Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
Carla Bozulich has one of those voices that sounds so good, so right, convincing and as powerful when whispered or screamed, capable of soothing children, curing or inducing madness, able to lure rats to lemming like destruction and to cause small dogs to cock their heads and whimper in appreciation…….. Yeah, maybe I am getting carried away, but it’s a great voice that always leaves you wanting to hear more.
And there’s plenty to satisfy as Carla is as prolific as she is creative and since the late 70’s she has recorded with Geraldine Fibbers, Scarnella, the improvised electronic dance inspired Ethyl Meatplow, Neon Veins and has recorded her versions of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger featuring the man himself on three tracks. As part of Invisible Chains she recorded an album for The Minute Men’s New Alliance label and in 2004 she appeared on Lydia Lunch’s album ‘Smoke in the Shadows’.
Born in New York City in 1965 and spending her formative years in Greenwich Village she then moved to California catching the tail end of Punk in the late 70’s and the second wave through the 80’s.
Carla opened at Patti Smith’s Meltdown at the ‘Stand Bravely Brothers’ tribute to Bertholt Brecht at the Royal Festival Hall in June of 2005 singing 'Ballad Of The Lily Of Hell'. Also on the bill that night along with Patti Smith were Sparks, Dresden Dolls, Marc Almond, Neil and Tim Finn and Antony from Antony and the Johnsons.
I saw her in the UK late last year at The Cannon a small pub in Newport Pagnell an event organised by the bravest promoter in the Midlands, Mr Mad Cow Pate, www.myspace.com/madcowpate A small room complete with old oak beams, a fire place and a small stage all of 6 inches off the ground. Around eighty souls gathered for what would be the unlikeliest line up for this small town if not for the promoter who pushes expectations beyond the normal menu of pub rock fare. This was no limp lettuced Ploughman’s Lunch or re-heated Sunday Roast but a feast of unexpected delights
On the bill and amongst her band where members of ‘God Speed You! Black Emperor’ and ‘A Silver Mount Zion’ playing as Hrsta. Despite some intermittent technical problems with pedals and leads, they played a strong set that not surprisingly sounded very like the aforementioned bands. The band's leader, Mike Moya, is one of the founding members of ‘Godspeed You! Black Emperor’ and has played with ‘A Silver Mt. Zion’ and ‘Set Fire to Flames’ and it is his voice that distinguishes Hrsta from them.
Also featuring was Arrington De Dionyso who made some uncanny and unusual sounds on a combination of elastic bands, silver foil and oboe parts that looked like an insane crack pipe. Building rhythmic guttural textures looped naturally by the act of breathing, he surpassed the curiosity value of his unconventional instruments while both engaging and entertaining the audience with his bone dry humour.
Local talent Mrs Pilgrimm who sings and plays Cello through delay and sampling pedals provided ample evidence of the strength and health of new music in the area.
Seeing Carla live is engaging and mesmeric. She seems to tear her voice from deep inside, her eyes closed, her knees buckled, the effort is self evident, at other times softer and melodic, sometimes spoken, as she describes a landscape of both light and dark emotions. She locks on to audience members with heat seeking accuracy and engages them directly in the narrative of the songs, involving them as the object of her pleading lyric ‘Can you feel it’. She even licked a less attentive audience member who strayed from what should have been the focus of our attention that night, the music!!!
The band has an intense work ethic, infusing the playing with energy that congeals into a part structured and part improvised performance, rising to crackling crescendos with cello, keyboard, lead and bass electric guitar, drums, samples and loops and then falling to tentative more contemplative moments where Carla’s voice alone dominates.
The set featured tracks from ‘Evangelista’, of her new album Carla says:
‘Evangelista is a sound that you can open your chest with, pull out what’s inside and make it change shapes, make it open more times and, even more till the sound inside has finally sealed the hole where your vile/beautiful heart belongs’
Beginning and ending with the two-part title track, Evangelista is a kind of sermon, describing an awakening of evangelical proportions, a realisation that music is at our core and that with its release therein lays a kind of salvation. Like a bad weather front rolling in across darkened residential streets, Evangelista I starts with a scratching string section, fused with a backdrop of static interference building menacingly then punctuated by a church bell and agitated knocking at an imagined closed door. As you pull your coat collar up around your neck and turn back headlong into the wind the vocal blows in like a scattered newspaper. ‘Steal Away’ is more melodic, a love song with country overtones, the first time I heard it I stopped and remained fixed for its duration. It’s a powerful and melancholic song. Eroded electronic buzz and bleeps with a booming bass drum introduces ‘How to survive being hit by lightening’, the vocal condensed and distant accompanied by a meandering improvised treble guitar. The track culminates in thrash guitar fading into feed back and then into a gospel like vocal refrain. ‘Inside Sleeps’ is the most experimental and shortest track with a distant vocal and meandering piano. An ecumenical organ provides the initial melody to ‘Baby that’s the creeps’ and ‘Pissing’ builds its intensity with harmonies that layer to gradually coalesce into a harsh rhythm. ‘Prince of the World’ has an engaging chorus, and ‘Nels box’ is another more experimental track with samples that sound like industrial machinery. ‘Evangelista II’ continues as the opening track and so ends the sermon an exhortation to feel the sound and dare to be loved.
The album has an underlying message, its religious references alluding to Carla’s professed intentions to preach from the gospel of sound. It’s a personal statement that expresses the culmination of Carla’s journey in music so far, but also a reassurance for us all who have eschewed the idols of organised religion and their sub-cultural alternatives and put music on our own personal altar.
