Monday, March 24, 2008

Carla Bozulich is NOT playing at the Cobalt (but her new album is really good!)

Bad news: I just heard back from Carla Bozulich that the Cobalt Evangelista show, planned for April 6th, "had to be canceled because of problems at the border... We have replaced it with a 2nd Seattle show -- this one a matinee at the Rendezvous." It's unfortunate, because Carla is someone I'd truly like to see in concert again. First off, her last appearance in this town, opening for Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band at Richards on Richards in 2006, was somewhat tainted by a too-loud, inattentive audience, who made it kind of difficult to enter the music. More generally, tho', the former leader of the Geraldine Fibbers and Ethyl Meatplow, Bozulich fills a niche that sorely needs filling. There are plenty of American women with tough personae in rock music - the entire riot grrl thing, for instance - but for those of us who aren't exactly into the more brutish, "got-so-much-clit-they-don't-need-no-balls" approach of L7 or Betty Blowtorch or whatnot, who want passionate and powerful music that also stands up as art, as high culture, as something other than kitsch culture or "just fun," the list gets a lot shorter. Leaving aside anyone with an acoustic guitar and the Laurie Anderson contingent (as not being really "rock music"), I can think of a half-dozen names, tops, of female singer/songwriter types who are making High Art that Kicks Ass - such as Patti Smith, Kim Gordon, Diamanda Galas, Lydia Lunch, and mayyyybe Kathleen Hanna (whose work seems of variable merit) and Exene Cervenka (who doesn't seem that active lately, or maybe I'm just not paying attention). Beyond a doubt, Carla Bozulich belongs on that shortlist. Maybe I reveal my own limitations with this list, and y'all can fill in my blanks with as many other names as you like: the point stands that there AREN'T MANY women doing this sort of thing here, compared to men. (And yes, I put Courtney Love on the kitsch list. It's not a bad thing, and I've spun Hole albums and enjoyed them; it's just that the best Hole song is a trifle, a confection, compared to "Piss Factory," for instance - or any track off Bozulich's last couple of albums).

I interviewed Carla prior to her last show in Vancouver. I probably would have been totally fucking intimidated to be speaking to her, except that back then, I didn’t really know her music all that well. I knew that the Geraldine Fibbers had featured Nels Cline for awhile and that there was a lot of critical acclaim behind Bozulich’s work; and I knew that Evangelista had been produced by Efrim Menuck of A Silver Mount Zion, and featured members of the band - with whom, in the summer of 2006, Bozulich was touring. That was about it. Since then, I've picked up the entire Fibbers back catalogue and a few of Carla's solo projects. Evangelista, her new band, takes their name from her last album, and continues in much the same vein. Hello, Voyager - again featuring various Mount Zion people, Shazad Ismaily, Jessica Moss, and Nels on one track - is a little heavier, I think, and more varied than the last, but it's "Radio Ethiopia"-powerful at times, and is PROBABLY not going to get the recognition it deserves. So even though she won't be playing here this time through, here's my 2006 interview with Carla, including material that never saw print before. Buy the album. Drive to Seattle. Check this shit out.

Allan: Are you playing with the same band as is on the recording?

Carla: I have a full band, you know, it’s likely I guess that we’ll probably play together since they’re on the album but we haven’t really even talked about it, it’s just up in the air right now. I’m touring with this really incredible band including the members of the Dead Science, which is a Seattle band that you might know about. And they’re really great, and also this woman Annie Rosse, is touring with the band, she’s a violist. Have you heard the Dead Science? They’re so fucking good… It’s just a trio, they play this really intense and really beautiful rock music that’s very unusual and very pretty, it’s kind of almost like Antony from Antony and the Johnstons meets like, something a lot more intense, I don’t know how exactly to explain. Anne Rosse and a woman named Tara Barnes – she’s from a band called Business Lady and a band called Dutchesses – she’s a phenomenal bassist and singer and, um, she’s my right hand man, actually, she’s with me all the time, all the tours that are coming up, which is quite a lot, we’re going to be touring through the year and into next year.

Allan: There’s a surprising diversity of music that you’ve done - from an album of Willie Nelson covers to Evanglista, that’s a big step.

Carla: Red Headed Stranger is like the most accessible album I ever made, easily, so it’s not a super-good jumping off point, but this album (Evangelista) is my most raw, heart- on-your-sleeve sort of thing – and I have done a lot of that, but also musically I feel like it’s really tuned-in, in a way that, at other times I haven’t been quite as focused. But this is a kind of a thematic piece which has to do with sound and love and mainly those two things – a celebration of those things. And it’s funny, because I’ve read a few reviews of the record where they listen to the record, they listen to the title track, the first track, "Evangelista," and they say it’s, you know, torment and an attack on the senses, and all this, and it’s kinda funny… I mean, I don’t deny that that’s the way it comes off if that’s the way it comes off, but what I MEANT by it was more of like a thing to appeal to people’s sense of desperation and maybe loneliness and offer this alternative, which is this exaltation achieved through sound and love. But I guess it comes off as witchy…

Allan: The Constellation site describes it as "an exorcism."

