Scarnella’s one album from 1998 is a lovely and moody marking of the musical partnership and mutual appreciation between Carla Bozulich and Nels Cline. Following the end of the Geraldine Fibbers, a trip to the Pacific Northwest and Cline encouraging Bozulich to explore her abilities in improvisation, the duo’s full length effort begins with the slow burning intensity of “Underdog” and doesn’t let up from there. Balanced between freer exploration and more conventional rock elements, it’s a series of inspired performances, Bozulich’s voice often a key focal point.
Born in New York City in the late 1960s and raised in the often rough-edged coastal Los Angeles community of San Pedro, Carla Bozulich, much like her local contemporary Mike Watt, first found inspiration in punk and then went on to explore her musical path to the full wherever it has led her over the decades. Interpreting both personal and societal extremities and scenarios with her strong, rich voice in a wide variety of musical contexts, Bozulich’s work in the field itself is part of her wider artistic palette that covers criticism, poetry, artwork and installations and more besides. Bozulich has innumerable guest appearances, one-off efforts and compilation contributions to her credit but her many full-length albums, either solo or via group efforts, are the key testaments to her creative visions.
Following her first formal musical experience in the Lawndale-based Neon Veins, Bozulich had initial appearances on record as Carla Noelle for area underground acts Gary Kail and Invisible Chains, the latter released on Watt’s New Alliance label, but she first made her wider name singing and playing in another band: Ethyl Meatplow. Among the most well known LA-area industrial dance groups during the late 80s and early 90s, but with a performative and explicitly queer-friendly approach all its own, Ethyl Meatplow followed various independent efforts with a major label album, 1993’s Happy Days, Sweetheart, before splitting. When she then embraced an interest in playing guitar, Bozulich’s next act, with its nods towards classic country, seemed to be a 180 degree turn. Yet with the Geraldine Fibbers she fronted one of LA’s best all-around bands in the 1990s, their debut album Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home in particular being one of the best rock records of its time.
It was a later recruit to the Fibbers – future Wilco stalwart Nels Cline, already well-known locally as a noted jazz-inspired guitarist and bandleader – who helped Bozulich explore new possibilities in improvisation after the Fibbers ended, beginning with their duo Scarnella in the late 1990s. Bozulich continued to draw on country inspirations as well, one famed effort being her striking reinterpretation of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger in 2002. Live performances with Cline and other like-minded musicians as well as further collaborations in general in the 2000s (including her ‘lost’ band the Night Porter, whose planned album never appeared when the tracks went missing) happened in combination with another groundbreaking effort: her 2006 solo album Evangelista.
Her most detailed work yet, drawing on improvisational composition in combination with a lyrical shift from formal song structure to more open-ended poetic singing, Evangelista won her acclaim as she and a core group of performers released a series of albums under the Evangelista name. The later 2010s found Bozulich releasing more solo and collaborative albums, further exploring themes of identity combined with new perspectives gained from growing older, and while like so many she was sidelined from wider live performances due to COVID’s impact, as of 2022 she continues to write and perform music solo and in collaboration, an artist in the broadest possible sense still dedicated to exploring what lies ahead.
Following an early tape and a variety of independent singles, Ethyl Meatplow’s one album, Happy Days, Sweetheart, appeared in 1993, a clattering, happily leering industrial-dance blast. Produced with a cinematic vibe by Barry Adamson, its first full song “Suck” was an anthemic yell, Carla Bozulich and John Napier whipping up an aggro and campy goth/punk vibe while Biff Sanders’s percussion added groove and stomp. From there it’s a giddy trip, songs like “Queenie,” “Devil’s Johnson” and “Abazab” soundtracking a party for the end of the world.
For the follow up to her Willie Nelson tribute cover of Red Headed Stranger, Carla Bozulich released a sort-of sequel, sort-of extension to it in the form of I’m Gonna Stop Killing, starting with two songs, “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain” and “Can I Sleep In Your Arms,” from that earlier release. The remainder of the album took a deeper dive into other live performances from the era with a fine band including regular guest Nels Cline, touching on both original work such as improv jams and versions of Geraldine Fibbers and Scarnella songs, as well as covers of Neil Young and Marianne Faithfull.
The second and last Geraldine Fibbers album arguably could simply be seen as an extension of the first to some degree, Carla Bozulich’s both fierce and wounded singing and lyrics riding a strong country-rock hybrid, again with excellent recording by Steve Fisk and John Goodmanson. There was a key difference, though: Daniel Keenan had been replaced on guitar by Nels Cline, the basis of his and Bozulich’s later collaborations. Butch often sounded more frazzled and swaggering, with songs like “Toybox,” “Trashman in Furs” and the title track burning fiercely.
Invisible Chains’s one album from 1986 is very much an underground American release from that era, a rambling, murky-sounding but at times pretty fun art/lounge jazz effort, with Josef 8-Halzman as overall ringleader and semi-beatnik poet. There’s one particular thing to note, though: it’s also the full album debut of Carla Bozulich, billed as Carla Noelle, who contributes wry, sometimes cutting vocals throughout, as on “Old Speak/New Teeth” and the crisp funk of “Ten Thousand Songs for Horny Dancers,” which is also her standalone writing credit here.
