Ellia Bisker (Charming Disaster part2)

The QuestIon: What is the most fulfilling part about what you do?

The Answer: It's kind of a tie: 

1. making something out of nothing: the rush and the feeling of self-sufficiency that comes from creating and then solving a puzzle, then carrying all these songs around inside my head

2. not just making the songs but having them be out in the world independent of me, alive, and then having people respond to them, especially the young women and all the beautiful oddball kids who come up to us after shows to say they are listening and our music inspires them, matters to them

3. getting to experience the challenge and joy of collaboration, which is one of the true sources of happiness in my life and makes creation less of a lonely business


In speaking with Ellia Bisker – half of Charming Disaster, the megaphone wielding singer of the Funkrust Brass Band, the Sweet Soubrette herself – part of her story stuck to me even days later.
Recounting the first time she read her poetry to a group – high school, cafeteria, a battle of the bands-esque open mic.
It was there that she knew for a fact what she wanted to do, who she would become.
But it wasn’t the applause that cemented it.
It was the silence.
It was her peers, with their teenage mouths shut, fully listening to her words, to what she had to say.

The weight of words. The power of a story. The heft of lyrics.
That’s where Ellia plays, in between those sounds that strike chords and memories and cement songs into our brains.

She uses words with precision, even in regular conversation, or relating a story about a more than likely non-pc joke country band. She understands the power of words and knows not to take it lightly or use them flippantly.

The first thing Ellia talked to me about was the science of grasshoppers and locusts.
When grasshoppers find themselves in a place with little or no sustenance, they (on a cellular level) change into locusts. They band together and scourge until they find and consume all they can.
It seemed abstract at first – we were supposed to be talking about creativity and her artistic history, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
To survive as a creator, to be empowered by your creations, to harness the power of words, you cannot be a complacent grasshopper, sitting calmly on a blade of grass.

You need to flow through the city, through life, like a locust – consuming everything you can, pulling people along with you to share in your creative vision/frenzy.

It became more and more clear that Ellia had transformed into a locust as she ran me through the history of her faux-country band, how she gathered all of the musicians for Sweet Soubrette, how receiving her first ukulele “ruined her life,” how she helped to form Charming Disaster.
She’s ravenous for creation, for expression.

I asked her if it was difficult to co-write lyrics for Charming Disaster, since she is (was) a very lyrics first songwriter. The key, she said, was the songs weren’t overtly personal – they were stories.
Which is an odd sort of beauty, isn’t it? Because we find ourselves in stories, in myths and legends.
We learn about the great concepts like love and life and death and faith and hatred through stories. The personal is found in the non-personal.

Her trust with co-band member Jeff Morris shows in the seamless execution of their songs. I joked that they sound like one – singular – musician.
“Our first rule was we were allowed to write bad songs.”
Imagine the freedom, the trust in your craft and creative partner, to say “hey, this isn’t working, but maybe we try…”, the freedom that everything doesn’t have to be perfect.
The freedom to know that one, just one, word change can make a difference.

Ellia is tied to words, to lyrics, to stories. Personal, not personal, funny, whatever…words form the aura of an amazing songwriter and band leader and musician.

Charming Disasters new album SPELLS+RITUALS is available for pre-order now!
Find that, and Ellia’s other albums as Sweet Soubrette and Funkrust Brass Band on iTunes and Spotify!



Jeff Morris (Charming Disaster part 1)

The Question: What’s the most fulfilling part of what you do?

The Answer: There are so many facets that I don't think there's a most fulfilling thing:

It's fulfilling to have a germ of an idea turn into a fully realized song that is so far beyond what you thought that idea might be.

It's fulfilling to have people respond to those songs, and have it be woven into the fabric of their experience, even if it's for a short time.

It's fulfilling to have people who don't know us at all–young, old, from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences–respond positively to our performances.

We're humbled by the support of friends and fans (and of course the all-seeing all-giving goddesses, gods, demiurges and demimondes) but that being said, it's fulfilling to be able to have this enterprise which we've created by ourselves, without any help from external sources (i.e. record labels, Svengalis, sugar daddies / mommas) We've been forging a path and creating a niche and it seems to be modestly working.


There is something to be said about the quiet creative. The creative that keeps their head down and surprises the world with output. The creative that lives for their craft but takes a back seat.
There is also something to be said about the creative that starts out quiet but is working their way to the front of the stage.

Charming Disaster is a “folk goth” duo consisting of Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris.
Songs about murder and myth and magic and making the mundane supernatural.

I spent an hour talking with Jeff about music, touring, creating and performing.

He’s a quiet man, with the kind of voice that invites you to open up - the voice of a listener, of someone who would willingly take your confession.
Music runs through him just like we ran through the list of bands he’s a part of/has been a part of (it’s not small).

We spoke about his band Butz, guitar and drum with the drummer doing vocals - an experiment cum art project: living in the music, songs on the fly, little rehearsal. The total immersion of creating without boundaries, furniture discarded, bare floored apartment, graffiti on the wall: a complete expression of the boundless possibilities of unbridled creativity.

But it’s funny- Jeff wasn’t the vocalist of that band. He was the guitarist keeping harmony – a step back from the front but not disappearing behind the curtains.

He’s different than a lot of musicians (and creative people I’ve met) in that he seems happy to be out of the spotlight, to be behind the scenes, to be in a supportive role (despite being the front man of Kotorino). He’d be your call-a-friend lifeline instead of being on the show himself.

Which got me thinking about his role in Charming Disaster. When you’re half of a duo, there is nowhere to hide. The majority of their songs distill into stories about a man and a woman – whether they are mythological characters, grifters, a woman and her ghost lover, etc…stories sung from two different perspectives. Put another way, they are roles that the musicians embody for each song – a dose of acting mixed in with the music.
How do you hide when you’re in front? You act.

Not that he’s actually hiding, or trying to disappear, or hates being the center of attention…it’s just the way of the quiet creative. Letting the output speak without an added distraction of the creator himself.
It’s an odd dichotomy – creations belong to the world, really. Music (and all art) is meant to be consumed, and, in turn the creator is usually consumed as well. Their lives on display – what inspired what, the life, the art, both? As a society we crave to understand how someone’s life has influenced what they have provided us for consumption.
I know little about his private life.
I’ve met his wife, I know some about his job that isn’t music.
But there is something about him that is incredibly transparent and open. He may step back, but the more you talk with him, the more you learn, the more you realize he isn’t hiding at all.
Like a trickster god pulling strings, you might not realize that he’s being upfront and open- we are just so used to getting more and more and more and more…

It’s his actions, it’s his word choice. It’s the fact that he’s comfortable writing side by side with his Charming Disaster partner – extending the space of creative trust, the fact that they did a house concert that was requested by a teenage fan…

He may sing about death and destruction and toxic relationships…but at the core of Jeff Morris is a kind man, an artist that has creativity bubbling under his skin but wants to share it with the world, wants the world to smile with him.
That trickster smile that says “if you want to know, just ask, but tell me about you.”

PS. Jeff would also like me to tell you that he is also a needy, self-centered narcissist and that’s why when most of the people he knows are settling down and starting lives and families he’s still on the stage.

Charming Disasters new album SPELLS+RITUALS is available for pre-order now!
Get it, and their other albums and Jeff’s band Kotorino on Spotify, iTunes, or however you consume your music.
Do it.