Almost everyone in the Coachella Valley and high desert music scenes knows the name Jesika von Rabbit. Heck, she even has a menu item named after her at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.
However, not everyone knows about the person behind that famous name.
Her half-eponymous band, Gram Rabbit, is currently on a break—no, the band has not broken up—and von Rabbit has been spending time completing her first solo album and playing shows locally and regionally.
The story of Jesika von Rabbit starts in Green Bay, Wis.
“I was kind of a musician naturally by birth. I think I came out of the womb as a musician,” she said, with a laugh, during a recent interview. “My mother was a singer; she sang in cover bands in Green Bay, and she also sang in some commercial jingles. So I grew up with a singer for a mother, and my mom started me out on piano lessons around the time I was in first-grade. I loved music from a young age, given I was around it. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
While she has happy memories of Green Bay, von Rabbit felt that she had to get out of Wisconsin.
“As far as growing up there, I always felt like a fish out of water,” she said. “I really couldn’t wait to move away. The one of the cool things about my high school years is that there was a really cool and thriving punk-rock scene that I had discovered when I was 14, and all these punk bands would play at this Polish dance hall right down the street from my house, so I got to see a lot of punk bands like the Dickies when I was really young. I saw Soul Asylum before they blew up, and all kinds of cool stuff. That was my outlet given I wasn’t into football, hunting and cheese so much.”
She moved to Minneapolis when she was 19, and eventually left there for Los Angeles before finding her way to the desert—where she’s been ever since.
“I was living in Los Angeles, and I was kind of drowning a little bit,” she said. “I was a little lost while trying to put a band together in Los Angeles, and a couple of my friends at the time rented a house out in Joshua Tree. I came out to visit, and there was something about it—it was a little strange, and there weren’t that many people, but there was something about it that I liked, and there was something drawing me to it. My friends had a big house and offered me a spare room if I wanted to move out to Joshua Tree. I moved to Joshua Tree; I loved it, and I started to writing so much music—and I’ve never left.”
In 2003, von Rabbit met Todd Rutherford, with whom she would go on to form Gram Rabbit. Success for the band came fairly quickly: Gram Rabbit would earn a spot on Coachella’s main stage in 2005, and has put out six albums. Gram Rabbit has been featured in various commercial campaigns, and the band’s music has been used in films such as Crazy, Stupid, Love; War, Inc.; and Interview; as well as TV shows such as The Real World, Sons of Anarchy and Crash.
Recently, Gram Rabbit decided to take a break, and von Rabbit seized the opportunity to put together a project that she calls “the devil’s dance music.” During her solo live performances as of late, she has been performing all keyboard and sampling duties with help from her “Grundles.”
“I’m a musician, and I constantly have to be making music,” she said. “Gram Rabbit just kind of needed a break, and we’ve been doing it for a long time, but I’m constantly writing songs and getting ideas, so if Gram Rabbit isn’t going to be active right now, I’m still going to be active.
“Instead of sitting here and trying to put a new band together with new people that come with their own problems such as scheduling and this and that, I found this to be easier for me. I figured I’ll just be a solo act; I’ll have the Grundles, and it’s not necessarily that I want to be a solo act, but it’s hard to find the right people, and starting a new band takes a lot of work. It wasn’t something I sat down and planned, but I’m doing this now, and I enjoy it.”
Her solo material may surprise Gram Rabbit fans—but it’s undeniably fun. With songs such as “Glamorous Misery,” “Psychic Spice,” “Put Your Weight On Me,” and “Gaydar,” she’s exploring new territory. She’s taken the act on the road, playing dates locally and throughout California.
One memorable gig came at San Francisco’s Gay Pride celebration this summer. The driver who was assigned to take Jesika von Rabbit and the Grundles to the stage was late to pick them up, she said.
“The car was moving inches every minute, and I was about to have a heart attack,” she said. “I had to be there at 1:30 p.m., and we got picked up at 1 p.m., and they don’t run behind, so if you’re late, you don’t play. We made it seven minutes before we were supposed to get onstage, and I get out of the town car, go onstage—and I see 200,000-plus people. I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I was so nervous, and I felt like a football player approaching a big game.
“I thought of two possibilities: I’m either going to kill it and do awesome, or I’m going to sink, and it’s going to be horrifying. I went for it the whole time, and I rocked out, and I did it. It was awesome, and I had a great time.”
She performed “Ring of Fire” with Jello Biafra at a recent show in the high desert. “If you would have told me when I was 14 I would someday do that, I wouldn’t have believed you,” she said.
She has a busy fall ahead of her, including a scheduled performance at the Desert Stars Festival at Pappy and Harriet’s on Saturday, Oct. 4, and Gram Rabbit’s Halloween dates at Pappy’s later in the month.
“I’m always excited to play festivals at Pappy’s,” she said about the Desert Stars Festival. “I’m probably going to be the only dance-music act there, given it’s mostly psychedelic rock bands. I’m always worried when I play in that situation, given there are a lot of music-snob people in that scene, to where if you don’t sound like Pink Floyd meets whomever, you’re not cool,” she said with a laugh.
She promised the Gram Rabbit Halloween shows, on Friday, Oct. 31, and Saturday, Nov. 1, would be crazy fun.
“We’re going to do two of those (Halloween shows) this year,” she said. “We did one last year, and it was so crazy in there, you couldn’t even move. Robyn (Celia), one of the owners of Pappy’s, and I thought, ‘Why don’t we do two nights?’ We’ll give people a chance if they couldn’t make one night to see the other night. We’re going to have two opening bands. The first night, we’re going to have O’Death, and the second night, we’re going to have my friends Well Hung Heart from Orange County.”