INTERVIEW: Rachelle Andra Caplan on making a big noise, working with LadyFest, and religious super powers!

Pictured above: Rachelle Caplan is The Bassorcist!

Rachelle Caplan takes charge. As the bassist in Babe Rage she lays down some of the most brutally monolithic bass lines you will ever hear, a kind of seething and *ahem* rage filled sound that serves as the backbone to the band’s style. Recently Caplan has been working hard on LadyFest Cincinnati, which is described as “a community-based, not-for-profit global music and arts festival for feminist and women artists.” In addition to that, Caplan and Babe Rage are playing this weekend as part of the upcoming Louisville Outskirts Festival. You can catch them on Saturday night with a host of other awesome bands. In the mean time, we caught up with her to ask about Babe Rage, LadyFest, and superpowers!

Never Nervous: What initially got you into music and when was that?

RC: The first time I remember really getting into music was this one summer when I was around 10 or 11 years old. My dad unexpectedly gave me his record collection out of the blue before he disappeared for about 6 months. I’d later find out that he lost his job and his apartment, so he was living on a boat cruising the Florida coast looking for work. I digress.

So he didn’t want his vinyl getting jacked or warped in the heat, so he gave them to me with the promise that I’d try to listen to all of it and tell him how I felt about each one when he got back. Even the ones I didn’t like. Not like some kind of low grade torture but just to get me to try to articulate what I liked versus what I didn’t. I liked Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Thin Lizzy, and Heart. I didn’t like Journey, Wings, or The Rolling Stones very much. I liked The Beatles, but pretty much only the John Lennon songs. I didn’t know why at the time but it was just so natural to have this really strong opinion. Some songs I felt on this deep level. Others felt fake, empty or contrived.

That’s the gist of what I told him but in detail for like a couple hundred classic rock, blues, and classic country albums. Also, I always made art. Like always. Since I have memories there’s been me making something. So that summer I made an illustration or painting for every song I liked. It somehow never dawned on me until years later that I could try to play them.

NN: What was the first instrument you picked up? Was it bass? If not, when did you decide to play bass?

RC: It was a guitar, like pretty much every one. Guitars are cheap and everywhere. I tried to play once when I was a teenager, but I was teased by these idiot, spoiled jerks who played really shitty new metal (like real bad late 90s Limp Bizkit crap) and would take the guitar away from me so they could show off. It was insulting enough that I didn’t try again until I was 25. I was living in Chicago with my best friend who is a really great songwriter.

“He looked at me with this baffled expression and asked why I didn’t play music. I said something about trying but not being any good. He was like: no one is any good when they start, that’s what learning is about. Somehow no one ever really put like that, so I was assured enough to ask him to show me how to do some finger picking things and really simple chords on his guitar.”

One day after we binge watched Bob Dylan: No Direction Home, American Hardcore, and something he had on Leonard Cohen, he looked at me with this baffled expression and asked why I didn’t play music. I said something about trying but not being any good. He was like: no one is any good when they start, that’s what learning is about. Somehow no one ever really put like that, so I was assured enough to ask him to show me how to do some finger picking things and really simple chords on his guitar. When he moved and I stayed in Chicago, he left the guitar with me. I did dreamy acoustic bedroom grrrl rock for like years by myself before I ever played in front of anybody. I think Daisy is the first person who I let actually see me playing anything. If anyone heard me before, it wasn’t by my choice.

So no, not a bass. First bass I played was a 5-string Peavey that Daisy borrowed from William Baumler back when Bu Hao Ting was a band. He actually borrowed it, so I could back him playing super low bass parts while he did these strange, fast, intricate bass leads. It was incredibly empowering. I was doing this really simple stuff, but playing loud heavy shit with my partner who is just brilliant musically. It was a good place to start and made me feel strong and confident.

NN: Is Babe Rage your first band? How has your relationship with music and performance evolved since you began and why?

