Not here to entertain
The music, ideas and performances of Carla Bozulich are always met with vigorous praise and a firm understanding that something special just happened. Founder of The Geraldine Fibbers and the continually evolving line-up of Evangelista, and founding member of Ethyl Meatplow and Scarnella, Bozulich has made country, punk, covers and experimental music since her debut with the Neon Veins in the early 80s. Only recently, with the release of solo album Boy on Constellation, has Bozulich made the decision to conform, just barely. A self-proclaimed pop record, Boy contains songs with a recognisable structure and format, but is still packed with the destabilising qualities so characteristic of Bozulich's usual output. Whether she's covering Willie Nelson, writing stories or performing at a train station, one thing is for certain, you don't want to miss what Carla Bozulich wants to show you.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started writing music when I was 16 in a band called the Neon Veins. I still love that music, sometimes because it’s unusual for those mid 80’s days, but also because I can hear my beginning. I can hear how the rhymes were awkward and the ideas were kind of trite. In short, I was learning how to write and perform by doing it. I couldn’t recommend that more.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
Often for me it’s been meeting people who taught me things or played me their records which changed my life… like Annie with the Dead Kennedys and the Germs or Gary with Gavin Bryars. Then of course playing music with people, it’s one big learning process. Healthy, even when you fight and everyone quits and you move on.
What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
At the moment I’d give anything to focus on a compositional challenge. I have several waiting for me in my box of projects. But I have spent 90% of the last 2 months booking a tour. And unless you have grants, that’s what it is sometimes to be in music…. you just work on stupid shit. Only 10% of the time you get to play or mix or produce or compose. Ask anyone.
What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
There’s no way to answer this for me. I have no system. Either it just happens or I discipline myself to do it. But I don’t get writer’s block, ever. The problem is finding enough time or working space to do it all.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
It seems that the origins of even formal composition are improvisation. Shostakovich first had to dream the notes, the chords, the instrumentation, the theme. Development of parts involves still more improvisation - though the theme is hopefully firming up. What is improvisation but translating the dream of a sound? And it can never happen that way again but it can become a roadmap to something more permanent. It’s a thing of beauty for a work to be improvised in the popular sense, to be born and die before your very ears. Every song starts somewhere in magic land, right down to the Ramones, “Dudes, how does this sound?”
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
Space is the wild card. Space is where we don’t know what we’re about to make. I can say that your words hint at a possibility that visual and sound arts could be more unified, as they were before downloading. I’m for that.
Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
On one hand my intent is a beckoning. I am trying to call out. So yes, I do need to be heard and I don’t want “my house is on fire” to sound like “I said red and you gave me pink”. But the fact is that usually the listener’s interpretation will be neither of these and that has to be ok. Sometimes journalists will even quote lyrics without checking and come up with words the opposite of what you said. Since I’m not making stuff that is “entertainment” it actually matters to me if someone says I killed my father when I said I killed my mother. But in the end, it’s still so fucking awesome to make music that you barely notice these things.
In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences – and in how much, vice versa, is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?
I couldn’t answer this one so I asked my friends and they both talked sense. Ronny quoted Thelonius Monk, “I just try to play pretty, man“. Jhno, hearing that, said, " there are miles and miles of difference between what is considered pretty by, say, an orthodox Muslim in Ethiopia, vs. a cheerleader in Dallas… This goes for raw sound as well as music.“
Wonderful. Friends are the best.