20 Questions: Melora Creagor-Rasputina

The cello driven Rasputina, has a sound powered by deep classical influences, dark historical tales, and kick-ass girl power. Founder Melora Creager is the central figure which the group’s talented musicians have danced around, sonically speaking, for nearly 20 years, now. Rasputina’s latest, Sister Kinderhook, expresses a thematic fantasy of Colonial Federalism (also seen in her replies to PopMatters 20 Questions, and is populated by the likes of feral children and giants.

One feels the city receding and an old forest creeping in, as you listen to this album. Its inhabitants set up their instruments – some made from its very trees, some organically formed from NYC’s professional rock scene (4AD band, Ultra Vivid Scene) — and surround you.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

What was it?… I was watching something and telling myself, “I will not cry. I will not cry.” Daniel, my co-cellist and my 11-year-old daughter were in the room too and I didn’t want them to see me crying over some movie. Oh yeah, it was The Miracle Worker starring Patty Duke as Helen Keller.

Album: Sister Kinderhook

Artist: Rasputina

Label: Filthy Bonnet

Release Date: 2010-06-15

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/rasputina-sisterkinderhook.jpg Anne Bancroft is pure genius in it as Annie Sullivan. It was the scene where Annie finally gets Helen Keller to understand language. “Water, water!” she yells as she taps out Braille for “water’ on Helen’s hand while she pumps water all over her.

There’s a lot of great scenes in that movie, but that part made me cry a few weeks ago. I cry when people overcome difficulties and find their strength.

2. The fictional character most like you?

I hardly know any fiction. I read almost exclusively history and biographies. When I was a child reading Little House on the Prairie books, I’d ask my mother, “Wouldn’t I have made a great settler?”, and she would say, “No, you would not.” I guess because she didn’t consider me a tough worker and able to take hardship.

3. The greatest album, ever?

I’m thinking Queen, Night at the Opera. I haven’t heard it in a long time. There are really good story songs on it, jazzy old-fashioned weird little things, “Bohemian Rhapsody”,

I’m in Love with my Car”… Like a play with a beginning , middle and end. It’s like a Beatles album, but this Queen album was what I was listening to when I was a kid, not the Beatles- so it’s the best to me.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I spent a lot more time with Star Trek. Every night as a kid! It was before remotes, so my brother and I would physically fight over the channel knob, me trying to turn it away from Star Trek.

That’s a special memory for me, so I’m Star Trek all the way. And I’m a girl, so all I remember about it is Tribbles.

5. Your ideal brain food?

I take three-five-mile walks on the country roads where I live. It’s very meditative, I think so clearly that I get big epiphanies while I’m walking. I’m able to make decisions and discoveries.

Album: Oh Perilous World

Artist: Rasputina

Label: Filthy Bonnet

Release Date: 2007-06-25

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/rasputina-perilousworld.jpg6.You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I’m proud of all the big chances I didn’t actually win, because I learned so much in trying.

One example: I was asked to audition for Sweeney Todd on Broadway. They needed a singing cellist. I didn’t get the part, but I learned that difficult Sondheim music really well, and summoned the courage to go through the audition process in a completely different field from what I normally do.

All that I learned from that experience is still very active in me today.

7. You want to be remembered for …?

I want to be remembered for my music and the connection I made through it or the happiness I brought to people by making it. It’s incredible to think of the people I don’t even know who I’ve communicated with, shared my ideas with, or affected. If someone doesn’t like me or what I do, they won’t remember me, anyway.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Emily Dickinson. She made a lifetime of unique, groundbreaking art just for herself or to put on greeting cards for friends. She was writing futuristically. No one wrote like that then, especially not a pudding-making, flower-tending Massachusetts recluse!

Elizabeth I. To be a passionate woman with that power, at that time, and to remain strategic in life for many decades — a whole life — is inspirational.

J. S. Bach. He toiled away unknown at other jobs while he wrote that genius music, just trying to take care of his family. He was considered unfashionable, old-fashioned, and written off.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

A book, definitely, because it seems like a Herculean task. Kinski Uncut: The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski. No, just kidding. I can’t envy anyone their creation, I’m unable to.

10. Your hidden talents …?

I wring all my talents out of myself so hard that I don’t think I have any left unused.

Oh, I’m an amazing jewelry maker, a skill which mostly only gets used for birthday presents for kids

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

My mother taught me not to judge people by their looks, but I’ve been unable to practice that.

Kurt Cobain told me to play what I want, it doesn’t matter what’s on the record.

Album: A Radical Recital

Artist: Rasputina

Label: Filthy Bonnet

Release Date: 2005-09-13

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/rasputina-radical1.jpg 12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

The best thing I ever bought would have to be my cello. I had looked at this guy’s (Robert Brewer Young) cellos for years, but never thought I could afford one.

He made a beautiful instrument for me, just on faith that I would want it, and I did. He knew that I like extra bass tones. It’s very light, from willow. Composer Eyvind Kang has a viola made from the same tree.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?

Often when I’m dressed in costume for a show, I’ll wish I really dressed like that every day. I wish I could wear hoop-skirts around the town. I guess I do wear long skirts always. And once in a while, feathers in my hair to the post office.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

The guest: Early American itinerant portraitist Amii Phillips and I’d serve all dishes from the Emily Dickinson cookbook. It’s mostly puddings and liqueurs.

I would love to talk with a Colonial craftsmen over dinner. Who am I kidding? I can’t stand small talk.

15.Time travel: where, when and why?

I am seriously wanting to live in the past now. For all the historically referenced work I’ve done, I didn’t really want to live in the past. But I’ve come to think I’d prefer a simpler time without the pervasive influence of garbage of all kinds — environmental, brain/media…

I would like to be focused on survival or living by hand, without the leisure time to worry about essentially meaningless things.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Again, I choose meditative walking, hands down. I believe massage should stay within the family. I love to get an elaborate, very expensive facial. I never go on vacation, I just dream of staying more than a day at the places I go when on tour.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?

I’m not much of a drinker, but these other things have been essential at different times of my life. Chocolate when pregnant. Coffee most every day. Cigarettes are a deep shame.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

The country in the county where I live, Columbia County, New York. It’s so beautiful with rolling hills and old dairy farms. New Mexico sure is pretty, too.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I’m still so happy that you won. I can’t believe it. Best of luck.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Beyond this interview, I’ve just returned home from almost two months on the road, 28 successful shows, while taking care of my beautiful nine-month-old baby, Ivy.

I also embroidered a fashion show invitation for designer Anna Sui, while in the van. So I’m decompressing and re-familiarizing myself with normal life. We were real gypsies!