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POP BEAT

She's still chasing the elusive big time

Carla Bozulich and her band keep the faith with a new album and tour.

October 11, 2003|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

Carla Bozulich had her chances. There was the time a drummer-producer from the Midwest solicited her to be the singer in his new band, a job that later went to Shirley Manson, who has helped Garbage become a major act. Bozulich passed because she didn't care for the music sent to her by celebrated record producer Butch Vig.

Maverick Records, she recalled, proposed casting her as an edgy, sensuous singer-songwriter in the early '90s, but she opted to stay with her sex-shock band Ethyl Meatplow, while Maverick signed Alanis Morissette.

A few years later, when Virgin Records had her band the Geraldine Fibbers under contract, the label suggested she go solo. She decided to stay with the group, which was soon dropped by the label and broke up.

So on Thursday she was playing to a couple of hundred fans at the Troubadour, opening a tour of small clubs to expose an album that was rejected by a host of U.S. independent labels before a new company finally put it out last month.

Bozulich, with a band that included guitarist Nels Cline, two violinists and a cellist, opened with almost half an hour from that album, a full remake of Willie Nelson's 1975 landmark concept album "Red Headed Stranger," an enigmatic narrative about a lovesick preacher's murder spree and ultimate redemption. "He screamed like a panther in the middle of the night," Bozulich sang in her dusky twang, the line tailed by jabbing notes from Cline's guitar and cheers from the audience. This was unmistakably a serious and strong reinvention.

The show also included material from the Fibbers and Ethyl Meatplow as well as some new songs, marking something of a reemergence for the low-profile singer.

Bozulich, 37, was upbeat and radiant on stage, but the night before she was weary and stressed as she dealt with last-minute band problems and the overall struggle of being an unclassifiable artist.

"I would like to get out of these ... clubs," she said as she sat drinking tea in the Eagle Rock house she purchased during the flush Fibbers era. "I'll be sitting in these places sometimes and I'm like, 'What am I doing? I've got other skills. Like I can do Photoshop really, really well. Sometimes it gets a little sad....

"I don't have any desire to live the life of somebody who is immensely popular.... I would, however, like to be making a stable living at music. It's still teetering between a really extravagant, expensive hobby and a career."

It might not fill her bank account, but Bozulich's independence has established her as one of the most formidable artists to emerge from the Los Angeles rock scene in the past two decades, especially with the Fibbers, who evolved from a country-rock lark into a wide-ranging rock band that gained widespread critical support and seemed on the verge of breaking through when it broke up instead.

More recently, she's remained out of the spotlight, concentrating on experimental incarnations with her boyfriend Cline, an esteemed, jazz-rooted guitarist.

But she still has higher-profile fans floating around. The group Wilco invited her to open some shows last month, and she says the band's leader, Jeff Tweedy, is interested in producing a pop-oriented project she is formulating. And when Willie Nelson heard an early pressing of "Red Headed Stranger" earlier this year, he jumped in to add vocals and guitar on three tracks.

"I knew that I wanted it to be extremely atmospheric, almost tactile, so you could almost feel yourself in that setting all those years ago, feel the wind, see the tumbleweeds," Bozulich said.

"When I was arranging the album it was right when we invaded Afghanistan, and I was really upset about it.... I wanted to communicate the fact that these feelings are universal, this kind of rage and vengeance and all this stuff is not a fairy tale, it's stuff that everybody can understand and it's everywhere."

Bozulich was surprised that "Red Headed Stranger" was such a tough sell to record labels, but she says that since the start-up DiCristina Stair Builders put it out three weeks ago, it has already recouped its costs.

It seems a natural for an audience that follows artists such as Beck and Lucinda Williams, but the stumbling block is exposure. So Bozulich and a new band are heading out on tour.

"I have high hopes for it," said Bozulich. "It's certainly my most accessible thing, and it's a beautiful thing. Whereas a lot of stuff that I make I can't resist incorporating hideousness at one turn or another

"If I stop learning and changing I freak out and get really crazy and start doing very stupid things. I'm kind of like a shark that way. I have to keep moving. Musically I'm all over the place, and that's hard for people sometimes. But it keeps me sane."

*

Carla Bozulich

Where: Spaceland, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., L.A.

When: Nov. 15, 9 p.m.

Price: $10

Contact: (323) 661-4380

Also

Where: All Tomorrow's Parties Festival, the Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach.

When: Nov. 9, 2 p.m.

Price: $50, one-day pass

Contact: www.atpfestival.com or Ticketmaster

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