Catching Up With Piper Durabo of Maraschino
Piper Durabo — who these days works under the moniker Maraschino — occupies an important place not only in the proverbial history books of much of the music we love here at WMF, but also in its evolving narrative. Both as one-half of sibling duo Puro Instinct and as a solo artist, Piper’s formidable track record includes two full-length albums, a tour with John Maus and Geneva Jacuzzi, and collaborations with Ariel Pink and Franco Falsini (Sensations’ Fix). As if that weren’t enough, Piper’s continued intersections with legends like R. Stevie Moore and Angelyne only add to her hard-earned credibility.
After hearing a couple exciting (as-yet unreleased) Maraschino tracks, and looking ahead to the December 7 John Maus/Maraschino show at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, it seemed timely to check in with Piper about new music, historical and new collaborations, and much more.
Adding to the fun and significance of our conversation on a sunny Silverlake afternoon was the presence of one of WMF’s absolute favorite photographers, Miriam Marlene. Immediately preceding our conversation with Piper about all things Maraschino, Miriam beautifully documented the occasion with the exclusive series seen here.
Bobby Weirdo: Maraschino is opening for John Maus December 7 at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. You’ll be performing with a band, and I’m wondering at this point if Maraschino is a band or a solo project.
Piper Durabo: Maraschino is a solo project that I started while I was living in New York, after Puro went on indefinite hiatus. I still wanted to make music, and see what making music on my own was going to sound like, so I holed up in an apartment for eight or nine months to figure it out.
I started writing songs, and eventually they started sounding like something that could be presented to other people. I needed to come up with a name, and I’ve always been intrigued by the intersection of glamour and garbage, and I guess “Maraschino” symbolizes all of that for me.
BW: Did you do any shows in New York during that time?
PD: No, for the most part all I did was DJ and write music during that period. I started working on collaborations with my friend Sam [Mehran], and those are going to eventually make it on the Maraschino record.
I did a cover of “Mind Your Own Business” by Delta 5 and released it, but for the most part I was pretty quiet -- just keeping it under wraps until I felt like it was ready. I wasn’t really planning on playing any shows ever. I’d been talking with Joe Maus, though, and he’d been asking me about my solo stuff, so I sent him some music. He listened to it and offered to play bass and ask Jonathan [Thompson] and Luke [Darger] to back me up as well.
I [told Joe] I didn’t think I had songs that I would be confident sharing, but he said he liked them. At Coachella, he asked if I wanted to play the RBMA (Red Bull Music Academy) show in Coney Island, which was a couple weeks later. I asked if he wanted Puro or Maraschino to play, and he said “either one!” Skylar was in Europe and didn’t get my text. When Red Bull called me, I had to give them an answer, so I told them I’d do a solo set.
Then I spent the next week and a half pulling everything together lunatic style. Courtney came up with some beautiful lines for the songs on flute, my friend Jason Klauber of Acrylics came through with the dreamy Phil Manzenera guitar vibes, and Jonathan played drums with us. It ended up sounding pretty great, and I’m really grateful that Joe invited me -- he took a chance and that was really nice.
BW: That show was kind of a reunion show, because you, John, and Geneva Jacuzzi have toured together.
PD: That was in 2011 -- a magical year.
BW: I think it was important that John mentioned Puro Instinct in his Ph.D. dissertation, Communication and Control, along with Ariel Pink and Franco Falsini. It all really makes sense and highlights the common thread you have as artists.
BW: Some people might not be aware that Courtney Garvin is not only Geneva’s sister, but also an artist in her own right as Toucan.
PD: I always say, “Watch out for the Garvin sisters!” They are pure genius. The first time I encountered them I was nineteen and caught a set by their old band Bubonic Plague at the Echo. I was floored. They were so good…and so weird. It was perfect.
BW: Tommy Wright III, Gary War, and Superstar & Star were also on the Coney Island bill, and then you played another show with Superstar & Star at Zebulon here in L.A. Have you interacted at all with Neville [Lawrence, aka Superstar]?
