Carla Bozulich has filled her career—as a solo artist and leader of the bands Ethel Meatplow, the Geraldine Fibbers, and Evangelista—with musical extremes.
She's as much at home creating noisy, chaotic avant-garde music as she is covering Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Bobbie Gentry. Her own songs often wage war over melody and noise, always feeling as though they're about to self-destruct.
But for Bozulich, this isn't a conflict.
"They're kind of married to each other," she says in a phone interview. "It's two sides of the same coin. I'm looking for the relationship between each other."
Both will be on display for her show with Evangelista at Pilot Light next Tuesday. The tour will support Evangelista's fourth album, In Animal Tongue, which will be released that day.
In Animal Tongue is less noisy than Evangelista's previous albums. It's brooding and somber, but retains an improvisational, almost jazz feel to it. The tunes meander, like performance art pieces.
"Die Alone" is a diseased, dying woman's lament. The music is haunting, as Bozulich sings, "I can scarcely remember my name and tonight, I'll die alone." Earlier Evangelista songs might have erupted in a cacophony of angry noise, but this song remains mournful.
Bozulich is fond of using found sounds in her compositions. "You find yourself here or there, and you're with this person or that, with this instrument," she says. "Quite a lot of it was done with me and my Mbox, doing a lot of overdubs, just making things from the ground up."
She explains that for the first Evangelista record, she had a sample that she played backward and then cued in on the pitch of it.
"It was droning pitch. And I thought, ‘I need to get a preacher in there.' And found this recording of a preacher droning in the same note. I laid that in and it was in the same pitch. All this cool stuff fell together."
She also embraces randomness, like when she hit herself with a drum stick on the title track of Hello, Voyager: Her "Ow" is audible, but also seems to fit nicely.
"I'll literally drop this record needle on a Steve Austin album and whatever it hits, that's what's going to be recorded on the song there," she says. "I've had a lot of good luck with accidental song relationships. I let it land where it lands."
How does country music inform some of these noisier, experimental efforts? Bozulich says she isn't sure, except that country is something she loves and will also play.
"I have great respect for how Tammy Wynette or George Jones or Willie Nelson gets into a song, reaches in there and touches people," she says. "A lot of people think it's a simple matter and it really isn't. With country music, it's very direct. You either connect or you don't. Like noise, there's tons of space in between where anything can happen. It's very interpretive.
"Country music either grabs you or it doesn't. It's going for your gut," she adds. "Nobody remembers a country song for how an arrangement was."
Evangelista—a trio with Bozulich, Tara Barnes on bass, and Dominic Cramp on piano and organ—is joined on this tour by John Eichenseer. Bozulich and Eichenseer have been recording more traditional songs just for the tour, which they'll perform. It's part of on an experiment by Bozulich to break out of her comfort zone while performing. While she loves noise, she's not "motivated by volume" with these songs.
"It's really challenging to make vocal-oriented music that doesn't have other stuff supporting it. It's very revealing to me how much I feel safer with a band," she says. "I could fall and the band would catch me."
She loves the experience of performing: "It's really my job. I don't work at anything else. When I'm not on the road I'm working toward being on the road."
With her live shows, Bozulich engages the audience directly. She says she always pays attention to their reactions, and is pleased when she sees one, even if it's negative. "Even if they leave in disgust," she says.
"I love people that seem enchanted and affectionate," she adds. "People that are belligerent can be fun. I like the audience and what they're doing. I generally try to be aware of who is in the room and what their trip is."