Interview with Rachel Carns of The Need
Rachel Carns is one half of the incredible Rock duo The Need (The other half is guitar monster Radio Sloan). She is a graduate of Christian school, public high school marching and jazz bands, Cooper Union, and Kicking Giant. She is also a really nice person, who was kind enough to let me record our conversation last April 15 at Fort Thunder in Providence, Rhode Island.
Note: This was (as will become quite obvious) the first time I ever interviewed anyone, and I was seriously unprepared and nervous. I kept talking when I shouldíve been listening, and said "just out of curiosity, ..." way too many times. Also, I had this strange laugh that sounded like I was hyperventilating. Well, now I know what to do and what not to do next time...
Ernie (me): Ok, so, I donít know, what do you want to talk about? What, so, how old are you anway?
Rachel: Iím 30.
E: You serious? You look so young.
R: I get carded for everything.
E: (fiddling around with tape recorder) So youíre from Olympia?
E: Whatís Olympia like, just out of curiosity? [Why do I say this? Of course Iím curious, why else would I be interviewing her?!?!]
R: Itís- itís a lot like Sesame Street.
R: Thereís... Thereís a tradition, of course, of music coming out of Olympia, and a lot of people there, I think, have a concept of themselves as having a public life.
R: You know what I mean? Like, people who are performers- thereís a lot of performers and artists and stuff in town. So it makes for a pretty interesting mix of people. People are always moving in and out of town, the college is there...
E: Which college is there?
E: Oh okay, thatís um, thatís where Lynda Barry went, right?
R: Yeah. Yeah, so thereís like a pretty high turnover of kids, like...
E: Did you live there, I mean, were you like a townie or a student, or, neither?
R: I moved there as a townie. Yeah, I was already out of school.
E: When did you move there?
R: In... ninety-...two? Or ninety-three, maybe.
E: Were you, you were, you were Kicking Giant?
E: Were you rocking then?
R: Yeah. Yeah, um, I started playing Kicking Giant in New York, in-
E: (I start mumbling) wow, how many people were in that band?
R: Two. Well, at that time there was two... Now, Taeís doing the KG, which has, itís sometimes just him, and has other rotating members and stuff.
E: What did you do in that band, just out of [dammit!]...?
R: I played drums.
E: Did you always play drums standing up?
R: Mmm hmmm.
E: ... doing that stuff? [what am I talking about?] Itís really good.
R: Yeah... W were kind of a, well, definitely, at least from my perspective, an art band, when we first started, and, I didnít know how to play drums really. I only had one drum. Our first show we played in a window of a junk shop in Brooklyn, and I played one drum standing up.
E: What did Tae do?
R: He played guitar... and sang. Well, we both sang, but he sang more.
E: So... how long have you been doing this band for?
R: Since ninety-six.
E: When did the first CD come out, the other one?
R: That came out in 97.
E: Okay, Ďcause I saw you guys in Princeton, at the Terrace Club.
R: That was a bizarre show!
E: I think you mistuck me for someone named Max...
E: ... and then I saw you in San Francisco last summer, and it was funny because there were all those kids and they were all moshing. Does that happen a lot at your shows?
R: It pretty much only happens in San Francisco because there are so many dykes there, and they just get rowdy, you know...
E: What is touring like? Is it awful?
R: Oh my God, itís like putting years on your life, in a good way though, because everyday is so chock full of stuff, like, different town, different show, different people you meet, different food, different atmosphere...
E: So do you actually, like, make money doing this? Like, so, wait- what do you put down as occupation on your tax forms? Is your occupation just like, Ďrock starí, or-...?
R: No, Iím a freelance graphic designer. Thatís how I make my money. This tour, weíre doing better money-wise than we have any other tour, because weíve been doing it for four years, and itís like, getting a promotion, like, the longer you do it, the better you get, and the more money you can ask for. We pretty much only make money at colleges.
E: Oh, Ďcause they have like-
R: Guarantees. So there are some colleges, like, this is the third year weíve gone to play there, so weíll ask for more money. But we borrowed over $5000 to go on tour. We had to buy a van, had to get $2000 worth of T-shirts made, just, like, all this stuff...
E: Oh, youíre selling T-shirts? Should I buy one to make up for this time that Iím taking up, because graphic designers make a lot of money per hour...
R: Actually, not. Well, I could make a lot of money per hour, but mostly I work for friends, at small record labels and stuff, so I donít make as much as I could if I lived in a bigger city, or worked for a corporation. Olympiaís a pretty comfortable city to live in, that way. Itís a pretty low cost of living.
E: Providence is still like that too, I think.
R: Well, a place like this can exist, thatís really cool.
E: What do you think of this place?
R: I think itís awesome... They need to clean the bathroom, but besides that, itís really cool.
E: Um, so, so- is it-...? So does your mom listen to your music?
R: Um... Yeah, Iíve given my parents our CDís and stuff, and theyíve actually come to a couple of our shows. My parents live in Wisconsin...
E: Is it weird, singing in front of your parents? ĎCause, youíre talking about, like, sexy stuff-
R: Plus, my dadís a preacher...
