Charming Disaster: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Charming Disaster Interview

Feature Photo by Krys Fox courtesy of Charming Disaster

Goth-folk singer/songwriters Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris chime in a year after their release of Our Lady of Radium, a concept album about the life and times and Marie Curie and her discovery of radium that eventually led to the infamous “Radium Girls” who painted watch dials with this radioactive chemical that harmed many and sending more than 30 to their graves. Now, in 2023, the duo is releasing Super Natural History, which goes back to their roots with songs about monsters, animals, science, magic and more.

Super Natural History combines two of our most cherished passions: magic and science. These concepts may seem contradictory, but we think of them as opposite sides of the same coin.”

After nearly two years of lockdowns Ellia and Jeff are back on the road and in the studio. The aforementioned album Our Lady of Radium having been recorded in a home studio,

Super Natural History goes back to the studio and expertly engineered at Figure 8 in Brooklyn, New York and Tonal Park in Maryland. Also featuring with the release of the album is an oracle deck featuring 60 cards, one for each song with artwork based on said songs and highlighting various artists depictions and artwork for the cards.

Be sure to check out the tour dates for the Midwest tour in the Spring and the upcoming west coast tour in March at www.charmingdisaster.com/shows

Live shows add a bit of mysticism as they carry tarot cards and let fate decide what songs and in what order to play with no specific setlist! So, let’s hear it from Charming Disaster themselves about their new album and accompanying goodies!

Before we dig into your new stuff, you had your album Our Lady of Radium out last time we talked. How has the reception of that album been?

Ellia:
It’s been really good. We were so blown away by how strongly people responded to it, considering that it felt like a departure for us thematically. We’ve been able to connect with other kinds of populations, other people in the science world and they’ve also responded very well to it.

Jeff:
We’ve gotten to do some different kinds of shows. We did a show at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, which was really neat. They gave a little lecture about Curie beforehand and afterward, people came up to us and were like “I’m a science teacher”, or “I’m a chemist, and Curie, her legacy means so much to me and it was so cool getting to hear music about it.” So it’s been neat to see our fans really respond strongly to it.

Radium was a touch different, but not by much, than what your previous works were so Super Natural History is a sort of return to form with combining multiple subject matters.

Ellia:
the previous album was science related, it dealt with a lot of themes of dark drama and some occult, a little touch of ecology and seances. this one is, so now, this album is made up of the combination of a lot of different interests. We have some naturalist songs, we have songs about bats and manta rays and other creatures, but also songs about witches and monsters. So yes, this album, I think, is a pretty good representation of all of our interests from scientific to paranormal and right in between!

Jeff:
As we’ve grown as a band, our interests have grown. Super Natural History is an accurate depiction of our interests to date.

As far as your upcoming Weast Coast tour goes, are you excited about any venue, in particular, to play at?

Ellia:
Oh, yeah. I’m all for the West Coast and looking forward to all of the shows. It seems great to go and travel and we love going out and visiting folks and friends on the West Coast. And we’re playing a wide variety of venues, which is typical for us. The beginning of our tour includes a fancy Supper Club, which we played before, that’s the Pink Door in Seattle and we’re playing a music venue the next day in Seattle called the Belltown Yacht Club, where we’re performing with a couple of other local acts who we’re really excited to share a stage with. In Portland, we actually have recreated the bill that we did there last year with the same lineup of bands because we loved that show so much.

Jeff:
It’s a real thrill when booking a show across the country and you’re in charge of making the bill for a place you’ve been like maybe a couple of times before. We had met one of those bands when we showed up and it was instantly obvious that we made the perfect show, the perfect combination of music and people there at the time. So, we’ve recreated that at a different venue.
After that then we’re going to play this crazy semi-rural. It’s a venue that’s also a bar, brewery and an agricultural supply store in one. last time we were there, our green room was like the warehouse where there were these huge, galvanized tubs full of baby chicks.

Ellia:
Yeah, we had chicks backstage. [laughter]

That must’ve been an amazing experience!

