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Myshel Prasad wants to be understood, but not too easily. After a lengthy interview about The Vortex Flower, a new CD by her band, Space Team Electra, she writes a carefully composed five-page letter clarifying her remarks, then follows it up a few days later with a page-and-a-half-long sequel clarifying the clarification. And while she asks that her reasons for wearing glitter around her eyes not be printed (even inveterate truth-tellers deserve to keep a secret or two), she leaves few other questions unanswered and even fewer re-answered. "I am what I say I am," she sings on "Shadow," one of the highlights of Flower, but what she says she is changes from one minute to the next.
Space Team Electra has the same quicksilver personality as its frontwoman. Bassist Greg Fowkes, drummer Kit Peltzel and guitarists Bill Kunkel and Prasad make music that can swing from tenderness to terror in the span of a nanosecond. The songs howl, scream and cry, and so, too, does Prasad, whose vocals are so attuned to her moods that they may make some listeners uncomfortable. Unlike postmodernists, who prefer cool over heat, Prasad never censors her passions or hides behind that most fashionable of defense mechanisms, ennui. She's theatrical, yes, but in a way that reveals rather than disguises her feelings. She may look fully clothed on stage, but figuratively, she's as naked as the day she was born.
In conversation, Fowkes, Peltzel and Kunkel tend to defer to Prasad, just as they do in concert. About his role in the band, Fowkes says, "I'm just the bass player," and although Peltzel and Kunkel are somewhat more forthcoming, neither is exactly prone to overstatement. Prasad, on the other hand, can't resist letting her opinions fly, and when she does, she frames them in language that's overtly poetic and unashamedly dramatic. "One thing that's really disquieting to me is how much music anymore is about being in the music business instead of being about using music itself to connect to an actual experience," she declares. "I feel the world is becoming a technological jungle, where the simulated is better than the real, and it's for sale. It's all-encompassing, but I'm putting my life against it."
Prasad hails from Detroit and grew up in a household filled with musical esoterica: Mom played a lot of Chopin on the family piano, while Dad dabbled in tabla. Early on, Prasad burned to express herself creatively. "It sounds like such a cliche, but I've understood myself as an artist since I can remember thinking about myself as a person," she notes. Upon finishing high school, she enrolled at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and shortly thereafter became involved with a group of artists readying a play for a possible Broadway run. Among them was German actress Uta Hagen, who, Prasad says, "always had a vodka in one hand and a poodle in the other. [The dog] was always completely silent and shaking all the time."
Hanging around such people opened Prasad's eyes--and she didn't always like what she saw. "I worked pretty closely with a producer," she recalls. "One night we were all at a party with investors, and I was sitting beside a fountain when he came over and sat down beside me. He let out a heavy sigh and said, 'You don't belong here. This is a sea of barracudas.' And two weeks later he ended up shooting and killing his wife in the foyer of their Montauk mansion." She adds, "I was only nineteen years old, so that really changed the way I looked at the arts community I was wanting to join."
After the incident with the producer, Prasad skipped around the country in the pursuit of knowledge and high tuition charges. She took classes at the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Sarah Lawrence College and the University of California at Berkeley before graduating from New York University. But that wasn't the end of her educational odyssey. She moved to Colorado in 1992 and spent the next two years earning a degree from Boulder's Naropa Institute. Poetry was her focus during this period, and she soon discovered that her words sounded even better when accompanied by an acoustic guitar. "I'd done a lot in theater," she says, "but nothing satisfied me like music."
Meanwhile, Peltzel and Kunkel, who'd met while attending the University of Northern Colorado, had relocated to Denver. After joining forces with Fowkes and guitarist Todd Ayers (who lists stints with Twice Wilted, Sick 'em Fifi and volplane among his credits), they advertised for a kindred spirit in this very publication. Prasad answered, and in early 1994 the five christened themselves Dive and began searching for a sound. According to Peltzel, they quickly found one.
"We all came from very different musical backgrounds," he says. "Greg was into punk rock, Bill likes blues and metal, and I came from jazz. The common ground was bands like Catherine Wheel and My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins, but what was great was how rapidly we changed after that and developed a sound of our own."
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