R: Yeah. Iím pretty much their nightmare child. Like, a lesbian in a rock band, itís pretty much the worst for them, I think, but they still have that unconditional Christian love.
Brian (my friend sitting nearby): Hey, did you ask her what kind of stuff she grew up listening to?
B: Like, what kind of age did you get really interested in music?
R: Well, my dadís a preacher and my family was like, really fundamentalist Christian, in a way that was almost... cult-ish, you know; I went to Christian schools, girls wear dresses. There was this model of Christian feminine modesty. And I wasnít allowed to listen to rock music. But I would listen to the transistor radio under my pillow at night, and the stuff that was on the radio was like, Rush, and Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest, and like, Boston, you know? And Yes, stuff like that. Some of the first tapes that I got were Joan Jett and the Blackheartsí ďI Love Rock and RollĒ, and the Go-Goís, and the Clash, and, I liked Rush a lot. Rush, I think, was the band I really liked a lot.
E: Itís cool that you can say that.
R: Theyíre, like, amazing musicians, I mean theyíre completely-
B: I saw them twice live.
(gasps of amazement from R and E)
B: We saw them at what used to be Brendon Byrne arena and the Key Center in Camden... Dude, we had second row seats for that show.
R: Thatís awesome!
B: We were looking up Geddyís nose, know what I mean?
R: Oh, and AC/DC. All the things that represented the ultimate taboo, the ultimate evil rock and roll...
E: ĎCause youíre the rebellious child.
E: Do you have brothers and sisters?
E: Oh. Oh! Oh no!
R: Yeah, nope, I was their only hope.
E: Oh. But they still love you.
R: Yeah, they do. Theyíre pretty supportive.
R: But when I got out of Christian school and started going to public high school I started playing piano in the jazz band.
E: The high school jazz band?
R: Yeah, and that was even, like, questionable in my family, you know, in the church. Like they werenít sure if that-
E: (I interupt- How rude!) What brand of church was this? Like, was it the church of stuff...?
R: It was Fundamentalist Baptist... yeah. And I got a scholarship to a jazz camp, and a scholarship to a music camp. So, I went to these camps, and my parents were like, ďOh, well, I guess sheís talented, we should let her go.Ē But that means that I actually met people, that werenít, like, Christian, do you know what I mean? Like normal kids and stuff. And I went to an arts academy my last year of high school, and then went to art school in New York after that. That was my method of escape.
E: Oh, they should have seen that! Art school, thatís automatically... Where did you go to school in New York?
R: At Cooper Union.
E: Wow. Fancy.
E: And thatís when you started rocking?
E: So you played piano, and then you played your... drum?
R: Well, I played- well, I did play drums in the marching band in high school (laughs).
R: Yeah, marimba and drums and bells and stuff. I was a percussion slut in the marching band, so...
B: What kind of stuff did you play on piano, were you classically-
R: Yeah, I was classically trained. I stopped taking lessons just when I was getting into modern repertoire. I went through most of the classic stuff.
B: Who was your favorite composer?
R: Now, or then? Now I think my favorite at this moment is Erik Satie, Ďcause he wrote all those fuckiní weird little stories, you know? Like, musically, I have no idea, but the fact that he wrote these crazy little poems, and like, vignettes of things that happened, like totally...
B: Heís kind of the originator of background music, elevator music, music that was designed specifically to accompany looking at something else. Like, it wasnít supposed to get in the way, wasnít the centerpiece at all. Background, literally.
E: (to R) Heís a voice major at New England Conservatory.
B: Thatís why Iím asking, like... Do you like Debussy?
R: Yeah... Yeah, I like Debussy. I like Scriabin a lot too. And I think Ysaże is really funny.
R: Ysaże. He wrote these kind of parodies of, like- a parody of Bach. Like he wrote these fake songs that were ...
B: Like songs in the style of whoever?
R: Yeah. But thereís something slightly off and weird about it...
E: So... Uh...
R: Me and Radio wrote a rock opera.
E: Oh yeah! Yeah! (Iím a little too excited here) I was going to ask you about that, because I read that thing and it sounded really wacky! So, do you, just play in it or are you going to act in it?
R: No, weíre going to be in the orchestra pit.
E: How big is your pit?
R: Well itís like, we have Donna Dresch on bass, this kid Scott Seckington on keyboards, and thereís possibly going to be a second guitar player.
E: Did you write the book, too, or just the music?
R: The book?
E: I mean, the story. The libretto, is that what itís called?
R: Yeah, we collaborated on the story with Nomy Lamm, who did all the vocals and lyrics and stuff. Well, I wrote some of the lyrics, but she wrote most of them. And thereís been a lot of people involved in the plot because itís kind of community project, you know? Different people throwing out ideas and stuff.
E: It sounded very, very exciting.
R: Yeah, itís really exciting. Iím actually really glad to be away from it for five weeks on tour. Itís like eight hours a day of practicing, and like, going to a meeting, and then going to vocal rehearsal to see how the cast is doing, and like... Itís really really involved.
E: Are you going to, I donít know, film it or tape it or something, so itís gonna last?
R: Yeah, itís going to be documented for sure. Yeah... So I felt like I was able to use my classical training, in a way that I havenít been able to.
