Gina Birch on Her New Album, Procrastination, and the Legacy of The Raincoats | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 22nd, 2024  

Gina Birch on Her New Album, Procrastination, and the Legacy of The Raincoats

She Will Survive

Mar 23, 2023 Photography by Eva Vermandel
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It’s taken Gina Birch of beloved British late-’70s/early ’80s post-punk band The Raincoats the best part of 45 years to cross “record a solo album” off her “to-do” list. I Play My Bass Loud, co-produced by Youth and released on Jack White’s Third Man Records, is a sampler platter of what the venerable Ms. Birch has to offer. From the cover art to the dubwise basswork, Birch was behind it all, gently steering it to wherever she wanted it to go. Some of the content you’d expect—the reggae influence, the feminist viewpoint, and the occasional spikey punk adornments are all present and correct. What might catch out even the most ardent Birch devotee is the judicious use of electronica.

That must be down to Youth, right? Wrong. “Actually, I did a lot of the electronic stuff at home,” she says. “Youth is a great producer in that he also lets things happen as they should, rather than trying to put his stamp on everything. He treads lightly but cleverly. I did question the process a bit, but I came to realize by the end that his process was excellent.”

We spoke to Birch about why she’s finally released a solo album, balancing visual art with music, and the legacy of her old band.

Ian Rushbury (Under the Radar): Rather than hanging up your boots, you’ve chosen now to make a record. Why did you wait until 2023?

Gina Birch: I’m always doing stuff. I’m always making stuff. I’ve got a computer full of songs and films. I’m not very good at finishing things, so if someone gives me a deadline, I’ll finish it, otherwise it just goes on. Some of these songs have been about 10 different songs—I could have made an album out of each song! For example, I started writing “Let’s Go Crazy” around the turn of the century. Originally it was about an eclipse of the sun. “Dance Like a Demon” was actually written in lockdown. It used to be called “I Wanna Dance in a Crowd.” Then it turned into a kind of druggy, Eartha Kitt vibe.

The opening line of the album is “Sometimes I wonder/What is my job?” What do you think your job is?

Ana [da Silva, singer and guitarist from The Raincoats] had a song called “The Lighthouse” on her solo record. She sings “I’m in darkness,” but I thought she was singing “I’m an artist!” I thought that was great. I’m a creator, I like making films and painting. I like writing songs. I feel I approach things as a creative person. Having said that, some days you feel like, “What am I gonna do today? How am I gonna untangle all these things that are crossing over?” On one day, I might decide that my job is to play my bass. That’s not my life’s work but on that day, I felt like my job was to play my bass loud. That’s what I feel quite a few days. My job on another day would be making a painting or a film. Playing my bass loud is often my job.

When you started out with The Raincoats, were you a bassist out of choice or necessity?

I really wanted to be in a band after seeing The Slits. I’d never seen anything like them in my life. Four autonomous women who got together to form a band, not put together by some Svengali. When we started, people would criticize us because we didn’t look right. They’d criticize us because we didn’t sound sweet and appealing. When The Raincoats started, I didn’t know how to play an instrument and I’d never written a song. But I wanted to be in a band—a drum kit was too big, guitar and vocals were too exposed. Bass was the back door into a band. I bought one, took it to pieces, sprayed it sparkly blue and tried to learn some melodies on it. I learnt Toots and the Maytals basslines. For me, it could have been any instrument, I suppose. I was being pragmatic, really. There was a lot of reggae around at the time and I’d grown up listening to a lot of ska. That’s where you could really hear the basslines.

It seems like people have finally caught up with The Raincoats’ worldview. Can you see your influence on people today?

I don’t know. I think that’s for other people to work out. I don’t see it. Sometimes people will say this person or that person sounds like you. I’d like to have inspired people to find their own thing and push themselves to be themselves and to have independent thoughts and spirits. Musically, The Raincoats always tried to play music that was a little more complicated than we were capable of. People who wanted a seamless show found that troublesome. We were always trying to do things that we weren’t really able to do. On this album, because computers make everything sound perfect, Youth insisted that I played guitar on it. He said, “I really like your bad guitar playing. It humanizes everything.” If I had gone and done a funky little guitar thing, you’d just assume it was a sample. You can always tell when I come in.

You’re about to go on tour—are you excited or dreading the endless road miles?

I’ve just got my new band together—two other women—and we’ve played our first gigs. It’s great fun. I don’t think it’s that different to when I was touring with The Raincoats, to be honest. Everyone sits in a van on the motorway, then we haul the gear in to venues. We don’t have roadies and we’ve got a lot of gear. I imagine it will require quite lot of energy and fortitude. For me, it’s easier because I’m older, and I’m less shy. I was terribly shy when I was younger. Now I’m not shy at all. I can stand on the stage and just chat with people. I can make mistakes—I’ve always made mistakes, but that used to make me distraught. Now that’s very much part of what I do. It wouldn’t be a Gina Birch show without some element of reality. Humanness, humor, and heart. Sometimes things might go wrong—I might stop a song and start it again.

Are you still active in visual art?

Always, yeah. I’ve got a piece in a forthcoming exhibition at the Tate Britain of 100 feisty women or something! [“Women in Revolt!”] I will be having my own painting show this year, too. I haven’t had a lot of time for painting, recently. I’ve still got my studio down the road, full of paintings. I’m looking forward to getting back there. Yeah, painting is a thing I’m really in love with. It’s something where you don’t have to present yourself in a very particular way, although everyone still likes to know how old you are and call you this or that. That always happens more with women, like Yoko Ono. And when you say, “Can you not show my age?” they always say, “But we always put the age!”

Do you think your job is easier now than it was in the early days of The Raincoats?

Yes, I think so for many reasons, things have shifted. Lots of young women play electric guitars for example. Prior to that, it was violins and acoustic guitars. Not drum kits and all that. Politically, the whole gender politics and feminism thing has got so complex and impossible to talk about or even think about. Women always seem to be blamed for things. Feminism in the ’70s was thought to be a bit ugly because the patriarchy didn’t like it. My dad always said, “What are you doing bringing that feminist stuff home, upsetting everything?” Men didn’t want to be upset by feminism. But I think that men have really benefitted from it. In those days the woman was at home or if she had a job, it was as a secretary and was always being told what to do by a man. It was the same in the home. The woman must have the dinner on the table and wear the right clothes. We’re so lucky that that kind of thing doesn’t have to happen to us, it was still happening to women in the mid-’70s. Whenever I hear Gloria Gaynor singing “I Will Survive,” I think, “of course you fucking will.” It’s a great song—I love it. We needed it then. We probably still need it now.

www.ginabirchpainting.com

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