Rasputina is one of the most unusual and perplexing musical outfits of the past several years, successfully merging various elements of rock, pop, and classical music into their own unique sound. The band consists of Melora Creager, Julia Kent, and Agnieszka Rybska, three cellists who perform wearing turn of the century underwear. Your first reaction might be that this is a gimmick, but upon closer observation it becomes obvious that Rasputina is a band with an incredible amount of substance and style.
Instead of writing songs that are easily understood and obvious, Melora Creager (the songwriter) chooses obtuse, off-the-wall ideas for her tunes. Songs like "My Little Shirtwaist," "Nozzle," "Transylvanian Concubine," "Howard Hughes," and "Rusty the Skatemaker" can't be easily categorized or understood. Lyrically Melora challenges herself and the listener constantly, with remarkable results.
This telephone interview took place on February 28, 1997. Melora, now 30 years old, was born in Kansas City and now lives in New York. She has one brother and one sister. Her father was an administrator and a physicist at a university, and her mom was a graphic designer. Both parents were very supportive of the arts.
Interview with Melora Creager
Do you do the graphics on your web site?
Yeah. That's one of the major fun parts of doing this for me, you know, to get to do the cover art and things like that...
What inspires you to write songs, Melora?
I would say mostly reading because anything that gets my imagination going then I really wanna, you know, with the song lyrics express something in a pretty small space...and I like to read a lot of history. I don't read a lot of fiction I think because that's somebody else's imagination and I prefer to, you know, get going on something else.
What other interests or hobbies do you have outside of music?
I was a jewelry designer for a long time while doing this for a living. I am driven to make things all the time, whether it's something having to do with my hands. Playing the cello is very hand-oriented, you know, also...which is kind of tactile.
How long have you been playing the cello?
Since I was 9. I think Julia was 6 when she started. Agnieszka was 9 also.
Do you consider yourself basically happy or unhappy?
Maybe I'm manic depressive because I'm a big mood swing person. Really high or really low. An extremist.
Have you always been like that?
Yeah. Melodramatic or something.
What's the difference between right and wrong?
I think everyone always knows inside the difference between right and wrong but it's hard to act on it. If you don't have that feeling inside, then you're a psychopath.
Do you think all people are created equal?
No. I think that between genetics, astrology, eugenics...between all the crazy components of people, there's a lot of combinations.
You are the first musician to answer "no" to that question.
Really? That's really surprising. Maybe people think that's the nice thing to say or good thing to say that they are.
Do you think people are inherently good or evil?
I think people are inherently lazy, which is harder to overcome. You know, to act out your ideas and to work hard on things...I think that's really hard. Probably most people want to do that and don't necessarily do it.
You've put a lot of energy and thought into Rasputina.
Yeah. 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. It's not an easy instrument. We enjoy it to torture ourselves and overwork...
Do you think success generally affects people in a positive or a negative way?
I think it's a pretty negative thing. I think trying to recapture success, when somebody is trying to write another hit song, I think that's pretty destructive and hard to avoid because it means repeating. Like, "How did I do so well before? I'd better do that same thing again." Bands as well become that way...
Do you think that harms people's creativity?
Yeah, yeah...I think it's a lot of pressure. Probably most performers have an intense need to be liked in a simple way and that can lead you to make not so good work, maybe. I deal with all that stuff too.
You ladies are getting a lot of attention...
Yeah, and even at this level it's a funny feeling because we've done this for awhile. As it becomes more public and we really have to think about "Why do we do this?" and "Let's not stress the underwear aspect."
Because you start thinking of yourselves as a marketable entity?
Yeah. I like to make an image or make characters out of us to some degree and to work with those kind of ideas but we're very earnest, with good intentions of expressing ourselves artistically and yet we're goofy so... What to make light of and what not is sometimes hard to decide. The biggest surprise to me is that it seems like the main thing about us to other people is that we're unusual...or they haven't heard it before. And it seems like there sure should be a lot more unusual things... It seems too easy to be unusual, you know.
I certainly agree with that. The critics are behind you, but I can't help but think that your music is way over the heads of most music buyers...
I tend to think that general audience people...that there's a few people of every different type that would really understand it and like it, you know, that it's not one type of person, it's just a small segment of each type. I think that's a hard thing to market. How do you reach this weird cross section of people? I think audiences are way more open to it than radio programmers and more of the business people. I think they prevent an open audience from hearing a lot of different things that they would be open to.
