Sharing an ashtray and a glass of bourbon with one of the most unique and charismatic musical talents around, American-born hellraiser Rasp Thorne introduces me to some friends from New York.
Another puff and another gulp, then he’s dedicating some time to my questions – clearly reveling in the lowlife atmosphere the Rochester Castle pub is known for.

Music-News:
Rasp, you’re from Montana originally. You don’t strike me as the kind of musician one might usually encounter there…

Rasp Thorne:
No, not at all, haha. Yeah, that’s why I left Montana… You know, it’s very beautiful and is one of the most amazing places I’ve been to in my life. It was good having grown up there. I come from a small town called Bozeman with about 30,000 people, kinda a college party town. But I always stuck out there as a weirdo, you know. When I first started to go away I went to Iowa, cause my girlfriend at the time was from there. You know, I’ve been traveling from an early age. Luckily I got a bit of a scholarship and went to Germany when I was sixteen. So I left home at an early age really, just happy to get out and experience the world. And yeah, I do go back to Montana from time to time, it’s always lovely to see my family and friends again.

MN:
Do you get on ok with them, or are you the black sheep of the family?

RT:
Oh I’m definitely the black sheep of the town, but they’ve always embraced me. For all the weird things that I do, they still love me. Which is good, haha.

MN:
You’ve been around… first former Eastern Germany, then New Orleans, then New York, now London. Why these places and why in that particular order?

RT:
It’s just what was in the cards I guess. I was in Germany and met a German woman, and we got married in Vegas. Then we traveled around but things didn’t really work out and then we went to Los Angeles where she left me. So I hitchhiked up and down the west coast and started traveling again. By then I was nineteen, still really young. One of my good friends, Lauren who’s was in Oregon said “You’re too smart to be hitchhikin’ around and be a punky bum, go back to school” you know. So I thought, “Where should I go to school?” and decided I try out New Orleans, you know, a place furthest away from Montana. So I went there for about three months but dropped out to start doing performance art on the streets instead. I used to ‘hang’ myself in the French Quarter by Jackson Square. I put my fetish boots on and my leather pants and painted my face white like Pierrot. I had a wooden black bar stool and a five-foot pole with a rope tied to the top of it which came down into a noose, and I'd get up on the stool and hang myself… Then I would resuscitate an' start to recite poetry, Dark shit like Poe and Rimbaud, Baudelaire, some of those really spiteful Shakespeare Sonnets, I was starting to do my own poetry too, and I'd stop midway through one of them and just pull a pose and hold it until someone gave me a few bucks and then break back into the poem. So these were my first performance art pieces really.

MN:
How much of the lyrical content in your songs is based on real life experience, and how much is artistic vision/fiction?

RT:
Oh that’s a good question! I’ve always had a narrative. Like, I’ve written a few plays and am working on a novel, I’ve always been a writer. So there have always been characters and archetypes that moved around in my poetry and my songs. It’s actually like a loose thread that goes through it. If you listen carefully to all the lyrics there are characters that kinda come and go and come back. Then there are my ‘theatre songs’ where there are also these very random and abstract poetry lyrics that just come out of nowhere really. I usually get a melody in my head and I work that out on piano with the chord changes and then it waits till the lyrics bubble up. For example, there is this new song I’ve been writing in the past week. I got chords on the piano and I just played it all obsessively till it hurt my fingers and then I just wait for lyrics. If you try to force the lyrics they don’t come, but sometimes you just wait around and suddenly it fuckin’ hits you, you know. It just comes from nowhere. Of course, I read a lot of books and literature and draw from a lot of anecdotes in my songs, but well, it’s an artist thing. It comes when it comes.

MS:
How many instruments do you play?

RT:
I play piano reasonably well, I play accordion, I play a decent harmonica, I play theremin and I play guitar. I’m not the best guitar player but I’m good at rhythm guitar. Actually, I can’t play lead guitar to save my life, but rhythm guitar is cool.

MS:
Rasp Thorne… the perfect rock ‘n’ roll name. But not your real name I take it.

RT:
Of course it is my real name (twinkles).

MS:
Have you always considered becoming a performance artist/musician to be your true vocation?

RT:
Oh definitely, it could never be anything else. I’ve tried, you know. I’ve had to work shitty jobs. I used to be a bartender and count and change light bulbs and to do dodgy deals which I can’t really talk about. But yeah, I was rubbish in those jobs. I was really angry about serving coffee and drinks, I was just really not into it. I’ve always been an artist, I’ve always written and luckily now, it’s actually happening! You know, the goal for any working artist is to make money in life and travel, and just do what you do without having to work in a shit job – know what I mean? I was always a terrible employee, but I guess my charisma kind of carried me through. Just about. So well, now I can’t see myself doing anything else but being me. I could never see myself again buckling down and getting a ‘real’ job. I would rather be poor and live in a real shit place, but still just do my thing.

MS:
Compared with your earlier stage performances, during which you usually wore more flamboyant costumes and displayed a lot of theatrical gimmicks, your act is more toned done these days with emphasis on letting the music speak for itself…

RT:
Yes, that’s true. I would agree with it, so thanks for saying that. When you speak of my earlier performances you’re talking about my other character, Mr. Crazy. That’s a different project that I’ve done called SPAR HORNET which started in New York. It’s my nihilistic jester act, you know, just completely annihilate everything. But my music side, you know, right now it’s Rasp Thorne & The Briars and yes, I have peeled back my layers there a lot. And it feels really good to do that, there’s more options in the songs this way. You don’t always need to SCREAM it like you really mean it, which is what I did with my old band Ryder Pales in New York a lot. Whereas now, I tend to give it more of a whimper. But you know, you choose and sometimes you gotta scream and sometimes you gotta whimper or find any quotient between the two. I like both parts of me, I like SPAR HORNET, but with the Briars it’s more about the music and the craft. The audience should be brooding and listening to the lyrics really. I want them to listen to the lyrics.

MS:
So what can we expect from the new album that’s coming up?

RT:
Well, the new album its gonna be really amazing. I think it’s gonna be called ‘The Crooked Eyed Man’. I did this one-man show in New York called the Crooked Eyed Man, it’s about this weird sociopath who has a half-blind eye and crooked cane and he walks around and is kinda a judge of the world. He appears in some of the songs which will be on the album, some of the other characters in different songs have interactions or are directly or even indirectly influenced by him. There's a loose thread of the Crooked Eyed Man in some of my older songs and poetry and also relates to the novel that I’m writing, so it all links together.

MS:
Many thanks for the interview, Rasp, and I look forward to getting caned by the crooked eyed man when the album comes out.

(Please read my ‘Rasp Thorne & The Briars play St. Moritz’ review in our ‘Live gigs’ section)

www.raspthorneandthebriars.com


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