The Unreal World

Rebecca Blasband, veteran of The Real World, is getting on with her real life.

So why did Blasband agree to enter The Real World? "I just thought it would be a little publicity for my music," she concedes. "It turned out to be a lot of publicity--and sometimes it went in the wrong direction."

True, Blasband got an opportunity to play some of her songs on one episode, at a contrived solo showcase conceived by MTV. (She says she initially resisted the notion and regrets how it turned out: "I wasn't very good.") But dedicated viewers remember her primarily for two incidents--a brief tryst with a Real World cameraman, who was fired for the transgression, and an argument with African-American housemate Kevin Powell during which they traded accusations of racism. The latter, she insists, "was completely blown out of proportion. It was two o'clock in the morning when it happened, and I was kind of cranky, but the way they edited it, they made it seem like we'd taken extreme sides and were completely unreasonable." She claims that she and Powell, now a contributor for Vibe magazine, are on very good terms.

The rest of Blasband's experience was hardly more pleasant. Once, she says, producers paid a guy to ask her out on a date: "They gave him $100--which was a real ego boost for me." (Blasband found out about the plan in advance and squelched it before it happened.) Neither did she enjoy being bombarded with boneheaded questions by representatives of every major media organization in the country. But she feels that, in the long run, she was luckier than several others on the program. "Some of them ended up really psychologically damaged by it," she says. "The people on the shows after us knew what to expect, but we really didn't have any idea."

After being paroled from The Real World, Blasband was courted by various labels, but she says, "They were taken aback by the music. I think they wanted it to be cheesy pop, but it was more organic than that. If it had been cheesy, I'd probably already have a record out, but it wouldn't have been me." During the next several years, she played some acoustic dates, opened for national acts (including Squeeze) and tried to hold on to her integrity. She was rewarded by Warner Chappell execs, who she feels are more interested in her songwriting than in her MTV past. The Rebecca Blasband, produced by Warren Bruleigh (whom 16 Horsepower hired to produce its latest disc following a recommendation from Blasband and Robinson), is evidence that she's worth the investment. While she was portrayed as a folkie on The Real World, Blasband comes across as a more fully rounded performer on the EP's five cuts. Backed by a band that stars Violent Femmes leader Gordon Gano, she melds a Byrdsy melody and a hallucinatory lyric on "Silver Room," rocks convincingly throughout "Down in the Underground," and pulls off a mid-period Beatles tribute with "Alfred." The piece as a whole suggests that anything Aimee Mann and her peers can do, Blasband can do just as well.

Whether record companies will give her a chance to prove it is another matter. However, Blasband believes that time has become an ally. "When I'd meet people right after I was first on The Real World, they'd be like, 'You bitch,'" she says. "But now, they're like, 'Cool, you were on the first one. That was the only one I watched.'" She's also got the support of Robinson, whom she met through her manager. After the Fluid split two years ago, he's worked on compositions that are completely unlike that band's proto-grunge attack: "They're very pretty, piano-based songs that I want to record with a heavy dose of strings and horns," Robinson says. But don't expect to hear them until Robinson has moved East. "From the beginning, I've been very conscious of not giving myself an excuse to stay in Denver," notes the Texas native, "but I didn't know it would take me two years to get out of town. The first six or eight months after the breakup, I was stagnating, but since then, I've been rotting. I'm very eager to get to New York and get some inspiration that will kick me in the ass to get going."

Strange as it might seem, the upcoming move is being made possible by MTV. Last October, the network flew Blasband to Universal City for a Real World reunion show that's still cropping up regularly on the prime-time lineup. In addition to a desperately needed $2,000 appearance fee, Blasband also received a bizarre perk. Among those present at the taping were representatives from the office of the U.S. Surgeon General who'd been charged with cajoling (Blasband's phrase) "Real World kids" into making anti-smoking public-service announcements. When the bureaucrats approached Blasband, who smokes like a '75 Nova with a bad muffler, she told them that their mission was a huge waste of taxpayers' money. But a few weeks ago, she received a plaque from the Surgeon General thanking her for her assistance.

This award has quickly become one of Blasband's prize possessions. Taking a drag on her cigarette, she laughs as she says, "At least I got something out of that show.

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