How do classical musicians react to the band?
People who are specifically cellists of all different ages will make a point to see us. 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.
I guess they may feel alienated because the music fits in a different category.
I know at one point when I was needing another cellist, I wanted to put up a notice at Julliard. You know, I'm sure they had some kind of job center there. However, the receptionist really poo-pooed it, like "I'm sure no one here would be interested in what you're talking about." Those kind of door closings, you know. I walk away.
What do you think about most of the time?
I think I'm pretty fantasy oriented. I think people that visualize goals, you know, I think that's really good. I make up a lot of fantasies...success stories about myself. I think that then you can make those things true. A lot of soap operas for fun...
Do you write outside of music and lyrics?
I have a few things to say in each show, so that's something that I write every day. That's kind of like joke writing, you know, a very short thing with a beginning, middle, and end. It's kind of abstract. That's very rigorous because I have to do that every day when we're touring.
So you have different stuff to say each night?
Yes. I think I tend to write down a lot of combinations of words and then make something out of that later. Like a lot of the spoken stuff on the record is from abstract lists that then becomes its own thing. It's really hard in making a record to make a spoken thing that somebody can hear more than once. It's hard to make something you can stand to hear more than once, spoken I think...
Well, you did it.
You didn't hear the out takes!
Do you think things in the world are generally getting better or worse?
Well...musically it seems like all kinds of middle-of-the-road publications or voices or whatever are talking about there needs to be something new in music, and I think that's good when that's commonly agreed...because then maybe something new and exciting will happen. I'm probably not that connected with current events and those kinds of things.
Do watch the news?
I like to when I can, but it goes in cycles. Sometimes I know what's going on, sometimes I don't.
Sometimes I think you can get really caught up in all of it.
Yeah, and also the news is just like rock radio. It's just what they're giving you and it's not necessarily the best or most important information.
Do you think that children should be punished when they are bad?
Yes, I do.
And how do you think they should be punished?
Well, you know spanking is something I can really get behind. The kids in my family were actually given one hard wallop on the butt once in a while. I don't think that's so bad. People make such a big deal out of it. I think it's good to be strict with children when they're small, and be very free with them later when they're able to make their own decisions.
That sounds very reasonable.
That's how my parents were, and we all turn back into our moms and dads...
Do you feel similar to your mom and dad?
Yeah, I think that's kind of inevitable. Most people probably try to avoid it but it comes out in weird ways.
Did you play with toys when you were small?
Yes. I know that I spent whole summers without ever going outside. There were my physical, imaginary games with my sister...that kind of stuff. Forcing her to assume some kind of character. I think we did a lot of Victorian maid kind of stuff actually. That probably came from books.
Did you play with dolls?
Yes, I did Barbie and all that kind of stuff and had an obsession with teenagers. That probably comes from television.
I remember when I was small I thought teenagers were really important.
Like a celebrity or something. I think that comes from t.v.
It probably does.
Now that I'm older than teenagers, I still idolize them. Probably more of a love/hate relationship now probably.
Which do you think is more important: past, present, or future?
You know, I really think that they're so equal because when people say how important and good it is to live in the now, I really believe that...even if I don't do it enough myself. The past is such a huge, exciting thing...all the things that humans have done and made... The future is all those great things come together and we don't even know what it is... They're three wonderful things.
Where would you like to be in the future?
Ummm...some sort of rural, after-the-bomb thing sounds romantic. When there's just a few people left and there's the crumbled shells of some great, old buildings out in the middle of nowhere. Something I think about all the time...you were asking what I think about...is I really like to picture myself with some historical figure that I might be into at the time now. To watch t.v. with Mary, Queen of Scots of something...that kind of thing...
Have you ever done seances?
My friends and I do Ouija board a lot. We would get some fantastic stories, and we had a mystery that we verified with names and phone numbers on Long Island...but it's only really good when this one guy, Jerry, is playing...so I have my suspicions. He either has magic powers, or he's a cheater. I don't know which it is.
Do you believe in telepathy?
Yeah, I think people have some abilities there that we probably don't know about. Intuition can happen. But it might just all be that you're imagining a logical outcome.
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