UK band Holy Moly & the Crackers has been loosely defined as “gypsy folk rock,” but their new album Salem is decidedly more rock than anything else. Turn it on and turn it up. This one’s a rager.
Just released on Pink Lane Records, lyrics feature allusions to baroque, superstitious practice and the dark arts — tarot, memento mori, witchcraft, hallucination — but with a heavier, crunchier sound than past efforts.
HMatC started out as a trio featuring Ruth Patterson (vocals, violin, keys), Conrad Bird (vocals) and Rosie Bristow (accordion, keys, saxophone). Over the past six years, they’ve added drummer Thomas Evans, bassist Jamie Shields, guitarist Peter Hogan and Martha Wheatley (trombone, backing vocals).
Patterson and Bird have an affinity for New Orleans music and culture, despite having yet to visit the US. “I think that makes it all the more mystical for us,” says Patterson. “All of our idols come from America: Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, they’re our kind of bread and butter.”
“I don’t know if America is actually anything like what I imagine in my head, but New Orleans is definitely someplace we’d really like to go. I just love the brass bands, the carnival idea of it.”
Patterson scored the entire album for string quartet and covered all those parts along with guest cellist Kerrin Tatman, a friend who recently moved nearby. The entire band went into the studio with parts fleshed out and knowing exactly what they were going to do.
Produced by Matt Terry (Alison Moyet, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Killing Joke) Salem was fittingly recorded at the idyllic Vada Studios, which was once a medieval chapel above a family tomb. “It’s one of the best studios in the country. The acoustics — you can’t describe how good they are,” says Patterson.
Written in a day and a half after Patterson got pissed off, the title track uses the Salem Witch Trials as a metaphor for blaming others when things go wrong. “We kind of blame anybody else, all the vulnerable people in the world that can’t stand up for themselves, whether it’s refugees, asylum seekers, disabled people, women. It feels like they get a raw deal. It seems like everybody’s on a witch hunt for everybody else at the moment,” says Patterson.
Patterson takes these attitudes personally. “I’m actually a disabled person. I’m a wheelchair user. And I do find a lot of kind of anger towards people. I do have a lot of comments like, ‘Oh, you’re taking the benefits. You’re adding to society’s problems.’ It just made me really angry. There’s a lot in the media about blame this, blame that, and there’s this big fear thing we have. So Salem is about that and is a reaction against that.”
Vocalist Conrad Bird wrote the chords and initial lyric ideas for Mary about three years ago, and his brother Lo finished it off. The brothers agreed each could take the song to their respective bands and complete their own version. “It’s Noel and Liam Gallagher all over again,” jokes Bird.
HMatC had taken Mary into the studio in the past, but it hadn’t quite worked out. When they were getting the songs together for Salem, Bird rewrote it with folk-rap, celtic melodies and an industrial rock groove. It’s heavy, ballsy attitude fit right in with the rest of the album.
“I based the lyrics on the standard folk-song trope: you wake up and your woman is gone, so you hit the road. It’s Beat (in the Kerouac sense) and it’s blues,” continues Bird. “Mary leaves on St. Valentines Day, writing her message on the wall as cryptic explanation: ‘I’m a broken-winged raven, even Jesus needed saving, I’m a rose in the crown of thorns.’ So the protagonist hits the road, trying to forget her but can’t. A lot of my writing incorporates archetypes and folk song tropes to keep connection with that tradition, even if musically we are developing our genre and aesthetic.”
Whereas Patterson and Bird wrote most songs on the album separately, Hallelujah Amen was the first they wrote together from scratch. Bird’s vocal style is reminiscent of Tom Waits, giving a nice counterbalance to Patterson’s angelic tone. “I do think we captured the growl-y, gravely part. Then you’ve got this sort of ethereal thing,” she says.
The song concludes with an appearance by The Birmingham Community Gospel Choir. “There was not a dry eye in the room when they were doing their takes, because it’s just so powerful, their harmonies…. We were in the control room and no one spoke. It was amazing.”
Accordian player Rosie Bristow and Patterson wrote Cold Comfort Lane together. Bristow wrote most of the lyrics and the structure of the song, and Patterson insisted on its punchy, rock and roll arrangement.
“It’s a kind of girl power song. You don’t get a lot of that attitude— It’s usually boy bands that do this kind of thing, so it felt quite good to be a girl screaming into a mic,” affirms Patterson. “I’d never really done that before, found that kind of rock voice, so that was a new experiment for this album. Matt Terry was going, ‘give me more! Give me more!'”
