By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by Jack Gould
“When I sing and things are going all right, I don’t feel myself at all, I just send something through myself. My vision often goes completely black. I disappear.” Carla Bozulich says that, and many artists say the same in other ways. They empty out their self-consciousness, and then they are filled. You can actually see it happen — it shows up on film (less often as time goes by). Certain footage of Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Laura Nyro, Kurt Cobain: There’s a stillness, a glow. When they’re in that state, everything is correct.
At a Troubadour show last month, Bozulich has the glow. Has it and loses it. But you know, it comes and goes, even with the best. She and her great band start off the night by re-imagining Willie Nelson’s 1975 Red Headed Stranger album, her current live and recorded project, and a longtime personal touchstone. It’s a hell of a vision — shifting, spooky, vibey, full of Nels Cline’s electric-guitar nebulas. You should play the disc at 3 a.m. sometime.
Yes, it’s country music. Modern country music. Bozulich’s approach to the form is pure feel, not so different from Nelson’s, which must be why he was so ready to approve of it, and even sang and played on some of it at his studio in Perdenales, Texas. (She kind of dropped in on him.) When many other women’s voices break on a country song — that little half-sob — it sounds like a technical flourish. When Bozulich’s voice breaks, it’s an echo of something deep that’s really broken. Her delivery isn’t overdramatic, but it’s on the edge emotionally. Her tone is strong and real, her attitude welcoming.
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” comes first at the Troub. Cline’s pedal steel weeps; the guy can play any guitar, any style, amazingly. “Time of the Preacher” is a spaced-out raga: “Now the preachin’ is over/And the killin’s begun” — apply that any way you want. “Can I Sleep in Your Arms?” is slow bliss. “Remember Me” is downtown jazz. With her black blouse, denim skirt and Kabuki makeup, Bozulich looks like a punky Linda Ronstadt. The audience just swoons.
After the Stranger stuff, Bozulich pushes forward with some excellent new originals, the country-chorusing “Lonesome Roads” and the pop winner “My Diving Day.” At one point, she and Cline are churning guitars; she’s got Marika Hughes, Carla Kihlstedt, Dina Maccabee and Todd Sickafoose grinding dense waves on cello, violins and double bass; and Ches Smith is slamming the skins. It’s a blow-you-down storm.
Then, forgetting she has to put a capo on her guitar, Bozulich makes a false start. She retunes. There’s a Marianne Faithfull number, and some pleasantly dissonant blare that dates back to the Geraldine Fibbers, the band she’s still most known for. The focus is lost. The set goes on too long. Some of the audience drifts away.
That’s okay. How precision-drilled do you want your artists to be, anyway? With Bozulich, you’ve got somebody who writes memos and phone numbers on her arm, because “I have to put it on something I can’t lose. And there’s not much that I can’t lose.”
Offstage, at the Echo Park house she shares with Cline, she has a crooked smile and a relaxed, lively way of talking. Considering she hasn’t slept in two days — pretty much as usual — she looks good. She’s been putting together merch T-shirts and whatever for the tour she’s completing when you read this. Yes, she designs the T-shirts. She also writes songs, does visual art, does conceptual art, is writing a novel, is conceiving guerrilla mini-movies . . .
Erratic maybe, but Bozulich is a hard-driven artist. And a meticulous one. Take the Fibbers video she directed in 1997 for “California Tuffy.” She scripted every shot in detail, with all the standard MTV formulas present but significantly altered: A hand puppet does the lip-synching; Cline windmills a guitar that’s clearly broken; there’s a ton of frantic action, but it’s not so much flash-cut as real-cut — she says the band wound up with actual lacerations and contusions. Bozulich even made a surreal parallel video (originally planned to be intercut) out of found footage, and it’s just as much fun. Too much fun for television, as “California Tuffy” got played once and dropped, because it featured a great big real unsanctioned fire on the soundstage.
Bozulich was born to make art, and knows how to make fakery true. Her parents were true bohos. After they separated, she had scrapes with the stepfather. From the age of 16, she was on her own — she got jobs as a maid; spent time on the streets of Hollywood.
She always loved music — jazz, country, rock — but this was the early ’80s, when a lot of SoCal outsiders were making noise. One friend introduced Bozulich to the brain-bending sounds of John Cage’s experimentalist progeny; another heard her sing and made her join his punk-rock band, Neon Veins.