The same night that I interviewed Jesika von Rabbit from Gram Rabbit about the cosmic forces of the universe and the desert’s spirit, I caught a commercial about a tribute to Gram Rabbit’s namesake and semi-spiritual forefather, Gram Parsons. This is just more evidence of the cosmic forces working in favor of this Joshua Tree, California “psychedelic space disco” band.
Gram Rabbit got their start playing tributes to Gram Parsons, but have moved far beyond that. Jesika has a voice that’s one part country torch song siren, two parts pop goddess and the band’s music layers industrial-techno dance beats with her lyrics about cowboys, aliens, Jesus and the Devil. Gram Rabbit is playing this Friday at the Bluebird in Denver, and on Saturday at 32 Bleu in Colorado Springs. Check them out at www.gramrabbit.com.
Kaffeine Buzz: So my first question has to be why rabbits?
Jesika von Rabbit: Well the whole thing, Gram Rabbit, actually came from when I met Todd and he moved down to Joshua Tree, where I was living. We were doing a bunch of Gram Parsons songs out at open mic nights and stuff, just for the fun of it. And we needed a name for our little country act, and he thought of Gram Rabbit, from Gram Parsons and from people calling me Jesika Rabbit. Which came from Jessica Rabbit and from me liking the song “White Rabbit” so much, and for some reason there are rabbits around us a lot in the desert. It’s like our musical mascot in some way. It stuck, people liked it and latched onto the name and it kinda transcended into our original music, besides the country stuff, so that’s just what we stuck with.
KB: Can you tell me a little more about Joshua Tree and the music scene out there?
JVR: It’s a small community, but it’s a pretty unique and special one. There are a lot of artists and musicians out there, a lot of people who’ve been traveling a lot and found that place to kind of settle down, still continue their career but just get out of the city. It’s a really neat place. It’s very magical and there’s some really strong, weird, cosmic energy there, and I think that’s why a lot of people like us are drawn to it. Although it’s small, it’s pretty cool. There’s Pappy and Harriet’s, a saloon up in Pioneertown—Pioneertown was built back in the ‘20s or ‘30s to make Western movies, and they have a honky tonk up there that’s been going on for a long time. A couple of girls from New York just took it over, and they’ve been having a lot of different type of acts besides country music. All kinds of bands have been going through there. It gets a lot of press, it’s pretty famous, so we have that place to go hang out at and we play there a lot too. There are things that go on there like the Joshua Tree music festival, which is new, it’ll be in its third year this year. It’s a really neat thing, bands from all over and come out and play. It’s kinda been building up the last few years.
KB: When I was listening to your CD, there’s a lot of stuff going on there but at the same time there’s a stripped-down feeling to it, it kind of reminds me of the desert.
JVR: It’s definitely been a major influence on our music. When I first moved to the desert a couple of years ago, I started writing a lot of songs. It seemed like they were just waiting to find the right place to come out and the desert finally brought it out. It’s a great setting to write because you don’t have any distractions and you’re just in this beautiful weird environment. You’re very creative out there, and it’s a different kind of creative, rather than being in the city, being in the crazy busy traffic every day and then coming home and trying to write songs. I think that being in the desert definitely helps open your mind and be creative. Our songs are very desert-influenced. Some songs are probably stuff that we would have had anyway, but definitely that’s in there.
KB: I think it helps you not sound like everything else that’s going on.
JVR: Right, and I think it seems to have happened to us. I think the desert definitely has made that happen for us, to sound different.
KB: Where did you move there from?
JVR: I moved there from Los Angeles. I lived there for a couple of years, I was trying to get a band together there, and before that I was in Minneapolis for five years, where I was in a pretty cool band. I grew up in Wisconsin, and I moved to Minneapolis and I played in a band there and it was fun, but I felt like I still needed to keep moving from where I grew up, so of course I went to L.A. and tried to get something together there for a few years, and it wasn’t happening. Someone I knew had rented a house out in Joshua Tree and I decided to go up there and check it out. I wanted to get out of L.A., and I was kind of thinking of moving back to the Midwest, I wasn’t sure. When I went out to the desert I just fell in love with it and started writing all this music and decided I needed to stay in California.
And then I met Todd. Six months later, he came down from San Francisco and he was kinda in the same position I was, where he was just getting sick of the city and he wanted to do music and he just needed some kind of change. He came down and he heard me singing on a song and he wanted to play music with me and he up and moved his life down to the desert. He and I started slowly—we started doing Gram Parsons songs and we slowly grew into what was Gram Rabbit, our original stuff.
