Cello Kitty

Rasputina gives chamber music a goose

The brainchild of Kansas-born, Brooklyn-residing singer/cellist Melora Creager, Rasputina is like an Edward Gorey wet dream come to life: a captivating combination of chamber music, doomy goth-metal textures, corsets lifted from a Victorian boudoir, and loads of twisted black humor. An in-demand session cellist who's worked with Nirvana, Bob Mould, Belle & Sebastian, Marilyn Manson, and the Goo Goo Dolls, Creager founded Rasputina as an all-female, all-cello group in 1992. Numerous cellists have come and gone in the years since, with various drummers abetting the live lineup and studio recordings. In 2003, percussionist/pianist Jonathon TeBeest became Rasputina's first permanent male member.

Currently, Rasputina is officially the duo of Creager and TeBeest, although they've been performing this year with several different second cellists. New Times spoke to Creager over the phone from the Rasputina tour van. Although the group is still on the road in support of last year's live disc, A Radical Recital, Rasputina has spent part of the year recording a fifth album, due in early 2007. So there's a good chance they'll play some new tunes at this Saturday's Studio A gig.

New Times: Did you get picked on a lot as a kid for playing the cello?

Rasputina takes a bow in Miami.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE WRIGHT/KRT
Rasputina takes a bow in Miami.

Melora Creager: Yeah, I was a geek and a misfit, and I actually quit playing cello in eighth grade because I really wanted to fit in. I grew up in a real hick place, and I remember screaming fights in the street. Like one time, the school orchestra played "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" at an assembly, and some boy made fun of me on the way home and was spitting on me. I ran home crying, like, "I quit!" But I picked it up again once I got to art school.

Do you remember the first time you ever performed in front of an audience?

Yeah, I was 5, and it was a piano recital, actually. I cried and refused to perform, and I got in big trouble from my mom. She said, "You will never do this again; you must perform." So I took her word, and I've been doing it since then. I was really scared, and that's common for performers. You hate it and you have to force yourself out there, but you love it too. So it's a big battle within yourself all the time. If you can get up the courage to get out there, then you get the big thrill. It's not free.

How do you prepare for each Rasputina show? What's the mindset backstage before you go on?

I've been going through a lot of stretching the past couple of years, some yoga. We don't really like people hanging out backstage beforehand. We're not talking; we're preparing our brains, and when we get into costume, that's pretty ritualistic. It's not very social; it's very intense. We're each in our own bubble, looking for the perfect accessory, kinda wandering around the room thinking, like, "Oh, this feather, this is good" or "This flower, I'll put this on my butt."

So do you demand that kind of weird stuff on your concert rider, then?

Noooo, it's just whatever happens to be around. We are such a cheap date — we usually ask for just a vegetable platter, a bottle of whiskey, and some ginger ale. That's about it.

Do you find that there's a crossover between the classical music world and the Rasputina world?

Not really. The classical music world is really off on its own and doesn't hear or care about us, and I think they're pretty snotty. Like even when you go to an instrument store to buy a bow or something and explain what you do, they turn up their nose at you. It's laughable! They think you're not a real player. It's like you're a screwy goof-off.

Seems like you've been the one on speed dial whenever some rock band needs a cellist.

Yeah, and it's supercompetitive, because there's not that many people who do it. Even within the group, we've had really competitive situations over outside jobs. One time I was supposed to get a job with Fred Schneider from the B-52's, and he was told my name wrong. So he couldn't find "so-and-so from Rasputina," and he hired another girl in the band. I was like, "Hey, that was my job!" So that was a big fight.

Did she quit?

No, there wasn't a quit over that one. But we went through a rough period where people were changing a lot. Often, people think it's such a great project that it's about to get big and they're gonna be there when it gets big. But it just doesn't go like that, and then they get disillusioned.

Has being pegged a "gothic cello-rock" band been a blessing or a curse?

Originally, it got us lots of attention because of the cellos and the costumes and it being three women, but also sometimes people will think it's a gimmick and write us off. But it's not really gimmicky — we really do play the cello seriously, and we care about the music. So it goes back and forth.

Why was Rasputina all female at first?

I think to have it be just girls, that was all part of the aesthetic. I thought it would look amazing and go with the vibe.

When did you decide it would be OK to have a guy in the band?

When Jonathan started wearing pigtails.

Rasputina did the major-label thing for a while; now you're indie. Are you comfortable with the changes?

Yeah, we got what they had to offer back in that day, but I think things have gone in more positive ways as it's gotten smaller. Columbia and Sony, they were always really good about giving us control and not making us do anything stupid. But with those big companies, you're really discouraged from being in touch with people, with fans, an audience. You don't have a real connection or a feel that anyone cares or is listening. Other people read your mail for you, you're removed from people, you go out to a tour bus and you're not in touch. But the last few years, we'll do a receiving line after almost every show — we'll go out and shake hands with everybody and say hi. You don't make much money, so it gives you a good feeling that people do care and that we need to make this music for people who want to hear it... that there's some kinda point to all of this.

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