It's not easy being the band that starts a new genre. How can people understand what they're getting into when they've never heard of pagan lounge music? Comparisons to known quantities in unknown combinations are helpful: cross tango with jazz, toss in some classical orchestral strings, Gypsy accordion, melancholy harmonies, and a plastic rainbow-colored flute named Coco Vermona, and voilà -- Rosin Coven. "It's like having a martini at your solstice ritual," explains contrabassist Justin Katz. "It's a balance. You don't want to be just shrouded in robes and crystals; you want to be able to bust out the cha-cha."
Lead vocalist Carrie Davis is primarily responsible for the intricately haunting lyrics, and boasts Broadway, cabaret, and new wave credentials, plus self-taught guitar skills. Katz is also self-taught and otherwise can be found backing Lilith Fair fave Shelly Doty as well as the groups YOU and Queen Esther & Her Royal Subjects. Rounding out the roster: Patrick Kaliski on drums, vocals, and xylophone; Andrea Walls on violin and vocals; Beth Vandervennet of the Fresno and Oakland philharmonics on cello and vocals; Brian Bulkowski on cello and vocals; and Carri Abrahms on vocals and accordion.
Being ready to bust out is a good idea at Rosin Coven's shows. Lately the group has been opening with its by-now-infamous parade. "Every good ensemble from Duke Ellington to Sun Ra to American marching bands has had a theme song. So we've come up with the "March of the Modern Pagans,'" says Katz. Group members pass out megaphones and streamers and noisemakers. "People get up and join in. We like to get everyone on the same page before we start kicking in."
The "March" was particularly popular on the German leg of the Coven's just-completed European tour. (Katz promises it will be the opening track on the group's next album, though the confetti hasn't even settled yet following the recent release of Rosin Coven's first CD, Penumbra.) In fact, all of Europe, the great pagan incubator, received the band warmly, and also provided it with places to stretch beyond its already far-out edges. "We had no idea how many different kinds of shows we could do," says Katz. "We played classical at a Dutch wedding, we played at an anarchist squat, an underground punk club, a rock 'n' roll show for 1,000 drunk Czech teenagers."
As befitting Cafe Du Nord's and Rosin Coven's cabaret themes, Wednesday's show will include fire antics and dancing by Justice Spitfire of Pyrogeist, and magic courtesy of Majinga.
With the Coven's slogan, "Alchemy Through Music," the group is aiming for transformation through both the spectacle and the music it creates. Says Katz, "Sure, you're transformed if all of the sudden there's fire and glitter and violins swooping around your table, but people also connect to the slower, deeper parts of our music."