Rasputina interview - Melora Creager talks about 'Unknown'
By Bob Gourley | Published on July 22, 2015
The line-up for cello rock band Rasputina has constantly rotated over the years, with founder Melora Creager being the only consistent member. For the new Rasputina album, “Unknown,” Creager decided to go at it alone, recording the entire album by herself with one microphone in a “dank basement studio.” The resulting burst of creativity has a much more primal feel than other Rasputina albums. It’s still loaded with the multi-layered cello, humor and historical references Rasputina has come to be known for, but with a much more intimate and direct approach.
Rasputina will be a trio again while touring this summer and fall. In a phone interview, Melora talked about making “Unknown” a physical copy-only release, adding keyboards to the live line-up, the state of the music industry, and more.
You did this album entirely alone, correct?
I did it all by myself, kind of in isolation. I was very inspired; it was a spiritual experience really.
Since you have released material as Melora Creager, did you consider doing that this time around, rather than using the Rasputina name?
It was a difficult question. I did the album cover both ways, just with my name and with Rasputina. But Rasputina is me, any which way, and I’ve gotten comfortable with that.
Did your opinion on that change at all while you were making the album? Did how it develop creatively have any impact on the decision?
It’s more of a business decision, just because Rasputina is more known as a name. There are probably a lot of Rasputina fans who would look for Rasputina or discover it, rather than my name
How long did “Unknown” take to make?
It was the fastest thing I’ve ever done, I was really possessed with doing it. I wrote and recorded the whole thing in about a month.
Creatively, what impact did the speed have on the end result?
I think I was more willing conceptually to be personal, because I wasn’t fretting about it. I think it’s a really organic record with the sound; it’s very natural. I think that came from the speed.
Since you made the album alone, were you thinking at all about how the material would be adapted to the live line-up?
No, and I think that’s another thing that helped with speed and not fretting about things. I just expressed myself, bam bam bam.
Photo by Kahn & Selznick
How is it going preparing the new material for the upcoming tour?
We’ve been rehearsing, and the other two are really excited about the new songs. Something that’s cool about it is that while I didn’t do it on purpose, the songs really lend themselves to using a looping pedal due to the way they are structured. That is really fun—a new way to get layers.
Had you used looping pedals previously in Rasputina performances?
Not looping. I’ve been known for putting the cello through a distortion pedal, but I don’t feel so rock lately. So the looping pedal is new to me, and it’s really great and opens up a lot of possibilities.
Was it challenging at all incorporating it into the way you work?
With a couple of other people, I’d played a live score to a silent movie, and that’s how I started using it live. That was a great experience.
What is the current live line-up?
We’ve got Luis Mojica, who plays keyboards and does beatbox. That beatbox I just love, really. It just modernizes the old songs, but it’s still very organic. And Carpella Parvo is back from the first record. She’s spent a lot of years healing her carpal tunnel syndrome. So that’s really exciting.
What’s it like working with Carpella again?
She’s a delightful person. It doesn’t seem like she’s aged at all. It seems like she’s regressed, if anything. I’m pretty old myself, so I like to keep that childlike spirit alive.
Is this the first time you’ve used other instrumentation live, besides the cellos and drums?
Yes, for sure. It’s the first, besides the drummer. It’s such a pleasure not having to lug those drums around and have to mic them. And not have to deal with the drummer’s personality! [laughs]
Was there any hesitation in adding keyboards?
No, not at all. Because I’ve been in retirement, really, for the past couple of years. Not touring, not performing. When I started to play with Luis for fun, it freshened me up. He’s a big fan and knows all the Rasputina material with the piano, and he can sing it. I’ve stood up and performed for the first time, singing without my cello, and that was really freeing.
Does the current live line-up have much of an effect on what old material you play live?
It really depends on the other musicians and what their strengths are and if they have more of a classical or rock bent. It’s always been that way.
Having a keyboardist in the live band now, are there songs you can do that you hadn’t played live in the past?
Yes, for sure. I have a handful of songs from all the records that do have piano on them that I haven’t played live. And that reminds me that we should do “Gingerbread Coffin”!
What’s the reason for no digital release of “Unknown”?
The whole music business is messed up and ruined and dead. Music is a free-for-all on the internet. For someone like me, who is an old pro musician, it’s almost impossible to make a living how I used to do it: by selling music. I think that people are unaware of that and don’t have a lot of sympathy. They just don’t care. And people want things immediately. I think it’s a neat exercise to have it not available digitally, and you have to wait for it. And you have to wait forever for it, because I take forever to go to the post office.
Are you afraid it will lead to people pirating the album? For example, people who only buy downloads or stream might just try to obtain a pirated download rather than buying a CD?
No, because piracy is really legal. Like Google and YouTube, they just make channels of my music. They don’t have to pay me, they don’t have to ask me. That’s how the business is, and that’s an outrage. Piracy is the way things are, so I’m just doing an exercise in trying it the old way for a minute. It definitely makes people savor the music a lot more. Immediate gratification is not fun. You’re over the music in like a minute. I think this is healthy.
Do you feel that your fanbase has changed over the years?
It’s definitely not a goth thing anymore. It think it’s still a few oddball people from every genre. Like a couple of frat guys, a couple of old ladies, all different kinds of people. I think something that’s changed a lot and grown a lot is that internationally it’s a lot more equal. I get CD orders from Kazakhstan and South Africa. With the internet, it makes it a level playing field for the world.
Is there a danger in the internet making things TOO accessible?
Yeah, I think that’s probably true. I know when I was a teenager, I didn’t have MTV and it’s a similar feel with CD not being digital. When you have to dig and discover it on your own, it’s so much more valuable and so much more exciting. Everything it so easy, and you could spend your whole life just flipping through the pictures and pinning things on Pinterest. It’s too easy for it to be fun.
What’s the status of “Fa La La”?
I’ve got so much material, because it was a really exciting research project. I have original music and stuff I’ve rearranged from the Renaissance. I’ve put out one collection, and there are many more to come. It’s an endlessly fascinating subject.
How much of a focus is “Fa La La”?
It’s got no focus! I’m doing other stuff right now.
What effect has the rotating line-up of Rasputina had on the way you work?
It’s extremely stressful, because the combination of people for a live performance has always been important for me. So when I’ve got a tour set up, I’ve suddenly got to find people. There aren’t a lot of amazing rock cellists available in the world, so it’s really stressful! People come to me pretty fresh or naive; I’m really proud of and happy for Julia [Kent] and Zoe [Keating] and others who have [gone onto] such wonderful careers. The way I look at it is that it’s been so many years, so of course people are going to be in and out. I just hope I don’t have a reputation for being hard to work with and hope I’m not perceived that way.
There seems to be a lot of cellists out there doing interesting things, including others who are using looping. Do you follow what others are doing?
I don’t. I feel that I stay in a bubble. I’m not that concerned with the cello; it’s just what I play. I’m more into literature and old movies. I don’t really follow cello stuff. But it is funny and interesting about the use of a looping pedal. It’s really had to work with people, to have these close relationships, creative relationships. But if you’ve got a pedal, you’ve got a band right there with no personality issues. So I think that’s funny.
And using looping also represents a combination of traditional playing and electronic music technology.
I think that’s fantastic. There’s a real dominance of DJ culture and all these DJ fans…. I’ve heard Zoe tell stories of people watching her play, watching her loop, and they’re like, “Who’s the DJ? Who’s doing that?” But she’s doing it, in your face right now! People need to understand that better.
For more info on Rasputina, visit meloracreager.space.