The Raincoats were one of the most thrilling bands to emerge in the U.K. post-punk explosion of the late-’70s. Led by Gina Birch and Ana da Silva, the band’s self-titled 1979 debut was filled with sharp guitars, choppy rhythms and one truly awesome cover of “Lola.” Second album, “Odyshape,” was a decidely weirder affair — songs were drawn out, structure was abandoned and percussion was irregular. On the occasion of its 30th anniversary, the album has just been reissued, with liner notes by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, one of the many musicians to claim the group as an inspiration.
The band has played intermittently over the last decade, but kicks off a short tour in support of the resissue this weekend. This miraculously includes a show at Comet Ping Pong on Saturday. A few days before she flew over to the U.S., Click Track talked with Gina Birch from her home in Notting Hill about “Odyshape,” the band’s legacy and an in-the-works documentary.
So the 30th anniversary reissue of “Odyshape” just came out...
Is it shocking to hear that number?
Ten was really shocking. Fifteen was a bit of a surprise. And it gets less shocking, in a way, because you just go, Oh, that number. It just washes over you. You can’t take it seriously. If you did you’d probably die of shock.
You say, 10, 15, 20 — do you listen each time and pick up new things when you listen to it every few years?
I was just listening to “Odyshape” and I was thinking, Wow, it’s kind of … it seemed really strange. I couldn’t really listen to it for a while and then I listened to some of it today and I thought, well, actually, a lot of it is about things that concerned us then and concern us now and feels … current? And in a way slightly more in tune with now than it was when we made it. I don’t think it was entirely 30 years ahead of its time but it was certainly ahead of its time, and it was certainly very odd then! But now it doesn’t seem quite so odd.
When it came out after the first one, was that what you wanted, what people expected?
We were never canny in marketing strategy or anything like that. We just made what we were capable of making. Or what challenged us. We always tried to do things that stretched us, perhaps even a little beyond our capabilities. Just to try and to push and to explore. So we were never trying to think of, Would this sell? What do people expect from us? Is this working? None of that. I remember when I heard Courtney Love talking about a demographic some 15 years ago and I was thinking, what’s a demographic? [Laughs.] Since, I’ve become very aware of what a demographic is.
I suppose partly we were naive, partly we were idealistic. Perhaps it’s the same thing, they go hand in hand to some degree. I think in a way that makes it good — that we weren’t trying to conform to what people might expect from us. We were trying to make something that we hadn’t heard. We weren’t specifically trying to make something we hadn’t heard, we were just trying to make something that was interesting, that stretched each one of us in our own areas and then work together to see what happened.
Also we were girls — women — doing stuff and there weren’t very many women doing things. The expectations on us weren’t... we knew we were breaking through a little wall, if you like. Breaking through some kind of boundary. So we were going into unexplored territory.
You mention back then, there weren’t as many women making music as there are now. Do you take pride in your role of breaking down barriers? Do you think it’s ever that situation where the band is “reduced” to being noted more for gender than anything?
You can perceive it in all sorts of different ways. Maybe we are part of a historical progression. I don’t think it’s any grander than that, really. If we sustain, if people are still listening to us in 50 years, that will be amazing. They may or may not. You just don’t know, do you?
I do think that context is kind of important. For me seeing the Slits and Patti Smith felt like it gave me permission to do it. It never even crossed my mind that I’d be in a band. I was watching bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols and Subway Sect and they were bands that could obviously play their instruments, but there was this idea in punk that you could just get up and do it. You needed to know three chords and you could just get up and play. But there still for me was never a sense that it would be possible as a girl to do that and it was only really when I saw the Slits play that I suddenly realized, somehow, it was possible. It sounds bizarre, doesn’t it?
What’s the story with the Raincoats documentary you’re working on?
It’s quite organic. I’m still trying to sort out some funding for it. I keep working on it, shooting bits. I don’t know when it’s going to be finished. It’s going to be a really great piece of work when it’s done. There’s a couple more people I want to talk to. I finally managed to get John Lydon to say a few words. He was really sweet about us, so that was brilliant. I bumped into Paul Morley, he’s a British music journalist who reviewed our first single and gave it Single of the Week. I bumped into him in a restaurant in Cornwall and managed to collar him, too. And we’re going to be hanging out in New York with some of Bikini Kill and there’s a couple of people I want to get on film from there. And there are a few more arty bits I’d like to shoot, to make it quite visual, to go with the audio.
It’s the 30th anniversary of “Odyshape” and over here we’re being inundated with the 20th anniversary of “Nevermind.” Obviously, for a lot of people Kurt Cobain’s very vocal support of the Raincoats [in particular the liner notes to 1992 B-sides collection “Incesticide] was the gateway to discovering the band. Is it weird that for a lot of people there will always be a connection between the two bands?
I know, it’s bizarre, really. I never met him personally. He did write those things and say those things it’s a shame we didn’t get to play some shows together and hang out a bit. But that’s life, eh?