'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 even. "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 deal." 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 songs. 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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