by Scott Thill                                  

Myshel Prasad is a woman who has her fingers in so many pies that you’re amazed she actually has the time to stop and enjoy their respective tastes. Most will probably recognize the multitalented artist as the ringleader/chanteuse/agitator behind the ethereal but tough indie group, Space Team Electra, but Prasad’s also an actress, a poet, a visual artist and one hell of a political wit.

But really what sets Prasad apart from today’s multi-taskers is her deep desire to crawl within phenomena -- whether they happen to be religious, artistic, musical, sociopolitical, psychosexual or whatever -- and inhabit them beyond the point of simple assimilation and redefinition. She’s got that rare American trait, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and experience, in excess. Plus, she can perform an exorcism, which is nice.

You began creating art at a very young age. How do you feel your approach to creation has changed over the years?

Myshel Prasad: I think that as a child I had what I call a boundary problem, which I guess all children have! In other words, I didn’t know how to separate the social from the personal, the sexual from the simply intimate, the sacred from the profane, or the aesthetic from the pragmatic. I used to do a lot of weird little rituals when I was little. I grew up without a religion -- and I am still without a religion -- but my friend Renee hipped me to Catholicism when I was in grade school, and it was an artistic inspiration to me even then. I conducted some bread and water fasts (with Wonderbread!) and later performed an exorcism on her, which was definitely a piece of theatre.

I guess I haven’t changed much since I still have all of those boundary problems! Maybe the real difference is a greater sense of context. So I think that, when I create, now I’m still coming from that indistinct place but attempting to sort it out as I go along. I have a more developed sense of responsibility in the way that I interpret my experiences because the possibility of lying or stopping short for comfort or convenience is always there in a way that it wasn’t when I was a kid.

Melt: Talk about Space Team Electra. It has the feel of the ethereal works of 4AD's finest like Cocteau Twins, Lush, and Dead Can Dance, as well as the aggressive space rock of My Bloody Valentine. How do you envision the band's music, and is the idea of categorization anathema to what STE's all about?

MP: All those bands were original influences. Catherine Wheel, too. I think that creating open and textured sonic spaces -- even rhythmically -- is a big part of what STE has been about. I’ve always loved heaters, fans and electrical hum. I love the diaphanous interplay between secondary tones in amplification that generates a sort of ghost orchestra if you bring it out. In fact, I often use three amps, two that are heavily effected and in stereo and a clean Vox AC30 in the center, just to generate and experiment with that phenomena, and I’ve written songs around it.

But I’ve always felt that there’s a danger of detachment that can emerge from atmospheric music, this beautiful Wizard of Oz poppy-field experience that is seductive but at the same time unsatisfying. I prefer to throw my existential glove in the ring, so I guess my songs move in and out of detached and dreaming places, and then to more aggressive or more naked places. I think that’s actually how I live.

As far as categorization, I guess it is a sort of anathema to the music in that it is a limitation that doesn’t really exist in the actual experience of living. Although maybe I shouldn’t be too quick to say that! Experience is starting to conform to categorizations now, in the same way that market research no longer focuses on how to make products to fit desires but how to create desires that fit products! It’s a real soul-killer, and it puts artists in a weird new position, but a potentially very powerful one if they can take the lead.

Melt: Who are some of the artists that have inspired your work? And how has your work with NYU, John Drew Theatre, NC School of the Arts, etc. helped shape your aesthetic over the years?

MP: Oh, the list of influences is much too long! Artists that come to mind immediately are Bill Hicks, Laurie Anderson, Nico, Marrianne Faithfull, Patti Smith and Ani Difranco, Mazzy Star, Phil Ochs, Diamanda Galas’ Plague Mass, Rumi, Duane Michaels, Nick Drake, Maria Callas in Pasolini’s Medea and Renee Falconnetti in Dreyer’s Joan of Arc.

As for the people I studied with -- Uta Hagen in acting, Allen Ginsberg or Amiri Baraka or Anne Waldeman in poetry, or teachers like Steve Hutkins and Sharon Friedman and Lauren Raiken at NYU -- they all awakened my mind to new hungers, which is probably one of the highest goals of any education.

Melt: Your interests are wide-ranging. How do you keep your focus when there is so much you like to do?

MP: I don’t worry about that as much as I used to. There are certain things I’m looking for, a certain taste, and it doesn’t matter that much how I find it anymore. But following through on what I begin and bringing things to completion, that takes a lot of discipline and it’s really critical to me now. Getting Intergalactic Torch Song finished was excruciating! I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to walk, just get free of it. But I think you weaken yourself when you fail to complete something that is important to you; it makes you weak in so many ways.

Melt: Talk a little about Intergalactic Torch Song, especially its various mythical intertexts: Christianity, Ouroboros, Eden, etc. How does myth and history play into your creative output?

MP: You know, it’s almost painfully embarrassing to admit this, but it all started with a dream. I dreamed that I was approaching a tree, that I felt instinctively was the tree, the World Tree, or the Tree in the Garden of Eden. But this tree was blooming with roses and fire and blood; it was gorgeous and terrifying, and as I got nearer to it I thought, “Wait a minute, this is sacred, I don’t know if I should be getting this close.” And then I woke up.

There were so many things going on at the time that were driving me. I had just read Nietzche’s Birth of Tragedy, which got me involved with his concept of the Dionysian capacity of music. I borrowed from Christian imagery a lot in describing my experiences, I think, because it’s such a cartography of dangerous but ecstatic psychic experiences and violent transformations. I mean, what is essentially the image of a victim of state torture is its most common symbol, as well as the eating of flesh and the drinking of wine as blood is a sacrament

But you know, all these dualities -- Paradise/Holocaust, Hell/ Utopia, The Perfect City/The Ghetto -- are sort of fascisms of the imagination. That’s why they’re so powerful. But real liberation is beyond all that, and, ultimately, liberation is what I was looking for.

Photo by Tamara Madden

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© Melt Magazine 2003