B: Did you actually write- so itís like a written-
R: Yeah, I wrote all the piano and organ parts.
E: I canít even imagine, I feel like I have to hear it- I mean, is it, itís not, like, a rock opera?
B: Itís not going to be cheesy is it?
R: Some of itís cheesy, yeah, but um...
E: So itís like an opera, nobodyís talking, everybodyís singing everything?
R: Yeah, thereís not a single spoken part. Except maybe some kind of punk kind of shouting parts, but thereís no... yeah, Iím amazed. Theyíve started staging and stuff.
E: When is it going to be done?
R: In July.
E: Oh, so you have time to work on it when you get back. When are you going back home?
R: We have two weeks left, weíll be home around May first. Our last show is in Minneapolis on the 27th.
B: Just a straight drive back?
R: Yeah, because we had to be home by May first to do the rock opera. They need us, hee hee.
B: How did you select the cast?
R: We had full-on traditional auditions.
B: What kind of people auditioned?
R: Oh god, the weirdest people turned out! The people we ended up casting- like, thereís a couple of, you know, whatever, punk kids that we knew from around town. But also some older people, like, the lady that works at the co-op.
E: Did you advertise in a public place, just for random people to see?
R: Yeah, we hung fliers all around town. Thereís a couple- well, three or four actually, high school kids in the cast, who did things like, sing a song from ĎJesus Christ Superstarí for their audition. ĎCause theyíre all, like, little theater fags, and theyíre sooo cute! Theyíre just like, like ďoooohĒ for everything, and theyíre like, fifteen, you know. Theyíre totally fun! Yeah, the cast is awesome. Itís a really strange mixture of people. And auditions were everything from piano and vocal compositions that someone had written themselves, to somebody doing an a cappella version of ďBaby got back.Ē
E &B: Wow!
R: ... Everything from the most amateurish, to really... This one girl did a flamenco performance, a really serious- you know, itís like, a thing with stomping and- yeah...
E: But did she get in?
R: Oh yeah. She got a lead. She was great.
B: If itís a big enough success, would you make it, like, a tour of....
R: Possibly, I mean, weíd have to scale it down. The set designers are building stuff specifically for the theater in Olympia, which is a big theater with a balcony and stuff. We actually need to raise, like, $20,000. Thereís people working on fundraising, thatís not really my department, and I know that somehow we are raising that money, through local businesses and grants, and private donations and stuff like that. But we had to form a non-profit organization and stuff to raise money.
E: Wow, thatís neat that people can do that kind of thing. It just seems too huge...
R: I know, it gave everybody something to do. Like, fuckiní winter in Olympia is like, so fucking miserable and boring, it rains for five months. And you get depressed. Itís like... We just sitting around and were like ďLetís write a rock opera Ďcause, like, Iím bored.Ē And what better thing to do than...
B: Most kids just watch TV.
R: Well, Iím thirty, Iíve done that for plenty of winters. I donít need to spend another winter doing that.
E: Wow, cool...
R: Thatís, I think that, I hafta- I hafta pee, actually.
E: Okay! Oh, in that horrible bathroom.
R: And I have to go set up my-
E: Oh, when are you guys playing, what time?
R: Showís supposed to start at ten, but-
E: Is this tattooed on your hand?
E: Oh wow, itís never cominí off.
B: What is it?
R&E: It says ĎNEED.í
R: When my dad saw it, he was like, ďNerd.Ē
(We burst into laughter!)
E: Oh, typical rock question, so where is the name from?
R: Um, itís not a very interesting story really.
E: Is it some vampire movie?
R: ďPin...Ē? That movie ďPin...Ē? Somebody asked me if it was about that movie and itís not. Someone sent me the movie. Itís a really good movie, you should see it. Itís a really twisted, weird movie, but um... First time I tried to quit smoking, heh heh, and when I started again, I stenciled ĎNEEDí on my tobacco pouch, so that I would think about what I was doing every time I smoked. And that was at the time we formed the band, and we were just like, letís called it The Need. So...
E: Okay, I think this is... Are we okay?
R: Do you need anything to wrap it up or anything?
E: I donít know, I havenít done this before...
R: I think youíve covered a lot of stuff.
E: Yeah, I have to edit it so I donít sound as mumbly.
B: Do you find it amazing that, you know, that you are writing an opera, staging an opera in a major city today, when, I mean, what were you doing ten years ago, for example?
R: 10 years ago I was in art school in New York
B: Did you ever imagine that you life would be...?
R: Hell no. Yeah, I had no idea what I would be doing. Actually, I think 10 years ago I was a total stoner. I was a total pothead, I was in art school. Which is fine, I donít think smoking pot is bad or anything, but you know...
E: "Donít do drugs."
B: Thatís really cool.
E: Uh, I guess, thanks, thanks very much. Rock out!
R: Thank you, thank you.
Visit The Needís website at www.olywa.net/need
Find out about the rock opera ("The Transfused") at www.transfused.com
Thereís a great interview with Radio and Rachel at the online site of Magnus, "Queer News, Opinion and Culture"
Written By: Ernie K.