HMatC is currently playing throughout the UK and hopes to make their way to the US within a year. Here’s hoping that happens. I for one will drive a great distance to see them do their thing.
Chicago melodic rock band The Kickback knows how to write a catchy pop song, even through the pain and heartbreak of divorce. Their sophomore album Weddings and Funerals just dropped Friday, and is almost entirely about the end of frontman Billy Yost’s marriage.
A universal, relatable breakup album for sure, but this is not sad bastard music like Elliott Smith or Bon Iver. If you don’t listen to the lyrics, the upbeat tone could seem almost the opposite. It starts off loud and fast and doesn’t let up for 32 minutes.
In late 2009, Yost moved to Chicago from his home town of Beresford, South Dakota. He made the move for a girl, whom he ended up marrying. Fast-forward a few years and divorce was imminent.
They’d met at the University of South Dakota when he was a 19-year-old freshman and she was a junior. “We were together for about 10 years and married for the last three,” he recalls. “The band was just gone all the time and dictated our ability to really do much of anything. I don’t fault her for leaving. I was just so blindly in love while not being able to understand how hard it was for her to prop us both up for so long.”
This past December, The Kickback traveled to Los Angeles to record Weddings and Funerals with multi-Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Animal Collective, The Walkmen, Ben Folds) at DTLA Recording, an expansive open space in the historic Arts District that Yost believes used to be an illegal marijuana grow house.
“It’s a very non-traditional studio,” says Yost. “It’s giant, it’s open-air. There are these big garage doors that are up most of the time unless you’re recording really loud stuff. The ceilings are probably 30-feet. It’s just this big room. Everybody’s just in the same room at all times. If you’re not the one recording stuff, you’re still in the middle of everything, which was a really cool way to make a record. You always knew what was going on.”
So the band arrived at the studio with a handful of partially written songs and got to work. “Our first record, we went in with every part completely written and ready to put on tape. But for this record, we showed up in LA with the verses and choruses and bridges but no idea of how everything was gonna come together,” he says. “That was scary, but it was also weirdly kind of freeing.”
Herring had a hand in helping the songs take shape. “It was good to work with someone who’s as bull-headed as we are,” says Yost. “We were hoping we could work with someone who would fight for songs, and Dennis was definitely that guy. He said, ‘When you’re recording, your feelings don’t really matter.’ He just wanted the songs to be good.”
“Dennis had a song-by-song approach, which I liked,” says Yost. “It takes longer, but Dennis works a little chaotically. At any given moment you weren’t sure if you were gonna spend the whole day reading a magazine, or if you needed to be ready to record drums on a song that had been reworked five times already and you weren’t really sure what the part was.”
“Especially for the other guys. I think it was 30 days of having to be on your toes at any possible moment, which I think was a little stressful for everybody, but it’s the way Dennis works.”
Despite his powerful singing voice and energetic promo videos, Yost is soft-spoken over the phone today. But he’s also super hilarious. Never once laughing at his own jokes, he delivers anecdotes and one-liners with a deadpan even tone.
“Dennis is kind of like that guy where they did that experiment where they would give a kid one donut now, or if they could wait, they’d give them two donuts an hour from now. That’s kind of how the workflow wound up working.”
The first track of the album, Will T, was also the first single they released. Will T starts off with a “La-ha-ha-ha” hook Yost describes as “the obnoxious one.” The track sounds like it just as well could have come from now-defunct Philly rock band Free Energy, if Free Energy had swapped the cowbell for sleigh bells and lasted long enough to suffer the demise of a wedded union.
“It’s the kind of hook where if you don’t like that song, you’re gonna fucking hate that song, and I get that,” he says. ”It’s one of those hooks that you wake up with in your head and wind up beating yourself over the head with a frying pan trying to get out.”
He started playing with the verses of Will T in college when he was 18, writing about “being scared of always eventually being disappointed in a relationship.” He put the song away for several years until it crept back in during his divorce. “We stuck that scary laughing chorus with it because the whole song just seemed like a joke. When I pulled it back out to look at it, the whole thing just seemed weirdly true, weirdly naive, or probably a little bit of both. So that laugh part just kind of made itself, and it’s really annoying. I think it just might be so jarring, it just forces you to listen to it whether you want to or not.”
