Rock Cellist: Zoe Keating '93
…Meanwhile, at Rasputina headquarters deep in the heart of Gotham, Zoe Keating ’93 spent part of the summer recording a new CD by the cello-based group she joined in 2002.
Rasputina features two female cellists and a male drummer. “People expect cellos to sound like chamber music,” says Keating. “But we get up there and we’re using distortion pedals and bass amplifiers. I don’t think of us as a cello band. We’re a rock band.”
The classically trained Keating studied at SLC with Rolf Gjelsten, an instructor and member of the Laurentian String Quartet (then in residence), but she discovered improvising and electronic music through music faculty member John Yannelli and composer Meyer Kupferman (Faculty Emeritus in music). “I would lock myself in the electronic music studio and stay up all night,” she says. “It’s really radical to be a classical musician and play without music in front of you, without playing something you already know. It’s more about musicality than technique.”
Keating now lives in San Francisco with her husband, Jeffrey Rusch, a graphic designer. Since leaving SLC she’s played and recorded with bands with names like Spool, John Vanderslice and Dionysos, while also developing her own style of moody, multilayered cello compositions. Recently, she wrote pieces for a Berlin stage production, an independent film and the San Francisco Fringe Festival.
Rasputina recorded at its studio in the DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) section of Brooklyn, collaborating on song arrangements from lyrics and musical ideas brought in by founder Melora Creager. “We have really similar backgrounds,” says Keating. “Melora started playing cello when she was nine, and I started when I was eight. We were both promising students who went astray.”
On stage the cellists wear frilly 19th-century dresses that might have been retrieved from a deep trunk or forgotten attic, lending the music an incongruous air of antiquity.
“They’re all old and fragile,” Keating says. “Something falls apart every show. I’ve never been in a band that had costumes before. We’re just sitting there, so the costumes give people something to look at. I have a blast figuring out what I’m going to wear—tassels here, feathers on my head. It’s part of what makes a good show. Rock and roll should be really fun.”—James S. Bourne