002. Jonathon, it just so happened, was someone I had gone to High School with. He was two years older, graduated the year I moved to Montevideo, MN, and we'd never really been friends. For one reason or another, however, we had kept in touch. After seeing them a couple times in the last two years, I found that they were going to be performing again here in Minneapolis, on April 19th. I wrote Jonathon about doing an interview with them for SuicideGirls, and he set me up with their PR information. Within days, I had been approved to sit down with them, on the basis of a proposal I'd sent to Instinct records which basically said, "I haven't done anything Journalism related since High School. I'm a poet. I don't know what I'm doing, but I know Jonathon." "Sounds good!" was their enthusiastic reply...
Rasputina's present stage/album concept is Frustration Plantation, which finds the Ladies Cello Society zipping back to plantation era America to rout about with the slaves and their masters. Jonathon has grown a full and intimidating beard. The music has become a little more dark and erotic, and even zany. It has been a beautiful evolution.
I sat down with Melora and Zoe a couple hours before the show at the 400 bar on April 19th. Jonathon was unavailable at the time, believing rightfully that seeing his new nephew and the rest of his immediate family was more important. I had the opportunity to talk to Jonathon as the fabulous Murder By Death began their set.
Do you consider yourselves a cult band?Melora: Yes. Very strongly. I always joke with little kids I know, they say, "Melora, are you famous?" And I say, "No. Definitely not. I'm a minor cult figure." I feel very secure in that spot.
And you like it?Melora: Yeah, I think it's better for your mental health.
Zoe: I think the cult status attributes to the longevity of the band.
What are your thoughts on the current state of music and your place in the industry?Melora: (laughter) Oh no.
It's a little heavy-handed, I'm sorry.Melora: Uh, the current state of the music industry is good for people like us because [the state of technology] is that you don't need big record companies and you don't need backing especially if you have already gotten this start with backing from a big record company like we did. The state of music is not very exciting.
What is it about history and historical figures that fuels your creativity?Melora: it's just like the most inspiring and exciting thing. It's like a lot of musicians come from being a fan, and a lot of musicians have a goal of a certain kind of fame. I don't think those things serve you well and they're not inspiring to me or exciting to me. Conventional love life singing is not exciting. I don't think it would be interesting to anybody else, and I think it would be really arrogant if my personal feelings were that everyone should listen to [songs about my love life]. We just get really excited [about history]. We're all reading the same book in the van on this trip, and it's called Devil In The White City.
What is the book about?Melora: It's the Chicago World's Fair 1893 or something like that. It parallels these Victorian architects planning this major event and this really sick psychopathic killer that was out at the same time.
If you could be there to view any occurrence in history, what would it be? For instance, personally, mine would be that I'm really curious about what actually happened with Rasputin and the Romanov family.Melora: That's a good one.
Zoe: Yeah, there's so many things I would like to have been around for.
Melora: That's what I like about history. There's all these things about white men doing this and that, and that's what a lot of history is made of, but none of those things seem interesting to me. The American Revolution doesn't appeal to me.
Zoe: I would like to know how all the women lived in the past. More about their private lives. Those are the books I always find interesting, like their private lives, and what they did for maxi pads and tampons and stuff like that...
Oh, there were horrible things they made women do in terms of their menstrual cycles. Locking them up in a cave for several days...Zoe: Yeah, that's disgusting.
If you could have a recital for one historical figure, who would it be?Zoe: I'd like to play for Queen Elizabeth the First. (laughs) I don't know if she'd like it.
Melora: That's a good one. We'd play on a gondola with fireworks.
If you could place a Rasputina song in any existing film, what film would it be, and what is the scene?Melora: "Shirtwaist Fire" would be good in The Wizard Of Oz in the tornado...
I was going through the random joke generator on your site, and I was particularly amused by the vagina dentata/eggs benedict comment ("The theory of vagina dentata is absolutely ridiculous. It is eggs benedict that will bite your dick off."). Melora, you have a very distinct sense of humor. I don't know if you're familiar with Mitch Hedburg at all, he's my favorite comedian. Your vocal delivery on stage and the things you find amusing are very similar I think... What is it about your upbringing that influences your sense of humor and writing?Melora: I don't think my sense of humor comes from my upbringing. A lot of my interests do. ...being fascinated with these kind of twisted things, [my family] was into collecting antique electroshock apparatus. Weird stuff.
I have been trying to explain to other people what your music is like, and trying to compare what you're doing to other people's music so they can get some idea, and we all just went to 16 Horsepower last week--Zoe: Oh, we love them.