RC: Yes, Babe Rage is the first and only band I’ve been in that’s played shows and done things that bands do. And that’s changed a lot for me, both personally and in how I think about or experience music in general. It’s an entirely different thing. It’s like all that judgment and critical mindset towards songs or shows very quickly dissolved away. It’s like pre-band me was somehow still looking at music and musicians almost like products. I know that sounds super harsh and it’s way embarrassing to admit, but really I had no idea that I was doing it until the paradigm shift happened.

All of the sudden after just a few shows, it seemed totally insane to scrutinize a band’s performance or music the way that most people do. I think it’s taken for granted that these are individuals in one moment in time are having this very vivid, very driven expression with other people for the goal of creating a shared experience. People just seem to forget that and treat it like everything else that’s sold to them. To be examined, accessed for personal use, then discarded without much care or attachment. I mean that’s a super negative version of the response, but still somewhat accurate. I think people take bands and music to be some kind of accessory to decorate their personalities while forgetting that even something as simple as the temporal nature of sound makes a live performance and recordings a genuinely unique experience.

NN: What can you tell us about the band’s name? How did you all come to that?

RC: Nothing. Jen made it up. But I will say that the fact that the words translate into fantastic knuckle tattoos was certainly an enticing characteristic.

NN: What is feminism to you? How do you employ it in your music?

RC: To me, feminism is about empowerment and strength. It’s about using all the aspects of your personal experience as a resource to build confidence and understand oneself and place in the world. I’d say using that definition, Babe Rage is the embodiment of feminism for me.

“Feminism is about empowerment and strength. It’s about using all the aspects of your personal experience as a resource to build confidence and understand oneself and place in the world. I’d say using that definition, Babe Rage is the embodiment of feminism for me.”

NN: Tell us about LadyFest. How and when did that start? What were the stresses involved in putting it together?

RC: Ladyfest Cincinnati has been my baby for the past 7 months. It’s a 3 day not-for-profit festival happening on Oct. 15-17 at about 8 different venues. There will be music across genres, workshops, visual and performance art, films…we’re going all out. The proceeds will go to establishing our version of a girl’s rock camp.

Ever since I was involved in organizing Ladyfest Chicago in 2007 I’ve wanted to make another one happen. I knew it’d be in Cincy, since the first months I had visited there over 6 years ago. It was just basically crying out with need for gender rights activism on a really large scale, but back then it just wasn’t the right time for it yet. Just as important as that is the need for that activism to be positive and inspiring rather than stifling or divisive. Ladyfest is perfect for that kind of thing. It’s this really great concept of grassroots organizing and collaboration within the creative realm.

It’s even almost basic: a variety of women identified people come together to work on making a festival that truly reflects who they are and what they want to see out of the event. Through coming together to build this kind of thing, women create another community – a network of shared voices to become a resource for one another. Within a DIY community, this kinda thing can make real positive change happen. Doing something as simple as calling attention to long-standing issues patriarchal norms and structural oppression can bring people one step closer to becoming freer, safer, and happier – with ourselves and those around us.

“Through coming together to build this kind of thing, women create another community – a network of shared voices to become a resource for one another. Within a DIY community, this kinda thing can make real positive change happen. Doing something as simple as calling attention to long-standing issues patriarchal norms and structural oppression can bring people one step closer to becoming freer, safer, and happier – with ourselves and those around us.”

It’s a really incredible time right now for gender rights. It’s still difficult in that things aren’t right, there’s a lot of oppression and people being continuously hurt by that. And at the same time there’s a movement growing of those who can push back, using really brilliant, proactive means. Outskirts Louisville is such a good example of that. They really raise the bar in terms of having this amazing events with a profound mission. We’ve gained a lot by having women amazing like Carrie Neumayer to be resources of knowledge and inspiration for us.

NN: Is it ever difficult to collaborate with someone that you are so close too? How do you compartmentalize different parts of a relationship, if at all?

