Broke Ass Band Interview: Girls in Trouble
Living in New York, I’ve seen and heard my fair share of bands. And since the low-fi, garage sound has been dominating the Brooklyn music scene for so long now, it’s always refreshing to hear a classically trained musician who doesn’t shoe gaze through their whole set. Multi-instrumentalist, scholar, teacher, and poet, Alicia Jo Rabins combines her many talents for her most recent musical endeavor, Girls in Trouble. After some soul searching in Jerusalem where she found inspiration in mystical texts and ancient literature, she returned to New York to share the stories of some of history’s original girls in trouble. Despite the gravity of some of the lyrics, she pairs earnest songwriting with catchy, breezy melodies. I caught up with Alicia at her self-titled CD release party at Joe’s Pub and talked shop, Stumptown Coffee and how she could be a sailor.
Laura: It seems like you traveled quite a bit and that’s heavily influenced you music, how long have you lived in New York and what inspiration has this city given you?
Alicia Jo Rabins: I came to New York for college when I was 17, and it’s been a huge part of my life ever since. From studying poetry uptown to working on the water taxi, this city has become part of my blood. I love the New York School poets and musicians and artists. I’m also inspired by riding my bike around the city: I ride over the Williamsburg bridge a few times a week, and I love to see the huge buildings, and the river, and all the traffic, and then the people on their bikes. Fragile and tough all at once.
LS: Do you think you’ll ever go back to Jerusalem?
AJR: My life tends to be cyclical, so I have a feeling I’ll go back there one day, hopefully to play with Girls in Trouble!
LS: You’ve done your share of studying and it seems you able to juggle a lot at once, do you have any other jobs besides being in the band, if not what was your last job before you became a full-time musician?
AJR: I do have another job: I am a bar and bat mitzvah tutor, I meet with kids for about six months to get them ready for their bar and bat mitzvahs, teaching them to chant Torah and talking about spiritual stuff. I’m actually taking a break from tutoring because I am touring too much these days, but I’ve been doing it for years and I love it: sitting next to a twelve year old talking about what they think and believe and teaching them about Jewish traditions. It’s the best. I teach adults too. I’m from a pretty non religious family but I got really curious about Judaism and spent years studying these holy texts, so I love to bring them into places where people aren’t just taking religious stuff for granted but instead are really asking questions, doubting, and wanting to explore.
LS: If you weren’t playing music, what would you be doing instead?
AJR: I’m a poet too, so that’s what I do when I’m not songwriting or performing, and then teaching Jewish stuff. I love to travel, and travel and touring will always be a part of life. I did a semester sea in college and have worked on a boat before. I love sailing, and working on boats is similar to playing music in some sense. Your crew is like your band.
LS: You’re touring a lot these days, SXSW, North Carolina, Georgia, what’s your favorite part of touring and have you had any crazy experiences?
AJR: I love meeting people, seeing how people live in different places and I love how touring is kind of meditative: you’re just in the moment, taking it as it comes, doing the next thing that has to be done.
One of the craziest experiences I’ve had was this tour of Central America I did last spring, as a musical ambassador for the United States. We played in orphanages and ambassador’s houses, we played for a Mennonite community in Belize who had never had live music on their ranch before, we got to meet some legendary musicians from the Garifuna tradition in Belize. But probably the craziest thing was that that was when the whole swine-flu scare started. We boarded the plane in Belize City where everything seemed normal, then landed in San Salvador where all the airport workers were wearing blue face masks and we were met by a team of doctors and nurses before customs. It was kind of insane.
LS: What’s your best advice for saving money while you’re on the road?
AJR: Aaron Hartman, Girls in Trouble bass player (and my husband) has been touring for years with Old Time Relijun, so he has lots of tricks. He’s from Pacific Northwest so he’s been spoiled by good coffee before anybody in New York knew what Stumptown was. My favorite is to take a thermos-french press on the road, bring delicious grounds, and make amazing coffee with hot water from gas stations on the road. It works for loose tea or yerba mate too.
LS: What’s your favorite dive bar in New York?
AJR: There’s this total dive up near where I went to school called “Tap-A-Keg”. I started going when I was 17 and used to make a yearly pilgrimage, I guess I’m overdue.
LS: What’s your favorite bar/venue outside of New York?
AJR: The Dreamaway Lodge in Becket, Massachusetts. It is the most magical place on the planet. If you’re ever in the Berkshires, you must go. Tell Daniel I sent you.
LS: How many instruments DO you play, and what’s your favorite?
AJR: I play violin, viola, guitar, and ukulele, and I sing. Since I started playing violin when I was three, that’s my favorite. I feel like it’s an extension of my body.
LS: And I gotta ask, have you ever 'œbusked' before?
AJR: Yes, All over the world, I supported myself that way for a few summers. In New York, Union Square is really good. My favorite is Felts Point in Baltimore. Random people would come up and hand me sheet music they wrote.
Be sure to check out Girls in Trouble when they play the Public Assembly this Wednesday.