Ellia:
Oh my god. It’s such a fun experience. And the tour is just so different every day. We’re playing in beautiful rooms and odd spaces. Some dive bars and clubs and we’ll finish it all up with a backyard concert in LA.

You two played at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Virginia as well, right?

Ellia:
We’ve been there a couple of times. It’s so great!

Jeff:
We’ve been there for Poe’s birthday in January, which is kind of cold.

Ellia:
But we’ve made some really wonderful fans playing there, people who have stuck with us for years now and the folks at the museum are super nice.

Charming Disaster Interview

Photo by Krys Fox courtesy of Charming Disaster 

This is also sort of where your weekly live streams come into play because there’s a connection with the Museum, are you still doing the weekly streams?

Ellia:
Yeah, when we were doing weekly live streams. During the height of the pandemic, we teamed up with them for one of them. So they went out on their channel as well as them on ours. They made a little video for us that we screened as part of the live stream. They’re great folks.

Jeff:
We’re still doing them but not as consistently, not on a weekly basis.  We like to include fans when we’re touring because it’s such a great thing to do while we’re when we have a slow day while touring, like on a Monday or Tuesday. We like to include a live stream from a place that’s ideally a cool location or a weird Airbnb.

Ellia:
We’ll look at Airbnb and it’s hard to filter out stuff like “Is there a giant Medusa head poster in the bedroom?” Yeah. We found that one. In Indianapolis. There is an Airbnb with a giant poster of Medusa’s head like right behind where we’re streaming from.

Jeff:
Yeah, we’ve done one in an old bus, it was very narrow, and had to get our wide-angle lens out for that one. We’ve got this wide-angle camera specifically for smaller spaces. We’ve kept up the streaming. It’s so nice, chatting with our fans and including them. There’s a real community that sprang up around those live streams where we saw people connecting not just with us, but with each other and people have become friends and have like traveled to hang out with each other or attended shows together. It really created something real that we want to continue.

You’re also releasing your latest album Super Natural History on March 3rd. Your previous album Our Lady of Radium was recorded at home, but since then you’ve been able to get back into the studio, can you take us through the recording process?

Jeff:
With how this one was done, it’s kind of like a mix of both worlds.

Ellia:
There are two groups of songs. One group of songs we started the way that we recorded Our Lady of Radium. We tracked the vocals and the ukulele and guitar ourselves then we went into the studio, Tonal Park, which is a studio we’ve worked at for a long time in Maryland with our longtime recording engineer, instrumentalist, co-producer, collaborator, Don Godwin. We got Don to add drums and bass and horns to those songs. We added some tracks of our own just some backing vocals, and they’ve got this Hammond organ that we use on it as well.

Jeff:
Then the other half of the album we recorded in Brooklyn, at a studio called Figure 8 which is an amazing studio in Brooklyn. We had a drummer and a bass player playing live with us for the recording.

Ellia:
Bob Smith, the bass player was in my old band Sweet Soubrette. I’ve worked with Bob for a long, long time and it was such a pleasure to get to play with him again, when there are people you played with for a long time, they know what you like, they know how you play. I love the choices that Bob makes as a bass player. He knows everything, he’s like, “Yeah, I know, you like the double stops, and I know you like this thing and that.”

Jeff:
Rob Garcia, I’ve known him since first grade. So we’ve known each other a long time. And it was great to pull him in on this project,

Ellia:
Engineer Hillary Johnson, who we had kind of admired from afar for a long time, and we pulled her in to track four songs with us. She has such precise ears and she got such great performances out of us. It was really amazing to work with somebody in that way where we could kind of just focus on our execution and our performance and know that Hillary was really listening for whether things could be better.

Jeff:
She was kind of a little bit of a hard-ass, she’d be like, “let’s try that again, you can do better than that!” Just trying to get the best out of you. Which is great because when you’re in recording mode, or you’re tracking, you’re just doing what you’re trying to do and play the part in time and sing it and pitch.

Ellia:
We did some additional tracking at Hillary’s house, which was fun. She was living in the East Village at the time. Then we brought those tracks to Don Godwin and he makes the whole album, the stuff that we had tracked with him and the stuff that we track with Hillary so it has consistency.

