Friday, 5 August 2011

UK Female Artists One: Rita Lynch by Ngaire Ruth

Guitarist and song writer RITA LYNCH is having a bit of an “awakening”. She asked herself a question and made a very quick decision: “What’s important?  My son and writing songs are all that matter.” Blue Aeroplanes drummer, John Langley, has been working with her for three years now, and she produced a blinding album “What Am I?”, quite clearly the record which announced that she knew exactly who she was and where she was going and why.. The songs: a stripped down, fistful of guitar rhythms, certain from the off, rolling, like they do, lyrics that make sense and yet, they don’t – it’s a feeling. In autumn comes the follow up, “Crack On”.

It’s awkward, weird, to see such a bright, intense character like Rita Lynch (twenty five years in rock’n’roll and counting), drive in to your shady, tree-lined, avenue of Victorian terraced houses, in a little red car and get out, all smiles, arms open and ready to greet you. On stage, even when it’s only a few centimetres higher than the audience, Ms Lynch, with her chunky, raw guitar rhythms, Patti Smith voice and drummer, Langley driving everything forward with those relentless beats, seems impenetrable, protected. This is why fans come up with words like “Goddess”, even though Rita is THE true grit rocker, with user-friendly melodies, painted toe nails and her own angel. (The latter assumption being my own fluffy notion, not Rita’s.)

Much later, when I ask what is the thing that people say to you which makes you cringe? She replies, without hesitation: “Calling me Goddess! That’s a hard one to live up to!
   “I mean I love all the attention but sometimes I just feel it’s too much. I’m gonna let you down. I’m not that fantastic. Even sometimes when I’m doing gigs I feel I’m transcending beyond myself in to something else, so when people give me too many compliments I can’t cope. I worry that if I meet them in person I’m going to let them down.”

And what would have been the worst musical comparison?  This takes a bit more thought, but finally: “Blondie on a crash diet!” (Which sends her in to chuckles and makes me shout: Fuck off!)

I want you to hear her laugh. Press play.

I would not have been surprised if Rita Lynch had turned up in my backyard riding the sun, bare backed, scorching my pride-and-joy vegetables on entry. Being serious, maybe at least in a balloon, perhaps having parachuted from above, or at best, on the back of a noisy motorbike, but the little red car will do for me. The manager sits in the passenger seat, I note, cos Rita is driving. Ah. Here we have a theme. We talk about themes and Rita can’t think of hers, but in retrospect I realise, this is it. She is now in the driving seat, metaphorically speaking.

Her reputation precedes her, as it does with all wild women, who are simply a force of nature, having taken on the challenge of expressing timeless primitive forces, using up their valuable energies turning chaos in to beauty. Same old, same old, attitudes and assumptions; and being sexy, grungy, rocky (as opposed to poppy, which is allowed, because that objectivity), doesn’t help. For those, like Rita, of any gender, for whom their art can sometimes be a confrontation with psychosis, rather than the lame understanding that art is the freedom of expression of some vague kind of subjectivity, the side effect is often, in fact, a crisis of subjectivity, something that bad habits and gloomy friends attract to like moths to light. But Rita survived. All the while, behind the scenes, she still remembers to write the songs, take the rubbish out, pays the bills - even though there is no money - and prepares the dinner before people start to get hungry. I would rather talk to the artists who are ”still surfing”, than muse creatively about those who crashed and burned.  (viz Amy Winehouse, of late).

In tandem with my good thoughts, she gets out of the car and brings with her a pint of milk, as the chosen refreshment of the day. OK, it’s very rock’n’roll the way she swigs it right there, in the middle of the street like that.

In her musical career, Rita Lynch has produced seven albums and been in a number of bands. (Currently these are available via, from Fruit and Flowers or Angel records, or at the live shows. “Crack On” will be available as a download and in CD format.) It would be a fair comment to say that one of her earliest assembles, Lynch and the Piss Artists, were not intent on chasing the fame monster and it would be true to say that Rita has never made a lot of money out of music; that she never made a commitment to living off the beast which whispers, simply has stuck at it; fallen in to one thing and come out with something else. For example, the best advice she’s probably ever been given – in terms of music – was when her partner of the electronic duo she played bass for, decided to sing a Lou Reed duet of “Pale Blue Eyes “. It worked so well he told her: “Forget the bass and sing.”

