Led by steampunk goddess Melora Creager, the gothic cello rock trio Rasputina has been pushing the musical envelope since the early 1990s. Their work features a flurry of clever tunes about powerful female figures in ancient history played on classical instruments with the the fervor of rock. Think Jimmy Page with a horsehair bow. (Yeah, we know.) Away from the band Miss Creager also toured with Nirvana on their final tour.
In advance of Rasputina’s Baltimore show at Ottobar Tuesday, Miss Creager spoke about men in corsets, how to rock the cello, her days on tour with Nirvana and why their latest CD, “Unknown,” won’t be available online. Ever.
Question: How did Raputina come together in the early 1990s?
Answer: I put a “wanted” ad in the back of the Village Voice [in New York]. That was how everyone made a band back then.
Q: Did you have a full vision of the look and sound of the band beforehand?
A: Yes, even before I was able to sing very well. It was an artistic compulsion, something I just had to do, to force myself to do. Like me, a lot of performers are very shy, and performing is a controlled way to communicate with people. Just out of art school, I wrote a manifesto — the point being well-trained, well-brought-up young ladies playing rock music. On the cello, of course.
Q: Why gothic cello rock?
A: I don’t consider myself or the band gothic, except maybe in a literary sense. When I was younger, I was embarrassed to express positivity, because it wasn’t authentic to me.
Q: When did the idea come to you to combine history with music?
A: Since I was a little girl writing songs, it’s been the same: songs based on historical incident or an antique photograph.
Q: How many former members has Rasputina had?
A: How many members of Nine Inch Nails have there been? I don’t know.
Q: Is it hard to keep band members together?
A: Over 20 years and still kicking. Someone plays with me eight to 10 years, and that longevity isn’t commented on, but rather that they left. A touring band is an abnormally close relationship. Performers have large egos and dreams. I think it’s gone pretty well.
Q: Was there a shift creatively when you let male members in the band?
A: Each person brings their unique qualities, but it’s not about gender. Each male member has been rather androgynous anyway, whereas the females have always been exclusively feminine.
Q: Do the guys have to wear corsets as well?
A: They don’t have to, they want to. They always end up trying ours on and liking the feeling. Every guy is glad for an excuse to drag out.
Q: When not performing, do you dress down?
A: Yes, but my trademark style is truly mine and carries over. I never wear pants, only dresses and skirts. Feathers in the hair are good to shake up the everyday. Corsets for daywear? No thanks.
Q: Do you consider yourself a pioneer of the “steampunk” movement?
A: I do. There were few of us back in the day, in the early ‘90s in [New York’s] East Village — proponents of Victorian style. I’ve adopted a broader range of eras over the years. I don’t like “movements.” I follow my personal vision and am as thorough as I can be.
Q: Away from the band, you also toured with Nirvana, yes?
A: Yes, on their final tour, in Europe.
Q: Do you have any memories of that tour?
A: It was a strange situation, as I was very naive and inexperienced. Kurt [Cobain] was very special and very normal. His death said to me that fame kills, that fame is not healthy for a nice person. No one along for the ride with the biggest band in the land wanted to notice how bad off he was. Like “Emperor’s New Clothes,” look the other way.
Q: What was the last show of the tour like?
A: I don’t remember, but it was just before a little break in the tour [that] I spent in Prague — that was to be the next show. [Cobain] O.D.’d in Italy, and everything fell apart. Devastatingly sad.
Q: Why is your new CD “Unknown” only available as a CD and not online?
A: As a conceptual thing. Immediacy of music has made it throwaway, not valuable. If it’s exclusively physical, I bring back some value, some anticipation, some desire.
Q: Did it really take you only three weeks to make?
A: It really did. I was possessed by my subconscious, which felt like spirits at the time. I wasn’t concerned with releasing it, just making it. I was in my own world with superhuman focus.
Q: The theme of the CD is trauma. What does that mean?
A: I was damaged by some violations I didn’t — and still don’t — fully understand. My strong imagination took over. Anything was possible, and the Internet was the culprit. I didn’t know who I was talking to, but it turned out to be an unknown part of myself.