Written by Dominique Minor
Tuesday, 21 October 2008 07:04
RSS: Well, strangely, a lot of my songs are narrative-driven. A lot of my records have stories backing them up by other songs, or they're performed by characters or situations-–imaginary ones. I'm not necessarily into documenting the life around me; internal life, I guess. I'm really into classical composers as well. A lot of times that's where I'm coming from.
DM: Is there any composer in specific that's influenced you?
RSS: Schubert; Mahler. I love the experimentation by cats like Stockhausen. Chopin's had a little bit of influence on my playing style.
DM: Have you been playing music your entire life?
RSS: I started gigging about 20 years ago.
DM: Has it always been as Ratty Scurvics Singularity, or was it something else?
RSS: It's relatively new, for the past 7 or 8 years I've played as Ratty Scurvics. I think in 2002 I did my first shows.
DM: Were you ever in a band, or did you always perform as a one-man act?
RSS: I spent the 90s in a band. It was called Coprolingus. It was a monster, it was a 15-piece noise-and-percussion group. I spent about seven years doing that.
DM: Do you ever miss being in a band, or was it just something that worked for you at the time?
RSS: The thing is, even when I worked with an ensemble the bulk of my work was solo. I still put out solo records the entire time. I was accustomed to the stuff that was closest to my heart, which was the stuff I was doing by myself anyway. So I think at one point I got empowered to do the one-man-band thing, and ended up really liking it. I kind of did it on accident-–well, really out of necessity, not an accident.
DM: What exactly do you mean by accident?
RSS: Well, I was on a tour with the Know Nothing Zircus and I was the musical composer/director for the sideshow. All the musicians left while we were on the tour, and I had several more shows left with no band, so I had to figure something out. I set up all the instruments I had on hand and played everything by myself. That's how that happened.
DM: Could you explain your onstage set up?
RSS: I've got a snare drum with a kick pedal attached to it. Two keyboards: one that's just for bass; the other's just for keeping chords and melodies, and that's sort of like a synth organ. Then I actually get down with that and sing.
DM: Do you ever feel limited by this set up?
RSS: As far as performing is concerned I really enjoy it. With the work that I do in my home studio, it's fully orchestrated. As a performer, when I go out with Singularity I feel completely satisfied. But whenever I do my solo records it's a lot more elaborate. Some of my songs would take a 12-person orchestra to pull them off.
DM: So, it's kind of a Brian Eno, Brian Wilson kind of thing?
RSS: I can satisfy my desire for musical complexity with my recordings. The savagery I can satisfy with the live performances for Singularity.
DM: When you first started to do solo performances, was it something that took a while to get used to?
RSS: As far as me being on the stage all by myself facing a crowd, I'm not sure. The thing is that the activity of making Singularity work requires so much concentration. You know, I think it's probably more focused on the get-down. There have been some moments where I felt like the bowling ball on the trampoline. If you perform with other musicians and you have other people you're working with, if you do a fuck-up it can be covered up someway. You don't necessarily have to always be on your game every second, but with Singularity I have to. If anybody fucks up, it's me.
DM: Was it trial-and-error in the beginning?
RSS: Not really. Doing Singularity came naturally to me. I started out initially trying to challenge myself, trying to come up with more and more complex things to do with it. But initially, playing songs in that format came pretty naturally.
DM: As a solo artist, what have been some cool reactions you've received from live performances?
RSS: A pretty common one I like is that people say they heard me performing in a room before they saw what I was doing, and just assumed it was a full band. I like that one, because that's really what I want it to be. I don't want it to be a gimmick. Essentially, it's supposed to sound like a full band. The thing with Singularity is that it's really about the format. The set up is that I arrange the instruments and the sound in such a way that it excites me. And it's really about sitting down with the equipment and fooling with that. Even the songs that I write for Singularity have a lot do it with just jamming around with equipment.
DM: Is having that time to figure out your sound what's so important?
RSS: It's just the sensation that the sounds give me, and the actual act of playing. It has a lot to do with the aesthetic of Singularity.
DM: Do you ever have other people come to perform with you?
RSS: I have two girls that perform with me from time to time, and they do dancing and performance art, that sort of thing. I have shadow puppeteers that come in sometimes, but they haven't been with me in a while. A lot of puppeteers I used to perform with have now moved out of town. Yeah, but now I have two girls that perform named Ooops and Gladys.