The song False Jeopardy hits with a pretty big Pixies vibe, especially for the first half, but Yost says that wasn’t an intentional influence. “I think you spend a lot of your time ripping off bands you love, and hopefully you get to a point where they just become a little part of you. So I think I maybe years ago would have been actively trying to rip off the Pixies because I love them so much, but now I think it’s just a little part of our DNA.”
“(False Jeopardy) was the first or second song that got written for the record. That song’s kind of about blindly hoping everything’s gonna be okay and trying to talk somebody out of leaving. I think it’s a point a lot of people reach in their relationship where you spend most of the time trying to convince the other person they should stay, even though it’s probably not the right decision anymore.”
You can hear a demo of False Jeopardy during the fist two minutes of a movie starring Keanu Reeves called To the Bone, streaming on Netflix right now. “We didn’t even have the album version recorded yet,” says Yost. “But they liked the demo so much they wound up using it in the movie.”
Along with False Jeopardy, Rube was one of the first couple tunes written for the album. “I wasn’t sure how the record was gonna work yet. I started working on it right when I found out my marriage was ending, so I wasn’t sure whether I was gonna try and write about that yet, or just write about anything else but that,” says Yost. “So (Rube) wound up being a hybrid, sort of, about Lee Harvey Oswald, who I was reading about at the time, and this lady falling in love with him. But it still ended up being also about the end of my marriage. But people dancing to a song about Lee Harvey Oswald seemed like a funny proposition to me.”
Pale King was one of the last songs written for the album. Yost wrote it after watching the four-hour documentary Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream. “As we were getting close to finishing vocals, Dennis kind of put on his California night scarf and was just like, ‘I want you to get the last two choruses done and we won’t do many vocals tomorrow because you shouldn’t be able to talk very well.’” The song title was borrowed from the unfinished David Foster Wallace novel, which he was writing when he committed suicide. “It’s mostly just about hating what you are,” admits Yost. “I think that’s probably what a lot of these are about.”
Yost says the track Reptile Fund is an example of Dennis Herring’s work method. “We were working really hard on something else one night. Dennis had been gone for a day or two, so we’d been left to our own devices. And Dennis rolled in about 7:00 one night, and we thought he was gonna just pop in and say hey. But he said, ‘let’s stop everything we’re doing and record this really ornate part.’ You can’t really hear it on the choruses of that song, but there’s this countermelody going on with a glockenspiel and a piano and a sped-up guitar line and like two other instruments. That’s just what he felt like doing at that moment. I love it. It’s one of my favorite parts of that song.”
So what was it like to write an entire album about the dissolution of your marriage? Turns out it’s not always the salve we’ve been led to believe.
“When I was writing the songs, I didn’t ever feel better,” admits Yost. “I felt like I just kept churning out all of this horror that seemed to just keep going on and on. I didn’t feel better. It wasn’t cathartic, just tiring. It wasn’t until the record was close to done that I just became grateful those feelings had somewhere else to go.”
The Kickback are currently on tour and possibly coming to your city soon. They’ve been on the road for much of the past few months and will continue for a several weeks more. They recently ended about seven weeks opening shows for ‘90s alt-rock heavyweights Bush (as in Glycerine, Machinehead, Everything Zen) and have recently begun their own tour of headlining dates.
18 — Raleigh, NC — The Pour House Music Hall
19 — Charlotte, NC — The Evening Muse
20 — Charleston, SC — The Royal American
21 — Atlanta, GA — Vinyl (Center Stage – The Loft – Vinyl)
22 — New Orleans, LA — Gasa Gasa
23 — Houston, TX — Warehouse Live Greenroom
25 — Austin, TX — Stubb’s Austin
26 — Dallas, TX — Gas Monkey Dallas
28 — Kansas City, MO — recordBar
4 — Appleton, WI — Mile of Music Festival
5 — Appleton, WI — Mile of Music Festival
9 — Indianapolis, IN — HI-FI Indy
10 — Cleveland, OH — Grog Shop
11 — Columbus, OH — Rumba Cafe
12 — Chicago, IL — Thalia Hall “TKB Thalia Brawl”
16 — Horicon, WI — Horicon Phoenix Program Summer Concert Series
17 — Minneapolis, MN — 7th St. Entry (First Avenue & 7th St Entry)
18 — Sioux Falls, SD — White Wall Session
19 — Fargo, ND — The Aquarium
22 — Seattle, WA — High Dive
23 — Portland, OR — Doug Fir Lounge
24 — San Francisco, CA — Brick & Mortar Music Hall
26 — San Diego, CA — Soda Bar
29 — Los Angeles, CA — Resident
30 — Las Vegas, NV — Beauty Bar Las Vegas
31 — Salt Lake City, UT — Kilby Court
1 — Denver, CO — Lion’s Lair
2 — Sioux Falls, SD — Icon Event Hall + Lounge
Jason Narducy’s solo project Split Single and R. Ring [Kelley Deal (The Breeders), Mike Montgomery (Ampline)] are heading out on tour together.
