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If you have encountered Rasp Thorne, singer, songwriter, novelist, playwright, poet, performance artist and multi instrumentalist, just to list a few of his talents, on your travels you are unlikely to have forgotten the experience. Originally from Montana, Rasp has traversed the globe dipping into the darkest recesses of the human psyche and still survived to bring us a murky tale or two. Although he has mellowed somewhat for his role as front man with current band Rasp Thorne and The Briars, he still writhes with the wretched and the reckless, peddling his own brand of dystopian theatre. Having had the pleasure of watching Rasp perform alongside fellow band members, Duncan DeMorgan, bass, Hugh Zog, lapsteel and guitar, Pete Moriarty, guitar and keys and hypnotic drummer Joni Deehan,  I am looking forward to my next bloody hit of the musical equivalent of Dante’s Inferno oozing insidiously over a sprawling metropolis. From a visual perspective alone you are hooked from the off. Rasp is resplendent in white suit while Joni, who may at first look like a slip of a girl, possesses enough character to keep you transfixed for hours.  Add to this the sultry backing vocals of a very seductive Miss Claire Rabbitt and the whole show is a veritable delight. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security however, as Rasp is leaving no stone unturned on his shadowy crusade. Rasp agitates and captivates in a beguiling manner as he escorts you on a journey to a dark underworld where bleeding hearts flounder and offer their souls for redemption in the carnage. What fires such an imagination? I get the chance to find out when I catch up with Rasp following his interview on my local radio station.

LORRAINE: Hi Rasp. You’ve just come straight from doing a Camden Community Radio Show; how did it go?

RASP: It went very well. The interviewer, Amy Solomon was very good and talked at length about the new album and just what I do in Camden. I teach at the Roundhouse sometimes and me and Marisa are doing a show there next year. Yeah, it was quite nice.

LORRAINE: What kind of show?

RASP: We did a waxwork, dystopian cult show called ‘Dystopian Wonders’ there last year and we’re doing a new show called the 'Tarotdrome' which is a big circus tent and you go through a whole tarot card experience with performers and installations and stuff like that..

LORRAINE: Your debut 6 track EP ‘Debutante Warnings’ was released in April to some great reviews and you are already back in the studio recording a new album, any teasers as to what to expect?

RASP: Oh definitely. The album’s going to be called ‘The Crooked Eyed Man’ and almost every song on it, there’s going to be about 13 in total, they’re all connected loosely with a narrative. Each song has a kind of different scenario or storyline or character and they all kind of inadvertently interact with each other through the songs. So it’s a little bit of a concept album. I know, that’s a terrible fucking cliché. (Laughs)

LORRAINE: You are from Montana originally but left at an early age and have travelled pretty extensively, how long have you been in the UK and what brought you here?

RASP: I’ve been in the UK now for almost three years and how I got here……I was living in New York, in Brooklyn and ‘Duckie’, the queer cabaret theatre company, they came over to New York to PS122. One of my friends got me a job with Duckie and I met Marisa Carnesky who’s now my wife and she saw something in me and dragged me away from Brooklyn and got me back into shape. So yeah, it was a woman who brought me over the pond.

LORRAINE: Behind every great man….

RASP: Exactly!

LORRAINE: How much of an affect would you say your environment has had on your creativity?

RASP: Yeah, well it’s weird because I used to live…before I moved to London really... the places I actually lived in Brooklyn and New Orleans were quite rough and shitty surroundings with kind of mentally ill people. They were and still are my friends. A lot of them, as most interesting people do, had a lot of problems, whether it be mentally ill or drug problems or alcohol problems. And of-course I wrote a lot of songs in those atmospheres….kind of really started out and stuff, but now I live in more a healthy environment and am being even more productive, which is a good thing. So I guess most songs are kind of subconscious weird poems and nightmares. But you don’t have to actually live in squalor to dream those things which I used to think you had to.

LORRAINE: When did you first actually start writing?

RASP: I started writing very early. I fell out of a tree once. I think I was about 12 years old….a 30 ft tree. We were doing this thing in Montana called ‘tree jumping’ where you’d climb a tree and jump off of it into a lake and I was climbing up the tree really quick to impress the older boys, and I grabbed this branch and it snapped and I fell almost hitting the others climbing beneath me. It was about 30 feet and I landed on my back and I got knocked out and woke up a minute or so later.  I looked to the side of me and there was a huge broken root like a spike right next to me and that could have been it. That actual day I went home and started writing. So yeah, at 12 years old I kind of got a near death experience. I kind of got woken up or something.