PD: Oh yeah -- for sure! Neville, Bennett Kogon — who put the show together — and I went to Medieval Times, and that was really fun. We took Neville to In ‘n Out because he’d never been there, and Neville stayed at this motel called the 7 Star in Hollywood so he was close by. It’s on La Brea and Hawthorne, right across from Hollywood Press -- a quintessential lodging experience for anyone new to the area.
BW: Are you working on a Maraschino album at this point?
PD: Yeah, definitely. I'll play you some stuff today if you want.
BW: You mentioned Bennett, and I know you’ve been making appearances on his KXLU radio show. Two pretty remarkable guests that you’ve recently had on the show with you are Angelyne and R. Stevie Moore. First, what’s your connection to Angelyne?
PD: [I’m] a huge fan of Angelyne. She’s always been a huge inspiration for me. In 2012, she was in a Puro Instinct video that Nick Amato directed. I never allowed it to be released because I fried half of my hair out by accident in a botched bleach job a month before the shoot and I was like “Nope” when I saw the footage!
BW: I’ve seen that video.
PD: No one’s supposed to have seen that video, so that’s irritating. (laughing)
BW: Well, I just saw it over at Nick’s place. He told me it was frustrating that the video never was released because it was so hard to get that Angelyne footage.
PD: I know -- it’s true. That is the part about it that’s truly excruciating. We definitely have a really cool video. So that was the beginning, and then Nick took me to her birthday party at the French Market Place in West Hollywood. Her plastic surgeon was there, Nick, my friend Sylvie, and me. So it was an intimate setting, and she was just Angelyne-ing out.
I didn’t see her for a year or so [after that], and the next time I ran into her, I was walking down Detroit off of Melrose randomly, and she started driving down Detroit too. I flagged her down and asked if she remembered me. I told her she was in my music video, and she said, “Oh yeah, Puro Instinct! Get in the car.” So I got in her Corvette, and sure enough -- she took me back to the French Market Place. We sat in the parking lot and she started talking about aliens, angels, and all the things I like to talk about.
Then I said something annoying and she yelled at me. I think that sealed the deal for us. The next day, I was wandering around and found myself in the parking lot of the Vons at Virgil and Sunset. Who pulls in at the same exact time, but Angelyne. She got out of the car and saw me, and we both knew it was meant to be. She told me to get in the car and go with her on an errand for a show she was doing.
We basically spent the entire summer/fall hanging out. One time she introduced me to Rodney Bingenheimer at Canter’s -- that was awkward. He was way more interested in his soup than meeting me. Other than that we were mostly hanging and cruising around.
BW: What year were these adventures with Angelyne taking place?
PD: This was 2014.
BW: The other recent remarkable guest appearance on the radio show was when R. Stevie Moore called in.
BW: And you and Stevie go back several years as well.
PD: I met him when I was twenty. I DJ’d a show at the Cake Shop in New York -- my first experience DJing outside L.A. I think Stevie was playing with Gary War, and my friend Paul Rosales aka Wonder Wheel introduced us. Josh da Costa came up to me while I was playing records, and we became friends pretty instantly. After the show we went over to Gary War’s house and listened to records until eight o’clock in the morning.
Later that week, Paul and I took the bus to New Jersey, and hung out at Stevie’s house where he and Kristyna lived. As we got up to the door Stevie yelled at Kristyna for neglecting to heat up his turkey burger. He was like “it’s cold” and asked her to put it back in the microwave. I was like, “Woo! This is going to be a lot.”
At some point while we were talking, I remember asking him what his favorite band was, and he said, “What kind of a stupid question is that?” Honestly I didn’t think it was that stupid, but fair enough. He had a lot of cats running around, and a lot of records. There was like three feet of couch, and the rest was records and cats. Maybe it was just one cat -- I don’t really remember.