RC: We don’t compartmentalize. All of us have multiple levels of role overlap with each other and we try to acknowledge that. Jen and her partner live in the same house as Daisy and I, along with another couple. And we’ve all been really close friends for a while. Daisy and I obviously have the most going on with this. We share our lives pretty much entirely, which can sometimes be difficult, since we’re such independent people. We all are really. We’re each these hyper-focused, somewhat reclusive, weirdo loner types when it comes to being creative. I think it’s our mutual understanding of and respect for that impulse that makes it work. People need space to become themselves, by themselves. It’s about allowing that space and feeling safe/accepted enough to be able to express that need. It makes it possible to have a lot to offer when you are sharing creative space with those who support that growth.

NN: When should we expect a formal Babe Rage album?

RC: Probably sometime before we breakup.

NN: If you could have any super power, what would it be and why? Would you use that power altruistically or for self-gain and why?

RC: This is a great question. I have a super power that’s inherently based in altruism and self-interest. Everyone does. It’s just that most people haven’t granted themselves the tools to use it. Do you want to know the secret? I’m about to blow everyone’s mind. It’s called: remembering to live your goddamn life to the absolute fullest you possibly can in any given moment. That doesn’t mean just going hard all the time until you have a meltdown.

Real super powers aren’t all silly and macho like that. It’s moving with what you’re given and learning to transform all the nasty shit that comes along into some kind of fuel. And usually it’s not pretty or flashy. But it’s some straight up super human shit to be able to look at the world around you, with full honesty, see the ways it’s crap or it’s not and accept things for what they are without getting crushed by it. And the real power is when that switch goes off and you learn to turn that heaviness into inspiration. It becomes like food for the soul. It’s what alchemy was all about. And also Hermeticism. Buddhism and Hinduism talk about this as well. All the badass religions are way into super developing real life super powers.

“All the badass religions are way into super developing real life super powers.”

NN: Let’s get deep: what happens when you die?

RC: I just got deep. This one will take the whole interview. People be like: TLDR. I hear it has something to do with all the past kings becoming stars or some shit though.

NN: Last but never least, what are your top five desert island albums and why?

RC: Shit, this is always so hard to do yet entirely worthwhile. In no order, of course. Each is deeply valuable for different reasons. That and I hate ranking in general:

  • Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime. Favorite album from one of my favorite bands. Everything these guys touched was gold, but this album takes the cake for me.
  • The Gits, Seafish Louisville. Probably the best grunge band of all time. To be totally honest, I never heard of them until Daisy sent me a burned copy while I still lived in Florida. This was back before music just magically fell out of the internet. I had already fallen in love with Daisy so this has nothing to do with some cliché shit like this being the album that made me know I was in love. It was just one of the best things I had ever heard. This album has everything I ever want out of punk. It’s loud and raw, mean but playful, introspective and honest. Plus it’s a live recording WTF?! It’s flawless! And Mia Zapata’s voice! She’s like the Ella Fitzgerald of punk. I’d drive around through the swamps where I grew up in my bright ass turquoise pickup and try to sing this whole album. I couldn’t come close. But I’m convinced that Mia Zapata taught me how to hold a scream.
  • Prince, Purple Rain. This is so beloved that this could easily be seen as a stock answer, but hey whatever…it’s flawless. It’s also the soundtrack to some of the most loving and beautiful moments I shared with my mother when I was young. 
  • Silver Jews, The Natural Bridge. I first heard this when I was a depressed 17 year-old. Most of my friends would tease me about it cuz to them it was old man indie bummer jams. Actually, this might even be my all time favorite album. I don’t even exactly know why. It’s just always been there for me. Not like as a backup plan because I had nothing to listen to, but like really there for me. Through any shit. Through the absolute worst. I’d play this and something in me would come back to life. Some part of me always just wakes up and instinct or something sets in. It’s like I hear these songs and I remember this deep universal truth behind life is that we all are just here to exist. For an extended series of moments, we breathe in and out and try to make what we’ve got into something beautiful enough that we want to keep on going. That’s this album for me. It keeps me going.
  • Swans, Children of God/World of Skin. Necessary. Period.