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Film and Music: Interviews


Carla Bozulich

A dark, haunting journey across the wastelands of the soul

Carla Bozulich's new album, Evangelista, took hold of me instantly. Being an ignoramus, I hadn't heard of her before, although some of you may well be familiar with her - in the 90s she led the band Ethyl Meatplow, then The Geraldine Fibbers, and in 2002 she recorded a magical, dreamy cover version of Willie Nelson's 1975 album Red Headed Stranger, which you must purchase immediately.

Evangelista is the darkest, most personal album I've ever heard, brutally raw, unforgiving, and hauntingly beautiful, best heard in a dark room with headphones on. As much as it might be reductive to provide obvious comparisons, it brings to mind the best parts of Patti Smith and Nick Cave and Diamanda Galas and PJ Harvey, and in some ways transcends them all. Just listening to it is exhausting.

Luckily I discovered it in time to go and see her play a couple of weeks later, and her show was even more intense. Onstage, she ripped her soul apart, screaming and howling, battling her demons while her band provided some of the prettiest and loudest music I've ever heard. I almost felt like I was intruding. A couple of days later, I met Carla to intrude some more.

I have to tell you, I know very little about your career. And to be honest...

Don't lie.

I'm not gonna lie. I've got two pages for you and I don't want to waffle on about what you've been doing for the past 20 years; I really just want to talk about this album. But feel free to enlighten me with anything else you want to talk about.

It's funny, when I found out that Bizarre wanted to do something I thought it might be an Ethyl Meatplow fan from way back, which was this group that I had that was extremely risqué, electronic...

In what way risqué?

Just very extreme. It got to the point where people would have sex onstage when we would play. For me it was a kind of an experiment. Nobody really knows this, but I was really shy, I had a lot of things from getting fucked over as a child, and was really hung up on things, and really feeling like I was kind of a doormat... this is a funny thing to go into right now but I really don't care.

Anyway, for me it was this kind of experiment, I took on this intensely domineering female character, really stoic and powerful, and I would just take this role every night when I would go onstage and find that people were terrified of me!

What were you doing?

Mostly the way I used my voice, and the way I would stare people down. And also I was so tiny - this was a long, long time ago - and I had this huge voice and a lot of intensity. It was really fun, dance music, but it was really dirty. So I thought that was certainly why I was connected to your magazine. You know, the freaks. They're still writing to me all the time. Not that you're a big weirdo or anything, I don't know you from Adam.

I'm not a big weirdo, I don't think. I just heard about your music a couple of weeks ago. And I'm told this new album is not much like your previous work.

Yeah, pretty much the albums I do are very different from one another. And this album is largely improvised. And now I'm trying to recreate it onstage.

This is probably going to sound like a naive question, but when you're up there performing these songs on stage, summoning up that anger and emotion night after night, how much of it is acting, are you ever faking it? How much do you really get into that state of mind, do you know what I mean?

I do, I know exactly what you mean, and it's interesting because when I was talking to you about Ethyl Meatplow and I said it was a character I would get into back then... It's not quite like acting because for me it's just like something will snap and then you're just this other creature... I definitely feel as much myself when I'm in that situation, if not more, because I'm really in my element when... I think that mostly I walk around just subduing myself, all through the day, trying to fit in without flipping out and yelling and hollering.

I think it's just a little easier for me to do whatever I really feel like doing, rather than trying to get reasonably close to the way other people are acting around me; which is the better way to go through life, I've found. I did go the other way in general for a few years, and I decided it's better to try to assimilate sometimes.

What were the consequences of what you were doing?

Uh... well... I think that... I'm trying to make this funny and it isn't really.

It doesn't have to be funny... Is this something you don't want to talk about?

No, it's just that I think I was sort of maladjusted when I was younger and I didn't really get how people did function in society and be normal, so I just took tons and tons of drugs and got into a lot of trouble, pretty serious trouble. And just got out of society completely and became this creature of... I don't know, I lived sort of under the other world I guess, and came back and stole things every now and then and went back down. [laughs]

This was a long time ago, though. I'm 40. I was a teenager. I don't know, I think I've kind of learned a balance since then. I haven't answered your question, I'm nervous, I think your question made me nervous.