Carla: I never said it was an exorcism. I never meant it as an exorcism. Someone else said it, then… Y’know, people tend to do their own interpretations of things.

Allan: We media folk are bad people. We put words in other people’s mouths. I will try not to do that.

Carla: We! (laughs). It’s hard especially if you’re quoting something from my own record company! I don’t blame you.

Allan: There’s something of old-time, raw gospel music to Evangelista - something that suggests religious experience.

Carla: The gospel thing is totally a part of it. We’re playing in a church tonight in Philadelphia (July 13th, 2006). It’s a tiny little church, it’s all wood, there’s pews, there’s an altar - and that to me is the ideal place to perform Evangelista, but in terms of religion, like I said, there is a religion I suppose, but it’s all about sound and love. (laughs) That’s it. It’s not about God, it’s about a different kind of God, it’s about the kind of God for people who really really respond to music and sound and noise, who fill themselves up that way and lift themselves up that way - for people that can respond to sound and love the way other people respond to God, and people can take it and use it to lift themselves up and rise up above things that might normally kick their ass. Just the way people do with religion, where they reach out and they say I can’t make it on my own, I need this to help me. For me, and my life, that’s what I’ve always found, that’s what always has saved my ass, it’s sound, it’s music music music, every time. Every time, at the lowest points of my life, it’s sound and love. You find even the little tiniest spark of it, it will lift you up, and that’s what this is about. It’s not an album for people that are just cruising along and have never had any major grief or loss or anger or anything like that, it’s much more of an album for people who can relate to kind of having a little bit of a warrior side to themselves, rising above that stuff, hopefully without hurting a fuck of a lot of people in the process. So you know, that’s it. It’s not about God, because, you know, God, for me… the word doesn’t mean anything.

Allan: Do you see it more as connecting with personal pain, or is there a political dimension to it, trying to engage with the state of the world?

Carla: Well, certainly it was meant to reach out in a way… I mean, the voice of the person that is singing the first cut, or preaching, or whatever you want to call it: it’s almost a sermon, it was certainly meant to reach out to people the way you do in church, the way the preacher does. There’s no limit to who you’re reaching out to; I mean, only a finite number of people are going to hear it, but there really isn’t any limit to who you’re calling out to, you know… I mean, the album to me is something that is very personal to me, but I don’t think I’m unique in my feelings – do you understand what I mean? …Anybody who’s had these feelings, and I try to kind of find common ground, I do find common ground all the time. And I like to nurture that in my writing in general, because my writing’s very very very personal. I respond directly to what’s happening in my life, but I also am keenly aware of the fact that I’m not the only person that has these feelings, these are the feelings of human beings and, um, I feel a little bit lucky that maybe I can put some of them into words, maybe in ways that some people haven’t been able to formulate before for themselves, and so I think it’s nice for them to have that, you know, as a present. I to try to give my music away, as a present.

Allan: Does the marketplace interfere at all with that?

Carla: What marketplace? (Laughs)

Allan: Well - how do you feel about your stuff being sold in corporate chain stores, for instance?

Carla: Stuff like that doesn’t bug me at all. I’m not at all like that at all, no no no…

Allan: Constellation are a bit like that, no?
Carla: That’s their business, and if that’s the way they wanna handle my album I trust them implicitly, but my own personal feelings are that I have confidence in myself that I’m the genuine article. I appreciate the fact I can reach anybody that I can. And I need the money. That was a separate sentence, by the way. (laughs) I appreciate the fact I can reach anyone that I can. Period. And I need the money… I was talking to someone recently and they were like, you know, you shouldn’t send your CD to Spin because they’re just assholes and stupid and everything and I was like, “Yeah, they are assholes, and they are stupid and the music that they have in there is lame, there’s no doubt, and the chance of them putting a CD of mine in their right now are, you know, less than zero, pretty much, but on their behalf, I still have to say that I still get people writing to me telling me that when they were 13 or 14 years old and they saw a full page picture of me in Spin smiling and holding a butcher’s knife, that, they stopped shaving their armpits and got a guitar and started a band. I mean, like, where is the problem there, I mean, we’re talking people who are in South Dakota, where are they supposed to get their shit? I mean, it’s different now with the internet, obviously people can find stuff a lot easier, so…

Allan: What was the connection between A Silver Mt Zion and Constellation and you?

Carla: Jessica Moss, who plays violin in A Silver Mount Zion, was in the Geraldine Fibbers for a short time and that’s how I met all of them. We just hit it off. The last time I played in Montreal I played just a little bit of the material that ended up being on the new album, and Efrim said he would like to record it at the Hotel2Tango; then the people who played on it said they would like to play on it, and it really just blew my mind, and I just followed kind of the direction that it took to make it happen. It’s really the easiest thing I ever did, and it’s a good thing that it was, because I was sort of not that organized in my mind at that time, but really, Efrim and Shazad Ismaily and Jessica and everybody that played on it, they just kind of made it happen. All I really had to do was just show up and bring the songs and sing and share some of my ideas, and everybody produced the album – it was really kind of phenomenal experience. Efrim, I dunno, he was just so tuned into it – he was just sort of on fire with the project. It could never be the album it is without what he did. He was tireless, he was working on other things at the same time and he just, he spent every minute that he had to spare on it and just made it into this incredible thing and mixed all these cuts without anybody else even being there, which has like, never happened to me, I’ve never not been there for that, but they ended up being perfect, and I dunno, and Shazad, too, didn’t ask any money, came all the way up from NY, cancelled a bunch of shit... Everybody worked really hard at it. I think they just liked the music.