LORRAINE: Do you think it almost made you want to leave something behind?

RASP: Maybe. It just kind of woke something up for me and since then I’ve written many things. I’ve got a previous novel called ‘The Cain Season’. I’ve got three one man shows and one full length play and I’m writing a novel right now too, which I’m trying to get some publishers interested in. I’m definitely a writer first, but I’ve always been a performer too from a very young age.

LORRAINE: How did the writing progress musically; did you always know that you wanted to take it in that direction and form a band or did it evolve from the writing?

RASP: No, I’ve always wanted to do the rock star thing. I was very…you know…growing up, when I was young I was really into The Doors and Patti Smith obviously, and Kurt Cobain. He came from close to Montana. That’s kind of the same scene…and his accent. He could have been any one of my friends, you know, kind of a self deprecating guy from North West America, and of-course I also love Lux Interior. So yeah, I’ve always wanted to do the rock star thing but I’ve always been interested in poetry and myth. I’ve also always wanted to fuse the poetry with really intense theatre work. I come from the theatre really. Poetry and telling tales is very important to me.

LORRAINE: So who or what first inspired you to perform? I have read that you actually used to hang yourself?

RASP: Yes, that was my first performance art per se. In New Orleans….What first ever got me to perform? I don’t really know. That’s a hard question. I was cast as Pinocchio as a kid. I must have been about 9 or 10 and I kind of liked the nervousness of being on stage and of-course all the girls were there too which….it was nice to be in the dressing room with girls, but I think…. well actually the first time I ever really performed, besides the theatre…it may be a little off the question, but I was in 5th grade and some-one dared me…. this rich kid double-dared me in the library. I was writing a report on Amelia Earhart and he dared me to put my head in the toilet and flush it. It’s called a ‘swirly’ in America. It’s what bullies do to you. They grab you and put your head down the toilet and flush it. He said for me to do it to myself and flush the toilet, not once but three times for $50 and some plastic string that we were  all making bracelets and keychains out of. That was the fad at the time. And I went into the bathroom and you know….5th grade and all the boys were chanting my name and I stuck my head in the cold water and flushed my head three times and that was my first real performance.

LORRAINE: How did it make you feel?

RASP: Oh completely humiliated. The teacher came in, everyone ran out to recess. Everyone called me ‘Swirly guy’ and “Toilet Breath” and shit like that. Yeah, I was completely crushed by it. I don’t know, it was my first act of defiance I think, and ever since then I’ve always been the ‘weird one’. (Laughs)

LORRAINE: It obviously didn’t put you off.

RASP: No, it didn’t. It didn’t at all.

LORRAINE: How did you find the current band, The Briars and is this a permanent line up?

RASP: I am very committed to this band right now. They’re my best friends in London. They’re my family. No-one’s going to be changing hopefully. When I first came to London Paul-Ronney put me on at “Gypsy Hotel” a few times. I was doing my solo act which consisted pretty much of acoustic guitar, very distorted, and  some keyboard and really kind of screamo poetry type stuff, and Duncan DeMorgan saw me and we split a few bills together, him in his other band The Woodsmen and me on my lonesome. Then we met a few months later at a GG Elvis concert which was quite funny, in Clapton, and we started hanging out a bit and working on some songs. Duncan is amazing. He’s definitely my right hand man, he’s a good arranger. I’ll bring the songs in and Duncan, Pete, Hugh and Joni will all kind of thrash it out and make it sound much more intelligent than if it were just in my hands only. But yeah, I met Duncan and then Pete came in and then we had a few drummers, a violinist for awhile, a few little changes, and now we got Joni on drums who’s brilliant and Hugh on lapsteel… So yeah, we finally found the right mixture after a little bit of experimentation. On the EP there’s kind of a bit of the older crew so I’m looking forward to the new album and to showcase what we’re doing now. The EP’s good but the album is going to be fucking amazing, so I’m excited about that.

LORRAINE: You’re obviously planning on sticking around London for a while?

RASP: Oh yes. I’m not going anywhere. I’m still here!

LORRAINE: Your lyrics embrace the darker side of life and address topics that are still quite taboo; where does that come from? Is it borne of experience or an inherent curious mind?

