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Inevitable disasters: Rachel Glassberg

INTERVIEW! Ahead of her debut album release "This Was Inevitable" and concert on Oct 19 at a Neukölln venue named after an obsolete web browser, Rachel Glassberg of Glassberg & The Disasters tells us the inspiration behind her yarn-weaving tracks.

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Photo by Joconaut. Catch Glassberg & The Disasters at Internt Xplorer, Neukölln on Sat, Oct 19, 20:30.

Former Los Angelite Rachel Glassberg is many things, but never a disaster. But she’s kept her anti-folk indie pop outfit The Disasters at her side eloquently and playfully supporting her yarn-weaving songwriting chops since 2015. Despite the name, she’s garnered a reputation as a safe bet for an entertaining show, tackling topics near-and-dear to the millennial Neukölln heart. Things like Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult trash film The Room, Berghain’s infamous bouncer Sven Marquardt or disgruntled airplane stewards (just Google Steven Slater), and now, like the earthquake that will eventually plunge California into the ocean, Rachel Glassberg and The Disasters’ inevitable album This Was Inevitable is here. The nine-track debut comes out October 19 on Frankfurt’s Lousy Moon label, the same day The Disasters hit the stage to support it at a venue named after an obsolete and unpopular web browser. Mumbles support and the whole thing goes down at 8:30pm.

What’s so inevitable?

Everybody moving to Wedding. Or at least getting priced out of wherever they currently live. All the clubs that everybody goes to now, being either closed or totally uncool in the next two years. All the places that are currently vegan Vietnamese restaurants turning into, I don’t know, bacon-centric Burmese restaurants.

Is it inevitable that Berlin will turn into New York?

Very inevitable.

Climate change?

That’s inevitable.

Anything else? What about Trump 2020?

The campaign is inevitable. The victory is… evitable.

You could be courting disaster with this title. Why did you name it that?

Well, my initial idea for a record title was This Is Fine. Did you see that meme with the dog in the house that’s on fire and he’s holding a coffee and he says, “This is fine”? Well, that was my initial idea, but then I realized it was already taken. And then I realized that This Was Inevitable was a better title. A lot of my songs are about things that are inevitable in some way or another.

Like in your song “Sharknado”. One of those may not actually be inevitable, but the message is clear…

Like “Sharknado”. But basically aging, taxes or I don’t know, just the decisions that the characters in the songs make. I feel like in most of the songs, they somehow brought it upon themselves, but the results are still inevitable.

Characters? All these songs aren’t autobiographical?!

They all have some sort of aspect of me. But the most personal two are probably “Streetview” and “Inner Perfectionist”. “Thirties” was kind of one part removed.

What do you mean by that?

Well, “Thirties” isn’t as personal because I wouldn’t be so desperate that I would kidnap a child from Russian meth heads. I mean, I don’t know. I’ve still got some years to go in my thirties. It might still happen. But basically, the original inspiration for “Thirties” was when I started living on my own for the first time, at this apartment on Sonnenallee, and I was looking for ideas of what to do with it. I came across this stupid listicle online: “This is what you need for your apartment when you’re in your thirties”.  And number eight on it was like, “You need something to take care of. It could be a plant. Or it could be a pet. Or maybe it’s even a child. But you need, as a thirtysomething, something to take care of.”

Do you agree?

I don’t… think so. I mean, I have felt more like getting a pet since I turned 30.

Alright, you’ve got to talk about “Window People”.

That was also a true story. This was based on this time I had the flu and was living in a WG in Schillerkiez, and these guys were coming into the flat while I was there to turn the windows from those super old windows into new insulated windows. They were these Polish Handwerker who didn’t speak any German or English – so they just kind of came in and did their thing, but I couldn’t talk to them or figure out what they were doing. So, that’s what this song is based on. These Terminator-like guys coming into your place, drilling into the wall and not talking to you at all because you can’t communicate. And then you have the flu and you don’t even really know if they’re there or not… 

But then you say “Time can’t be reasoned with…”

Then it goes into this… first it’s like it’s this specific situation with the Polish Handwerker and then it’s gentrification, then it’s time in general. But then I realized I stole the entire concept from the poster for Terminator. The tagline from the poster is: “It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop until you’re dead.” Anyways, some of the language from that song, I borrowed from the Terminator poster without realizing it.

What about “Current Times”?

“Current Times” was a very weird mix. I wrote this when I was on vacation on this island in Croatia and seeing all these ruined, half-finished resort places, while simultaneously reading a bunch of books about colonialism – mainly The Sympathizer by [Vietnamese-American author] Viet Thanh Nguyen. And somehow all of that combined into my brain. A lot of people have asked if that’s a true story! And it’s just completely made up.

Any genre of music with the word “folk” in it automatically has a whiff of Americana. But you’ve been gestating it here in Berlin since 2012. Do people get it here?

When I moved to Berlin, I kind of rediscovered this genre of music called anti-folk – artists like Adam Green and the Moldy Peaches, Jeffrey Lewis, all these people who were like big for five minutes in the early 2000s in the US, somehow got huge in Germany and never went away. I was living in LA before I moved here, and I was writing these songs that I always thought were like too nerdy for the LA scenester crowd and I wasn’t really playing them a whole lot. But then I moved here and started going to the open mic at Madame Claude in Kreuzberg and I discovered serendipitously that these songs fit into this anti-folk genre that isn’t really considered au courant in the States, but is somehow still revered in Germany. There’s been a surprising number of academic papers on this. You can read the dissertation of Mathias Kom from The Burning Hell to get a very good overview. If you read German, there’s one by Sebastian Hoffmann. The point is, it’s a genre of music that began in America, but the flag for it was carried in Germany. And that’s what gave me the confidence to keep writing these songs once I moved to Berlin. 

You started solo, right? How did the band happen?

Well, I formed the band in 2015. Basically, I was at this house show at [Berlin musician] Susie Asado’s place, and Ran of AmStart (who’s coincidentally promoting this upcoming show), happened to be there when it devolved into this jam session. I ended up playing one of my songs but with Elke, my current drummer, hopping on the drums. Ran was like, “Hey, I can offer you this gig opening for Sonny & the Sunsets if you have a band.” And that was in June and before the gig in September, I was able to put a band together. I don’t think it was a disaster.

Glassberg & The Disasters, This Was Inevitable Record Release, Sat, Oct 19, 20:30 | Internt Xplorer, Neukölln