What the Tarnation!

Written by [email protected] on Sun, 28 Jun 1998 06:50:40 EDT.

Jeff Keibel a while back stated that Tarnation had parted ways with 4AD. Some others stated that was wrong. Well, here is a recent interview done with Paula from a San Francisco Magazine. <

CitySearch: What are the origins of Tarnation?

Paula Frazier: Well, It started five or six years ago, I guess. I was playing in an artsy noise band called Cloiter and I was also playing in a band called Virginia Dare. These songs I was writing didn't belong in either one of those [bands]. Virginia Dare was someone else's band and I was just playing bass and backup [vocals]. Cloiter was noise and I had these songs that I wanted to do kind of differently.

The name Tarnation came about as a joke before I was even playing with anybody or had done any shows or anything. My mother used to always say "What in tarnation?" because she was a preacher's wife and it was improper for her to swear. She said a lot of weird stuff, like instead of "I swear" she'd say "I swan." Stuff like that.

CitySearch: Have you had any vocal training? Did you do any singing prior to these bands, like as a kid?

Paula Frazier: I grew up singing in the church choir. I never had voice lessons or anything, but I sang in a few different choirs. I sang in a Bulgarian women's choir. Eastern European, actually, but we did some Bulgarian music. That was a major lesson for me. I learned a lot. I did that for about two years over in Berkeley. I just really learned a lot about my voice and what I wanted to do. I learned a lot about my range- that was the major thing for me.

A lot of people will assume I sing the way I do because I'm from Arkansas, which really doesn't have anything to do with it. I started singing this way because of the women's choir. It was the first style I learned to sing in.

CitySearch: Was country music something you always had an interest in growing up or was that an acquired taste?

Paula Frazier: Well, I'm not a country fan! I like some of the stuff from the '50s a lot. I love Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline. That's as far as it goes, to tell you the truth. Most of my influences--though I don't know if they really show up--are Karen Carpenter, Billy Holiday, and Patsy Cline. Then Ennio Morricone, Scott Walker, and Nick Cave. We got to go on tour with [Nick Cave] in Europe last spring and summer.

Those are the people who I've been [listening to] since I was a teenager, except Scott Walker who I've been into for about a year. I liked Burt Bacharach for a lot of the stuff he did when I was a kid, but I've also been learning more about him recently. Everybody else I mentioned I basically grew up with. I was really into the Birthday Party when I was 18 or 19.

CitySearch: Is Yma Sumac an influence? I'm thinking of the opening of Mirador.

Paula Frazier: Oh, definitely. I mean there's so many influences. Stuff from that era. I'm really into loungey, kitschy '50s stuff.

CitySearch: Did you meet Cornershop by touring with Nick Cave or was that a separate thing?

Paula Frazier: A separate thing. Our record came out on 4AD in Europe. Cornershop is on Beggar's Banquet, which is 4AD's sister company--they share the same office and everything. In the beginning, talking to Cornershop, they wanted to get Nancy Sinatra to do [a song]. They wanted to do a Nancy Sinatra- Lee Hazelwood type thing. That music's another influence of mine, so I was like, "Oh yeah, that would be really cool!" I didn't really know that much about Cornershop then. I'd heard some stuff, but their older stuff is more punk rock--kind of noisey.

I said "Yeah that's cool" and they had me try [singing] because they couldn't get Nancy Sinatra to do it. In the end it turned out that Nancy Sinatra could have done it after all and it was all some misunderstanding. Anyway, they had a bunch of different women sing on it, three women I don't know, including me. In the end they chose mine. They're really nice guys and they're doing really well. In Europe the album is Number 1, apparently. The past five weeks in London or something, which is such a trip. It's great in many ways for me because I really like those guys' stuff and it's great publicity! [laughs]

It was fun and it was easy. Right place, right time--all those things happened.

CitySearch: What is it you're about to record now?

Paula Frazier: A demo for a new album. New stuff with the new guys. A lot of stuff I'm writing…well, it's not more upbeat, but it's more '60s. Kind of like the Mamas and the Papas, kind of like Karen Carpenter.

I'm not with 4AD anymore, so I'm looking for a new label. It's kind of too bad because a lot of good things happened to us with them--we got to tour Europe a lot, which was great. It's so weird how things can be so easy over there and so hard over here. Or, like some bands that are huge there aren't popular over here. I guess it goes the opposite way, too. Like Jewel's not that popular over there.

CitySearch: You could make that a goal--to outsell Jewel.

Paula Frazier: Oh I don't know about that!>>

Does anyone know what the 4AD/Tarnation split was about?

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