Although the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection did host a number of noteworthy shows this actual Halloween, most notably Angel Olsen at Franklin Music Hall and Chelsea Wolfe at Union Transfer, I suspect that the city’s best Halloween celebration of 2019 will take place tonight at Johnny Brenda’s. Our favorite Fishtown spot is hosting our favorite cello rockers and steampunk enthusiasts, Rasputina, and opening the evening will be our dear friends Charming Disaster. Charming Disaster is a Brooklyn duo, comprised of Ellia Bisker (also of Sweet Soubrette) and Jeff Morris (also of Kotorino), who we’ve gotten to know through their other projects (which also include each other) and got to know as Charming Disaster in March of 2015, following the release of their debut LP, Love, Crime & Other Trouble. Since then the band has released two additional LPs, 2017’s Cautionary Tales and SPELLS + RITUALS, which dropped this June. The album continues the band’s tradition of ineffably quirky, cabaret-inspired, gothic Americana, which would seem to suit them perfectly as support for Rasputina. Last month I got a chance to have a chat with Ellia and Jeff about Charming Disaster and what they’ve been up to since 2015.
During our chat, Ellia and Jeff tell me that, while Charming Disaster has been at it for a number of years now, everything started feeling different and more solidified in the past few years, as the band has become a main focus among their many musical projects, and become a legitimate touring band. When I ask them what have been some of the highlights since we last spoke, they tell me that the touring has really been their favorite part. “There have been a lot of highlights. We’ve toured the country, coast to coast. We have fans all across the country,” says Ellia. “It’s like visiting friends now, staying with people across the country,” adds Jeff: “It’s like how the East Coast has been for a while now.”
Ellia tells me, “A couple of lanky, androgynous teens will sometimes come up and tell us they drove a few hours to see us, which is always cool,” which leads me to ask if they’ve noticed patterns among the fans of their unique amalgam of sounds. “They fall into a few categories,” says Ellia, “gothy, genderqueer teens, who all found us on Welcome to Night Vale, but then also a few older people, as we do house concerts pretty regularly.” “Literary, older, well-read people, like English professors,” Jeff says of a lot of the people whose houses wind up hosting the band’s most intimate shows,” before adding, “In West Virginia we met some bikers that we made some serious fans… But, I mean, we don’t have too many biker fans [laughs].” Ellia adds, “But there are a lot of unlikely people, where if we get in front of them, we win them over, because we tell stories and people like to hear stories.”
Charming Disaster tells me that they consider their latest album be their most accomplished yet, but also admit that it felt like a natural progression from the first two. “It’s a continuum of the kind of thing we’ve been doing, but our co-writing process has developed so much from the first album,” says Jeff. “We’ve grown up a lot and gotten to know ourselves a lot more as a project, as an entity,” adds Ellia: “There’s definitely a little more refinement to this one.”
Ellia and Jeff have been on the road with Rasputina for a little more than a week now, and will be wrapping up their dates with them tonight at Johnny Brenda’s. Upon our chat last month, Ellia admitted it was something she had been really looking forward to: “I’ve been a fan of theirs since college, so I’m like fangirling hard [laughs].” And the settings of these venues are a little different from Charming Disaster’s usual [and much less usual] settings, which are often bookstores, libraries, or living rooms. “We do like unconventional settings,” Ellia admits, but Jeff quickly adds, “It’s not that we don’t want to play normal bar venues. It can just be hard to get booked, especially in places like Philly, so we play art galleries and house shows…”
The shows that Charming Disaster puts on have gained notoriety for being equally unconventional to the venues in which they take place. The band has even taken to creating setlists during performances, based on Tarot cards drawn by audience members. However, for this run, which finds them at slightly more conventional rock clubs and ballrooms, they tell me that they were trying to find a set better suited for the rooms and the bill. Ellia explains, “We’re trying to figure out how to adapt our sets to Rasputina’s opening set. There’s an interest in leveling up. We’re probably not gonna do our Tarot thing, but we usually are theatrical ourselves and funny.” “Funny?” Jeff asks, before Ellia clarifies, “I’m funny [laughs].”
Considering the elevated levels of fashion demonstrated by both Rasputina and Charming Disaster, I ask the band if there’s any particular attire in which they would like to see this Saturday’s audience and they get quite excited and have quite a few suggestions. “You can never go wrong with feathers,” says Ellia, “and you can never go wrong with lots of black eyeshadow under your eyes, or elaborate headdresses, or head-to-toe in any color, or all patterns…” “Mixed patterns,” Jeff clarifies, before Ellia adds, “Just kind of a haunted carnival vibe,” and Jeff concludes, “I mean, I think my style is like an aristocrat coming out of a car crash [laughs].”