The terms “musical genre” and “stylistic preference” aren’t entirely applicable to an act like Joshua Tree-based Gram Rabbit. Trying to ascertain their next creative direction is more or less an exercise in futility, and even after speaking with founders Jesika von Rabbit and Todd Rutherford for nearly a half-hour, you’re still left scratching your head as to what exactly makes ‘em tick.
So rather than worry about the unknown variables, we attempted to clarify some of the knowns of the desert-based psych-folk-punk-electro-indie-pop ensemble. For starters, the group (which also includes newest member and guitarist/producer Ethan Allen and drummer Brian MacLeod) is now in its third year, and on its third album, RadioAngel and the RobotBeat. And much like their previous efforts, this latest installment carves new meaning into the breadth of just what encompasses Gram Rabbit.
Whereas 2006’s Cultivation found the group delving into dark, moody and introspective gems, amidst a significantly stronger organic, folk/rock foundation, RadioAngel is a primed-and-pumped beat machine, slicing through any dusty debris with its electronic edge and prickly melodies. “This one still has a lot strong themes and stuff,” says von Rabbit, “but we wanted the music to be more of something you could stick in at a party. We knew we wanted to make more of an upbeat, dancey record.”
If the album cover, complete with a disco ball twirling amidst the Rabbit loungers, doesn’t afford the necessary tip-off, then popping the disc in the player and turning up the volume will. And for those who discovered the band through Cultivation, this might lead to a hard right musical turn. But to Gram Rabbit, it’s just a part of their modus operandi.
“I think that’s always how we’re going to be,” says von Rabbit. “We like a lot of different kinds of music and we’ll constantly be changing what our records are. People get bored easy, we get bored easy—we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”
In fact, the band started as an electronic duo, so the release of RadioAngel is actually a nod to the band’s past, if anything.
“When Jesika and I first started moving in the Gram Rabbit direction, we didn’t have a means to record drums, but we did have a drum machine, so we always just used whatever we had available to us at any point in time,” says Rutherford. “Out here, writing songs together, we don’t really work with a drummer either, so sometimes it just happens that way.”
While certain tracks on RadioAngel feature organic drums, they’re often riding just underneath the electronic components. “Ideally, that’s always our vision, to mix organic and electronic drums together,” Rutherford says.
Ethan Allen, who has produced all the Gram Rabbit albums, recently joined the band after the recording of RadioAngel, though he’s based in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles (along with MacLeod), which finds the act bouncing across the Interstate a bit more often than its contemporaries to make the musical magic happen. But for von Rabbit and Rutherford, they’re fine with it, and with where they are.
“The desert’s our home,” says von Rabbit. “We’ve already done the city—we’ve been there, done that. The city’s only a couple hours away, so it’s there when we need it.”
“We just kind of grew up in the country anyways,” Rutherford adds. “Jess is from Green Bay and I grew up kind of near Bakersfield. So we’re both country kids at heart. The hustle of the city life and not really accomplishing that much musically lead us together out here.”
Gram Rabbit’s latest musical accomplishment has a peculiar theme running throughout its tracks, as a commentary on pop culture, and even more specifically, in the sense of the album title, pop itself.
“I think you could look at it as a metaphor for pop music, the way we kind of see it put together by the industry, as it’s really bad and overproduced,” says Rutherford. “Sometimes we’re talking about it and imitating it at the same time, in a metaphorical sense. Or, you could look at it as Jesika being the ‘Radio Angel’ and us being the ‘Robot Beat.’ And we’re imitating pop music a little more, too.”
“And it sounds nice,” von Rabbit chimes in, who has been compared to pop princesses Gwen Stefani and Madonna. “There’s a lot of R’s in there!”
With its musicianship fined tuned, the band’s also turned its attention to tweaking its stage productions, integrating a projectionist who has coordinated visuals into the live repertoire, plus adding more dancers and choreographed numbers. It’s all resulted in a show that’s decidedly more theatrical. “We put a lot of thought into our live show,” says Rutherford. “We don’t want to be a band that just stands there and plays songs.”
“We like to act out our songs a little bit,” von Rabbit adds. “We like to get behind our songs, and if we can, purvey them through our expressions, or through the dancers or prop-y things. We think about how we can relay the message in our songs, and be entertaining, because we’re entertainers. A lot of bands these days are just musicians, and they really don’t think of themselves as entertainers. And it’s important to entertain the crowd.”
And the crowd at Pappy and “Scarriet’s” will certainly be entertained for the third annual Halloween Ball on October 27. What can we expect?
“I think we’re just wearing costumes and rockin’ out,” says von Rabbit. “And there are some other tricks that we’re in the process of figuring out. It doesn’t take much to make it an exciting night out there.”
Gram Rabbit at Pappy and Harriet’s (53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown) on October 27, (760) 365-5956, 8pm. For more info visit: www.pappyandharriets.com