Allan: I don’t really know Shazad Ismaily’s music, I confess.

Carla: He’s a beautiful wonderful guy who plays in the Secret Chiefs 3 and 2 Foot Yard. He plays with Marc Ribot. Literally, if you google him you’ll see he plays with so many great players and he’s an amazing multi-instrumentalist…

Allan: If I can ask, are you currently making a living on your music?

Carla: No. I’ve been lucky in the respect, for the past few years I’ve been living off of a decision I made financially several years ago that paid my way for a little while, but it’s coming to the point now where things have changed, and the next year is gonna be kinda more difficult scenario.

Allan: The low ticket price for the show with A Silver Mount Zion is a surprise. How is anyone gonna get paid, at $13 a ticket, with two big bands?

Carla: Well, it’s just the way it is.

Allan: Do you think you’ll be able to make a living from music in the future?

Carla: I mean, I did for years. I would hope so, I mean that’s what I’m pushing for so hard right now, I’m really really really working hard, I’m touring non-stop, my tour schedule is like 12 weeks right now, which ends at the end of August, and them I’m going to Europe for six weeks after that, and then I’m coming home and I’m hoping to do the United States again in the spring, so that’s like… pushing as hard as you can, you know what I mean, you can’t push any harder than that, and I’m doing the strongest music of my life, and I just don’t know really what else to do, you know what I mean? I was talking to my Mom and she was like, “honey, I love your new album but don’t you think maybe you could just do a couple of little songs that might be a little easier for a bigger audience, to get maybe some more cuter songs? It’s a totally acceptable question, but I was like, you know, it’s too late for that, I do what I genuinely feel, and that’s me, and, I mean, I dunno… it’s kind of funny, don’t you think? Sometimes if you look at an artist that’s been performing as long as me or a little longer even, you can kinda see the point in their career where they were like, “I’m not making enough money, I’m going to make an album that’s going to make some money, and I’m going to compromise a little,” and you can kind of put your finger on the album, like there it is, like the one with Neil Young in the pink tuxedo and a Cadillac or whatever?

Allan: I dunno if it made him any money, but yeah…

Carla: Well, exactly, because it never works, people are like, “What the hell is he doing? You can really pinpoint those albums, if you really sit there and look at people’s like, body of work, like “this is the one where they were trying to make more money!” There’s really no point in me going there right now.

Allan: Was Red Headed Stranger at all an attempt to connect with a wider listening base?

Carla: No, it was totally driven by my heart’s desire, everything I’ve done has been. I’ve never given a thought to that and actually I’ve turned down opportunities where I would have been set up for life but I just am not that kind of a person. I’m kind of a street doggie. It’s really just not that hard on me to WORK. Hard.

Allan: I was talking about this with the members of Fe-mail, from Norway - about how there’s a lot of state support for the arts, as opposed to the United States.

Carla: Yeah, we don’t have any… (laughs) We have basically the opposite where it’s like, if you’re an artist you’re frisked and stripped searched everywhere (laughs).

Allan: Okay never mind… I know you’ve been vocal in your support of the queer community in your music. Any things to say to the queer community in Vancouver?

Carla: Uh. Let’s see here. Oh gosh, you’re really for putting me on the spot, aren’t you…? What can I say? I love you I love you I love you, and I do, but the truth is - I wanna say something funny, but it’s really, it’s… (she takes a step back): This is a lot of what kind of drives me musically, and has for a long time. I mean, I’m not a teenager, I lived through the 80s and 90s, and, I mean, you know, what the fuck can I say to the queer community? I’m really glad that there are better medications for AIDS now and I’m just really glad there aren’t as many people dying and that’s a terrible way to end an interview, it’s like the worst possible way, but like, a lot of my music and the things that I’ve written, a lot of the motivations behind it including Evangelista, you’ll hear a lot of grief in there, and it’s grief, you know, from people that have died of AIDS, and just the fact that it’s still going on and it’s still going on in the world and the people that I’ve known personally - it’s ripped my life apart. I don’t mean that in a selfish way, because I know it’s not me really; I’m not the one that lost my life, and I wish I could say something happy and jolly and all, like “To the Queer Community, like, rock on,” or whatever, but really… I’m just glad that people are staying alive longer.

Allan: Actually, that reminds me - some critics have compared Evangelista to the recordings of Diamanda Galas (who wrote a Plague Mass for AIDS victims, and so forth). Do you feel any affinities there?

Carla: Yeah, I do, I feel a power inside of myself that’s immense in that I have gift for throwing out of my body into the atmosphere and into the audience and I recognize that in her, too, and I feel really lucky that I can manifest that.

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