Puracane's Ali Rogers: The Daily Vault Interview
by Vish Iyer
New York electronica group Puracane has a new album out called I've Been Here The Longest. Recently the Vault's Vish Iyer had the chance to chat with frontwoman Ali Rogers about the band, herself and the new record. (You can hear the interview in its entirety on live365 here.)
Daily Vault: I want to ask you about your cover of “Summertime Rolls,” the Jane’s Addiction song. As you know, the original song is a psychedelic grandiose epic. Now I wouldn’t associate Puracane as a psychedelic dance band. And the way your version has turned out, it’s almost entirely the opposite. It is tight, stripped down, and uncomplicated. But you still manage to make it your very own. How did it come about?
I think I introduced the idea to Biegel (David Biegel) when we were doing the first album. I wanted to do a cover, and I was very passionate about Jane’s Addiction, ‘cause they were the reason I ended up in America. I was a huge fan of theirs and I followed them everywhere all around Great Brittan and I was able to come to America. I hung out with them a lot, and I was so inspired by them that when I came to do my own record – my all-time favorite album is “Nothing Shocking” – and I really wanted to give it a go. So it was kind of down to how David Biegel interpreted it more than me. I think he was somewhat familiar with the track, but he wasn’t as obsessed with it as I was.
So when we’re talking bands like Jane’s Addiction, the fans are so vocal, so loyal, that you don’t want to piss any of them off. And it was dangerous territory. And I was always aware of that. Because when you’re doing a cover version, you are either gonna do it different or better (laughs) and you can’t just do the same thing over. So I think that it was good that it was different and I really enjoyed the cover. I definitely think it was good that it was so different. Otherwise fans could’ve been like “What? No way! That sucks!”
I am a huge fan of you first album, but I know so little about the band. Tell me, how did it begin in 1999. How was the band was conceived?
I’ve been in a lot of different rock bands since I’ve been in the city (New York City), and I started working more solo with producers. It was just by chance that I saw David Biegel’s ad in the Village Voice that I answered and then auditioned for him. He [Biegel] had a studio at the time on Broadway. I just came in there and it appealed to him. He was under a contract to do a few more records with Ubiquity at the time and he wanted to do something different from what he had been doing; I guess sort of combining this sort of trip-hop sounds. The dark kind of trip-hop sound really appealed to him at the time. I kind of improvised with his beats and loops and we really hit it off. [He’s a] very funny guy and there was a very good chemistry between us. So I GOT THE JOB [laughing].
When did you come to the USA?
Like I said, I followed Jane’s Addiction on their Ritual De Lo Habitual tour, which was 1991 (in England). I was trying to get different projects off the ground since I was 18. So when I met Jane’s Addiction (which was sort of a fluke), we sort of started hanging out, and they started putting me on their guest list on every show. And the funny thing is I am still friends with their tour manager to this day. He doesn’t manage Jane’s Addiction anymore; he works with the Doves now. So it really kind of put me over here (USA) and then my energy was to focus on being in a band. I’ve always wanted to be in a band like Jane’s Addiction [laughs]; that’s what I wanted to do. I had no money and I ended up squatting on the Lower East Side and I still live in the building I was squatting then.
I read that after your first record you decided to take the band on the road. Now, I’ve never seen you perform live, but I’ve seen clips, and the band is far from a studio electronic machine-like project. It’s like a full-fledged rock band.
We do use live instruments. It’s like Tricky kind of had the same thing. Like my husband said, I and he [Tricky] have the same thing. They [the songs] sound a lot more electronic when we are in the studio when we record it, but a lot more rocked out when we play them live. But actually the last incarnation of my band; I’ve changed the lineup a bunch of times. Not through choice, but people have toured with the band and sort of moved on. This time it actually was more mellow, the last show that we did. We actually had a keyboard player this time really.
It is difficult to take a studio thing and do it live without rocking it out a little bit. I guess on the first album we were more kind of laidback, but there were a couple of rocked out tunes. But there is no way you can’t rock out when you’re live.
So your hiatus between 1999 and 2006, the Lost Puracane Sessions is just you and…(no David Biegel)?
