When Melora Creager first formed Rasputina, she never imagined the band would still exist 25 years later. After learning piano at age 5 and cello at age 9, and joining the orchestra in high school in Kansas, she moved to the East Coast to attend Philadelphia College of Art and Parsons School of Design. Creager transitioned from classical music to East Village performance art, sticking her bow into drag and the rock acts that did the same. But come 1991, she formed Rasputina, the alt-cello ensemble that raised the bar for the instrument in ways not even Creager expected. She had one goal, or rather manifesto, in mind: No boys or guitars allowed.
“It never felt like a moment of victory until 20 years later,” Creager says over the phone. “It took a strict work ethic, and I never thought what I was doing was unusual—that’s kind of how I pulled it off.” It’s fitting she describes it as much. Creager and the music she makes with Rasputina carry a bold-set but modest type of feminism. She wears corsets and steampunk-styled apparel onstage, but she isn’t looking for attention. She wants to make her goals happen and doesn’t understand why looks, nevertheless gender, should dictate levels of success. It’s a fight for equality without flying knuckles.
Not only did Rasputina make its dream of “no boys or guitars allowed” come true, but it inspired others to do the same. The band prefaced all the movements it seems to touch on: steampunk, freak folk, corsetry. Creager stepped boldly into a space she wanted to see occupied, and others followed suit.
“I’ve made enough fans before the internet that I can have these kinds of decisions, I can decide to not use the internet to get fans, whereas new bands don’t have an option,” she says. “They need to put their music out on Soundcloud or wherever to have people hear it. I’m old school and I fund what I feel. Then I see how the money follows, if it does at all.”
For Rasputina, that’s not a bold move. The band has always been a band of personal creativity instead of salable decisions. Columbia and Sony both took chances by signing Rasputina, but eventually dropped it. They were unmarketable and she came to peace with that. Instead, she keeps in touch with a dependable audience. Instead of tangoing with Facebook algorithms, she reaches out to an email list, upkeeping the old-fashioned way of announcing tour dates to a type of listenership who, most commonly, isn’t on Facebook anyway.
“I’m morally against self-promotion and yet I’ve been in a band all these years,” Creager explains. “I’m not in the music business. I don’t want attention. That’s against my morals, to self promote. Those things make me laugh and excited in a perverse way. That has been my responsibility all these years, that you can do things a totally different way. I went off the internet 100% before internet diets were popular. People ask, ‘Wow, you can do that?’ Of course! You can do whatever you want in this life, but people don’t realize it. I get these ideas, get excited, and freak out with these taboo things. I’d go on Facebook to get a quick fix of compliments from fans when I was really insecure. Numbers and fans were baloney, things that created a sense of competition, and I had this epiphany about how unhealthy and not positive it was. So I don’t do it — and better things happen because of that choice.”
When growing up, she learned how to stir up drive by associating with fellow workaholics. Creager went to art school with Michael Lavine, the famous photographer who catalogued earlier days of Nirvana, Rob Zombie, Soundgarden, and more. The two hit it off quickly.
“[Levine] was just the coolest guy because he was taking these pictures while we were in school,” she says. “He was close to Nirvana and they needed a new cellist, so he convinced them to reach out to me. It was mind-blowingly wonderful. I had never done pro-level stuff before, so it was like the Wizard of Oz: Fly to Europe! Land in Paris! Play with Nirvana! There was a smoking bus and a nonsmoking bus and there were only three people on each bus. I was on the smoking bus with Kurt. It was a morality tale to observe the dynamic of Kurt [Cobain], this sweet, sweet guy, somebody I would have known in the village, who was really suffering and the money aspect ignored how he was feeling. The music, to play that live with them, was incredible. I spent the whole time feeling out of place in a positive way.”
Nowadays, Rasputina continues to uphold modesty while embracing change, bringing a beatboxer and pianist on tour to keep its music lively—though it would remain so even without a few instrument tweaks. It’s the band’s commitment to keeping things weird that will never die out. Though, if it ever seems that way, revisit Creager’s manifesto. She still stands by it today—and probably will another 25 years from now, too.
RASPUTINA, ELIZA RICKMAN, AUBREYLYN. WED 12.14. BRIGHTON MUSIC HALL, 158 BRIGHTON AVE., ALLSTON. 7PM/18+/$15. CROSSROADSPRESENTS.COM