Culture | Making mayhem

Carla Bozulich talks punk and performance

Before meeting Carla Bozulich – and with only a preliminary google search to go on – it would seem easiest to categorize her as a musician. While this is certainly true, after speaking with Bozulich it’s necessary to further describe her, not only as an artist, but also as a participant in and observer of the broader evolution of North American culture in an almost anthropological sense.

Bozulich was born in New York, but now subscribes to a more nomadic lifestyle that she describes as, simply, “travelling.”  She is best known  for her music; first as a founding member of performance-heavy band Ethyl Meatplow in the 80’s and early 90’s, then as a singer for the 90’s band Geraldine Fibbers, and, most recently, as the singer and founder of Evangelista. While Bozulich’s contributions to music have been many, her appreciation of it started long before she began to play.

“Before punk rock, as a kid of 5, 6, or 7 I went to jazz shows with my mom – in the 70’s people were just so demonstrative. But when punk rock hit, it was insane, people yelled and they danced if they liked it and if they hated it they’d throw things. […] As a teenager at punk rock shows when I was younger, maybe 14, I was a very shy person, I didn’t yell. I loved the music but part of it was also seeing the people and how they reacted. It was as much about the audience as it was about the band.”

Later on, having outgrown her shyness, Bozulich went on to be a founding member of Ethyl Meatplow, a band known for their cult-like following and intense crowds.

“ [At our shows] people were flying through the air and screaming, it was very sex and humour driven and our music was very loud and aggressive. We caused a lot of mayhem. We had a lot of encounters with the police. People would always get undressed and come up on stage and either we’d kiss them or we’d throw them off – a lot of people fell in love. It’s impossible to really put into words how extreme it was, our music was really new and exciting.”

Since then, music – and also crowds – have changed. Carla commented that “there was some kind of shift, now it’s like people don’t get any more excited when watching a band perform live than they would watching them in a YouTube video.”

This is an interesting insight, considering it points to the effects of the internet and social media on the music industry with regard to crowd mentality. “Honestly it is a bit disconcerting – not as a musician but as a person. I want people to have an intense experience like the ones I’ve had myself. I want people to react.  … You can be at a gig now and dancing, and the next day it’ll show up online and people will make fun of you. In art – projecting and broadcasting everything is great – but it comes with a cost. There is a lack of healthy naivety now that promotes this self-consciousness. Kids can’t fuck up anymore. People will know – it’ll be on a social networking site.”

Bozulich is also known for her performance pieces, mainly the Eyes-and-Ears series that focuses on creating “a feeling of having all of one’s senses stimulated – that’s what I hope for – it should be an experience they weren’t expecting.” These pieces are relatively unique in the sense that they are written after the locale has been chosen in order to reflect said locale. Bozulich explained that “the history and juxtaposition of a place,  it’s details, are important” These performance pieces are somewhat scripted as each section of the story unfolds within a particular constraint of time but are often very improvisational and allow for each performance to be unique.

Bozulich is not only a performer, but also a writer and a painter. Her writing has been published in Alternative Press, LA Weekly, Austrian music mag; SKUG, Time Out New York, and Germany’s SPEX. She was a long time editor and contributor “at the wild LA underground magazine – Ben is Dead.” She has also contributed to The Wire, and “The Art of Touring” (a book about the artist’s life on the road), and currently has a piece on spirituality in music featured on xtrememusic.org. Besides this, she has written several chapters of an unfinished novel, “The Sparkley Jewel”, as well as many poems. In regards to the vast scope of her talents, Bozulich notes that “I don’t see a lot of separation between creative endeavours, it all stems from the same place. It’s all art.”

So where exactly does it stem from for Bozulich? “My primary influence is love. When I listen to my own music I hear it over and over and it’s about grappling with it and surrendering to it and leaving it, and celebrating it. … I was born a lover, and I was born curious. I need to learn and grow and see things change. I need to know that I don’t know everything.”

Though her influences have not changed, her style and music have. “My musical evolution… shows that I haven’t changed but that my music has become more refined. I feel like the same person very clearly, it’s a matter of growing and learning so much, [I feel that I] have become a much more complicated person in a really good way.”


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