He [Biegel] actually did one mix on that. He just wanted to get out of the music business altogether. He had a hard time with it. We both kind of got screwed over; I won’t say by who [laughing]. He worked very hard on stuff with little reward, and he really did. He worked incredibly hard; he’s a super-intelligent guy and he wanted to go back to school. And he did. He never did the “live” thing with us. That [Puracane live] was my baby. I always thought we would do more records together. But he decided to go back to school and he just had other things that he wanted to do in life. And it wasn’t fulfilling him. Like I said, he wasn’t treated terribly well in the business (by people who shall remain unnamed). I don’t really blame him for it, and he was off to do his own thing.
We still talk once in a while. Last time I spoke to him, he was in Kuwait. He was in London, and then he was in Kuwait. He is incredibly intelligent and he has such a brain and he has to stimulate it all the time. I think he still wants to; I know he still wants to get back and do stuff in the studio. But it’s tremendous undertaking, having to…especially if you are in a different country or you are moving around a lot. It’s so hard to have any type of studio. And he is a perfectionist. And to not have it sound exactly the way he would want it to…
But he did mix “Digging Too Deep” (on In Limbo: The Lost Puracane Sessions), and it was pretty much a remix. We gave him a song that we knew was kind of a cool song, and he basically turned it into what it is, on In Limbo. It’s [the track] gotten his name all over it. It really sounds like a David Beigel kind of a production. He turned it into an awesome song. He put his stamp on it, and it was amazing.
The present Puracane lineup is a full-fledged band (as opposed to a singer/producer duo). Is this your live (touring) band that has become your studio band?
It’s kind of an ongoing thing. Even now, the people that are in the band are not permanent members except for me and Juan (Masotta). I’d love it if they were permanent. We wanted to rehearse before these shows before this album, but trying to get people to stick and commit and do that in a short span of time is obviously difficult. So for this album, the people consisting are going to be me and Juan and my husband Griff, who was the drummer. So it’s me and Juan, and sometimes Griff will play with us. Sometimes Emilio will play with us, the keyboard player. We have to take it one gig at a time. Now, I wish we had a full-time kind-of members of the band but it takes a lot more money, a lot more rehearsing. We had the same people at the time, but it’s just too difficult; especially when we are based in New York City. Constantly needing to move and paying rent and work nine-to-five jobs, it’s really hard. And then there are people who are in other bands. Like Emilio, who is a great keyboard player, but he is in another band. That’s always the way with musicians in New York City.
David Beigel, what did he go to school for?
He was a math major. It all makes sense, right? He went to Columbia for four years. I forget who he works for now, but not doing a whole lot of music! I wish he was! We had a lot of songs still in us, I am sure.
On your MySpace page, it says that you continued writing through your pregnancy. Has the baby changed the way you write songs? The music on the new record?
I’ve been writing during the pregnancy, but I have not written anything since he’s [the baby, Alfie] been born. I don’t know if it [songwriting] has changed any. It’s definitely not lovey-dovey and cuddly. One of the songs on the album, called “Sirens” is very kind of Celtic, going back to my roots. So that kind of happened, you know, sign that I got very nostalgic when I got pregnant. But you can get pretty dark [laughs]. I mea,n there are songs that I’ve written going through times in my life when I was going through bad, you know drunk and drinking parts of my life. And I go back and reflect on those songs and go whoah!! That’s where my head was back then! That’s pretty crazy! And then going through pregnancy, I was very sober and very focused. And in that way it’s different. But I haven’t written anything since he was born. I don’t know. It all comes from somewhere. I don’t know where it’s all coming from. And it kind of makes sense. When I write something, it makes sense when I look back on it, six months later, and I go ohhh! That’s what I was thinking about! Sort of subconscious.
Any plans for a tour?
Obviously I would love to do a tour. We might be doing a couple of dates in England. We really have to do it one step at a time. I would love nothing more than go and just do West Coast and…kinda do a tour that makes sense, do little ones at a time.
Any gigs in New York (at least)?
We did a record-launch show at Crash Mansion in New York. We’re trying to get a date in Brooklyn. We’re looking for one on the 16th of July. The guys that I am playing with right now have to go back to their countries and get Visa stamps and all that sort of thing. So I am hoping that I would get one more date in July. Then we’re looking at the 4th [July]. This could all change, and we could be playing a whole bunch of shows. We’re kind of…one step at a time. That’s pretty much what it is. I wanna play. I love playing live. I would play live all the time, if I could. But actually getting it to happen is another ballgame.