There was also a lot of cool gear: synths, tape machines, and all sorts of stuff you would never see anywhere else. He played a really awesome, stripped-down version of “I’ve Begun to Fall in Love” on a random keyboard, and it was pretty much the most amazing thing I’d experienced at that point -- to see a hero playing one of your favorite songs in their living room, surrounded by all their shit is unreal, and I’ll never forget it. Then we took some family photos on the street in front of the bus stop on the way out.
After that trip I was really inspired and started Pearl Harbor with my sister.
BW: You mention Pearl Harbor. Was there a particular time or event when Pearl Harbor changed its name to Puro Instinct or was it seamless, and you just gradually became “Puro Instinct”?
PD: Some stuff went down, but that wasn’t why we ended up changing the name. Pearl Harbor of Pearl Harbor and the Explosions showed up at our third show with a clipboard and wanted to know what the fuck. There was some back and forth for a sec, and we ended up getting the copyright for the name Pearl Harbor but realized in the end that we didn’t care about hanging onto it. I liked “Puro Instinct” better for the band because it made me think of Fauvism or like a spectrum of colors chaotically swirling around each other, which is kind of what our vibe was.
BW: Was the “Stilyagi” collaboration with Ariel Pink something you specifically planned to happen, or did it just spontaneously come together in some way?
PD: I didn’t plan anything at that point in my life. It just worked out that at that point I had become fascinated with Russian rock and the underground culture of Russia in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Stilyagis were obviously way before that, but they paved the way for Kino and a lot of the awesome Russian rock bands I like.
I’d been working on all this stuff that was inspired by that music, and Ariel was living up the street from me. I realized that a lot of the things I wrote about in the song embodied a struggle that I think he experienced, and any great artist is going to experience in their time -- a lot of pushback from people around them. So he seemed like a good fit in that sense.
I also knew that if anyone could come over and pretend to speak Russian on my song, it would be Ariel. So I said, “Hey, come over and work on this song with me.”
BW: Exactly four years ago today, Ariel Pink’s Pom Pom album came out, and you’re a credited contributor to that album. Do you have any memories from that time about the album and your involvement?
PD: We recorded “Black Ballerina” at a studio over at Sam’s Hofbrau downtown.
BW: So it’s a song about a topless dancer, and it was done at -- or near -- a place where there are topless dancers?
PD: Yeah, that photo of Don [Bolles] and Ariel…They might contest this, but originally [the song] didn’t even have any lyrics. I took a photo of Don and Ariel in front of the sign -- you know the one! I said that’s what that song should be about, and the next time [I saw them, the song had been written and I was asked to do a little voiceover.
BW: Are you the “Get your hands off me, Buster!” voice?
PD: Yes, I am she.
BW: Gary Wilson is a big Puro Instinct fan.
PD: That really means a lot coming from Gary. When I listen to Gary’s music, I feel like he understands how I feel as a human on this planet.
I have love for anybody bringing the most beautiful, unhinged versions of themselves through their art. I think it inspires other people to do the same. The world really needs that.
BW: Ariel used to go into your mom’s goth clothing store in Hollywood. What was the name of it?
PD: Quasi Glam -- It was on Melrose.
BW: You and Skylar grew up in Hollywood, right?
BW: Hollywood as a concept has become something that means so many things to so many people. There still is that idea of “going Hollywood”, but then there’s the actual place, and what Hollywood…
PD: …actually is. Yeah, it is what everybody thinks it is, but it’s also completely different than that, too. I feel like the people that make Hollywood the thing everybody thinks it is are people that aren’t from here to begin with. It’s kind of the best and worst of everything. It’s obviously plastic and surfacy, but there’s a lot of space and freedom to crash and burn and start over, and dream and escape and float... and for the most part nobody really notices or cares.
BW: What’s coming up for Maraschino, going into 2019?
PD: I guess my number one priority is to release music. I have the album and some collaborations and covers in the works that I’m excited about, and I guess I'd like to spend as much of next year playing shows, touring, and traveling as possible.