RASP: Right, that’s a good question. But I’ve always been…..even growing up I was always attracted to dark stuff. I remember being really young and trying to buy ‘It’ by Stephen King and Poe, stuff like that and my parents were like “Why are you so attracted to darkness?” But I always have been and probably always will be. Some of the songs are definitely based on experience, whether it be personal experience or stories I’ve heard. I’ve been around a lot of rough scenes and I’ve seen a lot of weird shit. Some of it’s dark.  People could maybe say some of it’s misogynistic but it’s not misogynistic at all in my mind. I feel like….the porn star shotgun song is quite…sucking on a shot gun, blow your head off, you know…some-one jerking off on you with a pump action’s very dark material. I think sex workers should be legal and to do what they want to do, but I’m not advocating for a porn star to suck a shot gun and blow her head off. I’m investigating the weird female and male sexuality in that song. She comes from damaged goods. She comes from an abusive past and I try and show that a bit. I don’t know why, I do a lot of dark material. I love dark material. I love dark artists.

LORRAINE: There’s a kind of hardness in your lyrics too; is that anger or maybe contempt for humanity?

RASP: I do have contempt for a lot of humanity. I think people…we’re humans…we could be so much better if we tried. Like make life more interesting than grown men playing fucking video games. I’ve got a lot of contempt for humanity, sure. I want people to wake the fuck up. (Laughs)

LORRAINE:  You have said that there’s a common thread running through your lyrics and characters that resurface; is there an element of yourself in those characters or are they purely objective?

RASP: No, there’s definitely an element of myself in all the songs really. Even if I take on a different persona, which I do for a lot of the songs, yeah, I mean at the end of the day I’m writing the music. I’m coming up with the weird lyrics and narrative. Yeah, there’s a huge part of me in the lyrics. I do also have, apart from The Briars, I have an industrial project, like a crazy, very transgressive, subversive character called SPAR HORNET I also do solo shows and have some love songs on piano and guitar which are quite nice and romantic. That’s not really The Briars, it’s a different project. I think every artist shows themselves through their work, even if they deny it. At the end of the day you’re creating it so it’s you. Own up to it.

LORRAINE: You don’t just sing about being down and out and at gutter level, you actually get down there on the floor when you perform. Do you have an alter ego that takes over?

RASP: Yes, most definitely. Yeah, it comes on like before the show. Right now The Briars are doing this kind of thing where they go on stage before me and start doing some distortions and making an atmosphere. That’s when I…backstage, really get into my character, just kinda do some invocations and go out on stage strong. I’m very conscious when I’m on stage but I do get very, you know, possessed is one way to put it. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Sometimes I just go out and like to communicate with the audience and dance around and throw myself on the floor or be violent to myself or just do something experimental. I do go into a different mode, definitely. I’m just trying to express myself to maximum capacity, but sometimes I need to be more subtle I think. It’s kind of like a current. I get plugged in and it’s just like “We’ll see what happens”.

LORRAINE: I read a comment from an audience member who’d seen your show in Brighton and thought the band were great but he described you as “terrifying and weird”. He’d found the gig “really intense”.  What’s your reaction to that?

RASP: Who said that?

LORRAINE: It was just a comment left under a review.

RASP: OK. No, that’s cool, I am terrifying and weird. I stand behind that. It is funny, usually when I come off stage after performing and shaking my thing around or whatever, I do tend to frighten the audience. I get respect though, people are like “Hey man, good one, yeah”. But I think I put off a lot of people. I think they are a bit scared of me which is OK (Laughs)

LORRAINE: I’ve watched some of your performances, particularly as SPAR HORNET, they are pretty physical; have you ever seriously injured yourself?

RASP: Yeah, I was at Glastonbury one year and I was doing my SPAR HORNET thing with my ‘Ash Can Sermon’, which is an industrial song I wrote and performed. I popped an e with the trannies backstage and I went onstage and did it and it was great. It was a big tent, the sound was amazing. People were there and I did my staple gun routine where I staple pornography and the bible to my chest and I actually hit a fucking vein. I didn’t pull it out like usual and I went backstage and there was this huge bump. I pulled the staple out and I was fucking spurting all over the place and kind of in shock, don't know if it was the e or what but I had to go to the Trash City “hospital” and sign all this stupid shit. But yeah, because of that I got really sick. It was during the whole swine flu thing and I got really ill for a month. I think it was probably blood poisoning from the staple gun because my chest kept changing colors, so yeah I do. Occupational hazards happen but I’m trying to keep it more under wraps these days. There’s a place to go so intense and do blood letting, but with The Briars it’s not so much about the blood letting mentality, it’s more about the music.

