Friday, June 3, 2011

Star of Davida Interviews Alicia Jo Rabins

Women have always been important in music. In biblical times, women like Deborah and Hannah composed songs of thanks for God. In more recent times, women have consistently been a hugely important presence in the music industry (for the good and bad). I recently blogged about Girls in Trouble's new album Half You Half Me, and got the honor of interviewing Alicia Jo Rabins, the singer of the band.

Talia bat Pessi: Do you attribute Girls in Trouble as part of the feminist movement? Are you yourself a feminist?
Alicia Jo Rabins: I do consider myself a feminist, and I guess although I would characterize Girls in Trouble primarily as an art project/song cycle, I would call it feminist art - although we usually think of that more in terms of visual art, for some reason.

I understand that your music was influenced by some time you spent in Israel. Could you tell me some more about that?
I grew up in a secular Jewish home, but got really interested in the texts and the spiritual content of Judaism in college. So after I graduated, I got a scholarship to study at Pardes, in Jerusalem. I sort of jumped in full force and ended up staying for two years and getting super-deep into Talmud and Chassidic thought. It really changed my life. So these songs are definitely influenced by that time - by having had the tremendous blessing to spend two years fully immersed in these texts and traditions.

I'm borderline-obsessed with Lilith, and love that she influenced the album so much. Why did you choose her as your muse?
I too find Lilith incredibly fascinating - but I should say that although her song ended up being the album single, she’s not necessarily my muse any more than the other women I write about. I feel connected to each of them, and after 20 songs, they begin to form a system in which they are all parts of each other, or perhaps all refractions of some sort of divine woman, like that Tree of Life map of God which contains sefirot associated with different characters. But it’s true that Lilith is sort of fundamental: after all, she’s the first woman, or maybe predates Judaism altogether as a legend, and since she’s not actually mentioned in the Torah, there are such wildly varied legends about her! I was interested in the idea of medieval Jewish women making amulets to keep Lilith away so that she wouldn't kill their babies - it seemed so lonely to me, the thought of this woman first being banished by God because she wouldn’t submit to Adam, and then being doubly exiled by women who were afraid of her anger and power. I entered her character through this sort of awful imagined loneliness, and somehow ended up on the other sid of it, with the luminous power of that original love.

As I listened to “Rubies” and “Emeralds and Microscopes,” I was strongly reminded of my own grandmother and great-grandmother, respectively. Did you draw inspiration from any women in your own life?
Sure, and the men too!

Did you expect to have a career in music, or did you fall into all of this?
I grew up playing the violin and writing music, but what I expected to do was to be a poet (which I still am, as well). Music was always a huge part of my life, so I should have known it wouldn't just disappear one day - and I'm glad it didn't - but I still do occasionally get pretty surprised at the path my life has taken.

What advice do you have for other young women who want to pursue careers in the musical industry?

Trust your instincts, work hard, and have fun. A lot of people will tell you “how things work,” but they’re usually wrong - there are no hard and fast rules in this business. Be as creative about your career as you are about your work - for me that means a lot of DIY thinking, which is really helpful in transcending barriers and just making things happen. And above all keep taking in new work (music, literature, visual art, dance, film) and making your own work. That’s what makes us artists.

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