Interview: Melora Creager of Rasputina

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.