Why? Is it me or my question?

I don't know. But... I know for certain I'm not faking when I'm onstage. The bottom line is always, I don't even feel like it's coming out of myself, I can almost stand aside and look at it and see it coming out. But it feels very strong, and this album particularly, I think... Basically, what I've found over the years with all my projects is that they tend to pretty much split a room right away.

Generally, if you play this album for people, you're not going to get anyone saying "Yeah, it's OK..." I really like that about the response to my music, because I think that's the way music should be. When you have music that's appealing to millions of people, it's got to be leaning into the easy-listening territory somehow, because most people don't want to be shook up in any way. I guess my music is more for people who want to do some exploring in a territory where maybe they haven't been poking themselves in lately.

What frame of mind were you in when for this album, is it as personal as it sounds?

Yeah. I meant to make a concept album. First of all, I decided I was gonna make an album that wasn't as dark as my other albums. I kind of hit this stride in my life about a year-and-a-half ago where I just felt like I had cleared a lot of shit, and that I was really happy... I was travelling, and I just felt like I didn't hate as many people any more, and I was getting more of a zen perspective on all the political stuff that usually drives me mad.

I felt really strong and I wanted to make an album to put that across, and I was obsessing on this preacher stuff; I started to write these things that were written in the style that a preacher would do a sermon. The concept of the album was meant to be sound and love, in place of God. I'm not a religious person, but I wanted it to express this spiritual-exaltation feeling. I set out on that, and then my life kind of crashed pretty hard. And if I get an emotion and it is prevalent in my life, it will be what I write about.

So the album just turned into this dark thing and I went along with it. I tried to stay with the concept in terms of that feeling of getting lifted up by sound and love, but it turned very sad. It's a sad album, really. Well for me it is. I think there's a lot of stuff on it that everyone knows about but that a lot of people don't necessarily want to revisit, a lot about being lonesome - real lonesome, you know? Or grief... things that... I guess most people want happier, lighter fare.

Do you listen to the album?

No. Only to try to teach it to my band.

Is it hard to listen to it?

Yeah. It's hard to sing it. It's very sad music.

What does that do to you when you're revisiting that every night? Maybe that's what I was getting at before, repeatedly getting yourself worked up into that frame of mind, is it not unhealthy?

It can be exhausting. I was waiting for the gig to start in Brussels the other night and I was throwing things around and getting miffed at everything and somebody was saying to me, "You need to get onstage now." And I said, "The opening band is on stage, I'm not getting onstage!" And they said, "No you need to GET ONSTAGE. You're always so much better after you get onstage." [laughs]

I don't know, it's like sex or something, I guess. But I feel when I play it live that the audience is involved in it. This is gonna sound, I don't even know, I don't care how it sounds, but I sort of feel like I'm administering this thing and it really feels like church to me. I feel like a preacher when I'm doing this music, and I think I can say now, having been a preacher for this tour, that the preacher gets as much out of it as the flock.

And that's about the best I could say it, it does a lot for me and I feel like I'm trying to deliver something to the people listening as well, try to convey something directly from me to them, and wherever the music is coming from.

So it is extremely cathartic for you.

Very. I get really crazy if I don't do my music regularly, and write... I'm writing a novel.

What's it about?

It's about a girl who is orphaned and she's helping a woman who is mentally unstable and pregnant. So the little girl is helping her, and when it's time for the woman to give birth the baby is breech and the little girl sees red, goes crazy, and rips the child out from the woman, who's gonna die either way. So she saves the baby's life and the woman dies, and the story is of the little girl and the child, it goes on from there.

I know, it's really, I know, it's harsh. But that's the really dark part of the story, it's quick, and then it goes into a really surreal journey. I hope I can finish it in the next couple of years.





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