Plazm Magazine: Documenting Creative Culture Since 1991
Plazm is a magazine of design, art, and culture with worldwide distribution. Founded by artists as a creative resource, the magazine is now published by the nonprofit New Oregon Arts & Letters. Order Plazm #30 now.
Words by Johnny Ray Houstin. Photos by Sumaya Agha.
Rachel Carns in the daughter of a preacher man. She began taking piano lessons at the age of 7. “Since the parsonage was next tot he Baptist church, I would go to the church and practice,” she says. “One time, one of the deacon’s wives came in, waved her finger angrily at me, and said ‘No!No!No! No boogie woogie in God’s house!”
Rado Sloan’s family includes a cousin who is a blues musician, an aunt who took her to breakdancing lessons when she was in elementary school, a Mom who bought her an electric guitar for Christmas was she was 12, and a grandfather whose fascination with taking things apart and rebuilding them-a fascination Radio shares-ultimately resulted in some odd bust-truck-motorhome hybrids. Together, Rachel and Radio make-take apart and rebuild-rock and roll. The name of their band is the Need.
I meet up with Rachel and Radio at King Solomon’s Reef, a diner in downtown Olympia. With her jet-black hair and eyeliner-enhanced brows and lashes, Rachel looks like an athletic version of Liza Minnelli circa-Cabaret. Radio’ s butch-femme dynamic is less extreme but just as attractive, she has a shy teen boy’s mix of masculinity and sensitivity.
Looks are important to the Need. Designed by Rachel, the artwork for their singles and self-titled album has a dynamic, pointy style-reminiscent of circus posters and Russian propoganda posters-that visually matches the music inside. “Being in a band is totally about fashion, and fashion can feel two-dimensional,” explains Rachel. “Also, two dimensional record covers look better to me. Graphically, I think about the world in big white and black blocks.”
On the front of the band’s recent 10” single Hi Fi, Rachel, Radio, and their collaborators (Joe Preston of the Thrones and DJ Zena) are attired in dapper black and white suits; on the back, Radio has a jack-o-lantern head, while Rachel sports a beard. “The 10” single is our bearded man record,” Rachel says. “We’ve started a collection of bearded men. Right now there’s two-Joe(Preston) and Mike (Lastra, who coproduced Hi Fi). More bearded men will come to us, I hope. I saw one downtown today. He was wearing aviators, so I couldn’t see his eyes. He was so ZZ top it was amazing.”
On their next album for Chainsaw Records, Rachel and Radio plan to include a CD-Rom film, so the music functions like a soundtrack. At the moment, they’re learning the basics of movie making through trial and effort. Like the band’s muic, the movie will have sexual elements; though sexuality is an ever-present element of the Need’s music, it’s present as an highly-charged undercurrent-not conventionally “lesbian” so much as idiosyncratically surreal.
Radio: None of the gay bands in Olympia deal with sex. Straight bands sing about it more.
Rachel: It’s odd-especially in a small town like here, where everyone has basically fucked everyone else.
Radio: Yeah, where’s the song about that? It’s scary-the longer I live here, the more I think’Oh my God’.
Rachel: There actually was a little chart floating around in the early ‘90’s. All the boys were on one side, and the girls on the top, with little lines between them. There was a brief time when all the lines went from girl to girl, when everyone was ‘experimenting’.
Hi Fi is experimental. The single’s sustained minor chords and tense silences resemble heavy metal, but on a miniaturist scale. If the result is light metal, the edges are jagged and hard to predict. Electronic currents surge like ill will beneath the surface, and in one instance, gradually overtake it. Rachel’s lyrics are a collage-barrage of images that fuse attraction and destruction. On the a-side, as she asks a girl “What bone drags me to your eye s-socket?” the music trudges forward like it has a date with an executioner. On the b-side, a carnival organ accompanies her high-pitched voice as she sings about a tightrope walker about to take a fall. “My two sources when writing lyrics are the thesaurus and therhyming dictionary,”she says. “Both have combinations of words that relate in two totally different ways. I think with the scissors.” (A few minutes later, describing the recording of Hi Fi, ahs says, “Joe Preston thinks big and long.”
When a discussion of lesbian pack mentality and gay male isolation prompts Rachel to quip “Each a king in his own domain,” I mention that images of majesty crop up throughout her lyrics and artwork.
Radio: Well, Rachel’s a double Leo, and I’m a triple Leo.
Rachel: Leos have pride, they’re attention lovers, they have big egos. Honestly, a common Leo trait is to feed off attention, and it makes perfect sense that we would be in a band together for that reason. Trying to impress one another inspires us. Radio sings me love songs in our practice space-a new one every day. Tomorrow’s the heavy metal Rachel one. I can’t wait.
Radio: I sing different genres, all about Rachel. She gets this funny look on her face, like she doesn’t know what to think, because I can’t sing very well.
1 / 2 /