I spoke to Carla via the all-powerful Inteeeeernet. This is what she said:
trakMARX: On the album Evangelista you collaborate with members of God Speed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mount Zion, Gowns, Mae-Shi, The Night Porter and Secret Chiefs, how did you come to work with them?
Carla: Well…. Secret chiefs and the Night Porter, you mean Shahzad. He’s the greatest…. One of the best musicians I’ve ever known… like in the top 5, his sensitivity is so razor sharp, he just knows how to listen, to me that is the greatest ability a musician can have in music that changes constantly. PLUS: he’s a fucking joy to drive around and get in trouble with in the snow at 4 am looking for chocolate. Mae-shi--- well, that’s Ezra Buchla of Gowns, etc. He is a gem. Wish I could clone that one so I could drag him around on tour. Programming… homemade patches, live samples, a twisted sense of composition are essential parts of the music I imagine when I dream. He’s all that and a radical violist. His Gowns counter-part, Erika, a hero and a mighty force, voice like a lighthouse on fire. She is on Evangelista, too. The whole Godspeed/Silver Mount Zion connection tumbles down from a great friend, Jessica Moss. She plays violin on Evangelista and is in A Silver Mount Zion. She was briefly a member of my old band The Geraldine Fibbers in 1997. She brought much great music to my life and friends and musical partners, too. She is a beautiful singer, as well with a really hot instinctual style. I believe this is how I met the Godspeed folks, but it’s been so long I don’t remember for sure… now though it’s like a huge beautiful bunch of people from Montreal from a bunch of cool bands and it’s hard to imagine that kind of concentration of musicianship all in one little area. And did I mention they are all so fucking darling?
trakMARX: There is a sense that across the album that a story is being told. Is there an intended underlying narrative, are the songs connected, were they written around the same time, or is that just my interpretation?
Carla: There is a definite concept. It changed slightly from the onset of the music but the first thing to come to me was Evangelista 1 and I knew it would develop straight from there. Gospel noisy stuff quiet tender stuff all saying the same thing. I just wanted to find a way to express how full I am having something in me that other people go to church to find or to drugs, a type of elation. My god, corny as it may be, is sound. And, let’s get even more corny, LOVE. Sound and love. I wanted to make something where I went forward with no shame at how silly or corny it might seem and say Fuck you if you’re too much of a tuffy to admit that something could save your life or that it matters to you if you are loved or if sound makes you fucking quake and freak out like people do at one of those weird prayer meetings. Dance, sing. I had a girl in Portugal hit me and say I hate you! hate you! hate you! she was crying and her friends said don’t worry that just means the music fucked her up in a great way. She is saying thank you! When I made Evangelista I decided it was time to pay tribute to the things that have kept me alive and have kind of this “who’s with me?” attitude about it. It’s really fun to see the audience decide then and there whether they are gonna let go or not. There are bands like…. Well, maybe the make-up or something (I LOVED THEM) who evoke a similar invitational feeling to the audience, revving them up—wowowo!! But it’s a little less confrontational than with me because I’m worming up through your belly hole right into your gut your heart and saying, “what the fuck keeps you alive!? “let’s revalate about that a ll’il bit.”
trakMARX: There is an improvised feel to the tracks, how easy is it to mix improvising with such strong lyrics and songs?
Carla: It’s the best thing ever. I’m so happy when ever I get to listen to someone else and make something to match with it right there. Fun!
trakMARX: There seems to be a range of genres that the album connects with, including punk, noise and country. How closely does this reflect your influences and musical interests?
Carla: I’m not too sure what I was drawing off of on Evangelista. It was so steady the way it came together without much thought. I guess the people around me and especially Shahzad and Afrim and Jessica had the most influence on the sounds.
trakMARX: You opened the Patti Smith Meltdown at The Royal Festival Hall, how did it feel to be a part of that given that she has been a big influence on your own music.
Carla: I really could barely stand it. I love her so much. It was great performing with the London Synfonietta…one of the best experiences of my life but it can’t compare to the next night. Standing right in front of the stage watching Patti perform Horses - the whole album. Shit!
trakMARX: I was lucky enough to catch you when you played in the UK last year, at a gig at the Cannon in Newport Pagnell. I feel there are healthy signs for new music here, new venues, a DIY ethic and some brave promoting. This is being frequented by a lot of American artists, what’s your view of all that’s happening here in the UK and how does it differ from the US.
Carla: Oh yeah, that show… I was really pissed off that night because the audience was so rude to our opening act. I broke a lot of stuff that night and I licked someone’s face who was talking through a quiet song. It wasn’t a sexy lick. She left. The UK is very hard to tour because there is a fee of like £260 pounds to bring a band in and outside of London England pays very low fees compared to the rest of Europe. It’s fascinating and beautiful there, though and I find myself wanting to go back all the time.
trakMARX: What are your plans now, any more recording projects in the pipeline or dates in the UK?
Carla: I am planning a European tour and will likely take in the UK. I’m just starting to write my new album. I’m still working with the person you saw playing bass that night - Tara Barnes. She’s my right hand man. I’m very excited about writing with her. We will carry on in the vein of Evangelista I think. I haven’t preached enough of the sound and love quite yet. It’s gonna be a festival of love and broken glass and dragonflies pouring the poison tea. It’s gonna be church for the darklings and dusty old hearts. Please come. Ha, ha Amen.
Dee Generate – tMx 28 – 02/07
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