“You see back in the day it was easier to be on the dole. It facilitated people who weren’t from middle class backgrounds to think higher thoughts, do creative things. It created the bohemians, like me, in my opinion. Now you can’t do it. “

This is one of the things that worries Rita today, along with phases of what getting older actually means.

I have put these ideas in to her head, probably, because that’s what music journalists do, stir thing around and see what rises to the top.

Rewind to the Eighties, Rita now has blonde extensions and favours leather and rubber and is a singer/songwriter with guitar – dragging her first musical influence of Bob Dylan in to her own time and place. She has been living in Bristol since she was 21 and she is still innocent enough to be brave, that is, embracing ideas, truly, madly, deeply – in the way artists often do, almost on behalf of the rest of us, who know better.

Do you or did you take pleasure out of drawing attention to your sexuality, I dare to ask?

“Absolutely,” she returns. “But not so much anymore, as I get older, I have started to retain a bit of dignity. I remember hitchhiking out of Paris once. You could see this huge queue of hitch hikers and I thought ‘fuck this’ so I went in to the toilet and I changed in to the shortest shorts and put some make up on and within, like, a minute I got a lift. I used everything I could, as you do.”

Back in the day, Mick Mercer (see Mick decided to interview her for Melody Maker but he couldn’t get it passed Features Editor, Steve Sutherland, who thought the Paper didn’t need a feature on “junkie lesbians”. Rock’n’Roll the supposed bastion of alternative thought, deed and open to desire, rejected her for being too “way out”. Geez. Get a grip! It’s jaw dropping, plain faced embarrassing that rampaging rabble rouser bands, songs falling apart at the seams, silliness to fill in, with names like Lesbian Dope Heads On Mopeds (all male, by the way) should have got copy space?

“When I first started I got hailed in Bristol as the next big thing… and it didn’t happen. In the lesbian scene I got massive exposure but it didn’t really cross over. Then they did this documentary ‘On the Road With Rita Lynch’ for Channel 4, a twenty minute documentary. And then when I started to have heterosexual relationships, there was an element of the gay scene feeling betrayed. None of it really did me any favours.”

Ironically, there was nothing particularly “ghetto” about Rita’s music, even back then, despite her in-yer-face sexuality. It was hardly punk or had titles and words which were never going to get on the radio. In fact songs from her first album, “Call Me Your Girlfriend” included “Beautiful Eyes”, a song that floats over the darkside, blinding, which became the soundtrack for the independent film “Rosebud”. A later album, in 2000, produced three tracks, used in the film, "Vampire Diary", (“Feels Like The End of the World, “Far Away” and “Fallen For You”). All these songs are timeless soundscapes, full-on lingering and longing. Words like devotion come to mind.
   Rita accepts the description: “I was a lot younger and more innocent. At some point the romance goes in to other things.”

It’s been an hour and half drive from Bristol, St Pauls, smack bang in Montepelier where Rita Lynch lives, to here. Rita is well known in the Scene, which is far too laid back and busy being successful to call itself that. In 2008 she joined the Blue Aeroplanes, a well know Bristol band, once adored by critics Nationwide, thanks to the charm of it’s founder and song writer Gerard; still producing intelligent, emotive guitar music. In a recent review Rita was described as being “the new vocal foil”, I like that. A recent gig also included original guitarist Angelo, now in Massive Attack.

In St Pauls, a writer, performer and single mum, can make mistakes, be allowed to learn and grow from them, the one place perhaps where there isn’t judgement, instead a smile and a wave, with a rhetorical shout “Still singing?!” over a pounding soundtrack out in the street.

“I am completely influenced by the place. I love it,” she explains. “It’s so free, people are out and about, playing music, chatting. We are all outsiders, it feels like. Punks used to get arrested. These days, I seem to represent something because I kept going, but I’m one of them, I had problems, a kid on my own, and I’m still here, doing what I do. 
   "My new target is to produce one album a year.”

Her son is aged nine and severely autistic. This is relevant because Rita has had to fight so hard for everything; getting housed, trying to get a nurse to help out at home and at the school; endless and necessary meetings with teachers, assistants, specialists. Standing her ground, certainty and urgency are evident in the songs and explain the forthcoming LP’s title: “Crack On”. This does not mean that Rita is champion of angry female shouty stuff, she certainly doesn’t want to alienate people. Neither does it mean that she is a trail blazer for all working class single mums or even mums of autistic children. And I am not going to tell you about her choice of sexuality because why should I fucking care! Do Goddesses have sex at all? All that type of behaviour will, yet again, facilitate putting her in to an appropriate ghetto. No. Rita Lynch is producing music that has a place in the mainframe.