This joining of forces came about because Laura King, who techs for Superchunk, will be playing drums with R. Ring on this tour. King knows Narducy, so she asked each group if they’d like to play some shows together. They agreed, and booked
12 shows in 12 days.
Over the years, Narducy has played with Bob Mould, Superchunk and Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices), Liz Phair and Telekinesis. He formed 4-piece rock group Verbow after college, featuring cellist Alison Chesley, and punk band Verböten when he was 10 years old—only one year after receiving his first guitar.
Thirteen-year-old Dave Grohl saw ten-year-old Narducy play in Verböten, and credits him as the catalyst that made him want to be a musician. “Watching Jason was the first time I thought I could start my own band and write my own kind of music,” says Grohl. “Jason totally set my life in this new direction. It wasn’t a Jimmy Page or KISS poster I had — it was fuckin’ him!”
Working solo under the name Split Single, Narducy collaborates with other artists to record his songs and play shows.
On his latest release, Metal Frames, Narducy is joined by John Stirratt (bassist for Wilco) and once again by indie rock’s busiest drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Bob Mould, The Mountain Goats, and comedy duo Sharpling and Wurster.
For this tour, Narducy will be joined by drummer Tim Remus (Sweet Cobra) and Billy Yost (The Kickback) on bass. Certain dates will feature a second guitarist.
When Narducy set out make Metal Frames, he knew he wanted it to “be a little bit more rocking than the last record. I mean, I’m really proud of Fragmented World, it’s not like I have any regrets about it. But playing the Fragmented World songs live— I just wanted there to be some more loud rock songs.”
Narducy has brought a good sense of humor to promoting his music through a series of videos.
“Some of them are self-deprecating, some of them are poking fun. The Sexiest Elbows in Rock pokes fun at exploiting sexuality and making oneself vulnerable in order to promote music,” he says. “So just thinking about the absurdities of being a musician and having fun with that. And it’s a nice creative outlet for me to do something different from music and also collaborate with other people… whether it be comedians or actors or other people that I look up to. And if they’re interested in doing something absolutely absurd and silly with me, then it can be a lot of fun.”
For the video for Untry Love, Narducy enlisted the help of two friends, comedian Dave Hill and songwriter Anya Marina, who try to mold him into “the ultimate between-song frontman.”
The video was shot in New York the day after Trump’s election.
“The crew was not sure if they were willing to do it, and I don’t blame them,” recalls Narducy. “Everybody was in shock, especially in New York. I mean, there were people weeping in the streets. It was a very dark day. But we all said, ‘we can go home and feel bad about ourselves, or we can collaborate with friends and be amongst friends and do something creative and try to not think about it for 12 hours.'”
The album’s shortest song, White Smoke, about the Tamir Rice murder in Cleveland, is also one that came the quickest to Narducy.
“I’m fortunate that most of my childhood was in Chicago and in mixed neighborhoods, so I’ve always felt comfortable in diverse cultural surroundings,” he says. “Then I went to college in Baltimore, which is below the Mason-Dixon line, and I learned a lot about racism there and how real it is in America.”
“Trayvon Martin really struck home for me, that judgment. Then Michael Brown right after that. There’s so many. But Tamir Rice felt like the third one where they say that someone has a gun or they were going for a gun and they gave them a warning. You know, it’s sort of the same script. All of a sudden, with Tamir Rice, a video shows up that proves they were lying. It’s really difficult to watch that video, to watch a 12-year-old boy playing by himself. You know that was one of the lies; they said he was amongst all these other children and he wasn’t, he was by himself. And the cop car drives up into the park on the grass and the cop kills him in 1.7 seconds and then doesn’t help him. It’s just brutal. And then on top of all that, no one is held accountable for his death. So it’s a reminder that there need to be changes so that people in public feel safe, especially people of color.”
