Every performer has an awkward stage in their career, a low point that prompts the question “What were you thinking?” Academy Award winner Jessica Lange had hers in 1976, a lame remake of “King Kong.”
Rebecca Blasband’s “King Kong” was MTV’s voyeuristic “The Real World.”
The native of rural Pennsylvania laughs about the experience today, readily admitting that a cold, brutal indoctrination into the music business before millions of TV viewers was a landmark in her life.
How could it not be?
The singer-songwriter, with a tip of the hat to such influences as Chrissie Hynde and Joni Mitchell, made her major-label debut last month with the Blue Gorilla/Mercury album “Rapt.” It has an infectiously amiable spirit, full of pretty, atmospheric pop, making it all the more difficult to imagine that it comes from the same woman who was a semireluctant “cast member” of the first “Real World” series and nearly jettisoned out of the business.
Originally trained as an actress, Blasband moved to New York at age 17 to attend NYU’s film school. She even studied at playwright David Mamet’s workshop in Vermont. But eventually she returned to her first love: music. She formed her first band, Les Enfant Terrible, in 1991 with future Fountains of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger. It didn’t last long, but it gave her enough confidence to carry on.
Then came an offer to appear in “The Real World” in 1992. She figured, “What the heck?” It sounded appealing to live in a rent-free Manhattan apartment with a diverse group of other twentysomethings for three months and have intrusive cameras record their every movement.
“I thought it was going to be this little documentary on MTV and maybe it would get on, maybe it wouldn’t,” Blasband said recently. “It wasn’t until the last day of shooting when the press came around that it really hit me. Actually, it really hit me when I had an affair with one of the directors, which was my own business, and the show decided to fire the guy and then they splattered it all over the press.
“I saw myself in the New York Times and the New York Post on Page 6, as if I was to think that was so wonderful. Then I thought, ‘What is this show? What am I doing? What’s going on?’ “
Weeks later, MTV viewers – now addicted to the petty bickering and posturing on “The Real World” – witnessed Blasband’s most embarrassing moment. With her fellow cast members’ encouragement, she agreed to perform some of her songs during an open-mike night at a local club. Like a bad Dino De Laurentiis movie, she bombed.
“I was put up to doing that show and the next thing I know it happened,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to do it and I was very uncomfortable and I felt exploited. I didn’t want to be exposed to the public as somebody who thought they were ready when they weren’t. It wasn’t a particularly organic situation at the time.”
Suddenly, Blasband felt cornered in the Big Apple, of all places. Everywhere she went, she was instantly recognized.
“The fame thing was very strange, not like I was some kind of major celebrity or anything,” she said. “But if we were on the street together, we would get mobbed. It was really silly and annoying, because New York was my town and suddenly I couldn’t be my anonymous self on the subway in my sweatshirt.
“It was suddenly this, ‘Aren’t you from ‘The Real World’?’ I couldn’t stand the questions anymore: ‘Was that show really real?’ ‘What’s your real name?’ It was insane.”
Fed up, she “left civilization” that summer and moved into a cabin in Northern California so she could refocus her attention on music and write without distractions. When the dust finally settled, she returned to New York and hooked up with Violent Femmes singer Gordon Gano and co-producer Warren Bruleigh. They worked on Blasband’s demo, which led to Blue Gorilla signing her a year ago.
Blasband was clearly ready. Tracks such as the stellar, Suzanne Vega-like “Silver Room,” “Down in the Underground,” “Alfred” and the first single, “Chill,” show a depth and maturity that comes from a lot of hard work and determination.
“I wanted to take people on a trip,” Blasband said. “I wanted them to go somewhere with these songs. I wanted them to feel like they go in from the beginning and they come out the other end and that they’re moved or changed or feel something. I wanted to communicate that thing you can’t put your finger on, a spirit or what.”
With “The Real World” firmly behind her, Blasband said she feels “very lucky” to be surrounded by good people at Blue Gorilla, whose first signing was Joan Osborne.
“I haven’t had this horrific music business experience that a lot of people have with labels,” she said, “because I just don’t think I ever believed in anyone who said, ‘Oh, I’m going to make you a star.’
“A lot of people believe that rap, and that’s when they get burned. I just don’t believe in any delusions of grandeur. I just want to make records; it’s what I love to do.”
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