ENDING A 12 YEAR CHAPTER WITH GRAM RABBIT AND TODD RUTHERFORD AS SHE WRITES THE NEXT CHAPTER INTO EXISTENCE AS A SOLO ARTIST
By Robin Linn
LA Weekly’s Band of the Year, Jesika Von Rabbit has known what she was after in life since she was a young girl in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Part of her musical upbringing was provided by her mom, who was in a rock cover band. Jesika remembers her mom covering vocalists like Pat Benetar and Joan Jett. Jesika was a part of the MTV counterculture who found punk in her youth and through it an urge to find her own true voice. She studied and practiced piano from the first grade on through high school and once she discovered punk rock, she felt she had to leave the Midwest if she was to ever live out her dream to find success as a singer-songwriter.
“I knew from a young age I needed to escape Wisconsin (that’s actually a bumper sticker) as soon as I could. There was an amazing punk rock scene in Green Bay. I was in high school and all of the sudden I started seeing all these skinheads and guys with Mohawks outside of this Polish dance hall in my little suburb. I wondered what is this? So I fell in love with punk rock and my parents of course hated it. I went from pop to punk and how could you blame me? I am this creative person into music and it was so fresh and different and I discovered it all at a very impressionable age. Compared to the boring music that was available to me via the radio….this new punk scene I discovered was cooler than hell.”
After high school she left Green Bay and moved to Minneapolis to start her first original band, and all girl punk group called the Porn Flakes. Jesika remembers, “I bought a knock off SG bass and auditioned for my first band. They didn’t even know I could sing…I could barely play, but I got the gig. It was an indie-electronic pop band. A few rehearsals in….they put a mic in front of me. I didn’t even know if I could play and sing at the same time. So now I was the vocalist and the bassist. But, the band lacked motivation. They didn’t know if they wanted to tour. I knew I was going for it. We were doing well as a band, developed a following. But, I was ready to take it to the next level.”
After five years in Minneapolis, Jesika made the bold move to Los Angeles. Dreams of a music career in Hollywood pushed her forward and she accepted a friend’s offer to move in with him. After a couple of years struggling to find like-minded musicians in LA, Jesika felt as if her dreams were slipping from her grasp and knew it was time to make another geographical change. It was in 2002 she came to Joshua Tree to stay with a friend and fell in love with the vast desert landscape and it’s surreal atmosphere. “It was kind of scary and bizarre. There was no real music scene to speak of. I had been coming to stay with a friend and decided to make the move. I left my dirty little neighborhood on Sunset and Normandy and moved to North Joshua Tree.”
Here Jesika found few distractions once she settled into her new desert home. This allowed her to take up reading books on the occult, listening to Art Bell on Coast To Coast AM, and reconnect with herself as a woman and an artist. “I began recording my own music using a four-track. I had worked in the studio with producers, but never attempted to record my own music by myself. For the first time, I was making my own music.”
It was at this time that Jesika met Todd Rutherford who was then living in San Francisco. He fell in love with Jesika’s voice, and with a strong desire to work and create with her, made the decision to move before anything had really been solidified. Jesika remembers, “He up and moved his entire life to be near me and create with me. He happened to be a Gram Parsons connoisseur. We both had a bunch of demos we hadn’t even played for each other yet, and he begins teaching me all of these Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris duets. At night we were going at it, learning all these songs. I had never really been into country. I was punk rock and 80’s pop. But, my mind was open to everything. So, we are working out these duets and our voices just melted together, we sounded beautiful together. I began loving what we were doing. It was very magical. Crossroads Café began doing this event to honor the anniversary of Gram Parsons death. We knew all these Gram Parsons songs and Todd said we should perform there. That meant we needed a name. Todd came up with The Gram Rabbit Experience. So that is how we came into existence.”
A small but intense music scene sprouted here in the high desert from that one annual event and this one band which brought international attention to our tiny corner of the world. Gram Rabbit would now evolve into a national act, recording albums, touring, building a fan base known as the Royal Order of Rabbits, and gaining critical acclaim from the press. Gram Rabbit was off and running!