“I didn’t set out to write a song about that, it just sort of came out really fast,” Narducy continues. “It’s a short song and I might have written it faster than even the length of the song.”
“It’s important to me that that is discussed and that we move forward. It adds to my disgust with this current administration that Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, is basically wanting to remove oversight for a lot of the actions that police officers take.”
“And listen, when I talk about these things— I’m friends with police officers. Just because you talk about something like this doesn’t mean you’re anti-police officer. I think 90 percent of police officers are doing the right thing, and sometimes they’re put in really horrible situations, and I couldn’t even imagine how scary they are or how much courage they take. It’s just— I don’t care if you’re a cop or not, if they murder someone, an unarmed person, they should be held accountable.”
R. Ring duo Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery have been making music together since mid-2010. Their first full-length, Ignite the Rest, is set to release April 28 on SofaBurn Records.
Deal and Montgomery have a free podcast on iTunes where they discuss genre-defying Ignite the Rest track-by-track, sharing stories behind each song and talking about their history and the people they met along the way.
“We really go into each song,” says Deal. “Where the seed came from. Who had it. Did it start as a vocal thing or a guitar thing, or did one of us bring it more fully formed? Because it feels like each one has been a little bit different.”
Deal and Montgomery first met when he recorded the version of Scalding Creek she did with Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers for Guided By Voices tribute album Sing for Your Meat.
When they got together, they agreed they didn’t want R. Ring to be like their other projects. “It’s not like there’s a process that’s set in stone,” says Montgomery. “It’s that there’s an idea that we should leave ourselves open to explore an idea to its own end, and let a song go where it wants to go.”
“When you are in a band that has defined roles, like there’s a singer, there’s a drummer, there’s a bassist, there’s a rhythm guitar,” he continues, “You end up almost subconsciously, inadvertently steering an idea to a destination with those roles in mind. You think, ‘Well I could do this part, but what does the other person play? Oh, the bass would go here. Okay, the drums would go like this, this is the beat.’ And before you know it, you’ve crafted a song. You’re not even done with the melody and you’ve got a full arrangement worked out in your head. It kind of takes it to a place that maybe it wouldn’t have gone if you weren’t a conductor and songwriter at the same time, trying to define the elements of the song.”
Just a couple months after meeting, R. Ring did their first show. “Someone asked us to get up there, and that’s what we did… We had fun, which was the most important thing… It was a totally open-ended thing,” Montgomery explains, “Like, this isn’t a band, there’s nothing proper hanging over us… It’s the idea that we could do something just for our own amusement and enjoy the process. That’s what the first show and the genesis of the band was all about.”
“Yeah, and it’s kind of been keeping that,” agrees Deal. “Because especially in this day and age, you hear plenty about the industry. It really is all about the process more than ever. More than ever. It really is like, ‘are you enjoying it? Are you enjoying who you’re hanging with? Are you enjoying the process of creating music? Playing with somebody else. You know, getting in a van and driving somewhere with somebody. Because that’s a really wonderful thing.”
Montgomery agrees, “This is what the album is about. This is what the podcast is about. Talking to you right now is as much a part of being in a band; it’s as key or as relevant or as focus-worthy as anything else. Doing music is really about making art and creation and expression a part of your life. So anyone that’s involved, whether you’re a poster silkscreener, or photocopying things at Kinkos, or a journalist—”
“Or a photographer,” chimes Deal.
“All of that stuff. All of these interactions, these relationships, this humanity is really like a small experience of the creation of a song,” Montgomery continues. “It’s not just playing a song live at a show, it’s everything that goes into it. All the neat people we meet along the way… from the person selling tickets to the roadie to the bartender to the opening act to the mechanic who did the oil change. All of that stuff, that is music to Kelley and I. And that’s what R. Ring is about, acknowledging that music is woven into the fabric of your life. A band is not defined by the narrow parameters of a single, an EP, a record, a tour. Being in a band is really your life.”
“There’s a lot of collaboration and cooperation that needs to take place, so you might as well enjoy it and you might as well surround yourself with people that you like being around,” he says.
This holistic outlook and openness led them to the musicians who play with them at shows and on album tracks, including drummer Laura King and cellist Lori Goldston.