LORRAINE: Did you ever rehearse those kind of performances or were they spontaneous?

RASP: No I didn’t really. I’d bounce around in my little bedroom in Brooklyn, but no, it was much more a live thing. Like put on some transgressive stuff, put on a G-string and the fishnets and the fetish boots and the make up and just go and be a complete menace to society and that was fine, but it’s a kind of different phase of life now I think. I’m more into the music. Being very theatrical still, but I don’t really feel the need to put on fishnets right now at this point. Maybe it’ll come back, who knows? (Laughs)

LORRAINE: You are certainly unique, do you ever get fed up with the comparisons to Nick Cave and Tom Waits for example?

RASP: Yeah I get really fed up with it. I mean I love Nick Cave and Tom Waits and I think that’s pretty obvious in my music. When people ask me “What kind of music do you play?” it’s always hard to compare myself, but it’s like yeah, I do get fed up with it. I’m Rasp Thorne, my music is original and unique, it’s not just a rip off of Waits or Cave or Leonard Cohen or something like that. I definitely get fed up with it but some day other bands’ll be compared to Rasp Thorne. That’s just part of the whole process really isn’t it.

LORRAINE: You play piano, accordion, harmonica, guitar and are learning to play the theremin, which I find fascinating; how easy is it to play and will it feature on the new album?

RASP: It’s beautiful! Well yeah, when Hugh came on board…the lapsteel takes up a lot of the same frequencies as the theremin but I’m trying to get that into the set. But it’s hard to set up onstage for a live show, it’s very finicky. It’s very interesting to play. You take your fist and it’s very minute little finger flicks to do it and control the volume and everything. It’s a very subtle thing. But it’s also fun just to get really spooky and loud. It’s kind of a “go to” thing for noise and chaos…like “Raarrrrrr” and it looks amazing because you’re not touching anything. It’s like a magical possessed thing. I did that in The Roundhouse in “Dystopian Wonders”, the show that me and Marisa wrote together. I was this weird evil preacher character with the theremin while Empress Stah was taking the blood out of her arm with a syringe and shooting it on her face. It was great, someone in the audience fainted one night.

LORRAINE: Could you see yourself pursuing a career in acting?

RASP: Yeah, I probably would go back into acting. I grew up acting. I loved it but the people were too fucking boring and I didn’t like the feeling of trying to audition to be cast in something. I was always the oddball out so it was hard to get the main role. You know…it’s too much time and effort to be in just a minor role, so I said “fuck that” and started writing my own stuff and did one man shows. I used to do ‘Howl’ by Ginsberg, that poem, it’s quite long and full of imagery. I used to do that and my own one man shows, then that kind of morphed into the need to do it with music.

LORRAINE: Finally, when I listen to your music I am transported visually to scenes of Wild West saloons and bordellos, Victorian carnivals and vampiric gypsies; if you could visit any period in history, when would it be?

RASP: Ah..that’s a wonker. Hmm, probably just fucking Rome when it was decadent, I am sure it was fucking terrible and disgusting. That would be fun. I like the whole Dionysus cult, the wine and the ecstasy. People going to the Oracle of Delphi, women, witches writhing around, prophesy. It sounds really fucking hippy but I kinda like that. I’ve always been attracted to Ireland too. The Celts had quite an interesting culture. They had a good time. (Laughs).

LORRAINE: Nowhere biblical?

RASP: Samson and Delilah, that’s one of my favourite stories. I like that a lot. And also the Book of Job, that’s a book I have read a few times over and that is just the most fucked up story. Are you familiar with Job at all? It’s pretty much like the devil asking God, they have like a wager and God says “Job is my most righteous man, you can try to corrupt him but he’ll never turn his back on me” and the Devil’s like “OK” and the Devil just literally tortures him, kills his family, kills his livestock, covers Job in boils, etc. and finally he's ripping his hair out and asks God “Why have you forsaken me?” It’s fucking poetic, a beautiful lament. The bible is weird. I grew up Christian myself so I’m very familiar with it, but it’s a weird mind fuck isn’t it. At the end of the day it’s all just very strange. (Laughs).

Interview/photos by Lorraine 04/05/11