Carla Bozulich set the path for much of her future musical work through the rest of the 2000s and 2010s with 2006’s Evangelista, which while released as a solo album then became the name of a key collaborative project. Her first release via the famed Canadian indie rock label Constellation – Godspeed! You Black Emperor’s Efrim Menuck engineered the release and guested – Evangelista found Bozulich and her guests often, if not quite always, eschewing formal structure in favor of sung lyrical poetry and shifting, aggressive and haunting moods.
In a better world the 1995 full debut album by the Geraldine Fibbers would have been more than a critical success and a future cult hit, but on that level alone it was a masterpiece, the LA group combining classic country and folk inspirations with a dramatic, stately rock explosiveness to create a compelling, beautiful listen. Carla Bozulich’s singing and dark, harrowing lyrics led the way on songs like “Lilybelle,” “Get Thee Gone,” “The Small Song” and “House Is Falling” with sympathetic production and engineering by the Steve Fisk/John Goodmanson team to boot.
Drawing together previously unreleased pieces from a variety of sources and sessions, Quieter could just be seen as an odds-and-sods effort from Carla Bozulich, but the quality control is high throughout. Her stellar collaborative reach is on full display here, with performing partners including Marc Ribot and Noveller’s Sarah Lipstate, but there’s a real treat in the inclusion of “Sha Sha,” a work by the mid-2000s group the Night Porter, with Bozulich joined by Ches Smith, Shahzad Ismaily and cellist Jessica Catron on one of their few extant recordings.
Simone Massaron’s ear for composition on electric guitar, whether in terms of heavy aggression, subtler, sweeter moods or the broad range in between such extremes, found an excellent partner on 2007’s Dandelions on Fire – Carla Bozulich, whose own work, assisted by the similarly gifted Nels Cline, had built a reputation in that area as well. Backed by a strong set of fellow Italian performers, Massaron worked up a sharp series of songs which Bozulich complemented with her striking singing and lyrical meditations on personal, emotional intensity.
The Geraldine Fibbers’ self-titled 1994 EP, indeed featuring their early signature song “Get Thee Gone,” gained a retitled and expanded 1997 reissue to showcase their earliest days staking out their elegant, often intense country-rock space. The EP’s original seven songs start the collection, Carla Bozulich’s loping voice leading the way, followed by the “Fancy” single, the A-side being their cover of the Bobbie Gentry standard. An early demo and various mid-90s tracks from radio sessions and live dates, predominantly cover versions, complete the reissue.
Evangelista’s 2009 album found Carla Bozulich’s collective now centered more on a core trio of herself, bassist Tara Barnes and keyboardist Dominic Cramp, though still complemented by familiar figures like Shahzad Ismaily, Nels Cline and once again Efrim Menuck as engineer. Prince of Truth starts with one of Evangelista’s most grinding and powerful improvisations – “The Slayer,” featuring twelve performers – and the group’s range from the lush “Tremble Dragonfly” to the quiet intensity of “Crack Teeth” and “On the Captain’s Side” is simply stellar.
Building on the strength of her Evangelista album and working again with the pool of artists who appeared on that album, including organist Nadia Moss, multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily and bassist Tara Barnes, Carla Bozulich inaugurated Evangelista as a full new effort with the 2007 release Hello, Voyager. It’s another gripping collection of striking, often harrowing compositions, Bozulich’s lyrics and poetry often matched by her stark snarl on guitar, while the range from the title track’s explosive sprawl to “The Blue Room”’s sweet beauty is remarkable.
What proved to be the final Evangelista album found the collective exploring a new approach, Carla Bozulich now often working with one or two key performers per song or a small core group, generally exhibiting a more hushed and sometimes more specifically structured approach. The stately march and chant of the title track, with Tara Barnes adding bass, sets much of the tone throughout, with songs like “Bells Ring Fire,” the fully solo “Die Alone” and “Hands of Leather” emphasizing space around Bozulich’s singing and the surrounding music.
Carla Bozulich’s first full solo release was partially prompted by her desire to set aside having to write new songs in favor of interpretation – and she did so with daring by tackling one of country music’s most revered albums, Willie Nelson’s elegantly spare classic Red Headed Stranger. Featuring regular musical partner Nels Cline and other well-chosen players (including, on several songs, Nelson himself) the end result touched on everything from unexpected instrumentation and moody arrangements to exultant energy, plus Bozulich’s resonant voice.
Carla Bozulich’s first full solo album following the Evangelista years, the moody, murmuring flow of 2014’s Boy saw her working with many veterans of that project such as Dominc Cramp, Shahzad Ismaily and John Eichenseer, the latter of whom along with drummer Andrea Belfi appear most often. Yet Boy is very much Bozulich’s work first and foremost, playing all guitar and bass plus electronics in the creation of pieces that can tend towards or are more formal songs as such, but often with an unsettled, unexpected edge, both musically and vocally.
Recorded in 2005 but not released until 2012, Run had Carla Bozulich and drummer Ches Smith, a regular performer with Bozulich in various solo and group efforts throughout the 21st century, exploring a series of improvisatory compositions and songs recorded, per the credits, ‘mostly in living rooms.’ The feeling is loose and easy, with Bozulich’s instruments of choice being piano and sampler; her vocals feel relaxed for the most part, but not entirely, as her explosive moments on “Elements Ascending” and commanding tone on the title track show.