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Bandmembers include Carla Bozulich, vocals; Nels Cline, guitar; Kevin Fitzgerald, drums; Leyna Papach, violin (replaced Jessy Greene, who had replaced Julie Fowells); and Bill Tutton, bass. Addresses: Record company[Virgin Records, 9247 Alden Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Geraldine Fibbers emerged in 1994 when Carla Bozulich, frontwoman for a confrontational industrial/punk outfit called Ethyl Meatplow, teamed with members of the punk band Glue to play country music. It was intended to be an entertaining side project, but quickly evolved into something more. The group attracted a local following in and around Silver Lake, California, and its debut recording, an independently released ten-inch EP, captured the attention of major record labels. The record, with its distorted covers of George Jones-Dolly Parton songs, became something of a country-punk cult classic. (The indie-label Sympathy for the Record Industry later augmented it with live tracks and released it on CD under the title What Part of 'Get Thee Gone' Don't You Understand] )
Geraldine Fibbers "captures the raw heart and soul of country," Rolling Stone reported, describing the band's sound as "simmering with a Velvet Underground-like tension and ferocity." In its brief time together, the five-piece unit has continually evolved, and a series of lineup changes contributed new styles to the mix--taking a sound that was virtually impossible to categorize. Critics describe the Fibbers' eclectic, genre-fusing sound as intense, hallucinatory, indefinable, disorienting. "I've become fond of the phrase "sickened traditional," Bozulich told Rolling Stone. "It's best if you can come up with your own catch phrase, because that way it's you who is responsible for the fiasco that follows."
That stylistic ambiguity did not, however, prevent a major-label bidding war for the band's services. Geraldine Fibbers ultimately signed with Virgin Records and, in 1995, released Lost Somewhere between the Earth and My Home. On that album, they maintained their countrified roots while pushing in a variety of musical directions. Entertainment Weekly's Mike Flaherty concluded that "Bozulich's gnashed-teeth rockers and elegiac dirges suggest a summer camp weekend with Patti Smith."Tampa Tribune music critic Curtis Ross said the album's standout track, "Get Thee Gone," was structurally similar to Hank Williams' classic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," but sounded as if it had been run "through a horror show of pummeling guitars and squalling fiddle."
The group's sophomore release on Virgin Records, 1997's Butch, took a further step in several directions--while Fibbers followers and the music press scrambled to keep up. Billboard's Chris Morris asserted that the album "cuts a broad swath through a variety of musical styles from Gothic pop on 'California Tuffy' to country- fried rock on 'Folks Like Me,' from squalling punk on 'Toybox' to instrumental atmospherics on 'Heliotrope' and 'Claudine.'" The album also included a striking cover of "Yoo Doo Right," which was originally recorded by German experimental rockers Can. Los Angeles Times music critic Richard Cromelin wrote that the songs on Butch "convey the power of the sexual and emotional needs that drive people into damaging entanglements. Its rich layers of strings-- violin, cello, bowed bass--support the edgy-rock foundation, deepening and rounding the moods." Reviewer Rob Brunner of Entertainment Weekly suggested that the Fibbers' fans would be disappointed with the disc, which "largely dispenses with hillbilly posturing for straight forward rock riffs and punk bravado.... The Fibbers still sound like a very good band trying to work up the confidence to be themselves."
"I think people were wondering if maybe on our second album we would kind of figure it out, maybe," Bozulich was quoted in Billboard. "But it's definitely gotten more severe--the diversity we're exploring is even more severe now."
Geraldine Fibbers' popular and critical success followed a long, difficult road for Bozulich. At age 13, she left her parents' home in San Pedro, California, and began hanging out with the local punk band The Minutemen. She endured drug addiction and life on the streets and, in the mid-1980s, began singing with what Rolling Stone described as a "succession of arty, punk-based noise bands." The last of those was Ethyl Meatplow, which broke up after releasing a single album because band members could not agree whether to add guitars to their electronic, industrial din. Bozulich is proud of her musical diversity. "I think I'm massively influenced by everybody that I love," she reported to Curtis Ross of American Business Review, "the product of a whole lifetime of loving and absorbing, humbly admiring art, music, film and literature."
By the time Ethyl Meatplow split, Bozulich had begun performing in Geraldine Fibbers with guitarist Daniel Keenan, stand-up bass player Bill Tutton, drummer Kevin Fitzgerald and violinist Julie Fowells. The first personnel change occurred during a tour in which the Fibbers opened for former Minuteman Mike Watt. Tendinitis sidelined Keenan and one of Watt's bandmates, a talented guitarist named Nels Cline, filled in. Cline ultimately joined the Fibbers full-time--providing, Cromelin wrote, "Beatlesque folk-rock 12- string, Clapton-like clarity and a dissonance that reflects the disorientation" of the characters in the band's songs.
Fowells, meanwhile, was replaced by violinist Jessy Greene, and Greene abruptly left the band after they recorded Butch to join the country-roots outfit The Jayhawks. "I guess her boyfriend's in that band," Bozulich remarked cattily in Billboard after Greene's defection. "It could be that, or maybe she just likes their music better." Greene has since been replaced with the latest Fibbers' fiddler, Leyna Papach.
Through all the twists and turns, Geraldine Fibbers' music--which explores territory such as AIDS, homophobia and violently twisted relationships--has consistently journeyed to the emotional outer limits. Rolling Stone critic Dudley Saunders described a Fibbers' performance in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this way: "Through a wall of Gothic-country noise, Bozulich's face, even when twisted in a scream, exuded a creepy serenity--smiling dreamily at nothing, staring unnervingly at people in the crowd--while songs of self- hatred, addiction and death dropped lightly from her mouth.... Bozulich painted these images with the meticulousness of a haunted person, leaving the crowd struck by the power of the Bosch-like world she seemed to see everywhere." In the Los Angeles Times , Cromelin asserted that Geraldine Fibbers' music "has an urgency, originality and candor that confirm the band as a legitimate successor to X, Concrete Blonde and Jane's Addiction--Los Angeles' indispensable messengers from the emotional frontier." While the myriad of comparisons and categorizations continue, Bozulich, for one, is satisfied and proud of her band's achievements. "I feel like I could stop now," she said, "and be OK."
by Dave Wilkins
Geraldine Fibbers's Career
Band formed in Silver Lake, CA, 1994; signed with Virgin Records, 1995; released Lost Somewhere between Heaven and My Home, 1995, and Butch, 1997.
- Selective Works
- Lost Somewhere between the Earth and My Home, Virgin, 1995.
- Butch, Virgin, 1997.
- Billboard, May 31, 1997.
- Buffalo News, September 11, 1997.
- Entertainment Weekly, July 28, 1995; July 11, 1997.
- Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 27, 1997; September 14, 1997.
- People, September 8, 1997.
- Rolling Stone, November 2, 1995; October 16, 1997.
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