Montgomery met King a couple years ago when she bought an R. Ring t-shirt online and his small one-man operation forgot to send it, so she emailed to remind him. “They just got to talking,” says Deal. “So when we went on tour last year, we had her band, Flesh Wounds, open some shows on the east coast. That’s how we started hanging with her.”
“Now we’re like soulmates,” agrees Montgomery. “We’re on a team. We’re buddies.” He recalls that King was “instrumental in pulling (the song Cutter) together” while recording the Ignite the Rest album, when he and Deal weren’t sure it was shaping up.
Lori Goldston played cello on four tracks: Cutter, 100 Dollar Heat, Steam and You Will Be Buried Here. Deal met Goldston when The Breeders were touring with Nirvana for their In Utero tour. Goldston was Nirvana’s touring cellist. “I reconnected with her when Mike and I did a show in Seattle,” recalls Deal. “I walked in and there’s Lori Goldston. She happened to be in one of the local bands playing with us that night. I invited her to join us. I listened to her set and it was just beautiful. I said ‘Hey, can you just keep your stuff up there and just play along with us?’ She said ‘Sure!'”
“She put her cello through pedals and an amp,” continues Deal. It wasn’t like ‘I’m going to find a melody and play countermelodies that you can hear distinctly through everything.’ It was more like an ambience or overtone. Swells and meanderings. So it was really nice and atmospheric stuff that she was doing. And ever since then I was like, ‘When we do our record, we’re definitely gonna have her come out.’ And we did, and she came, and it was awesome.”
Split Single and R. Ring play Cleveland’s Happy Dog Sunday, April 23. Local favorites Goldmines open (featuring members of Hot Cha Cha).
Check back with us after the show for our review and photo recap.
April 19: Newport, KY at Southgate House Revival
April 20: Columbus, OH at Rumba Café
April 21: Detroit, MI at Trinisophes
April 22: Chicago, IL at Schubas
April 23: Cleveland, OH at Happy Dog
April 24: Philadelphia, PA at Everybody Hits
April 25: Kingston, NY at BSP Kingston
April 26: Brooklyn, NY at Babys All Right
April 27: Baltimore, MD at Ottobar
April 28: Washington, DC at Comet Ping Pong
April 29: Chapel Hill, NC at Night Light
New wave/synthpop musician Howard Jones is on a North American tour and made a stop in Cleveland last night at the Music Box Supper Club.
The English artist is known for 15 top-40 hits in the 80s and early 90s, including No One is to Blame, Everlasting Love, New Song, What is Love, Like to Get to Know You Well, and Life in One Day.
Whereas past tours have featured simply Jones and a piano, this tour adds the flavor of a second synth player and an electronic drummer for a fuller, more rocking sound closer to the way we hear them on his albums.
Jones is a fantastic performer, and he peppered his set with just the right amount of between-song storytelling. He introduced Life in One Day as a song that is full of lies. “The old man said to me don’t always take your life so seriously? That’s a lie, my father never said that. The record company asked for another hit so I made this up,” Jones admitted. “No. Take your life seriously, especially in this day and age.” Although he agreed that learning to “play the flute and dance and sing your song” is pretty good advice, especially given the flute stylings of Ron Burgundy.
A couple times he’d interrupt a song to tell a quick story, like when he stopped New Song‘s chorus to talk about how much the critics hated his music back in the day, but how the public loved it.
For an encore he played Things Can Only Get Better, bringing a fantastic evening to a close. He described it as a mantra for when life isn’t going so well. But after such a fun and inspiring show, things were just about as good as they can get.
Since the mid-90s, Melora Creager has been perfecting and evolving her avant-garde cello rock group Rasputina. Weaving quirky historical tales into classical influences, Rasputina has a sound all of its own. The trio comes to Cleveland August 20 to the Music Box Supper Club. Frontwoman Melora Creager took some time out before embarking on her tour in support of Rasputina’s latest album, Unknown, to speak with Blown Speakers writer, Judie Vegh. Creager discusses her secret retirement, harrowing identity theft incident, brain cleanse, and her guilty music pleasures.
You went into a self-proclaimed “secret retirement”. Why did you do this?
M: I was tired of touring the same clubs for a lot of years. I was frustrated that I hadn’t moved farther in my career. And maybe it was a mid-life crisis too because of my age, but by getting away from it and not being involved in public life at all, just to put things into perspective. I was fortunate to do it. I have a lot more gratitude that I did it.
