In a faded pink house, under a wilting shingled roof, in the middle of the high desert, Jesika Von Rabbit is thinking about her life before she was a bunny. She is describing her current surroundings-a pretty pink living room with abstract art on the walls-and how different it is from the basic room she used to rent in Los Angeles.
She describes her view from the three-acre Rabbit Ranch in Joshua Tree, which she shares with bassist-guitarist Todd Rutherford, and the shadows that fall over the brush and cacti at the end of the day. She talks about life before her band, Gram Rabbit.
She doesn't want to forget that life-her youth in Wisconsin or her real name, which she doesn't reveal. But she's careful to explain that her true muse is the desert.
"We would not be a band without Joshua Tree," she says.
Von Rabbit and Rutherford met in 2000 when a mutual friend lured them from their big city lives-in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively-to visit Joshua Tree. Von Rabbit played a song she wrote and Rutherford fell in love with her voice, her manner and her commitment to express herself. The two put together a Gram Parsons cover project and original material naturally followed.
"The whole experience of coming here to Joshua Tree for the first time was scary," Von Rabbit says. "It was weird and strange and we both felt drawn to it at the same time. This place is cosmic and weird and paranormal."
The artistic community of Joshua Tree creatively drove the band, she says. They began to write songs about Charles Manson, cowboys, the devil and death. They played shows in Los Angeles to 15 people. She wore rabbit ears and created a Royal Order of Rabbits for fans. People started to catch on to it all, and their audience began to look like a cross between Velveteen Rabbit and Donnie Darko.
But even when they became a bigger attraction in the city, Gram Rabbit always returned to their shabby home, to their metronome in the desert.
"I'm still a city person deep down," Von Rabbit says. "But you learn to vibrate at a different frequency out here. You slow yourself down. You think."
Whatever frequency Gram Rabbit is riding, people are listening. Their set at Coachella in 2005 electrified thousands of fans-some of which still wear the bunny ears that Von Rabbit passed out during the show.
"I like to call them cosmic antennas," she says.
The band's sophomore effort, Cultivation, blends space-rock and psychedelia and pop hooks with arrhythmic song structures and unadulterated sexuality. This record gave the band a chance to work from their home studio, with a rotating cast including guitarist Eric Jonasson and drummer Austin Place. Producer Ethan Allen (Luscious Jackson, 50 Foot Wave) fleshed out the rest of the disc in his Silverlake studio.
Problems with their label, Stinky Records, have kept the band at home for most of the year, and they're working without an agent right now. But Rutherford says he's looking forward to getting his hands dirty.
"People make grand assumptions about how weird and otherworldly we are," he says. "But we are so motivated to make music the way we want. We love to get caught up in this and do it our way."
Gram Rabbit plays with Immaculate Machine, Emery Byrd and Dynamite Walls at The Casbah on July 22. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $10. 619-232-HELL. www.gramrabbit.com.