Few bands use a cello in their music, let alone center the entire band around one, but that's just one way that Rasputina is breaking the music mold. The band, which started in 1992, is a trio whose music has been difficult to categorize.
While the use of a cello may lend itself to be described as a classical instrument, bandleader Melora Creager doubts the band has many classical music enthusiasts as fans.
"It didn't seem like an unusual idea to me, because that's what I know how to play," Creager says of her decision to use the cello. "I didn't have in my head that I couldn't do other things with it. I assumed that I could do whatever I want and that it's an unlimited instrument." While the thought of using a cello may lend itself to broadening the fan base, she isn't sure that's the case. "It hasn't proven to be true, but it's a good theory."
Creager, who has been playing the cello since age 9, formed Rasputina shortly after a tour with Nirvana. She performed on the songs "All Apologies" and "Dumb" during the band's final European tour and also spent time on the road with Marilyn Manson.
Now, 15 years later, Creager's time on the road is spent in support of the band's latest release, Oh Perilous World. While the band's previous CDs were more focused on historical events, World deals more with recent events. She says she was interested in history as a kid.
"It's more interesting to me and more of something that I want to share with other people," she explains. "My life experiences get in there, but I think it would be pretty dull to sing about my love life. Not that it's dull."
Creager spent two years collecting ideas for the album. "Choose Me for Champion" contains a translation of an Osama bin Laden speech, "In Old Yellowcake" is about the destruction of Fallujah and "Child Soldier" deals with youth armies in Africa.
"I feel like I've worked with themes in the past on other albums, but it was always something I figured out after the fact -- realize a group of songs went together with a theme," Creager says. "I'd get excited about a subject and then research it. With this one, I had some subjects ahead of time and was writing around those."
Creager's writing process starts by keeping a journal of phrases, thoughts and ideas she's interested in. After the music is written, she'll go back and "try to match things up" judging by the mood of the music.
"Few people have probably ever read a speech like that by Osama bin Laden," she says of the choice to use his words in a song. "It's a lot of really poetic writing and I think somebody like that is a cartoon character with PR as a villain. We don't know anything about what he has said, or really anything about him at all. He's just a cartoon character. So, I thought I would use the words of that villain for my hero."
While it has changed many times over the years, the band's current lineup consists of Creager, Jonathan TeBeest and Sarah Bowman. "I'm really fond of Sarah -- she's a great musician," Creager says. "We sing well together so she does more singing than people have done in the past. I think the band has gone on so long, that there are all these years to cover -- it's fun for a year or two, but it's a lot of touring and they're my songs. I think people get tired of it."
Creager says she doesn't mind if the band members change, but she's comfortable with the way things are now. While it would be OK if the third member was another cello player or drummer, etc., she says she works well with the lineup and that she and Jonathan are able to bounce a lot of ideas off of each other.
While the band includes a variety of instruments -- dulcimer, drums, cello, piano -- Creager says there's one instrument that she is set against. "I really can not politically allow a guitar in here," she says with a laugh. "I don't have a choice."
The only problem the band has these days is with people being able to see. Creager says that some clubs have a low stage, and with the band being seated, some people have a hard time seeing them perform. "I sometimes ask people to sit down when it's necessary," she says.
While the band's initial "manifesto" included the requirement of only wearing "Victorian Whites," that has since been expanded to include a variety of historical feminine outfits. "I think it's because we're seated and stay seated," Creager says. "I think I wanted to offer as much as I can visually because of that."
Of her time with Nirvana and other bands, Creager says she learned a lot about the music business and fame. "I learned a lot about the evil nature of fame," she says. "I think it was good to see those things early in my career so I could ... just try to enjoy making things and sharing them with people. I feel privileged. I feel like fame is a soul killer, so I'm OK not having too much of it."
Rasputina will play Tremont Music Hall on December 10 with Mathematicians. Tickets are $14 in advance and $16 on the day of the show. Doors open at 7 p.m.