He had written the music for Cowboys & Aliens, which is on our CD, and I came home from work one day, probably a couple of months after he had moved down there, and he played me his demo version of it, and I loved it. That was definitely the sound, or a sound, that I wanted to do, and it was totally me and I picked up the pen and paper and the lyrics just kind of spilled out of me in like ten minutes. I’m like “Wow, this is it.” That kind of officially spawned the music that we have now, is that song. It’s kind of our theme song, the whole desert feel..the cowboys, the old western thing, and the aliens because you can just see all the constellations at night and you feel close to outer space.
KB: You have the very old country themes of God and the Devil, mixed with these techno-industrial beats and songs about aliens.
JVR: That’s what it’s like out there. It’s other things, too. I’m sure we’re not always going to just be about cowboys and aliens, but that definitely is a core theme with what we’re doing.
KB: It’s fun. One of my first reactions to it was that it would be equally at home on the jukebox of some dingy old dive bar at two in the morning or on the dance floor at a trendy nightclub in New York or L.A.
JVR: Yeah, I hope it could be that it has that weird timelessness that could transcend different environments. We definitely want our music to be welcomed by a lot of different groups of people; we don’t restrict ourselves to one genre of music when we write. So far it seems like we’ve gotten lots of different types of people that like our music, so it’s cool.
KB: You started out doing Gram Parsons covers, do you still feel like that’s an inspiration for you or have you really moved past that?
JVR: I don’t know if that was an inspiration for us or just a slice of how Todd and I met— our history. I don’t know if I would call it an inspiration, but it kind of just fell into our lives that we were out there and we were doing these songs. We still play ‘em every once in a while—they have the Gram Parsons festival out there that we play at, so it’s kind of part of who we are, but not necessarily what inspired us. We were both playing music before that and we still would’ve anyway, but it’s just kinda something that happened into our lives. It’s definitely an important part of our beginnings together. I’m sure we’ll always have that and I’m sure we’ll always play Gram Parsons songs here and there throughout our lives, because it’s fun to switch over and do country stuff. It’s easier, too. You don’t have to set up all these machines, all this equipment; you just pick up your guitar and sing. So it’s definitely an important part of us. Gram Parsons also was kind of a pioneer for a new sound, he was doing this weird country-rock that was new for his time, he was kind of creating a new genre, and we kinda feel like maybe in a way we’re trying to do that too with whatever genre you would call us, just trying to fuse different sounds together without really thinking about it too much.
KB: Trying to put a genre label on it is no fun!
JVR: Yeah, no one can really do it. I always say it’s psychedelic space disco with a western edge. But I even hate saying the “Western edge” part, it gets a little wordy, so I say psychedelic space disco and other things.
KB: Do you feel like more of Alice in Wonderland or the white rabbit? Do you feel like you’re following something down the rabbit hole or like you’re leading people down there?
JVR: I would say more of the rabbit. Maybe a little bit of both but I definitely relate more to the actual rabbit. No one’s ever asked me that before, but I’d say we’re definitely more of the rabbit, that we want to be the ones people are following, creating something that people are following down our rabbit hole, they’re chasing us.
KB: So your CD is titled Music to Start a Cult To and I read a little bit of your bio that says you really do have a cult.
JVR: It’s called the Royal Order of Rabbits, and it’s basically just anyone who likes our music, and gets it, and gets where we’re coming from, and is on that kind of wavelength, we say they’re in our cult. Which is our music, it’s just a group of people that’s devoted to one thing, and that’s our music. It’s a lot of our friends in the desert who get what we’re doing, and a lot of people that we meet along the way that get the whole idea of Gram Rabbit just joining up with us and becoming part of the Rabbit Army. So it’s a fun cult, not an evil one!
KB: I did see on your website where you have the email of the month from the prison or whatever?
JVR: Yeah, someone sent that to us but [laugh] I don’t know if it exactly came from that person. It might be a pseudo-email.
KB: One of the songs I liked a lot on the CD was “Land of Jail.”
JVR: Yeah, it’s one of my favorite songs to sing live.
KB: Can you tell me a little bit about where that was coming from?
JVR: I guess just everyone these days being trapped in their own minds somehow. Everyone needing something to feel good, everyone taking anti-depressants. Everyone living in their own jail. It could be very literal, but also just like I say in the song, everyone is either a caged bird or a vagabond, but they’re both searching for the opposite thing, they’re trying to find something, trying to get to some happy spot, if that’s mentally or physically, we’re all trying to get to somewhere else or chasing something to become happy in our life, I guess that’s what that song is about. Sometimes all it takes is a little smile or some chocolate cake, whatever it is that you need, a stranger smiling at you or chocolate or pills or whatever, but people always needing something to be happy. And the government too, a little bit. [laughs]