Melora: [we saw them] the day before we left to get inspired for performing.
Well, that's the closest I have come to, other than maybe Rykarda Parasol.Melora: I think what we do that's different, and from other people at the club [the previous night] who were struck by what we did, is that it's dynamic. Music isn't a genre where people do just one thing, and there's no reason to do that. It's surprising it's so rare, but we're really dynamic and we have sad tiny little songs and big blow out heavy rock, and humor and maybe that's what is different.
first album owned?Melora: Elton John, Captain Fantastic.
Zoe: For me, it was The Point.
The Point?Zoe: That guy... Neilson?
Melora: he did the (sings) "put the lime in the coconut..."
Oh, Harry Nilsson?Zoe: Yeah. My parents got it when I was a kid and I listened to it over and over. I totally forgot about it, but then we were recording Frustration Plantation, it came up somehow and Melora gave it to me for Christmas.
The last live show that floored you?Zoe & Melora: (in unison) 16 Horsepower.
Worst touring experience?Melora: In the storeroom at JR's Lightbulb in Fayetteville, Arkansas, drinkin' a beer, all alone...
Oh.Zoe: They're gonna get really sad if you put that in the article...
What is your most bizarre passion? collection?Melora: I just go from thing to thing really quickly, research it and feel like I know all about it and then go on to something else so I don't actually have to spend the money on the stuff. Feathers was the most recent one. I was all over eBay looking for feathers, finding out about feathers and feather wholesalers. Turkey feathers are my favorite. I don't like those slutty ostrich feathers.
Most amusing inanimate object?Melora: Well, we'd all have to say a penis!
Zoe: I've got this thing where I always look at things and see a face in them,
and that cracks you up?Zoe: Yeah, I'll look at a doorknob and see a face. or a manhole cover that looks like a face. I really love looking at faces in inanimate objects.
Melora: I'll stick with a penis.
If you were gay, who would you sleep with?Zoe: Bjork.
Melora: Gwen Stefani.
Zoe: Bjork would be weird. It would be really interesting.
I don't know that you'd actually end up having sex with her...Zoe: I might end up frolicking or whatever...
And she'd be like, "that was the best sex I ever had..." Have you ever thought of being SuicideGirls?Melora: oh, I'm pathologically modest. I mean, Zoe sees me in the same room every night. You don't see me naked.
Zoe: No. Well, I live in California, so... I go to Burning Man every year, so there's a week of the year that I'm naked.
I haven't actually seen this, someone told me about it, you acted in something called, On My Knees?Melora: I am very proud of that. Director Kim Wood got the rights to this Victorian maid's diary who was this really unusual person who reveled in her low stature and into cleaning people's houses and how dirty she got and that was really not a Victorian value. She had an affair, I think it was like this Pre-Raphaelite guy who hung out in those circles. Black and white, it was short and in making that movie, I had to just climb in and out of the fireplace ten million times, light the stove ten million times, pluck the pheasants five million times, then I did all the narration and the score and it was really fun.
You did the score, or the band?Melora: Just me.
(to Zoe) I know that you have solo projects, (to Melora) are you doing anything?Melora: Um, I do things like [On My Knees] every once in awhile.
(to Zoe) And your album, is it out?Zoe: I have a solo EP of just instrumental music (One Cello x 16), and I am working on another one. (www.zoekeating.com)
Do you have any nicknames within the band?Melora: (points to self) "Autistic Dwarf". (points to Zoe) "HeSheHeShe"
Zoe: Someone wrote in an email, "I swear she's a dude."
Melora: "I swear she's a fucking dude."
Zoe: So I'm the "Fucking Dude".
Melora: They wrote really bad stuff about each one of us, but somehow we all loved it and latched on to it and took it to heart. Jonathon is the "Transgender Cumshitter". (laughing) But I promised not to talk about that during the show in front of his parents.
Zoe: "Autistic Dwarf". "Fucking Dude". "Transgender Cumshitter".
okay, Cumshitter, that's nice, I like that.Melora: And he didn't know what that could possibly mean.
Zoe: Which proves that...
Well, that obviously he's not... (laughing) Well, I think that's all I have to ask you unless you have anything else to say.Zoe: We'll think of great things to say later.
Right. There's a name for that.Zoe: Is that a fact?
It's uh... I can't pronounce it, it's French.Melora: (in a low voice) hors d'ouveurs
(laugh) no. it's Esprit d'Escalier.Melora: That's my mom's last name.
So, the "spirit of the stairs". It's what you think of when you're walking out, down the stairs... oh, the French.
