Carla Bozulich takes a reprieve from LA.
Some music is hard to describe. When discussing Carla Bozulich, it's***image1*** hardly worth the effort. Hers is a style that many would say pushes boundaries; Bozulich would probably question whether there are boundaries at all. Junkyard sounds, rock flourishes, a touch of New Age, confessional lyricism, feminist performance art, dying animals and worlds birthing worlds come to mind when listening to Bozulich's experimental, spiritual music. She revels in her weirdness like a kid playing in dirt.
Waves of feedback figure prominently in Bozulich's sound. So do punk music and feminism. By turns witchy and sensual, Bozulich improvises lines with a discomforting, awkwardness-inducing honesty. Easy listening, it ain't. Cathartic, it is.
On her newest album,
, she wrote the lyrics to all but one of her songs the night before going to the studio. She had prepared earlier, but when it came time to record, she scrapped her old ideas and recorded songs she made up mere hours prior.
Her fan base is understandably small, but dedicated. It's a group that's grown over the past 20-something years since Bozulich joined Los Angeles underground rockers Neon Vein in the early '80s. The young artist garnered more acclaim as a singer in the short-lived but timely Ethyl***image2*** Meatplow, and later as frontwoman in the more countrified Geraldine Fibbers. That stint ended in 1998, though Bozulich soon began collaborating with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline in a genreless duo called Scarnella. In 2001 she created the score for By Hook or By Crook, a film worthy of the Sundance Film Festival. Two years later, she made a mindboggling (though faithful) song-by-song recording of Willie Nelson's iconic 1975 album Red Headed Stranger. Nelson lent his vocals and guitar work to the album. That album helped Bozulich achieve a measure of crossover success. All this evidence indicates that, if you want to be a player in LA's weirdo-rock scene, you will sooner or later run into Bozulich.
She's well known in some circles. That doesn't make it any easier when she's touring venues around the US, however. Bozulich confesses that, for all her work, it's still tough to get in the van and drive long distances for unknown sums of door money. There is a certain "no shit" aspect to that statement, but consider this: Bozulich spends more time in Europe than she does at home because audiences and venues here aren't as artist-friendly as those across the Pond.
She gives an example during a recent phone interview. "You might play a town in Italy that's small. Say it's the same size as Des Moines. But over there, it's 200 people and they feed you a five-course meal. They give you food to travel with, because they know you'll be driving a long time. Over here, it's nearly unsustainable."
It's not that Bozulich hates playing in the States. When asked why she doesn't move to Europe, she says, perhaps a little nervously, "The answer is corny as hell, but it's my home."
Depending on how you look at it, Bozulich either has more or less reasons than ever to get in the van. On one hand, she's recently played a string of dates with one of the country's most successful rock groups (Wilco), which has doubtlessly introduced Bozulich to many audiences unaware of her previous two decades worth of work. On the other hand, gas is expensive ($3.15 for the cheap stuff, as of press time), and Bozulich is touring with a full band. It will cost her an estimated $400 to get her 15-passenger Econoline from Southern California to Santa Fe.
It's worth it, she says. "You have to decide that you want to play in Santa Fe," she adds. "It's not on any main touring route to anywhere. The folks at The Process [the nonprofit arts group who organized this show] said, 'We really want you.'" So she is coming.
It's not just that The Process wanted Bozulich and her band (Evangelista) to come. For Bozulich, an artist who thrives on sensory experience (though not alcohol or drugs), it's almost necessary that she leave LA for the Sangre de Cristos.
"Going out there to New Mexico, it changes your genetic code," she says. "You can breathe." For all of the Californian-bashing done here, Bozulich, who earnestly loves the Land of Enchantment, deserves a break.
What's more, we need Bozulich and artists like her as much as they need steady gigs. Santa Fe lacks venues that support noncommercial artists, and while that may be changing (slowly), the scene requires a critical mass of music lovers with very open minds. The Process is based on the idea of artists playing for artists; it hopes to be, in the words of its press release, akin to Gertrude Stein's acclaimed salons of the '30s and '40s. Bozulich is headlining this show, but also on the bill is a wildly diverse collection of visual, video and sound artists. It's not a standard rock gig; think of this as more of a participatory experience.
If Santa Fe's stature as a music town is to ever equal its notoriety as an arts mecca, it needs to become the kind of place where, Bozulich says, "people can come in, spend very little money and watch others build something from the ground up."