Listen, L.A.: Carla Bozulich will not be ignored
At this point anticipation is building among certain hardy-spirited listeners for the return of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a mysterious and powerfully evocative instrumental ensemble from Montreal. The band's sound is built on churning guitars and strings, and one could envision the act scoring the end of the world beautifully -- should Darren Aronofsky be given enough notice to film it.
They'll be at the Music Box on Wednesday, but not to be lost in that appearance is opening band Evangelista, the dark and relatively new project of Carla Bozulich. L.A. fans might remember Bozulich from the days of the industrial band Ethyl Meatplow, the skewed alt-country of the Geraldine Fibbers or maybe the many bracing shows with guitarist Nels Cline as Scarnella at the Smell. But in advance of this show and an upcoming fourth album with Evangelista for Constellation Records, the important thing for Bozulich is that she's remembered in her hometown, period.
In a long and heartfelt e-mail addressed to the Times music staff, Bozulich listed her sterling credentials from life "in the van," her love for her home city and frustration at her place in its musical fabric.
"I am a woman who has been shaped and raised by my hometown of Los Angeles," she writes. "And to have erased me from the history of your town is really odd and sort of endorses a stereotype I despise of our city."
"Now, I know my music is not easy to feel good to anymore," she continues. "I know I have changed over the years and that most people prefer easier stuff and certainly if there's a woman leading the group it doesn't hurt if she's young and hot . . . but I like to write surreal, heart-rending stuff and I like sound experiments and to take people on a trip through togetherness, love and sometimes bad dreams."
As one might expect, that's about as solid a description of Bozulich's work with Evangelista as could be given. By way of example, Evangelista's second album, "Hello, Voyager," is an often harrowing concept album about the apocalypse, full of bent guitar wastelands, swaggering rock and Godspeed's string-born catharsis. Yet despite the grim subject matter, the record comes off as weirdly uplifting, finishing with Bozulich ranting like a charismatic preacher before ending on the innocently familiar lyric, "The word is love."
And she's right, it's not something for everybody, and in a 2008 interview Bozulich sounded conflicted about her expressive but potentially divisive new direction, one that can sound light years removed from prior work such as 2003's album-length cover of Willie Nelson's "Red Headed Stranger."
"It’s kind of an interesting thing because on one hand, how awesome is that to be totally and legitimately underground at the stage I’m at? People who find my music are really looking for music," she said at the time to this writer. "On the other hand, new tires on the van would be great."
Though finances still sound uncertain with a nomadic touring life abroad, Bozulich sounds less conflicted, even defiant, these days. "I never succumbed to playing pretty singer songwriter music and just, you know, 'behaving.' And I never will, " she wrote. "I don't wear mini-skirts anymore. I play thought-provoking music that is polarizing. Many people leave when they hear me, but then many cry openly and thank me for giving them something they have never heard before. That's me."
So resist the urge to show up fashionably late to that Fonda show, Godspeed fans, and lend an ear to something that might be difficult but served with furious, uncompromising passion. You might have forgotten about Carla Bozulich -- or never even heard of her, depending on your age -- but she hasn't forgotten L.A. "It is a crappy feeling to play once or twice a year in my hometown and warrant no mention, Los Angeles," she wrote. "We are NOT what they say! WE are full of history and rich culture which has CONTEXT."
Think of it a civic duty.
-- Chris Barton
Godspeed You Black Emperor with Evangelista on Feb. 23 at the Music Box, 6126 Hollywood Blvd. The show is sold-out. Secondary market tickets are in the $50 range.
Photos: (Top) Carla Bozulich in 2004. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times. Second photo courtesy of Bozulich.