Rachel’s Classical Music for Indie-ots

Louisville, Kentucky begat Will Oldham, the fi lm Half Cocked and Slint. Slint begat Rodan. Rodan begat June of 44, Retsin, and Rachel’s. Rachel’s begat modern classical string arrangements, haunting piano melodies, and conceptual audio pieces that would make Godspeed You! Black Emperor run for cover. Jason Noble is the guitarist. Luke Meat likes to talk. Here’s what happened.

DiSCORDER: There seems to be certain mysticism about the Kentucky scene in the early 90’s. Did you realize that there was something special going on?

Jason Noble: It’s kinda hard for me to separate myself from all the music that was being made at the time. I think in Louisville all the
bands had a lot of people collaborating with each other. It was a very open working community. Three of us (in Rodan) were all living in the same house and it just seemed natural to start playing together, we had been in other projects before. We shared the house with a band called Crane who were a huge
influence on us. It had a lot to do with having a lot of friends who supported and encouraged us. It’s hard to say what intent we had, it was just based on making music that we loved and there were a lot of bands in Kentucky that I loved. Like Bastro and Slint, there was also stuff like King Horse who were
just hard to describe…kinda metal but not really. Also the stuff from Chicago and DC, y’know, Big Black and Fugazi…Drive Like Jehu. Of course we were also listening to classical stuff…and Prince [laughs].

I played Rusty (Rodan’s only full-length release) for some of the kids at the radio station I work at a few days ago, and they went completely
apeshit! Do you think the album stands up 11 years later?
[Laughs] I’m probably the worst person to ask that! I know that it [Rusty] stands as a fair document of what we were about and I’m proud that we made that record. Some of the stuff on it is us playing as seriously and dedicated as we possible could. You mentioned earlier about the time changes being tricky or complicated; well, we were just catching it as well. We had to work really hard just to play
those songs.

So how did Rachel’s emerge from the ashes of Rodan so to speak? Weirdly enough, Christian Fredericksen who plays viola in Rachel’s, and Eve Miller who’s our cellist, all three of us lived in Baltimore prior to Rodan. We started making recordings together and it never got any bigger than that, they were in the conservatory there, and I was going to art school. There was a great studio there called The Hat Factory which really was an old factory taken over by this really great engineer named Tony French and he let us work in there; he actually recorded the first Rodan stuff as well. We recorded there from ‘91 to ‘93, some of which wound up on the first Rachel’s record. I moved back to Louisville and we started sharing some of those recordings with Rachel Grimes and it just seemed natural that we should all work together. So in the summer of ‘94 we started working pretty full time on what became Handwriting (Rachel’s debut LP), even though we knew we couldn’t possibly do it live; it seemed a little out of our reach. We didn’t play a proper show until a year later
in July, so it was a pretty slow evolution: April ‘91 to July ‘95. There was a lot of stuff we were learning and Rodan existed through that period. It was a total learning experience. The idea of strings and the classical angle was very exciting to me, but at the same time it seemed almost impossible. I found it very helpful to be working on Rachel’s for a few years before we did anything with it.

How did you manage to amass the army of guest musicians that appear on Handwriting? Was it just phoning up a bunch of friends and saying ‘Hey, do you want to be part of our indie-chamber music band’? Yeah! That’s really how it came together! It was friends from multiple cities, people from The Cocktails, and other friends from Chicago. It was all about friendship and being able to try something. There were no big manifestos or anything [laughs].

You mentioned earlier about not being able to pull off onstage what Rachel’s do in the studio. What do we get to see at Richard’s?
We became friends with a quartet from New York City named Invert who we toured with last March and we loved their music. They’re a string quartet but amplifi ed, they write their own material, and they’re just really great people. They offered to be an additional quartet in our band so that brings us to about ten people in total. So we get to play some of the string pieces from our earlier records in a club atmosphere which we had never been able to do before.

Do you consider Rachel’s a punk band? We definitely travel like a punk rock band! [laughs] We’re in two vans, we’re not what I would call ‘roughing it’ but we don’t have ‘handlers’ or anything like that. We just enjoy having it as a DIY project. Our record label is incredibly supportive, and they believe in bands being able to manage themselves and choose their own path. I think that’s the closest thing where we relate to punk rock. We certainly don’t sound very much like a punk band…

What can you tell our readers about the funniest movie about band equipment theft Half Cocked? Can you tell us how it all came about and why no one has properly distributed this wonderful Kentucky film? Matador put out a proper VHS of Half Cocked but there is no DVD that I know of. They also did a soundtrack album. But the way that it was usually shown was on 16mm film in clubs. We would get a couple bands to play and then show this
film. We met the directors Mike Galinsky and Suki Hawley while on tour with Rodan. Mike played in Sleepyhead and he did a lot of band photography and
filming and that kinda stuff, and Suki was into fi lming and art, and the movie really hatched from us going on tours together. It was really funny. We
were on tour, Mike and Suki sat us down and said, “We wanna make a movie with you guys in it, the only hitch is that that you have to be a really bad band” [laughs]. They wanted us to pretend to be a little younger than we were, maybe four or five years, and they had this notion of a road trip movie that was to be very improvised. There was a script, but the way that it worked is that the script had a description of a scene but they let us just riff on it. It was really fun. The musical stuff especially. It’s not often that you get direction like, “Okay, that was really good but it’s too good. Pretend you don’t know how to play bass. Fuck up more.” Hours before Rachel’s Vancouver appearance, Eve Miller broke her arm in a fall, having to cancel not only the Vancouver show, but the entire North American tour. No statement has been given from Touch and Go about when they may resume. We can only hope they will be back in the near future.