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Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Interview: Carla Bozulich
Carla Bozulich has taken what can only be described as an unusual musical path. Beginning with California hardcore/punk band the Neon Veins, she formed theatrical industrial band Ethyl Meatplow, whose album, Happy Days, Sweetheart was produced by ex-Bad Seed Barry Adamson. After that band's demise, she formed country/punk/noise group The Geraldine Fibbers, whose EP Get Thee Gone led to a lot of buzz and an eventual signing by Virgin. After two albums--Lost Somewhere Between the Earth And My Home and Butch, both highly regarded and well-loved--they were dropped by the label, and the Fibbers went on an extended hiatus. Carla then formed Scarnella, an experimental noise project, with well-known avant-garde guitarist Nels Cline, who had joined the Fibbers for Butch. Carla resurfaced last year with her first solo album, Red Headed Stranger, a song-for-song reworking of the classic Willie Nelson album recorded in various styles with Nels and a few other cohorts, as well as Willie himself on three tracks. She's just released I'm Gonna Stop Killing, a live album culled from her recent tour and featuring Marianne Faithful and Neil Young covers as well as reworkings of two Fibbers songs. In addition, she's had innumerable side projects, including a few pieces in seminal 'zine Ben is Dead on Mahler and other things, singing on the first solo album of fellow San Pedroan Mike Watt (including an incredible Sonic Youth cover recorded with the members of Sonic Youth), and, most recently, a performance at the Getty museum in Los Angeles revolving in part around a reinterpretation of Fibbers track "The Dwarf Song." I asked her some fairly bad questions via e-mail, and she was gracious enough to respond.
Was there a lot of planning/rehearsal for Red-Headed Stranger? A lot of it sounds improvised, but some of it sounds pretty carefully laid out. What was the process like? Was there anything in particular that influenced the sound you employed?
This is a really boring answer. The rehearsal for the stranger came in the form of a 30 day tour. We played 27 shows or something like that. A lot of the sound developed that way. When I have the luxury that's the way I like to work---tour first. When we got home we soon went into the studio and recorded all but Willie's vocals in 2 days. It was all live except some of the vocals and a couple of overdubs. It was a lot like playing the stuff live. The songs were slightly, or a lot, different every night. Sometimes the time signature would change...whatever. The length of songs varied. We'd mess around on some of the songs and others, like the ballads, we played straight. As far as what influenced the sound, it would have to be the invasion of Afghanistan and just the musical creativity of the people I was playing with.
How did the Fibbers' hiatus (and/or the label issues after Butch) affect your personal and creative life?
I definitely went through withdrawal when I stopped touring 10 months a year. I like being on the road. I stopped making tons of money. That cleared out a lot of my buddies and left me with some good friends.
You seem to have turned away from that kind of material afterwards with Scarnella (although of course you made your start with noisy stuff, so maybe it was more of a return), and it's only recently that you've begun to revisit the Fibbers catalog with "Outside of Town" on the new album, the performance exploring "Dwarf Song" at the Getty, etc. Has there been a particular path you feel you've taken with what you wanted to do with your music in the last few years?
I just want to follow and expose my gut as much as possible. I think that's what I particularly am finding when I turn to making music, so I try not to fight it. As far as the more loose improvisational approach, it just feels so fucking scary and good. It's such a risk because you can't gauge what will happen at all. I love that possibility of making a fool of one's self.
Is there something in particular that draws you to country songs? Or, for that matter, noisy improvisational music?
Country music I came to late in life. As for what drew me to it, it was George Jones. I heard him first in 1987 and he ruined me for life. The more abstract music has been part of my inclination since I was a teen listening to he Fall and Steve Reich and Flipper and Gavin Bryers and John Cage and even the Germs---who influenced me early on as much as anything.
When I saw you at Tonic last fall, you said something to the effect of, "Why can't I trust my own songs?" Clearly you were mostly kidding, but Red Headed Stranger was, of course, all covers, and on I'm Gonna Stop Killing less than half are your own compositions, so do you feel this is true in some way? Do you have an answer for that question you asked yourself?
I write a lot but most of it just hangs in old books being useless too self-indulgent rantings. Then there are the directionless snippets. I can only understand a tiny bit of the writing enuf to make songs.
I understand that post-Fibbers, you tried your hand at being a professional songwriter for other artists. Did anything come out of that? What kind of genres were you working in? I know you said at one point you were pursing a dance music project.
I think I say I'm going to do a lot of things that I never get going because I'm usually doing two or three things at once and some of it falls away. Those songs I tried to write to make money never got themselves together. I got a couple of funny specimens.
Do you see a particular interaction between your visual art and your music, or are they more or less separate projects for you?
It all runs thru the same brain to heart to between the legs wire.