“It was very desolate when Todd and I first began. There was the Beatnik and we kind of started there singing these Gram Parson songs, but I had all of these Jesika songs I had been recording that were electronic and psychedelic, and Todd had been writing and recording these songs that were like cowboys and aliens, music that had nothing to do with Gram Parsons that made up our first two records. It became electronic-psychedelic-new wave desert music. We bonded on the Gram Parsons thing, but it evolved into our own unique thing. We fell in love with each other’s demos and then we up and moved again. We left Joshua Tree and moved to Carterville where Todd is from, just south of Fresno. Todd’s grandparents were there living on a cattle ranch and they were dying. They needed us to be their caretakers. So now we were living across the street from his grandparents. We cared for them till they passed away. That is when we recorded our first record. We were able to save a little nest egg, buy more gear, sent the demos off and began booking shows in LA. After they passed away, we moved back here to JT and things really started taking off for us.”
Their 12 year relationship gave birth to 6 full length records, commissioned over 30 songs for TV, film and commercials, and brought them to the main-stages of some of the most prestigious music festivals in the country including Coachella Music and Arts Festival and Austin’s SXSW. The breakup was peaceful and mutually agreed upon. Jesika recalls that they had been together for so long and since they were so young, she felt it was time to experience life and music on their own.
“Todd and I didn’t end things on any negative terms whatsoever. We were together for 12 years and we grew apart, even musically. But at the same time, he is such a great songwriter. Even though it can get a bit lonely, and you become so dependent on that other person….I have a whole new band, a new record, my shows are being well attended, it’s an exciting new chapter. It can be liberating but it can also be really hard. You don’t realize how much someone else does for you until they are gone. Being a woman, hauling around your own gear, setting it all up, booking the shows, it’s all on me now, and that is difficult. I am glad I haven’t met anyone to distract me from my path.”
Jesika is now as independent as a woman in music can get. She produces and records all of her music herself and refers to herself as Journey Mitchell. She incorporates preprogrammed electronic grooves with gorgeous melodic vocals. Lyrically, the woman is a never ending pool of creative concepts! There are strong, bold, vocal rhythms over a psychedelic framework, and it is all backed by a strong and unique voice that is rooted in the pop of the eighties. Her tongue-and-cheek approach to lyrics about subject matter ranging from bisexuality to broken hearts is both clever and poetic. Her rap style and sense of rhythm are combined with an imagination that knows no bounds.
When it comes to her live set, the music is all her along with three dancers. Two are gorgeous, young, sexy eye candy, while the other one is Larry Van Horn, a very tall elderly gentlemen, an author she met in her gym in a Zumba class. “I met him last June, I saw him dancing in the Zumba class and he was beautiful. I was kind of nervous to just go up to a stranger, but I knew I had to have him dance in a video or something. I couldn’t leave the gym till I talked to him. I asked if he would be willing to dance in a video….and he talked my ear off. He is highly intelligent and such a great writer. He shares his life experiences, and in such an eloquent way. He will be dancing at the Mickey Avalon show (at The Hood in Palm Desert) and again at the sold out show at The Casbah with Bear Hands, a band that is performing at Coachella Fest this year.”
On stage during the live show, the visual presentation is stunning with all of the gorgeous young bodies on stage moving, Larry dances to the tempos with great enthusiasm. It’s is such an artistic contrast to witness. Jesika has a real appreciation for a million kinds of beautiful. Her ability to craft a song, construct complex rhythms, and create infectious lyrics are only topped by her originality and prowess on stage. “I don’t ever want to take what I do TOO seriously. I mean, I am serious about my music and my career, but I try to remember I am out there to entertain people.”
Jesika’s latest record demo is a self-produced psycho-pop collection that draws from R&B, hip-hop, pop, country and combines her wild imagination, and wonderful sense of humor with melody. Her full warm voice is soulful as is her songwriting. Jesika crafts rhythms, vibes, and lyrics to create a dance party. Jesika draws from some of her earliest inspirations with her take on “You Drive Me Ape” by the 80’s punk band, The Dickies. She covers Cindy Lauper’s “She Bop” slowing the tempo, turning the bubble-gum pop tune into a sultry ballad. JVR’s version of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” is a psycho-pop masterpiece. “Sugar Waterman” an autobiographical song about a girl who snorts Catamine believing it is cocaine prove her sense of melody and rhythm are only topped by her outrageous sense of humor and imaginative strong songwriting skills. In 2013, Jesika reinvented herself on her own terms. She is a real part of our desert music history and she is the crowned queen of desert psych-pop. You can find JVR’s show schedule, links to music and learn more at the following link.
Learn more about JVR at her artist site: