Rasputina (Contemporary Musicians)
Rasputina started as The Ladies' Cello Society in Brooklyn, New York, in 1996 when cellists Melora Creager, Julia Kent, and Carpella Parvo decided to see in what new directions they could take an instrument traditionally associated with classical music. As a counterpoint to this modernity, the women don Victorian corsets for concerts and draw lyrical inspiration from fables and archaic medical practices. The online publication babysue described the group as "three cellists who perform wearing turn of the century underwear. Your first reaction might be that this is agimmick, but upon closer observation it becomes obvious that Rasputina is a band with an incredible amount of substance and style."
Creager, credited with founding the group and who regularly acts as its spokesperson, decided one day being a cellist was a dorky pursuit and stopped playing. Years later she made her living as a jewelry designer, but friends in rock groups kept pestering her to play with them. Among those groups were The Pixies and Nirvana. "Somewhere along the way," Brad Tyer wrote in a 1997 Houston Press article, "she decided that rock's guitar hegemony made no sense. The cello, she thought, was a much more evocative instrument, capable of conveying a greater range of feeling, especially if you were un-stuffy enough to run the thing through a flange box, distortion pedals and lots of reverb, as might suit the mood."
Agnieszka Rybska joined the group in 1996, with Norman Block adding drums. Thanks for the Ether, their debut album, was released in 1996 on Columbia Records. They performed with artists including Porno for Pyros and Bob Mould. In late 1998, Rybska was on maternity leave from the group and was replaced by Nana, a French "tap dancing, singing cellist type," according to the band's official website. It is unclear whether this is a temporary arrangement."[Nana] is wacky, blonde and foreign, just like Agnieszka."
Each cellist had extensive formal musical training prior to forming the group. "We all played since we were little girls. It was encouraged in our families," explains the band through a question and answer section on its official website. "Julia studied so hard in college that she got tired of it, but then she missed it. Melora brought her cello with her to art school in New York and played in weird performance art things."
Critics don't know quite what to make of Rasputina. They have been dubbed pop, rock, punk rock , goth and the closest invented moniker to corral them is the newly minted "darkwave." This term, coined around 1999, is used to describe brooding music which draws inspiration from and which is a cross-pollination of Medieval, Celtic, tribal, techno and neo-classical music as performed by artists such as Rhea's Obsession, Switchblade Symphony, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, and Cranes. Rasputina members say they're simply "a goddamn cello band."
Although seemingly allied with the goth/glam rock crowd, the trio maintains a following with classical music fans. "People who are specifically cellists of all different ages will make a point to see us," said Creager. "They love it, because they know exactly what we're doing ... playing the cello. But I think the classical music world is a pretty tight and closed thing. I've never been involved in it. I don't even know if they know of us, because for us to perform and put out records in a rock world. ... I don't know that anyone crosses over at all."
Their musical interests aren't neatly cross-stitched but a sonic crazy quilt. Band members say they listen to music by such diverse artists and groups as Cab Calloway, The Andrews Sisters, 16 Horsepower, Nick Drake, Ozzy Osborne, Ween, and Queen. The band wrote that a soundtrack of their life would include "Minnie the Moocher"s Wedding Day," by Cab Calloway, Queen's "I'm in Love With My Car, "River Man" by Nick Drake, the Cheap Trick classic "I Want You to Want Me," the Pachelbel Canon, "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" by Ganin Bryer, Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," "Rocket Man" by Elton John, and David Bowie's "Life on Mars." "I'm drawn to these kinds of sarcastic, coy, cloying songs," Creager told allstar of the inclusion of Lesley Gore's hit, "You Don't Own Me," on How We Quit the Forest. "It's more about the music to me, but I like those snotty words."
The rock world hasn't been as accepting of hard rocking girls with attitude as it has boys with guitars and Rasputina has actively tried to subvert that. Band members contend most rock music is made by "inter-changeable white boy bands." Even in this enlightened era, according to an opinion posted by the band on its website, it is "like a communist country where you can only get one brand of cereal. Boys," Creager told the Houston Press in 1997, "usually start bands to meet girls, or because they're fans, but this is about expression and satisfaction, and about empowerment, even though I hate that word."
Rasputina gained notoriety for touring as an opening act for the controversial Marilyn Manson in the late 1990s. Touring with Marilyn Manson was said to have made Rybska "more existential," while Creager became "more introverted." Their latest press materials hint at "the physical attacks ... suffered at the hands of Marilyn Manson's audience, which is to [sic] lurid to get into just now." In sum, the band found touring "a hard thing to do, but you really get good at it. The worst part was how boring and isolating it was during the day."
In that spare time, "Melora likes to write stories, draw, embroider, and try to get people to take her out for sushi. Agnieszka was setting diamonds in her off-time. Nana takes dancing class and goes to France. Julia keeps what she does a secret." Reading is also a favored pastime with Creager and Kent favoring the work of the late Angela Carter, known for her offbeat exploration of the fabulous and fables from a feminist perspective. But the women of Rasputina are usually practicing or rehearsing if not performing. "We have a really strong general work ethic because it takes a lot of work just to be sounding good on the cello, you know," said Creager in a 1997 with babysue. "It's not an easy instrument. We enjoy it to torture ourselves and overwork...."
Thanks for the Ether, Columbia, 1996.
Transylvanian Regurgitations (EP), Columbia, 1997.
How We Quit the Forest, Columbia, 1998. (contributor four-CD compilation) The Black Bible, Cleopatra Records.
Billboard, July 4, 1998.
CMJ, April 1999.
Houston Press, March 20 - 26, 1997.
AllStar, July 9, 1998 <http://www4.rocktropolis.com/allstar/database/news/9807/09...
Additional information provided by Columbia Records publicity materials, 1999, and materials from the official Rasputina site on the World Wide Web.
Linda Dailey Paulson