Brooklyn’s Charming Disaster is a musical duo formed in 2012 by Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris. Though colorfully describing themselves to me as Siamese twins, a two-headed octopus or a binary star system, the band fall short of conveying a true sense of their vertiginous and quirky Gothic Americana. To truly understand the band, who could soundtrack any gifted odd-child-out’s imagination, you need to hear their recent album Cautionary Tales (available at charmingdisaster.bandcamp.com) or see them live at Rough Draft Bar & Books on Wednesday, Aug. 8 starting at 7 p.m. Enjoy magical music at a historic location with a marvelous selection of books and beverages.
“Our concert at Rough Draft in April was their first music event, and we’re excited to return,” the band tells me as a single-minded entity, kinda like those miniature twins in certain Japanese monster movies. “Last time we recommended a bunch of books during our set that they didn’t have so this time we’ve prepared them in advance and there will be a table featuring books that have inspired our songs.”
I tell the band they really have a knack for creating a storybook vibe that compliments the aesthetic. Some artists like such as Amanda Palmer or mewithoutyou are also good at this. They mention Tim Burton as an influence. How was it making Cautionary Tales?
“For Cautionary Tales we had written a collection of songs that were heavily influenced by folklore and mythology, so that storybook vibe is right on,” the duo confess. “We wrote a lot of them when we were on tour, and others on an artist residency in Michigan, both situations where we were in our own little world, and we think that feeling comes through in the songs. The album’s unofficial title track is “Little Black Bird,” which inspired the cover art [a fox and a crow in a tree with hawks above and dogs below]. We were introducing that song at shows by saying “This one is a cautionary tale,” and then we realized that really they’re all cautionary tales. Our sensibility is dark but playful.”
The group’s current mini-”Summerland Tour” is named after the term Spiritualist mediums used to use for the afterlife.
“It’s our way of combining goth and summer,” they joke. “We’ve also been reading about Spiritualism recently for songwriting research. We read a lot of books for this band.”
Hey, it worked for Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes on Cassadaga, right?
“We write lyrics and music together, sometimes like a relay race, sometimes more like storyboarding a film,” Charming Disaster declare. “After this tour we’re launching a Kickstarter campaign for our next album, Spells + Rituals, working on our musical inspired by Marie Curie and releasing a Halloween single.”
Rasputina up in Woodstock
Another amazing event coming up soon that is fairly compatible and which ought to be on your radar is a local appearance from legendary cello-infused alt-rockers Rasputina, currently consisting of Melora Creager, Luis Mojica and Polly Panic. The theatrical and spell-binding group will share their Colony Woodstock night with area pianist, harpist and saviour of various small animals Elizabeth Clark of Mamalama on Thursday, Aug. 9. Tickets are $17 advance, $20 date of show.
Clark is a valued long-time friend of mine and I asked her how her summer has been and how it feels to be playing with Rasputina. I feel like her sense of musical adventure and personal but dramatic in scope songs will work well with them.
“My summer has been beautiful, hot and sticky,” she tells me. “I spend most of my time in gardens, swimming holes, feeding and collecting rainbow eggs from our 24 chickens, and oh yeah — raising teenagers — which is simultaneously miraculous, hilarious, and insanely difficult. This show with Rasputina is very timely, and has the inner 16-year-old gothic version of me super thrilled. Rasputina’s mythology, poetic depth and beautiful strangeness feels like home to me. I’m very happy and honored to share some of my harp songs alongside their music.”
Interestingly enough, the Rasuptina/Mamalama concert on Aug. 9 is also the first night of Clark’s artist residency at Byrdcliffe.
“I am literally leaving the concert, going up the mountain, and beginning the writing of my first ‘Earth Opera’ for a month,” she tells me. These are the kind of delightfully unexpected sentences I have grown accustomed to hearing from Clark over the years, but nonetheless this one made me grin.
“It’s an interdisciplinary piece of music that includes movement/dance, costume, visual art, and a whole body of original music that will be arranged for a hand-picked world music orchestra and vocal ensemble,” she explains. “The opera is a way for me to give form, story and sound to an array of visionary experiences. When I write now, I see the songs instead of just hear them, so this seems like the best solution. The story is centered around the lovely, uplifting topic of nuclear winter.”
Clark hopes to premiere the opera at some point in the Widow Jane Mine and notes that while we are in the ‘Kali Yuga’ or dark ages, according to Hindu thought, the opera, in its center, is actually very joyful, hopeful, ethereal and uplifting.
I ask Elizabeth how she feels about the mountains and this area as she gets older.
“The Catskills are sacred ground for sure. Every year, every season, I can’t believe I’m fortunate enough to live here,” she says. “I’ve always lived in the Hudson Valley on one side or another, but actually came to the Catskills to swim in the coldest, cleanest water. Overlook Mountain, above the Tibetan Monastery, which is right near where I’ll be composing this opera, is the place that woke up my heart after many years in a deep cold sleep of some kind. I feel grateful to the land and beauty here. I love our local food movement. I love the people.”