Jonathon TeBeest is someone of renown in our hometown. He was the senior class president, Homecoming Prince, on the Varsity basketball team. He sang in choir, played percussion in band. He occasionally wore Kiss makeup. He was the boy younger girls such as myself swooned over (and due to a lack of lockers in the sophomore section, my locker was just four down from his in the senior hallway, which gave me plenty of gawking time), what with his lanky and towering frame, feminine and impossibly Nordic features, and complete likeability. He went off to college, and continued to make Montevideo beam, joining a promising ska act called 3 Minute Hero (but let's not talk about his stint on Maury Povich--that's just embarassing, and I have it on tape). We ended up at the same college, and circumstance led us to continue bumping into each other. My crush subsided around age 20, and we have, over the years, become perhaps slightly more than acquaintances. Imagine my joy upon finding out that he'd become involved with Rasputina. I'm still all atwitter that he's a member of one of my favorite bands...
Okay. Jonathon, if you could be there to view any occurrence in history, what would it be?Jonathon: Wow. That's good. Any occurrence in history... whoa. I was expecting "what's your favorite color".
What's your favorite color?Jonathon: Oh, today it's purple. Yeah, today it's definitely purple. hm... I don't know. You have to let me think on that one for a second. I'm not ready for that.
If you could perform for one historical figure, who would it be?Jonathon: Who would I want to see me? Hm...
Or, anyone really. Gene Simmons?Jonathon: Yeah. Unfortunately all my first answers are related to pop culture, and Kiss of course. Yeah, we'll go with Gene. Why not. It would be a lie if I said anyone else, so...
If you could cover one Kiss song, what would it be?Jonathon: I have.
Really?Jonathon: Yeah, with myself...
Would you consider it with the band?Jonathon: Nah. (calls out to Melora) What did you cover before? "Beth"?
Melora: We made the cellos do "Beth".
First record owned?Jonathon: The first record was Def Leppard Pyromania.
(laughing) That doesn't surprise me.Jonathon: The first c.d. was Destroyer, and White Lion's Pride simultaneously.
(still laughing) That doesn't surprise me at ALL. What was the last live show that floored you?Jonathon: Oh, very recently, um...
16 Horsepower?Jonathon: yeah.
That's what everyone said. I just saw them too, last tuesday. What is your most bizarre passion or collection?Jonathon: I like to... What is it you call it? Customize things?
Melora: Heavy metal bandannas??? Jonathon: No, that was kid's stuff. You know, I don't like leaving things. [I like to] do things to make them mine. Sewing something on it, adding pins to it. I'm really anal.
Melora: (saying something about flowers)
Dried flowers? From girls?Jonathon: No, from my job. I had a job last summer doing wildflowers. Up in the mountains of New Jersey.
Okay... (laughing)Jonathon: Yeah, so... After the beard came the flowers.
It's all the same. Beard, flowers. If you were gay, who would you sleep with? You can't answer Gene Simmons for this one.Jonathon: Oh, no. Lord no.
Melora: Bret Michaels.
Jonathon: NO. Not Bret Michaels.
Zoe: Justin Timberlake.
Jonathon: I would sleep with Justin Timberlake. Thank you very much. That is definitely someone I would sleep with.
Alright. Has playing in an unconventional ensemble changed the way you approach percussion?Jonathon: Oh yeah. It is really more percussion as opposed to drum kit. I'm used to playing mindless slosh rock. You know, where I'm just keeping a beat. This is a lot more fun. I don't hit as many cymbals as I used to.
(laughter from Melora and Zoe)
Solo projects?Jonathon: The New Professionals, the album Come Hell or High Drama will be out very soon. I think we're going to do a c.d. release party at Plaid in New York. I have also been in a rock band called This, and The Strangelove, and then also the stuff that I write.
You're a whore!Jonathon: No, every band is different. The slosh rock, three piece Jimi Hendrix jam, and The New Professionals, it's more emotional kind of Americana rock.
Have you thought of a historical occurrence?Jonathon: No. When I'm not talking I'm thinking about that one. Nah, you'll have to give me a second. It'll come to me when I'm playing... I'll shout it out to you.
In the end, no answer was shouted out. I left the show right after the band finished, thwarting journalistic responsibility in order to kiss a boy. And of course, as I fell asleep that night, two things occurred to me: 1.) I didn't even glance at the merch table. 2.) I never asked former the Homecoming Prince what it's like being a "Transgender Cumshitter".
Damn the French. Esprit d'Escalier wins again.
Rasputina are scheduled to tour through June 2004. Check out their website at Rasputina.com.