THE BLURT BULLY PULPIT: Rasputina

Indie rock’s fiercest
cellist tells us about how she stitched together – literally – her band’s
latest album,
Sister Kinderhook.

 

BY MELORA CREAGER

 

This piece is about the album cover for my seventh full-length
record, Sister Kinderhook (view it
here). I still call them records and that’s standard parlance in the music
industry. I’ve always designed my own packaging and merchandise. For my first
album cover, I made a quilted pillow the same size as a CD fold-out. As time
has gone by, I’ve used the computer more and more, but I wanted to get back to
something real and handmade on this one.

 

The ground is a half-finished linen…handkerchief? It’s too
small for a tablecloth, too big for a handkerchief. It was my maternal
grandmother’s and I found the green thread for the leaves still all balled up
inside the folded fabric. Like Pompeii or Roanoke, she just set it aside one
day, maybe 100 years ago, and didn’t get back to work on it.

 

The white lace border fell off a petticoat from a box of my
mother’s family’s things.

 

I’m adopted, so this would be my adopted mother’s mother,
Adelle, who died when Leona (mom) was 13 in 1938. Leona was a
“late-in-life baby” for Adelle, so there was a generation skipped
between each of us. I just had my second daughter at age 43.

 

I, of course, never met Adelle, but a spooky photograph of
her hung over our piano where I spent a lot of my time growing up. That
photograph was a big influence on me and it hangs over my piano now.

 

Leona died in 2009 after 15 years with Alzheimer’s. She had
been a commercial artist (now called a graphic designer) working for a short
time in Cleveland, Ohio before she got married. This was a heyday she told us
(her two adopted daughters) about often. Although she was really a housewife,
she fancied herself a career woman. Although she could sew and cook amazingly
as she had been taught by her Victorian mother, she thought that was beneath
her and claimed to hate those activities.

 

I have all their old sewing things-boxes of embroidery
floss, hoops, needlepoint patterns, trims on cards, etc. I dig through that
when it’s time to get inspired.

 

I began my music studies at five years old on the piano. I
started cello at age nine. I would try to get out of practicing, but once I sat
down at my instrument, I could get really lost in music. I love how practicing
just works absolutely. You practice, you improve, period. I have written songs
since I began at the piano.

 

I quit music in the 8th grade because I wanted to be cool
and fit in. Orchestra was not cool. I didn’t take it up again until I lived in
NYC and started playing cello and keyboards in rock bands. That was cool.

 

I went to Parsons School of Design and majored in
photography. My band, Rasputina, is really a never-ending art project for me. I
make assignments for myself, research them, and express myself through the
theme.

 

This album is loosely about the county where I live,
Columbia County NY, circa 1830. I did research on the patroon system (a sort of
feudal landowning) and visited historic houses in the area-Olana, Martin Van
Buren’s Lindenwald and the Lucas Van Alyn house. I made a trek to the Shelburne
Museum in Vermont to see their hand-work and house-ware examples in their
reconstructed homes. I studied the itinerant portraitist, Amii Phillips (a man)
who worked in the area. I read the book, Patience
& Sarah
by Isabel Miller, loosely based on folk-artist, Mary Ann
Willson. Mary Ann Willson was a wonderful and fanciful painter who lived nearby
in the woods with her lover, a female farmer. Other than that and her
paintings, nothing is known about her. And I re-read and re-read the wonderful
book, Anonymous Was a Woman by Mirra
Bank, which is full of beautiful examples of women’s needle pictures, samplers,
quilts, and all sorts of “unimportant” art. Eunice Pinney was a great
one who came up again and again. She made small amounts of money for her
memorial pictures and even made one for herself before her death.

 

So I kept in mind their icons: the urn and the willow tree,
their poems on death and the way they made their borders.

 

Research and recording I did while pregnant. Mixing and
sewing I did while taking care of new baby Ivy.

 

Even though what I’m doing is technically commercial art, I
love the idea that I’m infiltrating a crass, male dominated business with my
obscure, hand-stitched ideas; that I’m stitching while I’m mixing at some slick
LA recording studio.

 

 It’s subterfuge and a
joke on “the business”. Early in my career and again recently, I’ve
applied for arts grants- as a composer, as a performance artist. I never
received any acceptance whatsoever in that realm. So I put out my ideas as a
“band” and perform in rock clubs. My ideas are disseminated broadly
and non-discriminatorily this way.

 

Although I’ve always been diligent and methodical in my
pursuit of a music career, my naiveté was a huge help. I never thought being a
girl or a cellist would be a handicap on the road to rock-stardom or, rather,
cult-hood, which is what I’ve actually achieved.

 

 

Rasputina’s 7th album Sister Kinderhook, was released
June 15 on the Filthy Bonnet Co. label – located, incidentally, at www.rasputina.com. You can read the BLURT
review right here (and also view the album artwork as well).

 

 

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