18 Apr 2005 // An interview by Shade
11 June 2004
"I'm Renee and I am in a hospital-theme band called Operation - you should come see us play. We dress as doctors and nurses."
How am i supposed to resist such an introduction?
After some exchanges of eMails, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about Renee-Louise Carafice and her band. I met Renee and Anita for coffee at The Odeon Lounge last week.
So, who are Operation?
"That's a really broad question..." mulls Renee - whose voice is one of those voices you could strangely listen to for hours, "... we play...", she hesitates, thinking.
Anita, the other, more softly spoken, nurse, waits a moment, watching Renee gathering her thoughts before she politely interjects - "I play the drums, Steve is on bass and Renee plays guitar and sings. Renee wrote all the songs in hospital last year - that is where the theme comes from."
"Yes, I was institutionalized on my birthday last year", Renee emphasizes the word birthday, perhaps in a mock incredulous tone. I mean, what does one get a girl who has everything for her birthday - you get her committed.
Renee laughs at the bad joke. She has a loud, warm laugh - and, as I discover during the interview, a wicked, and disarmingly honest sense of humor. The best kind.
"It was a weird turn of events", Renee continues, "I was severely depressed and I told a counsellor that I was contemplating suicide and her instructions were if she felt that if she feels that someone's life was in danger she had to contact the crisis team". Renee changes the tone of some words, as if to verbalize putting inverted commas around them. The phrase 'crisis team' was emphasized in such a manner.
"They turned out to be cops", she continues. "They held me in an interoggation room for eight hours". This time the word eight was underlined by Renee's voice.
"Now, I was pretty fucked off - and being me - I gave them the finger a lot and said 'piss off' a lot - I was really quite angry - eight hours down the track a German psychiatrist woman walked into the room - and she said to me - 'Renee - can you tell me vot ze problem is?'". Renee does a comic German accent.
"And I said to her - 'I'm not willing to tell you anything because I dont trust vot you are going to do'" - I could sense that she was fucked up".
I sit and listen to the story unfolding - enthralled. I glance at Anita, who I suspect has heard the story several times before, but, regardless, she is hanging on every word, just as I am.
"And she says to me - in these exact words 'I vill tell you what i am going to do' and she read me my rights!"
"I did what you do, stereotypically if you are told that they are going to take you away - I ran screaming! And they stereotypically knocked me down and sedated me and put me in a car and took me to a high security mental institution." Renee described a scene from a movie that was, in fact her real life experience.
"While I was in hospital, to keep myself occupied I wrote a little book of lyrics and pictures", she hands me a copy - neatly stapled and typed in Times New Roman font - entitled My Heart on Ultrasound (Songs from the Connelly Unit). "they record my experience in there - and I said to myself that as soon as I got better enough to get a band to perform them, I would."
So, that is who Operation are.
They dress up in fake doctors and nurses uniforms.
"They audience are like 'wow - costumes'" - enthuses Anita - "but then they hear us play." I gather that the comic relief of the outfits is in direct contrast to both the content and the sound of Operation.
"We bust into a really really mellow sound", smiles Renee, who tells me people have compared the sound of Operation to that of Radiohead.
"I think we have a beautiful melodic sound" Anita quietly smiles, "the sound is mellow and pretty but the lyrics are so shocking and dark - but also funny.... " she pauses, reflecting, "but really sad."
Renee agrees - "Its kinda a rollercoaster ride - it's intended to confuse the audience - not to the point that they dont know waht is going on - but it is supposed to somehow give them the experience of that week - the juxtaposition of humour and sadness"
Like Renee's experience?
"Yeah - that is what it was like - half the time I was pissing myself laughing and the other half bursting into tears - it was both sad and really really funny."
Renee recounts another story from her time in hospital to illustrate the humour of the situation. She explains that the food is served in trays - much like you get on a plane (well, not anymore on domestic travel) - in fact, it is apparently supplied by the same people. One meal, she decided that the custard dessert was not for her. As she was walking down the corridor to the dining room in order to return the tray she passed a guy in a room who was out of control and was fighting off, rather violently, three male nurses who were attempting to calm him down. In that moment that she passed - he stopped fighting - to glance up - "Are you not going to have that custard?".
Renee laughs warming, remembering the bizarre situation - and ponders how it illustrated what is meant by 'out-of-control'. Clearly he was in control of his faculties enough to notice when there was spare custard on offer.
Anita asks if we had seen 'Girl Interrupted', explaining how she can see some parallels to that film and Renee's story - how the line between noticing that everything in the world may not be quite right and expressing your concerns and being told that you are crazy can be a very thin line.
"I hate Winona Ryder!" Renee verbally italicizes the word hate. "She has that annoying lisp... no, its more of a whistle...", Renee does a brilliant impersonation.
"Beetlejuice" she lisps, mockingly.