Two years ago The Geraldine Fibbers released their major-label debut Lost Somewhere Between The Earth And My Home, an intriguing mix of sonic guitars with traditional bass and violin, topped off by the captivating voice of Carla Bozulich. Since then, original guitarist Daniel Keenan left and was replaced by Nels Cline, and violinist Jessy Greene left to join the Jayhawks not long after recording was finished on their newest album, Butch. Bozulich recently discussed those changes, and the band’s evolution from its more country-oriented beginnings.
No Depression: What got you, and the rest of the band, interested in playing country music in the first place?
Carla Bozulich: With myself, I didn’t get into country music at all until about 10 years ago. Before that time I didn’t like it. I can’t even explain it, I love music. I’m one of those people that, since my earliest memories, it has been super-relevant to my entire life. That’s my perspective on living. Even before I ever thought of being a musician. But country was not one of the kinds of music I listened to growing up at all. I was raised listening to jazz, and top-40 AM radio, like ’70s rock, acid rock, early heavy metal, Alice Cooper…
ND: Alice is one of my all-time favorites.
CB: Yeah, he’s so great. The closest I ever came back then to country was like Lynyrd Skynyrd. I liked the Outlaws. But as for “real” country music — I hated it. I didn’t really know what I was talking about, but I just thought these people were like these cheeseballs. I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff like that in my life where I’ve turned about-face. I go with my gut instincts, so it’s not like I went with the tide or anything.…One day I was at a friend’s house and he gave me a tape and said, “You gotta hear this guy sing,” and I was like, “Who is it?” and he said it was this guy named George Jones, and I was like, “Who the hell’s that?” He was, “Oh my god, you don’t know who George Jones is?” (laughter). So he gave me the tape. This was after I’d already been playing in bands, about 10 years ago. I put it on and the first song was “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, and it just killed me! It just changed my whole perspective on music. His voice, his delivery, and the words, the subject matter — to me, his music just transcends any kind of genre.…I feel that way about a lot of people. You can’t call Billie Holiday just a jazz singer, you can’t call Patsy Cline any one kind of singer. George Jones is like that. Tammy Wynette, too, but her stuff is so — both of them, their stuff is so beautiful. It really is country, the arrangements and everything, is the epitome of country music, but still they are so brilliant that you just can’t leave it at that.
ND: I grew up with it, so it was everything I had to rebel against. It’s only been the last few years that I’ve gone back and started listening to it again. I like what you, and a lot of bands, are doing by mining that and bringing it into a new context.
CB: There was a lot of jazz and soul in my house growing up. There was this opera thing, and the whole ’70s classic rock thing. Then the punk thing just kind of turned everything upside down, which was a lot of fun.
ND: That had to have been an amazing scene to be a part of.
CB: Yeah. God, I think about that sometimes, I have friends now that are in their early 20s, and they’re discovering some of those bands for the first time, and I’m thinking, “I don’t think I could’ve made it.” I don’t think it’s lame that there’s a resurgence, because they saved my life.
ND: How’s the search for a new fiddle player going?
CB: We’re auditioning a bunch of people this week and should have it sorted out by Friday.
ND: You’ve had a real shakeup in membership since the last album.
CB: Yep. Jessy didn’t leave until we had finished recording Butch. When I formed the band, the violin was a crucial part of the concept. I fought really hard to keep the violin in the band, even though, early on, one of the other band members was saying we shouldn’t have it, it’s lame, it’s not working out, and I was like, “No, this was part of the original concept.” But now it’s three, four years later… This is going to be our fourth violin player. If I had known Jessy was going to leave before we recorded the album, I would have arranged the songs to have less violin. I’m not comfortable having someone come in just to play the parts.
ND: To me, the violin is an essential part of the sound. It, with the upright bass playing against the guitars…
CB: Yeah, me too. I just want to make sure we get somebody who really understands what we’re doing, and sees it for what it is. I’ve tried really hard to make this project be an experimental violin player’s wet dream, and I really want to honor whoever plays with us with an important space in our music. I mean, what we’re doing is kind of whacked, and it’s not for everyone. The soft country-rock movement is not our trip at all. I like some of the music, but it has nothing to do with the path we’re on.
ND: Tell me about Butch.
CB: I’m really proud of it. It’s so different, totally, from the last album. There’s a country tune on it, like a traditional two-step, old-timey. There’s a straightforward ’70s-type country song, with a twist in the subject matter. There’s a simple two-part harmony thing. But that’s about it. We tipped our hats with the country thing with those pieces, but everything else, we just went off.…Nels Cline has really brought a lot to the band. He’s a genius. I don’t think we tap into his full potential with what he does with us, and he does a fuck of a lot with us. He has more of a free jazz, improvisational background. I feel like I’ll be constantly challenged with… not falling into any kind of stagnant rut. That kind of influence is a really healthy thing. When you play every night for months on end, it’s something you end up fighting. Nels inspires that improvisational feeling, and that’s very fulfilling when you pull something like that off.…(But) it’s not very country, is it?
ND: Bluegrass is pretty influenced by jazz improvisation. Bill Monroe saw the jazz of the time and incorporated the idea of each musician getting to play, and he worked that idea into the use of the traditional folk instruments. That was a real conscious influence on what he was doing.
CB: If you think about it like that — I remember drawing parallels between those two. You can see the closeness when you go back that far. You can see that the bridge was not that vast.
Wayne Wise is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh who regularly bores his friends with endless chatter about obscure music.