The Salt Lake Tribune - May 5th, 2004
Cello Band Isn't Too Refined To Rock
By Chuck Myers
Primped, corseted and primed, cellists Melora Creager and Zoe Keating set their bows into first-strike position. Drummer Jonathon TeBeest readies his sticks over his kit. In an instant, the trio unleashes a Led Zeppelin-like thrust, announcing Rasputina is in the house.
Rasputina would have felt right at home in Andy Warhol's former New York avant-garde hub of creativity, The Factory. With its mix of 19th century style and 21st century alt-music sensibility, the cello-rock ensemble plies searing melodies and genteel balladry with equal adroitness. Creager and Keating go at their cellos like a pair of Fender Stratocasters, with Creager using guitar foot pedals to produce electric guitarlike effects.
Competing against the guitar: "I played cello in conventional guitar bands," says Creager, an Emporia, Kan., native who today makes her base in New York. "But you can rarely hear a cello above guitars....It's like guitars are all you hear, because just the timbre of it or sound of it. And a lot of times, I'll hear guitar music or rock music, and I won't hear notes because it just sounds percussive."
Formed by Creager in 1991, Rasputina's curriculum vitae includes appearances with Marilyn Manson, the Goo Goo Dolls and Nirvana on its final tour in 1994. The band is scheduled to play Salt Lake City's In the Venue on May 23.
The group's dense, haunting sound and the cellists' interest in vintage costumes has led some observers to characterize the trio's style as Goth-inspired chamber-pop. But Creager doesn't buy it. "People have to put those labels on things. And I don't like those labels. . . . It's also because we're using one instrument. We try to get as many different sounds out of the instrument. And we don't go constricted with style."
Old South inspiration: Rasputina's recently released fourth album, "Frustration Plantation" (Instinct Records), brilliantly meshes aggressive riffs with jaunty and sobering hooks. Rock-heavy numbers "Possum of the Grotto," "High on Life" and "Saline the Salt Lake Queen" vent torrid melodies with solid backbeats.
"Wicked Dickie" serves up a witty ditty about a farmer's affection for a deceased old cow, while the record's final track, "Girl's School," shimmers with biting irony aimed at conformity.
Creager, who does the singing, demonstrates adept vocal style throughout the album. On "My Captivity by Savages," she opts for a first person narrative style to relate the perilous ordeal of young Eliza Elizabeth Jane Cook and her capture and bondage by "virile half-naked nomads."
"Frustration Plantation" echoes a spirited tenor of a bygone era, and for good reason. The album's inspiration lies, in part, with Old South slave songs that the group researched in the recorded collections at the Library of Congress.
Rasputina has featured different women cellists over its 13-year history, with Creager as the sole constant. The addition of TeBeest as a group fixture on drums broke the cellist-only mold.
19th-century stylin': One thing that hasn't changed with time though, is the cellists' distinct stage dress - a 19th century-inspired fashion. "I've done a lot of, you know, Victorian looking stuff, so we've got a Victorian pigeonhole," explains Creager. "But Zoe and I definitely like that it's not period-specific, and we like to break it up...I never want to look Louis XIV."
Creager's creative interests don't stop at music and visuals. She has also dabbled with aroma, blending a "singular" perfume that more than lives up to its name - "Melora's Rancid Brain Oil."
"Well, I had my compadres take a whiff, and hopes are low," says Creager with a chuckle. "One's going to break and we're not going to have any friends. I made it as bad as I could." Keating chimes in with a lively laugh. "I would like people to buy it so that we don't have to have it in the [tour] van!"
If you're lucky enough to find the stuff at a Rasputina gig, be warned - it's strictly buyers beware. Roll over, Beethoven.
Rasputina will play In the Venue, 219 S. 600 West, Salt Lake City, on May 23.