Filed under: feature, special | Tags: interview, joyce raskin, scarce, val phoenix
re:generation #5: joyce raskin
Re:Generation is a monthly column about yesterday’s heroines today, revisiting some of the women who have helped map out musical history but have since, for one reason or another, fallen out of the spotlight. Over the coming months, Wears The Trousers will be speaking to these influential figures, as they make their way back into the public sphere. For our fifth piece, Val Phoenix speaks to bassist Joyce Raskin, back playing again with the re-formed US indie band Scarce.
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Backstage at London’s Luminaire venue, Joyce Raskin reflects on her connection with her Scarce bandmates. “The first time I played with these guys, it was this unbelievable [thing], three people in this room making magic. I had never felt it before,” she explains. Dressed all in white, the tiny bassist is a bundle of energy, just as she is on stage, jumping up and down and generally exuding a rockstar aura. After bearing witness to one bravura performance involving hip-shimmying, hair-swinging, and the kind of moves usually reserved for the guitar, frontman Chick Graning steps up to the mic and pronounces simply: “Joyce”, to great applause.
It’s second time lucky for Scarce, and for Joyce Raskin. Having dissolved in a sea of bad vibes in the mid ’90s, the band is back, and Joyce is thoroughly enjoying her return to the stage. The band’s story is graphically documented in her book, Aching To Be, a chronicle of “being a girl in a rock band”, as she lived it, including touring, panic attacks and the odd life-threatening illness. It’s quite the story.
In 1995, the Rhode Island trio were poised to be the next big things, a loud, sweaty, hard-rocking band with sexy on-stage interplay between singer-guitarist Chick and bassist Joyce. With a debut album, Deadsexy, recorded, major label backing and a string of great notices in the US and UK music press, everything was set for the band to succeed, only for it to collapse in the wake of Chick’s brain haemorrhage. Though he recovered, he lost part of his memory and with relations between Joyce and him souring, it was impossible to continue the band. After Joyce walked out during a US tour in 1997, she and Chick didn’t speak for years.
In the wake of the band’s disintegration, Joyce was left all at sea: she had never had a proper job and had built her whole identity on being in Scarce. Though she had offers to join other bands, she refused. Eventually she worked in graphic design, then poured her anger, fears, and insecurities into Aching To Be, published in 2007. Realising she had unfinished business, she contacted Chick, instigating the band reunion in 2008. “When I finished the book, it made me realise I owed Chick an apology. I should have said take a couple years off, but I walked away. I was scared,” she admits.
Joyce Raskin’s story started in Washington, DC, picking up the bass at 14 and haunting the gigs of bands like Fugazi, who represented the pinnacle of the US DIY scene. Their anti-major label ethos stayed with her, to the point that she wondered, when Scarce were offered a deal, what would Ian Mackaye say? It sounds quite comical, but she truly worried about selling out. Now, some years later, having been through the music industry meat grinder, she is more sanguine about contracts and offers, pointing to bands like Flaming Lips as an example of how to keep musical integrity and still make a living. Her heroes weren’t just confined to indie bands; she wanted to be a rockstar like Patti Smith. “Art and music were good for me because I could lose myself in them, and this band was amazing for me because it was really the first time in my life that I felt that I would not wanna be anybody but myself,” she affirms.
It’s notable in the book how wracked with insecurity Joyce was during her time in Scarce, worrying she wasn’t good enough and that her bandmates didn’t respect her. While her relationship with Chick was very adult on stage (in the book, she describes it in quasi-orgasmic language), it was more like sibling rivalry off-stage, with him taking on an older brother role and making band decisions on his own. Once he fell ill, the roles were reversed and suddenly, at 23, she had to take on responsibilities for band decision-making, as well as maintaining the memory of all they had been through. For a long time, he didn’t even remember who she was, much less how close they had been.
Clinging to a treasured memory of Chick telling her the night before his haemorrhage how much he valued her friendship and that they were a true partnership, Joyce simply could not accept his post-haemorrhage condition: she wanted him back the way he was. “It was why I wrote the book: I wanted him to be him, but in a way it wasn’t possible because he didn’t remember,” she explains.
Quite the soap opera, but it was never documented until London filmmaker Sally Irvine came on the scene in 2008. In her, Raskin found a willing conspirator whose documentary, ‘Days Like These‘, complements the bassist’s book. “We connected really well. She makes films and I wrote this book and I was like, ‘Let’s make this into a movie. Why wait around for somebody else to do it? Let’s do it.’ We’re doing it. It’s that whole punk rock aesthetic and I love that.”
In the film, which was shown before the band’s recent UK gigs, it is Raskin, joined by ebullient drummer Joe Propatier, who charts the band’s rise and fall, with Chick very much in the background, most notably when Joe and Joyce recount how they found him unconscious in his room the day of the haemorrhage. Their voices become disjointed and the narrative unravels, a reminder of how traumatic an incident it was.
Having recorded a new album, the band are busy mixing and preparing to release it in 2010, and Joyce is excited to get back out on the road. Writing on the band’s Myspace blog after the UK tour, she enthused: “That night in London we felt the love, we felt that passion. We felt some serious hope and we felt like we came home to our hometown.”
Today, having rekindled the Scarce flame, she also has a stable life off-stage, including a husband and two daughters. “Life is short and I don’t want to have any regrets and that’s what this is about. I love having Chick in my life. I love having Joe in my life. I love having rock and roll in my life. I have two girls and a lot of people think it’s selfish of me doing this, but they love it. They’re inspired by it. I feel myself again. I feel fulfilled again.”
To keep up with the latest news on the forthcoming Scarce album, following Joyce on Twitter. Top photo by Val Phoenix.
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