Along with the release of the album, you have an Oracle Deck releasing alongside the new album.

Jeff:
We have commissioned two dozen artists to do their impressions of one of each of 60 songs that we had released up to this point including Super Natural, plus one extra that’s sill yet to be finished.

Ellia:
They’re not just illustrations of the song like. The idea of the Oracle deck is that there’s like an archetype or an idea or a theme that comes out of each song. And so each artist’s assignment was to create an image of that archetype or character or thing, utilizing inspiration and elements and lyrics and imagery from the song.

Jeff:
Yeah, it’s an object of contemplation for each song.

The pictures that you have released, they look amazing! Last album you did a very artistically done lyric book and this album has the Oracle deck, are there plans for more expansion-type things for future albums?

Jeff:
It is so varied you know? People’s styles are so different and it’s interesting to see them all together and how it works as a deck and we’re super excited about doing that and to continue to do that with every album, to release an expansion pack for each album.

Ellia:
With Radium you had the very artistically done lyric book and for this album, we have the Oracle deck. Maybe next time we’ll have “make your own puppets” with felt sheets. [laughter]

Much like Radium that had radioactive blue colored vinyl, Super Natural History you’re also releasing this one on colored vinyl. Do you have anything special going on for this one?

Ellia:
Yeah, it’s really pretty it’s a swirl that’s a translucent yellow with an opaque black but when they swirl together, you get an effect that looks almost like petrified wood, which we thought was appropriate. Yeah, this is interesting in the natural world.

Another neat thing you two do with your shows is that you include Tarot cards to choose what songs you play, how does that work for you?

Jeff:
Most notably, we use our tarot deck when we’re doing a live performance. We have associated all of our songs that we play with specific tarot cards. The deck we keep with us is the standard Pamela Colman Smith tarot deck and we have people pick a card and that card and we put that on the board and we play the song that’s associated with that card.

Ellia:
If someone picks a card and they selected the High Priestess, that always means we play Black Snake and that it also means we don’t make a setlist, each show is different.

When we’re traveling, we’re usually each show is typically seven or 10 cards.  At45 minutes that like a rock club set is probably a seven-card spread and if we have the full hour we’ll do a 10-card spread and so we’re usually traveling with like you know 25 or 30 song cards in our deck so we get surprised but not like too surprised except for the time that I put the wrong cards in the bag [laughter].

Jeff:
We made two piles of cards and we’re like “These are songs we are definitely not going to play tonight because we don’t have a piano or practiced.” and somehow those got switched.

Ellia:
After the first song, Jeff and I realized and then after the second song we’re like “Oh no, we switched the decks!”

The cover art for the new album, that’s a collage of items and curiosities that your fans have gifted and sent to you, what can you tell us about that?

Jeff:
We have some of that which was sent to us and also things that we’ve had, like Ellia’s wisdom teeth and this beaver jaw.

Ellia:
We have lots of little curios and things that we collected along the way, things that we’ve bought at roadside attractions when we’re on tour, crystals and rock shops. And so the album art, it’s not a composite, we actually laid that out on a big blank floor, right here and we photographed it from above, so there are no repeats in there.

Jeff:
Things from creepy dolls to the tarot decks and plastic dinosaurs and walnut ink that someone made and sent to us as well as this mobile fish tank!

What’s one of the more interesting things you’ve found at the different shops you’ve been to on the road?

Ellia:
We found something that’s called a lightning stone. This does appear in the album art and also in one of the songs. The stone is mentioned in the song Wrong Way Home. The lightning stone is what happens when lightning strikes the sand in the desert. Sometimes it fuses the sand into the sort of tubes of rock and so it makes like a spider web of glass and if you cut it in half it’s got a hole in the middle.

Jeff:
And the thing with lightning stones, is that it protects you from being struck by lightning because lightning never strikes twice in the same spot, so you keep it wherever you are.

Lightning Stone

Lightning Stone photo courtesy of Charming Disaster

Charming Disaster Tour Dates Link

Charming Disaster: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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