Your new album Unknown is based on the identity theft incident that happened to you recently. How are you doing now and what was the outcome?
M: It was really damaging to me psychologically, and it made me very paranoid. My imagination, which is really strong, took over and thought of the worst. A lot of my decisions were based on fear which is never good. At the same time, there were a lot of positive, spiritual transformations. I got off the Internet 100% for a while. It improved my brain by the end. When I found out it was a woman I knew, and by knowing what had happened, I was able to get better.
When you say it improved your brain, how so?
M: There was a lot of improvement made by getting off the Internet because if someone as creative and quirky as me was regurgitating everything I saw and read on the Internet…by getting off the Internet I got my own brain back. All this real estate in my head. I used to write songs on paper just from my own thoughts as opposed to ‘Google it! Google it! Google it!’, I got done with that regurgitation.
The album is only being sold as a CD from your site, and may be coming out on vinyl too?
M: If I ever get the money together! Ha ha ha!
So it’ll never be released on digital platforms such as iTunes or Spotify. What are your feelings on these digital platforms that are so mainstream today?
M: It’s really gotten down to everyone gives their music away. Those things we listen to, Pandora and Spotify… They just don’t pay. Independent musicians used to be able to make a living but it’s almost impossible. There’s no other art business where your stuff is just taken and given away. I never signed up for Spotify or YouTube to have channels in my name. I never sold my stuff to that. And artistically, I remember what it meant to be young and be excited when something came out. The anticipation of waiting for something that you’re excited about. We’ve lost that. Everything is immediate gratification. I think appreciation of music lasts that long too. You’re over it really fast.
Magnetic Strip is offered as a digital download. Why the decision to release this only as digital release, and Unknown only as a CD?
M: I would like to not have anything digital. But I couldn’t make a living. I do have to offer and choose to offer digital. So with the album [Unknown], it’s conceptual. It’s like a prank because it gives everyone a hard time like the press who say “I need a download!” I’m like there just isn’t one. You have to wait two weeks in the mail. I’m not dying for press. I’m not dying for sales. I just want people who like it to hear the music.
The album artwork for Unknown came from one of your daughter’s dreams. How do your daughters influence your art?
M: A big part of my mid-life crisis was feeling like I’m not the artist I want to be. I’m not at the place I want to be as an artist because I’ve done such a good job as a mom. Why would a stranger value my personal life? It’s always been important to keep the child alive in me. I love children besides my own, and just that sense of free imagination has been an influence on me.
How does it feel being able to play with Carpella Parvo again? How did you two reconnect? Also, with Luis Mojica, what does be bring to Rasputina?
M: Luis is really great because he got me back into performing. He knows all my music just from playing it on piano for fun. In performing with him, I even stood up and sang without my cello. I don’t feel like I have to carry everything like a robotic soldier with my cello and my voice. There’s a lot more freedom. With Carpella, of course, we met again on the Internet. I’m no different. She’s a lovely woman who went through rough times with carpal tunnel from cello playing. A lot of that problem is psychological, and it took her a long time to get back into intense cello playing. The second she did it, she was back.
You’ll be playing at the Music Box Supper Club in Cleveland on August 20, while you’re performing, people will be eating. How does that make you feel?
M: That is difficult for performance. It’s distracting anytime there are waiters and there is clanking of dishes. I just saw the movie “Love and Mercy” about Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. There’s a scene where he’s losing his mind and the sounds of the forks and the glasses and the chewing and he’s like “AAAAHHHHHH!”. It made him just lose it. So that might be me!
Your opening act is Eliza Rickman. What makes her unique that she can open for you and complement your music?
M: Most of our tour is with Daniel Knox of Chicago. He can’t make our Midwest run, so I asked him who he would recommend who has a simple set up and is very good. He immediately came back to me with Eliza. When I looked at her work, I liked it very, very much and thought it was totally compatible.
What are your guilty music pleasures?
M: Who did “Gotta keep ’em separated”? The Offspring! [laughing] That’s so old. That’s really, really old. I listen to a lot of classic rock radio. Carpella has commented that I am able to sing every single song that comes on the radio. I’m a human jukebox.
Melora and her group of merry string slingers play the Music Box Supper Club in Cleveland on Thursday, August 20. Tickets are $18 advance and $20 day of show. Doors at 6:00 p.m. for dinner, and the show starts promptly at 8:00 with Eliza Rickman supporting.