Aural Minority - September 10th, 2005

Chicks, Cellos & Corsets? That's sooo 1996
By Nick Dean

  Oh, the places a decade has taken us! Though we're not yet rid of 2005, I'm already reflecting on the 10-year-run that will conclude with it this New Years, 1996. We re-elected Clinton that year and as I was 15 at the time, I'm using the royal "We." Back then the extent of my "being political" meant laughing as Norm MacDonald parodied both Bob Dole and The Real World followed by vehemently listening to Rage Against The Machine's Evil Empire.

Today everyone's more political. Likely polarized by Sept. 11 or the subsequent war or the subsequent stealing of an election or the subsequent ignorance that let so many die in New Orleans. And musicians are no different. Melora Creager released Rasputina's first album, Thanks For The Ether, in 1996. At 18 tracks the album covered such disparate subjects as Howard Hughes, the Donner Party, vampire cuncubines and struck strongly feminist chords with songs about the shirtwaist fire and other injustices. If it was political, and surely it was, it was such in a hindsight and retrospective sort of way.

A longitme fan of history and its oddities, Creager has mined topics, ideas and images not only for songs, but for the whole look and sound of Rasputina - a Victorian style rock band where the predominant instrument is cello. However, Sept. 11 placed many of Creager's concerns in the now and in recent years she has been processing the event and its effects, letting little bits of opinion slip out into her live show. Though she promises the next album will deal more with current events (sort of), fans who have never experienced the band live have recently been able to get a dose of Creager's stage banter via A Radical Recital, the band's new live album.

"I don't know if you all know, but I do know that the government is going to instigate a new national identification policy and it's not the standard I.D. card," Creager shares with the crowd before "Secret Message" on the new live album. "It's a little grain of rice with your name carved into it by some Mexican and it's inserted under the flesh of your arm. I htink it's such an exciting idea that I'm going to be the first in line to get in. It's so cute sounding."

Behind the comedy is genuine concern.

"I think it's important because I do have an audience so I say what I Can about that stuff. I'm in a lucky position because I talk crazy and make jokes so no one's really going to be offended by what I say because I can always say it's a joke, but the joke's on them because I can still say it," Creager laughed. "I'll read stuff like about the I.D. implant and it's real and it's shocking and it's scary and if I turn it into a joke, I can share it with people. I don't want to preach about politics, but I turn it into a joke, well, because I feel some responsibility to communicate the crazy stuff that's going on in the world."

Admitting that she used to be heavily and only into history, Creager finds that what's going on in the world today is even more messed up and odd than anything she could ever make up herself.

"I'm somebody who thinks that the whole Sept. 11 explanation is lies and I feel strongly about the war in Iraq. A lot of this is stuff that I think people would agree with me on if they only knew," Creager explained. "I spend a lot of time researching this stuff and people don't have the time or the interest to do that. So these are the things I want to communicate. I just want to say 'Hey, this Sept. 11 stuff doesn't add up. It doesn't make any sense and we're in big trouble.'"

Do you think people want to know? Or is it that they don't have the time?

Well, people like to be comfortable. They like everything to be easy and that's just something I don't relate to. It's like, I don't care for things to be easy or comfortable for me. I like challenges and trying to wrap my brain around something new so I'll do that and try to tell people as much as I can.

You've been around for 10 years now and I'm wondering, are people listening to what you're saying as well as the music? Are the crowds at your shows different now from when you started or have you always attracted the same sorts of people?

The 'goth' thing is always a question because that crowd has been fans of ours for so long and we have given off some of that imagery. I never liked being pigeonholed into something. It's funny, whenever we see more of these just sort of straight looking people we're always glad. It's kind of a surprise to see a couple of frat guys who are really into it. Then we're like: 'We're doing something right.' But it's weird...Weird that straight looking people would like us.

Aside from crowds and such, have you seen many changes in the industry?

Time has passed and there have been changes in the music industry in terms of now you can record by yourself. You don't need all this money to record. People just don't need those huge dinosaur record companies to get their music out to people because of the changes in technology and that is good for some business things and not good for some others. Y'know, there are some places I should be making money where I don't, but it's a really good environment and vibe for everyone to be listening to music in. It's a funny situation because I'll have kids come up to me and say 'Oh, I'm your biggest fan, but I've never boughth a record. I've just downloaded it all.' And it's like they don't know that I don't earn any money to feed my kid and make my next record, but people just don't know. People think that if they have heard of you, then you're rich."

You've obviously toured with a lot of different bands during the last 10 eyars and I think the first time I heard your name you were opening for Marilyn Manson. When you started out grunge was pretty much gone as a genre and now you're living through the whole indie and emo explosions. But it seems like there are a lot of really powerful and important female-fronted bands out right now like Sleater-Kinney or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Do you think Rasputina has come back into focus for some people because of these things, because you're rocking harder than pop-punk bands and such?

Different aspects of the band will become trendy in the world and then go away. Like the clothes or the corsets are popular for a time and then they're not popular. Stuff like that is threatening when it happens, but it always goes away and we can just be really confident in our integrity about what we're doing. We're not trendy. I'm not going to go away or I'm not going to start playing the cello badly because it's cool. We just keep developing our look and style.

Do you feel threatened or jealous or mad when historical topics you have based songs on come around into popular culture in another form? I'm thinking of your song "Howard Hughes" and the movie, The Aviator.

It makes me feel bad in a way. It makes me think 'Hey what about this thing I made about that guy.' But with something like The Aviator, I just love that movie. It was a really great art piece. It was a really great thing that was made about a subject I am interested in.

What sorts of subjects are you interested in right now? Is there going to be a historical theme to the next album like Frustration Plantation?

Well, I tried to take all the things in the modern world that make me crazy, like the war in Iraq, climate change and politics. I wanted to take all that and make an alternate world where there's something equal to each of those things. And so it's sort of like time travel, but it's all originally based on modern things. It's like an allegory. We plan to do it in the winter, whatever that means. Maybe January or February or the end of December. I have been working really hard on it and it feels like a big project. I have so many ideas I'm trying to combine.

Will it be out on Instinct?

We're not really with Instinct anymore and the live record is coming out on, well, I guess it's my own label. Though I don't feel like I have a label. We'll just see where the next album goes and we'll see who picks it up. Maybe I'll release it.

I guess your own label would sort of be the next step in your career. I mean, you started out on Song and went to a smaller independent label from there.

Yeah, it's a weird career where we get smaller and smaller, but we're making more money and we're happier. I don't know what I would get out of going to a major label. They're hard to work with. Sure, they give you a really gorgeous tour bus, but that's not everything.

The last time we spoke you mentioned that How We Quit The Forest is out of print, but it might be getting re-released by Song. How's that coming?

That was looking really good for a while, but it's such a huge corporation. the problem is that somebody said okay, which is an amazing victory, but we can't seem to get any farther. We can't get the master tapes or the paperwork done. We're lost in the maze.

Well, maybe it will see the light of day. Like how that Fiona Apple album has been shelved for years and now it's getting released.

There is so much money put into those things and they want to make their money back so they second guess themselves for years and years and finally pass on it. Meanwhile somebody's whole life is waiting.

With the release of the live album you're heading back out on the road and playing a lot of the small clubs. Do you wish you were back doing stadiums?

Yeah, we started in stadiums and moved down to venues like Mohawk Place in Buffalo. I'm happy with what we're doing, but I think it's valuable to get exposed. If we were to tour with someone big, I don't know who it would be.

Melora Creager works out of her Brooklyn studio. Cello partner Zoe Keating lives on the West coast and drummer Jonathon TeBeest, at the time of the interview, was in Minnesota.