Music News

A chat with Julie Libassi of The Raven and the Writing Desk

Julia Libassi and Scott Conroy met while attending Tufts University and played in and around Boston with their band Stop Switch before moving to Denver in the summer of 2009. Upon arriving here, the pair sought out potential bandmates on Craigslist. A terse comment to their post — essentially proclaiming that hipsters from the East Coast were unwelcome, accompanied by an image of a Colorado license plate reading "No Vacancy" —  might have cowed other people, but the plucky duo ultimately found other bandmates and immersed themselves in the scene. Choosing a name taken from Alice in Wonderland — The Raven and the Writing Desk — they wrote dark yet soothing music worthy of the moniker. We spoke with Libassi recently about the band's history and about the songwriting for its debut full-length.

Westword: Your album is called Recidivist. What is the significance of that title?

Julia Libassi: A "recidivist," in the broadest sense, is someone who habitually relapses. All of the characters in the songs are suffering from some kind of lack of free will. There's the marionette that's being puppeteered. There's the sleepwalker who is ordering people in his sleep. There's the astronaut who's lost in outer space. They're stuck in this world, and no matter what they do, they're always going to be circling, they're always going to be relapsing.

I think just think the word "recidivist" has an interesting ring to it. And with our name, I liked how it all came together. A little farther out, recidivism as it applies to music itself, and how music makes you relax when you're listening to a song. You're always going back to that same feeling.

What can you tell me about that cover art done by Margaret Holland? It almost makes it look like you're in a crust or grindcore band — except the inside art looks like illustrations from a book from the Romantic era.

She's my younger cousin, and she just graduated from college in California. I definitely wanted to work with her on this. That side of the family is all artists, but she's the only girl, so I wanted to work with another female. I gave her a bunch of ideas, and she didn't listen to any of them.

What's going on is that the recidivist is being thrown back and forth between two birds. I love how they look like they've been electrocuted. When I sent her the songs, she listened to them and called back to tell me, "I actually have a lithograph of a cherub and a bird carrying a marionette." That was so perfect I didn't even know how it happened, and we wanted it immediately.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.