No fear, but with sadness Music: Her little sister disappears from the band, but Baltimore's Sonia Rutstein keeps up the tempo.

June 19, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

If having to maintain an impossible touring schedule is a mark of music business success, then disappear fear has definitely made the big time.

After all, singer Sonia Rutstein had just flown from San Francisco to the band's Baltimore home base the day before, and here she is in New York, doing a round of telephone interviews before heading off to record a tune for a syndicated radio broadcast. Nor will that be the end of the band's workday, for after the radio session, disappear fear head off to South Street Seaport in Manhattan to open for Stephen Bishop.

"And then -- this is even better -- we do this thing today, and then I fly back tomorrow, because we're playing in Oakland at Festival on the Lake," she says. "So that's what's insane. It's a lot of frequent-flier miles within 48 hours."

Not that she's complaining. In fact, things couldn't be going better for Rutstein and her band. In addition to a new CD, the just-released "Seed in the Sahara," disappear fear boasts a new guitarist, Rick Rivera, and a tougher, more rock-oriented sound. Add in the national tour that begins tonight at Fletcher's, and Rutstein has every reason to be pleased with the band's momentum.

Still, all that excitement is tempered with a bit of sadness, because this will be disappear fear's first tour without Rutstein's little sister, Cindy Frank, who left the band last November. And for Rutstein, working without her sister is definitely a bittersweet experience.

"There was a song that did not make it to this record about my feelings about it," she says. "I just missed her. It's not just the fact that she was my business partner, and creative with the music, making the songs come to life. I love singing with her, and I definitely miss that.

"I mean, I'm Cindy's older sister. We started this together. We were partners, and there are things that she wanted to do that I'm actually doing now, and I would never have said, 'We can do that,' back then."

Why did Frank leave, then? "Our dreams changed," answers Rutstein. "I think sometimes she thought she was living my life, and she needs to live her own life.

"It sort of just came up in conversation, where she was saying, 'I really want this to happen for you.' And I was like, 'Whoah! You want this to happen for me? Don't do this another second for me. You have to do what you want to with your life. Disappear fear is whatever, but your life is your life.'

"Within a month of that, she fell in love, and got married," Rutstein adds. "And within less than a year, she had her son."

Frank does sing background vocals on "Seed in the Sahara," but having her in the studio was only part of the fun for Rutstein. "For the first time ever, I got to make the record with my guys," she says. On the last album, "disappear fear," Rutstein and Frank were backed by studio musicians, who were brought in by producer Craig Krampf to ensure that the recording went smoothly and quickly.

That wasn't necessary this time around. With E St. Band pianist Roy Bittan handling the production, disappear fear cut the basic tracks in just eight days. Even better, as Rutstein sees it, the band abandoned the folkie gentility of earlier albums so that songs like "Skin" and "Why" really rock out.

Rutstein credits some of the change to a shift in her bandmates' musical tastes, noting that drummer Marc Lawrence and keyboardist Brian Michael Simms had started out as jazz musicians. "And I guess, because Cindy was much more folk-oriented, maybe they got the feeling they could stay if they weren't too in-your-face," she says, laughing.

"I was the one who'd say, 'No, I want it this way. I want it to rock!' So now it's very clear. Everybody gets to express themselves more fully."

Indeed, some of the album's best moments, like the anti-homophobia anthem "Laws of Nature," evolved directly out of the band's ability to go its own way.

"The first time I played it for the guys, Marc and Chris [Sellman, the bass player], I did just what you hear on the record," she says. "That off-beat stuff on the bass, and the way Marc just drives it through. Whereas I heard a much more elaborate production on it, almost like a Yes kind of thing, with lots of layered guitars and tons of vocals. Really in there, and really godly in the perfection of everything.

"My fear was that the arrangement would sound too jammy," she says. "But it seemed almost spiritual when we were doing it, so we went with it. And I love the version we got."

She shouldn't be surprised, though. Because Rutstein, if anyone, should understand that when you follow the spirit of the music, fear naturally disappears.

See and hear

When: Tonight and Thursday, June 19 and 20, 9 p.m.

Where: Fletcher's

Tickets: $10

Call: (410) 481-7328 for tickets, (410) 558-1889 for information

To hear excerpts from disappear fear's new release, "Seed in the Sahara," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6114.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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