Unlike rappers Nelly or Ludacris, Rasputina's version of the Dirty South is just that: gloriously dirty.
The Brooklyn-based trio formed in 1992, producing their inventive rock sound with nothing more than two cellos, a drum kit and a whole lot of distortion. Their fourth and latest full-length album, Frustration Plantation, continues Rasputina's love of history, vintage corsetry and playing strings with a vengeance.
Their sound is hard to categorize, and on Frustration it runs the gambit from the ominously simple "Doomsday Averted" to the aggressively rocking "High on Life" and "Saline the Salt Lake Queen." Founder and lead singer/cellist Melora Creager expresses her fondness for the historical by taking a mad scientist approach to her music, revamping reels and folk songs like "Wicked Dickie" with aplomb and giving the ever-bawdy Sophie Tucker new life in the vaudeville favorite "If Your Kisses Can't Hold the Man You Love."
Rasputina has had a rotating carousel of members; the current incarnation includes Zoe Keating (cello and backing vocals) and Jonathon TeBeest (drums and percussion). Live, they produce a remarkable rock show. Gorgeous compositions aside, it's due in part to having had training-by-fire by touring with Marilyn Manson years ago, a feat that left them well-versed in audience interaction.
On Thursday, July 29, Rasputina will perform at downtown venue 32 Bleu with special guests Hazard County Girls and Secrets Keep Friends. Creager recently spoke with the Independent about dodging insults, doing research and generally having a cellorific time.
Indy: I'd read reports you were poorly treated during the Manson tour early in Rasputina's career. Has it gotten better?
Creager: Oh yes, we never got that treatment again. Now we're addicted to cries of adoration! The Manson audience just acted badly even when they were happy with the show.
Indy: How has Rasputina changed mentally and musically over the years?
Creager: We started out as timid little girls thrust into a cold business. The group has gotten stronger in every sense of the word -- physically, mentally and vocally. Musically, I initially came from a classical background but have gotten more into rock music as time has passed.
Indy: How do traditional classical musicians respond to Rasputina's music?
Creager: I don't think many classical musicians of a professional nature have heard of us -- there isn't much crossover between the two worlds. I think we give a lot of inspiration and a kind of faith in the future to string students and people who have quit playing. A lot of students get bored and frustrated. Now it's just a reality that there are lots of different things you can do with your instrument.
Indy: The new album explores the post-Civil War South -- how did you stumble upon this? Was there a physical as well as internal exploration?
Creager: Actually, I was envisioning early 1800s rural Louisiana. I read about the period in some books by George Cable. The region is just totally compelling to almost anyone who goes there. We love to spend time there as a band. Before the record came out, we canceled a show so we could "get into it." We toured a few plantations around St. Francisville. We were in costume because we wanted to take photographs there. The tour guides and other tourists didn't bat an eye!
There's something tactile and mysterious about the past -- to look as hard as you can; to try to see the humanity or the frailty in something that is really dry on the surface; to discover the qualities in people that remain the same over hundreds and hundreds of years. That's how I feel about history in general. Early 1800s Louisiana had a strange combination of citizens -- French, Spanish, American, Native American, African ...
Indy: How do you translate that as a musician?
Creager: All those nationalities mixed up their music. When I figured out that some slave songs were African bits mixed up with medieval Scottish songs handed down from the plantation owner's ancestors ... it blew my mind!
Indy: You incorporated folk songs and reels this time. Where did you come across these?
Creager: We found most of the folk songs in the Library of Congress collections. Something like "Wicked Dickie" comes from a million sources. The version I heard of "When I was a Young Girl" was an old woman singing a cappella, and laughing. On some of the Lomax recordings, you can hear them forcing these old people to sing things over and over! Fairy-tales are similar in the way that they're handed down orally. They get vaguer and vaguer with the retelling.
Indy: You perform a spoken-word piece called "My Captivity By Savages." Captivity stories were very popular during that era -- what drew you to them?
Creager: I was drawn to the extreme circumstances of those stories, that they were by women, and that they were "marketed." They're like Puritan Harlequin romance novels.
Indy: Give me an interesting tidbit about the era.
Creager: "Free colored people" in what is now Haiti were unrepentant slave owners.
-- Kara Luger
Rasputina with guests Hazard County Girls and Secrets Keep Friends
Thursday, July 29, 9 p.m.
32 Bleu, 32 S. Tejon St.
All ages, $10