DM: Will they be with you at Voodoo Fest this year?
RSS: Yes, at the NOOMOON stage. The organizer of that stage is really into having locals bands play there, so it's almost exclusively local acts –and not the ones you hear so much about all the time. The thing is, you'll have some of the bigger bands from town play on some of the bigger stages, but the NOOMOON stage is almost exclusively bands from around town. It's really the local stage.
DM: While we're on the subject of local music, do you feel that narrative storytelling in songs is something that's unique to New Orleans music in any way?
RSS: No, I don't really think so. There's lots of stories, but no. It is a rich life here. There's lots going on, so I could see how someone would want to relate to some of it. I read some nonfiction and fairy tales, and stuff like that. Whenever I write a narrative it's more in that direction. Like, “I met this great guy, who's this drunk hobo,” or “I went on the street today, and he took me on an adventure.” Something like that. Or, a man who finds out he's actually a shark in a mansuit, and decides to run for governor laughs.
DM: I was reading your Myspace site recently, and I saw where you wrote about how people used to “walk ratty” during Mardi Gras parades in the Ninth Ward, and about how that has specifically influenced your music?
RSS: Well, I'm from New Orleans. It's in my bloodstream whether I like it or not. There was this woman from when I worked over at Flora's coffee shop before Hurricane Katrina, this fantastic older woman who was an artist. She had so some much life in her, and I really enjoyed her company. But she couldn't get her mind around why my name is Ratty. “You just don't seem like a Ratty,” she would tell me all the time. Then one day she came into the coffee shop, and she told me the story about the people who would “walk the ratty” with their umbrellas during the secondlines. After Katrina, when I came back, she was one of my missing pieces. She was just one of those people who were creatures of old habit that become special to me. I think that's when I put that on my site-–I did that a little bit after Katrina--it was very releasing, and it was to remember something special.
DM: How many albums have you released as of this date?
RSS: I don't release very much. I just make a couple copies and sell them at shows. All in all it's about 36 or so.
DM: Wow, that's pretty amazing.
RSS: Well, I like working.
DM: I know that sometimes when you perform, you'll dress up like a clown and paint your face. What is the inspiration behind that?
RSS: When I began playing as Singularity, I was also composing a rock opera [called “The Whore In My Cellar”]. So, I set the equipment up like I did on that circus tour. The story behind [the opera] is that it took place during World War I. Long story, but this girl ends up getting shell-shocked –she lives in this northern Italian village-- and ends up turning into a trench whore. Eventually, she ends up losing her mind and she comes across this mass burial where all these soldiers have been thrown into, and there’s light all over them. And she thinks she’s discovered a toy box full of baby dolls. So, she goes down there and she starts making them all up, pretending like they’re her baby dolls. That’s what the clown is, and that's originally where the make-up comes from. The clown [I dress up as] is one of those baby dolls.
DM: Wow, where did the inspiration for that story come from?
RSS: My imagination. For about the first year I did Singularity, I performed most of it live --but as Singularity. See the thing is, I didn't put it on as a stage production because it was more like a series of songs that were performed by a character. So, actually not very many people knew the songs were actually one long story. I didn't really mind. I liked it the way that is was.
DM: Is there anyone in particular you're looking forward to seeing this year?
RSS: Yeah know, there is one, Eyrkah Badu. We went to high school together [at the Dallas Arts Magnet]. We used to play in this psychedelic jazz band together, named Picari. I know that she made it, but I haven't really heard from her since. She worked in a coffee shop, and Picari had a weekly gig there. On her breaks she would come out and sing a couple of songs with us, and then she'd run back in and make coffee. She was a real sweet girl. I loved performing with her. So, I'm looking forward to seeing her play again.
DM: If you had the opportunity, would you collaborate with her again?
RSS: Oh, absolutely. Like I said, it's been a really long time, but there's no way she could forget that project. It was a crazy project.
DM: As a performer, what are you most looking forward to this year at Voodoo?
RSS: Yeah. Every year is a lot of fun. I think this might be the fourth or fifth year I've played. I always have a really good time out there. The NOOMOON tribe people are great, I get a kick out of that. It's a fun afternoon in the park surrounded by lots of music.
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