INTERVIEW: The Raincoats
, November 7th, 2016 16:08
Catching up with The Raincoats' Gina Birch about Brexit, their legacy and more ahead of their upcoming tour
Seminal is a word often used too lightly, but there’s no doubt The Raincoats’ music - in particular the wonderfully haphazard, disordered chaos of their eponymous debut LP - continues to be a primary influence on bands long after their epoch. Having formed in 1977 by founding members Gina Birch and Ana da Silva, The Raincoats committed to a kind of post-punk that negated the machoness of punk - it was uncompromisingly powerful and unashamedly female.
If the band’s debut denoted a predilection for noisy, primitive post-punk, then their 1981 follow-up Odyshape exposed even more of The Raincoats’ idiosyncrasies and wide-ranging influences by incorporating British folk, dub basslines, polyrhythmic percussion and elements of free jazz alongside other world music influences. This diverse hybrid of styles resulted in the band becoming imperative proponents of Britain’s underground music history.
Never ones for idle conformity, The Raincoats are still touring, playing live shows with the same youthful vigour of their earlier performances. Ahead of their upcoming live shows, Hayley Scott speaks to Gina Birch about the continued interest in the band, Brexit and the upcoming tour.
The Raincoats play Manchester's Soup Kitchen this Friday (November 11) and Glasgow's Centre For Contemporary Art this Sunday (November 13)
The Raincoats are about to do a short UK tour this November, playing in London, Brighton and Manchester. Was your last Manchester show really 36 years ago?
Gina Birch: I believe so!
Do you have any fond memories of the city?
GB: I can't remember what happened when we played there in the past. I do remember shooting/directing a New Order video with Jane Horrocks in Manchester by the canal by the New Order management offices and in the new part of town, too - that was fun. It was for their song '1963'.
Are you surprised by the amount of interest still in The Raincoats, and do you notice more young people turning up to your shows?
GB: We are so happy that people are still interested in what we are doing. Although the years pass, we are very strangely youthful in spirit and we don't think of life in those terms. Why should age be so strange? Why should you be put out to grass over a certain age? We are artists and musicians and we continue to create. We never tried to appeal in a "I’m so beautiful and youthful" kind of a way. We always tried to be ourselves, in our own skin and with our own voice, telling it how it is.
Was your decision to reform in 1993 partly inspired by the riot grrl movement? What was your experience of that time - did you find that there was a renewal of interest in The Raincoats because of it?
GB: I had been making films and directing music videos and was on another trajectory when we decided that we would release our records on CD, as were a lot of people with the 'new' medium becoming so prevalent. Ana and I thought it would be fun to do a gig to celebrate the release of our music on CD and got together to try and play a couple of songs. It was so moving and amazing we decided that it might be good to do two gigs.
Then as rumour of our 'gigs' spread, we got invited to do the Nirvana tour, and it seemed like a crazy thing to do, but even crazier not to, so that was the beginning of us reforming I suppose. Riot grrl was an amazing inspiration and continues to be a mutual admiration society. I love the movement so much - I played the first Ladyfest in Olympia in 2000 and that was one of the most amazing times for me, a town full of women of all shapes sizes, colours, creeds, doing poetry, art, comedy, craft, music. Amazing. The women involved in riot grrl still continue to do amazing things in many areas of life.
Surprisingly, there’s still an issue with the way women playing instruments are viewed/written about by journalists and other people in the music industry. What was your experience of this being a band, and have you noticed any positive changes?
GB: It was and continues to be an issue with some people in the industry - you know, the same old shit. In my experience, though, some of those who used to have misogynistic tendencies have witnessed so many creative women playing that they have changed their tune. On the whole it's presumably gotten a lot better, but there are always some bigoted, prejudiced people and that can happen because of all sorts of reasons: race, gender, religion etc. Thank god for those who fought and continue to fight for equality.
In your more recent performances you’ve not had a drummer, why is that?
GB: Both of our drummers now live in the US, and we played a couple of times without a drummer and what happened was we had a different perspective on our music. It was more fragile and exposed the other instruments and voices in a beautiful way. We also had some new tracks with some electronic recordings, so we had a mixture of songs without drums and electronic songs - what could be better?!
Critics in the 70s often described your music as embodying femininity, as opposed to the machoness and aggression of a lot of male punk/post-punk bands. What are your thoughts on this?
GB: Yes, the music we made and continue to make is our own and we’ve always made a point of making music from a distinctly female perspective. I am glad that we sound like us - a voice of our own is what we wanted to achieve and we've done that!
You’re no strangers of ATP, having played there in the past and again recently. What was it like for you this year, considering how badly it went for many of the other bands?
GB: We had the most amazing time, it was great, but it’s just a shame we haven't been paid yet! There is still hope - I am broke!
You’ve always been quite political, so I’m interested to know your feelings on Brexit, and the current political climate in general.
GB: I am horrified by what is happening in our government at the moment. It seems so incompetent and untruthful. I am lost for words - Scotland here I come.
Which record (that’s not The Raincoats) means the most to you and why?
GB: I think Patti Smith’s Horses is an amazing, wonderful album for its poetry, drama and emotion, and it means so much to me, as does PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love - the production on that record just kills me because it’s like a demo and yet it’s so beautifully crafted. I believe it went from being a demo to something with much bigger production and then it was stripped right back again, in a really clever way. I love it so much.
And of course I love Toots & the Maytals' Funky Kingston for being my first bass love. Oh, and PiL - any PiL and loads of other things.