Following the critical success of 2006's The Ecotones, her debut solo album, Roz Raskin is at the helm of her own three-piece band, The Rice Cakes, with tour dates across New England and release of their first album, The Friend Ship, only weeks away. Known for her stage banter and high-voltage performances as much as for her songs, this multi-instrumentalist from the Mount Hope neighborhood of Providence is already a fixture at the city-state's hottest venues. Trading her trademark Lost in Translation wig for a blue-streaked Marie Antionette coiff, Roz Raskin sat down with the Indy and her guitar Olive Oyl to talk shop about Providence music.
This is your debut album as a Roz Raskin and the Rice Cakes. I know that you keep your process a little close to the chest but what can you tell us about the record?
We're all pretty stoked. It's ten songs¬≠--eight new ones and two remixes of songs from The Ecotones. Matt de Costa, singer and guitarist for Formal Action, engineered The Friend Ship mostly over three days at his studio down in Narragansett. We're really proud of it. I remember this one night it was late and everybody was asleep except for Matt and me. I was on the keyboard and I just started crying at one point, saying "This sounds so pretty." Granted we had a lot to drink, but I think this is definitely something I'm excited about. Some of my favorite songs from the album are "Like Ass," "There Are People Here" and "Tourist Attraction"--those are the songs that people really respond to at our shows.
How long have you been playing?
I've been on the piano since I was five, picked up the guitar at twelve and started playing open mics when I was fourteen. My friend Lily and I would write songs about loves we never had, but that was the beginning of song-writing for me. It wasn't until recently, though, that I started really showcasing my own stuff. My stint with Shaw Waters and GroupThink really introduced me to the venues, audiences and music I'm playing now.
I remember reading that Shawn Waters found you playing piano at a Providence wine bar and was immediately enamored.
That's one of those myths you find circulating around whatever music scene you're in. The truth is I was at Guitar Center and they had posted an ad seeking female vocalist and keyboardist, and I thought, "Hey, that's me!" It's a good story I guess, but it was nothing like that. Of course, that's how I met Bullet (Johnny Cairo), the bassist on The Ecotones and now The Friend Ship.
How did the rest of your band come together?
I was at this 14 Foot 1 show with Johnny and I remember just watching this guy, the drummer, saying, "Oh my fucking God. He's the best drummer I've ever seen." Absolutely terrific. After the show I asked him if would be interested in doing a Roz Raskin project, and that's how we got Laser Beam (Casey Belisle). Since Johnny's left the band, Laser and I have done a few gigs with my friend Justin Foster on bass. He's a fantastic musician all-around. The Rice Cakes are in that limbo phase right now--Laser's in three bands, and Justin actually plays guitar for Mowgli--but we're in the process of sending out demos. We're already being played on WBRU and WBSR and have some out-of-state gigs lined up.
What are the challenges of being a RIC student and a full-time musician?
It's the demands of touring and rehearsal, mostly. It's sometimes a little weird to play a late show and go to class the next day. It kinda sucks, actually.
What do you study?
I major in Women's Studies, which involves women's viewpoints throughout history, feminist viewpoints. I don't think it has anything to do with my songs. I don't think of myself as a feminist performer. That concept isn't normally part of my process.
How would you characterize your sound?
From the piano I got into jazz-infused stuff, played with some jazz bands as a teenager, and I think that influence is still there but you can call us an alternative-rock with strains of folk. I don't know that that necessarily enters my thinking. As far as lyrics, they come out of whatever's going on in my fucked-up head. It's always different. For example, I was doing this gig for CABFest when I just free-styled some lyrics over this guitar riff that I was playing. After the show, this dude came up to me and said "That song was awesome." I had to laugh because I didn't even know what the fuck I was singing.
Do you have any favorite venues in Providence?
FHXIII and AS220; The Living Room before it closed. There's fewer and fewer places to play and if you talk to musicians they're like "Where the fuck are we gonna go?" It's not just here, but Providence, as a small city, has the advantage of community and accessibility that I don't think other places have. I mean FHXIII and AS220 are half a mile apart. As a Rhode Islander, I've known these places since I was kid. Everybody knows each other and goes to everybody else's shows. It's nice that way, but venues with good acoustics and good atmosphere and good set-ups are definitely disappearing.
Especially for you when stage presence is such a big part of your show.
I do like to be right in there. I do like to be closer to the ground, closer to the crowd, like at Brooklyn Coffee and Tea. AS220 has it in a different way because there's this core of performers and fans, but I could even do without a stage. I figure, if I'm having fun, they're having fun. If I'm stoked to be playing, it will show. I remember one time, this girl came up to after a show and was like "Oh my God, I felt like you were singing just to me." I've had people say that before. It's really rewarding, you know? On the other hand, when I was sixteen I saw this band called Strata, from California. Some fucking emo band, and people in the audience were calling out songs of theirs, and this dick, the guitarist, stops playing in the middle of his set and goes, "We don't have to do what you say? We're not here to entertain you, we're here to play some songs, and if you don't like it you can leave." Blah-blah-fucking-blah. The ego on that guy was ginormous. You came all the way from California to be an asshole? Seriously? Even as a sixteen-year-old I knew that wasn't the way you're supposed to put on a show.
Are you ever aware of being a woman bandleader?
Well, I am a woman. I mean all I have to do is look down and say, "Hey, I have a vagina. I must be a chick!"
Do you find it more difficult as a woman to be respected or taken seriously in the music scene?
I've been through some unnecessary shit with promoters and venue managers. I have been treated in a way I don't think a man would be treated. I won't mention the person or the place, but we were playing this gig in town and we had a merch table set up before the show. This dude, the promoter, who had been really nice all along, comes over and says "You know, this is the kind of thing you need to tell us about before hand," and being a real dick, and I told him so. If he had tried to say that to Johnny, you know what would have happened? He would have got his ass kicked is what. But he wouldn't have talked to him like that in the first place. So I guess there is the presence of that social construct, but nobody talks to me like that. You will get a swift kick in the nuts. I will fight that shit every time.
Listen at www.myspace.com/rozraskin
MATEO MANCIA '09 always finds a way, always finds a way to suffer.