The album I have been playing is “What Am I”, the one I am calling her “turning point”. ( In fact, after much womanly wittering the root of all turning points can be found when Rita, a painfully shy pupil who was failing, due to the inability to find her voice, was told she would be taking C.S.E’s not O’Levels, the G.C.E. equivalent. Without further ado she went up to the teacher’s staffroom and banged on that door. She told that teacher that she was going to take O’levels and, in the end, she got eight.)

The CD of “What Am I?”(Angel Records) is so cute, in terms of the way it looks! When you take it out of the cover it’s exactly like a tiny vinyl. The LP says good bye to instrumental accompaniments, such as second guitar and bass. The opener, “Sit Up, Sit Down” has the energy of P. J. Harvey’s “Sheela-Na-Gig” and "Losing" which follows, takes those dynamics and one step further, showing Lynch's unique voice and John's rhythms to the full: elated, defiant - sharp and sinister.
   “The whole point of playing guitar for me is to write songs. If I learnt how to do silly, wizzy things it wouldn’t help me write the song.“

I love that Rita has given herself a clear musical format and boundaries, but the creative process is still all about unleashing the primitive timeless forces in to the here and now.

“I believe in the unconscious. I just pick up the guitar and come out with certain things, they might not even be real language, but they’ve got syncopation and rhythm. Sometimes I will go back to old tapes and I will put proper words in; I kind of jam with myself. It just seems to flow – out of that.

That could be interpreted as quite a spiritual thing.

“It’s more because I am driven to do it. It’s not a happy, happy thing, necessarily, the process of creative expression, but that doesn’t mean the end result need be ugly, it’s working through that.

“Sometimes after a gig people will say, ‘Did you enjoy that?’ and I’ll think, ‘No. Actually I could quite easily bang my head against a wall now!’ I don’t do this because it makes me happy, but it’s still something I have to do. What else is there to do?
Julia Kristeva, French feminist, psychoanalyst and linguist says the unconscious both calls for interpretation and cannot be exhausted by interpretation. That “calling” can be at odds with responsibilities such as parenting, earning money, maintaining a homelife.

 “Sometimes when you are being true to yourself it feels like things are crumbling, but that’s the time to sit tight and keep going. Sometimes when you are doing it you may be thinking: this will lead to my disaster but what else is there to do?

Rita says this phrase a lot: What else is there to do?  It shows that her “staying power” is not related to confidence or arrogance, its just part of her very being.

“Whatever I’m going through in life will probably come out in the songs.”

Whether that is positive or negative?


I get that. I get that there is a thread musically, but not lyrically, thankfully. Perhaps that’s the difference with indie or rock bands?

“That’s true. Sometimes people seem to write the same song over and over again. They do!
   “I try to be honest and think that if I have felt this at some time somebody else will have done. Sometimes I look at back at things I’ve written and think, ‘I just can’t say that it’s too obvious!’, but then I think what I’m going through surely other people apart from me have also experienced.
   “At the moment real live events are turning very quickly in to songs.”

Like I said, Rita Lynch is having a bit of an “awakening”. 



ngaireruth said...

At some point I will add parts from the video recorded interview. I really want people to hear Rita's laugh.

Anonymous said...

Lovely interview. Great to see her so active.

ngaireruth said...

Hope you don't mind the mention - it made sense to the story - and I did return the serve with a

ngaireruth said...

I think the interview will move from lovely to blindin... once the four excerpts of Rita are up. Bear with me all - this is the first. Learning the blog ropes.

Susy said...

Ngaire, That is a stunning interview with Rita and I love her laugh too. I have heard it several times before but it is so full of life that you have to love it ... and her! You have done a brilliant job in capturing the essence of Rita's creative process and I am most impressed as it is difficult to write so clearly about something so ephemeral. Brilliant subject, great interview. Susy

Susy said...

Btw it's a bit of a bugger to sign-up to comment, I'm sure that's why not many people have reacted to this fantastic interview. Not so sure about WE MADE A MESS AND WE'RE NOT SORRY.

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