The Raincoats: British grandmothers of grunge, riot grrl and godmother to every rock chick on the planet. Ahead of their Camden Crawl gig this weekend, Wonderland chat to founding members Gina Birch and Ana da Silva about punk, Madonna, and how they avoided learning how to actually play music…
How does it feel to be performing on home ground?
Gina: It’s great to do something in London. It’s strange because London is so picky! It’s almost because we’re here all the time, people don’t really think we’re that special, whereas when we go to America or Japan in 2001, we’re thought of as quite special. In Japan, people had been playing our records for years and years, so we were kind of legendary! Whereas here, because we’re around all the time…
You’ve become something of a cult band – why do you think people are still in love with your music, over 30 years on?
Ana: You’re always a product of your time, but I think the way we expressed it was quite different. The fact we were all women had a lot to do with it, and who we were as individuals.
G: A lot of people sat in their bedrooms and learnt to play other people’s songs. Ana knew a couple of Bob Dylan songs, but I certainly didn’t know how to play anybody else’s songs. We had to make it up from scratch. “Where’s the chorus? Where’s the bridge?” We didn’t know what they were.
A: We didn’t really want to know, as well. We were trying not to learn too much.
How has your music changed over the years?
G: On our first album, our playing left a little to be desired, but that was part of the character of it. By the third album, there was maybe a bit more soliditiy to the playing but that might have been to its detriment! Sometimes you can get a bit comfortable.
Were you surprised when big name fans like Kurt Cobain brought you back into the spotlight?
G: We didn’t even know who he was!
A: We thought people would have our albums on their shelves and never listen to it. It does make sense now. Because of all the riot grrl stuff happening, people were exploring women’s bands, and they were listening to Kleenex, Liliput and Au Pairs. And us! Punk was our musical mother – but then we got new friends, and daughters and children…
What kind of thing do you want people to take away from your music?
G: One of the things that Geoff Travis (of Rough Trade) always said was that the music he liked was people who found their own voice. I think that’s what we do, and that’s what we’d like people to hear – not our vocal voice, but a kind of integrity and honesty about who we are.
Do you think women in rock will ever be as embraced as someone like, say, Beyonce?
G: Somebody like Patti Smith could have been a female Mick Jagger.
A: She’s strong and female, not necessarily the idea of what is usually feminine, but she’s not trying to be a man. A lot of women, including Madonna, seem to have this need to go on stage and nearly get naked. And that’s the thing I resent most, that women feel they have to do that. They can’t just stand there in trousers and a skirt.
G: You can still look sexy without cut-away pants.
The Raincoats are playing Camden Crawl on 6 May at the Jazz Café.
Words: Zing Tsjeng