This Fibber Will Tell You No Lies

Carla Bozulich's raspy voice rages and curses in songs that starkly document a life's journey down L.A.'s mean streets.
By Richard Cromelin, Richard Cromelin writes about pop music for Calendar.

Los Angeles TimesSunday July 16, 1995
Home Edition
Calendar, Page 53

'I just find that the most  interesting things in the  world are
the things that  have a twist, where you can see almost the mirror
opposite present right there," says Carla Bozulich, who's suddenly
looking like the most arresting woman to surface from L.A.'s grass-roots
rock scene since Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano in the mid-'80s.

   Exhibit A? "Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home," the debut
album by her band, the Geraldine Fibbers.

   On the surface it's all about life with drugs--"Dusted" and racing
along the Pasadena Freeway, hustling on the streets for food money. She
hears voices in her head, watches days drift by in a drug hospital. It
floats hints of childhood abuse that might have led her to this slippery
slope toward oblivion.

   But the album, due in stores on Tuesday from Virgin Records, isn't an
indulgent wallow in Needleland. Like Lou Reed's classic downer "Berlin,"
it explores the nature of dislocation and loss of identity by depicting
characters on the edge. Like the work of PJ Harvey, it taps primordial
strains of dread in Anglo-American folk and country music. ( See
review, Page 56 .)

   Like little else in recent memory, it flowers into passages of
surrealism and hallucination to vividly convey its euphoria and despair.
And it's marked by a vitality, playfulness and humor that tip off what
might even be a happy ending.

   The source of this tempestuous work isn't easy to pick out in a Cuban
cafe in Silver Lake.

   On the album, Bozulich's raw, raspy, Joplin-tinged voice rages,
curses, cajoles and prays, and its authority demands your attention from
the first note. In person she is soft-spoken, pensive, almost mousy in
manner and appearance. With her mixed blond and brown hair and sleeveless
dress, a cartoon cat tattooed on her right arm, she suggests a post-punk
version of Penny Marshall's Laverne.

   But this is no sitcom.

   "I guess I've kind of had one of those more extreme sort of lives,"
the 29-year-old singer says. "I think that my life is very similar to an
old-fashioned fairy tale in a way. Simply because I'm so happy now in my
life in general. I'm really strong and really healthy and I'm surrounded
by the things that I've always wanted. . . .

   "And I come from a pretty gnarly, pretty damn bumpy first 21 or 22
years. Pretty [messed] up straight on through up to that point. And when
I was about 21 I just said, 'You know what? I don't want to die and I
don't want to [expletive] live in misery my whole life either,' and I
turned things around."

   Bozulich grew up in San Pedro, where she was attracted to music early
on. Her first loves included Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell, then it was
on to mainstream fare such as Aerosmith and Ted Nugent before the Damned
and Devo opened her eyes to punk rock.

   "That whole punk-rock thing, there's like something that makes you
feel like it's OK suddenly to be a space alien on planet Earth," she
says. "I was really young at that time and I was really distressed about
that feeling. Then when I started going to those shows it was like the
solution. Period. It solved it, it totally solved it."

   Bozulich joined her first band when she was 15. Neon Vein, a
"psychedelic damaged" punk group with a Stockhausen fascination, was a
crucial first step for the insecure teen-ager.

   "I was so shy and I never would face the audience," she says. "I would
face the drums or I would get behind the drums. It was very hard. But it
was fun. It was how I started getting out of my shell. 'Cause I was a
really quiet, like introverted, person who was into like drawing and
painting but not talking. Talking wasn't my thing. And certainly not
singing and screaming so people would have to look at me.

   "I [still] struggle with that before every show, but when I get
onstage I'm fine. I mean more than fine. I'm totally fine."

   Bozulich shook drugs and drinking at 21, and in 1992 she started to
make her presence felt around town as the writhing, wailing
provocateur  of Ethyl Meatplow, an erotic industrial-dance trio that
built a cult following in L.A. clubs and released an album in 1993.

   "Carla is an amazing person," says journalist Jim Fouratt, who was a
publicist for that band. "She has the ability to be both very caring and
at the same time incredibly committed to her point of view.

   "Most musicians tend to be very self-involved and selfish and
narcissistic. They're really not sensitive to other people unless it's
something they want. She is a genuinely thoughtful person."

   Mark Williams, a vice president of artists and repertoire at Virgin
Records, had been keeping an eye on the Fibbers as they played shows
around town but, he hadn't been an Ethyl Meatplow fan and remained
skeptical of the new unit.

   "What changed me," he recalls, "is Carla called me one day on the
phone and said, 'I want to know why you don't want to sign my band.' . .
. We met and in the two hours I spoke to her she convinced me she was the
real deal and this was more what she was really about than Ethyl Meatplow

   "I just fell in love with her personality, her conviction and  passion
about what she was doing. . . . So we pursued it after that and did the

   The Geraldine Fibbers ( Geraldine  refers to an imaginary
childhood friend of Bozulich's, with  Fibbers  added on as a
country-sounding attention-getter) began as a refuge from the intensity
of Meatplow and the other Fibbers' punk-rock bands--a casual gathering
whose modest aim was to whoop it up on George Jones-vintage country

   Then it got serious.

   Recalls guitarist Daniel Keenan: "When she came to rehearsal one day
and said, 'Well, Ethyl Meatplow broke up; this is my main thing. If you
guys want to come along, you're welcome,' at that point we knew it was
gonna start to evolve into more of a rock outfit."

   "I liked the Fibbers being sweet and soft when I knew I could go out
and do the other thing also," says Bozulich, who lives with Keenan in
Echo Park. "But when it seemed like I was just gonna be doing the
Fibbers, it had to be there in that band too."

   Instead of adopting the raw punk, grunge or industrial sounds usually
called on to signify  Angst , the band pursued a bluesy,
country-flavored rock marked by the ominous, mournful surges of William
Tutton's bowed acoustic bass and Jessy Greene's violin. (Drummer Kevin
Fitzgerald completes the lineup.)

   "We're the type of band that has, particularly me, a real specific
vision of what we're doing," says Bozulich. "I knew what I wanted to do
before we went in to do it."

   Although she dismisses the idea that making this music was cathartic
("too corny," she says), her encounter with a painful past was clearly a
transfiguring experience.

   "This record for me is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of record--I hope.
Because it's a very heavy record at times, and I think it comes from the
fact that this is my first real opportunity to kind of say a lot of the
stuff about my life up to this point. . . .

   "I'll always write that kind of reflective, intense stuff, I think,
but I just know that a lot of the subject matter spans over the years,
and now there's certain issues that I can lay to rest."

   Bozulich flashes a self-deprecating smile as she contrasts her new
life and the old, "bumpy" one.

   "I felt kind of happy in a way about [the album] 'cause I got
something--how do you put that? I got to--I got to use it. It's almost
sort of like me having the last laugh in a way. Because I got to
[expletive] use it."

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times, 1995.

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