Carla Bozulich of The Geraldine Fibbers: California Tuffy

by Silja J.A. Talvi
ROCKRGRL Issue 18 (1997)

Since ROCKRGRL last caught up with singer/songwriter Carla Bozulich nearly two years ago, the Geraldine Fibbers have been very busy. After their triumphant debut album, Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home (Virgin), the Fibbers released a scorching live album from a sold-out concert in San Francisco in 1996, Live from the Bottom of the Hill (Virgin). That album was followed by the 1997 release of the satirically-titled What Part of Get Thee Gone Don't You Understand? (Sympathy For The Record Industry). With liner notes written by fellow San Pedro native, radical bass-meister Mike Watt, the album is a tempestuous collection of revamped country covers, varied arrangements of songs from the debut album, and earlier collaborations including "Blue Cross" with Beck.

With fans and critics waiting to see if they could recapture the demented, darkly passionate sound of their debut album, the Geraldine Fibbers released Butch, their second full-length studio recording for Virgin earlier this year. So much for the concern that the Fibbers might be a one-album-wonder-band. From the first explosive track, "California Tuffy," to the closing, haunting lullaby of "Heliotrope," Butch knocks you off your chair and sends you sailing through the richly emotional and musical terrain the the Fibbers have charted as their own. And with Bozulich at the mast of this enigmatic ship, the listener is taken on a furious voyage through an usettling landscape.

On a nationwide tour to promote Butch, the Geraldine Fibbers now consist of a somewhat altered line-up of remarkably gifted musicians: Nels Cline, guitar (replacing Daniel Keenan); William Tutton, upright bass; Kevin Fitzgerald, drums, and Leyna Papach, violin (replacing Jessy Greene). Although every member of the band plays other instruments on the album, Bozulich has taken on a decidedly eclectic range. Usually accompanying herself with the electric guitar, she has also thrown in a bit of electric bass, glockenspiel, organwife, piano strings, and a sample-loaded Ensoniq 16+ for good measure.

ROCKRGRL had the opportunity to sit down with Bozulich for a lengthy interview at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, where the Geraldine Fibbers performed later that evening to another filled-to-capacity crowd. Tired from the band's long drive from Oregon to California, she initially was most concerned about being harassed about her own personal background. It seems previous interviewers have focused on asking personal questions about her troubled past, and she's having no more of it. With reassurances of a genuine interview and issues of journalistic integrity out of the way, the discussion takes on a warmly humorous and lively tone.

ROCKRGRL: One of the things that immediately stands out at your shows is that your audiences seem to be an unusual blend of gay and lesbian couples, old punks, "riot grrl" types, and intellectuals. I'm wondering if you're aware of that diversity in your listeners, and what kind of an impact that has on you?

CB: I'm very pleased about that. It was a constant source of frustration for me in my old band that it wasn't more like that. Here, the reality is that we're touring in a band, playing in a different city every night. To not have a diverse audience means to be bored. I think our audience in general is an intelligent audience and a creative audience and also just a group of people that give a shit.

RG: How do you feel in particular about the many women who seem to feel that you give a voice to their own inner torment or struggle and perhaps their own histories of abuse or neglect? Are you cognizant of that? Is that too weighty a responsibility for you?

CB: I would says that's too weighty a responsibility for me. People have often asked me "What's it like to be a strong woman in a weak world?" Sometimes I regret giving such serious considerations to some of these issues in such a public light because people misunderstand me constantly. I'm proud to say that I stand up against abuse against women, and I stand up for the underdog anytime, almost. And the AIDS issues are very important to me. Civil rights and human rights in general are a huge priority for me. But sometimes the general impression, the overwhelming message that people get from me is very heavy, almost a weighty message. That kind of makes me sad.

I think the way I sing, so hard and with so much fury and emotion and passion and everything, is sometimes a little bit much. I can temper it to some extent, but that's just me.

RG: When I was researching for this interview, I flashed back on a documentary that I saw several years ago, a documentary on indigenous Balinese spiritual beliefs. In that culture, it's encouraged, in fact it's almost necessary, to embrace both the dark and the light aspects of their personalities so they have to embrace both good and evil to bee seen as normal functioning people in that society. The dark characteristics tend to be expressed through the arts--singing, dancing, painting, and so on. You strike me as someone who's probably already recognized the value of embracing both in your life and that it's essential to your own well-being.

CB: What you're seeing on stage is really that battle. You might think that what you just said is what you're seeing, but really it's that. I'm in a state of constant conflict between that and this sort of existential joker that lives inside me. Those two are just battling constantly. It's almost like a dual personality thing. I'm happiest when the existentialist joker person starts to get the upper hand.

RG: "Toybox," the second song on Butch is a remarkable powerful song, with pretty clear overtones of incest. And although the lyrics are packed with references to the loss of a girl's innocence and instances of abuse, the girl doesn't appear as a complete victim. What is the meaning of the song for you and your own motivations for writing a song like that?

CB: The fact that people and whatever we experience change us. You know those cartoons where the one superhero will be fighting the other one, and the one superhero has like some weird eyeball laser beam, and the other will have a super-mirror twelve dimensional mirror reflector? And one of them will inflict their weapon on the other one, but then the other one will have some secret way, some secret super way of taking the other one's weapon and turning it into more of their energy and then they can take their opponent's weapon and turn it back around so that they're using it...

RG: Against them?

CB: Yeah. That's what the song is about.

RG: Did you just think of that or have you been formulating it for awhile?

CB: I just thought of what I just said but that's like what you were saying. That's what it's about. You can come at it from another angle. You could quietly destroy yourself and not even know you're doing it. I mean, I know a guy who, when he was an infant, his mother stabbed him in the chest a few times. She was mentally ill, and he survived. He is not troubled by it. He's forgiven her. He accepts it. He's one of the happiest, most amazing people I know. He's got the handle on the whole thing and he didn't go to years and years of therapy. He adjusted very well.

RG: That's really unusual.

CB: There are the people who take that energy and turn it back out the other way. That's what I try to do, a combination of the two. I like to battle the idea of destroying myself. For me, that's the adventure in life. I think I have that type of nature. It's a challenge and I enjoy a challenge. I'm a fighter.

Silja J.A. Talvi is a freelance writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in publications as diverse as High Times, Fresh and Tasty, Hope, Bust, and The Reggae Report. Send comments c/o

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