Interview: GINA BIRCH

BASS MUST BE PLAYED LOUD

I Play My Bass Loud is your first solo album; why did it take so long to make it happen or if I may ask you differently, what has change that you decide to put together most of your songs?
I am a collaborative person when it comes to music. I have always taken songs to a room of musicians who work with me on the songs.But I had my computer as my ally this time and I just kept working on my own on this batch of songs.Over timeI had a little help from Helen McCookerybook as she was over working with me on a film we made over quite a long period of time, called 'Stories from the She Punks - music with a different Agenda' and I would ask her to help with some of the music things like harmonies, or help with a chorus.

You play your bass loud now...and also 44 years ago in The Raincoats; so I ask you, what initially drew you to that particular instrument, bass?
I was drawn to the bass, because I thought it would be the easiest thing to start with. I suppose I knew or came to know that whatever instrument I chose, eventually I would make it my own but the bass just seemed the most practical for someone who couldn't play any instrument and I wanted so badly to be in a band soon as I could. Time in the punk days moved so fast... its like it was over as fast as it began.

Debut album The Raincoats from 1979 still remains a landmark of post punk and feminist punk;(it's one of my all time favourite albums too; I love the sound, the cacophony of music, lyrics, melodies...). I can hear a lot of similarity between both albums (you wrote and compose along with Ana da Silva most of the songs), so I want to ask you, how different is your approach to songwriting nowadays?
It isn't very different.I have a few more skills but I am still fairly primitive/unrefined and I intend to keep it that way. I am interested in ideas, both lyrically and musically. I am not especially poetic.I get to the point.People know what the song is about. Musically I am a bit more anarchic.

I read, that you compose and write all this years; you have a lot of material to put it on; and there enters your producer Youth, AKA Martin Glover, who help you put together an entire album. What can you say about this collaboration?
Youth had a sensitive touch, and strong and extremely valuable. He would analyse the songs and say if he thought it needed a new section or something wasn't working for him. We would discuss it and he would suggest a section or part and I was very receptive to that. He also added bass and guitar and even some vocals, and came up with the pre chorus in Dance Like a Demon, chords and melody and the chords of the pre chorus in Rage. He also wrote the chords for Wish I was you. I would be only too happy to work with him again on new material.He is a special person.

There are topics on the album, that still nowadays seems so fresh and touchy, so strong and powerful; time's they are changed, but same things remain the same... like the role of a woman in music industry, all kinds and faces of the New feminism...What do you think?
How (if) different person is Gina nowadays regarding from the past? How do you fell like a woman in this mosty men's situated world (music, art or film business and all that...)?

I am much more self possessed.I realise that I do know what I think and how to make things happen. I think that has come with age and experience.I think for younger people in the arts it is a mixed bag and there. Are all sorts of different experiences.I think since Me Too, most men are much more careful about their behaviour than they were in the past. They know that they may be exposed if they hit on women too much. Or ask for sexual favours in return for career moves etc.Not that that happened to me in a the music industry. For me that was in the hospitality industry... restaurants etc...

And yet also in early days you explore independence, like in the 1982 single No One Little Girl? All along your artistic path there is a strong opinion about your point of view, is it? (Vivien Goldman wrote so good about this period of time, of the song... of you...)
I think this song was written when I realised I was my own person.I didn't need a boyfriend. It was a revelation as up till then, all through teenage years, so much had been about romance and success in romance.It was different in the mid 70s. It was much more of a boys/mans world. Most of us found, once we were in a relationship with a boy, our girlfriends would be sidelined and we'd hang with the boyfriends friends. Listen to the boyfriends music etc.I was as much to blame as anyone.It was just what happened back then... time for a CHANGE!

What is it thatbothers you these days? What is your opinion on the feminist movement in the past and now? In one of most beautiful and powerful songs on the album Feminist Song, you declare: I'm a city girl, I'm a warrior, the city made me this way"... Is this maybe your clear answer?
Everything bothers me!!I just don't write about everything.If an idea comes to me, then I work on it. I rarely just choose a topic and try to write about it, it's just if something bubbles to the surface when I'm with my guitar, my notebook or my computer and I start working on something. A lot I suppose centres around unfairness/inequality.

How are you satisfied with music press, with reviews and writing about popular music as well? And of course, if you compare it with days back in the 1980 and on...?
I'm sorry to say I don't really have an opinion on that, as I don't really read the music press anymore. I might read the culture section in the newspaper. I have read more of them recently and I have to admit, they are interesting, I think they just fell off my radar.

The inner force is the most important and powerful thing in the human being. The way you think, behave, how you tolerate the world, says all about you. Your work, your paintings, your video films and your lyrics will certainly inspire someone; what do you think about that?
I hope that I can inspire people, but I don't think that is my main aim. I suppose I wanted to get a voice into the cultural conversation about what some women think and feel. To be honest and uncensored, to reveal my joys and sadnesses, my anger and my confusion at so much of the human race being misrepresented/misunderstood.

Who was your inspiration in the past? What kind of music do you listen and what writers do you read and prefer? With whom do you feel alignment with nowadays?
Thats a lot... in that question!!!
I listen mostly to Bob Dylan and Arthur Russel.I'm interested in Bob Dylan's lyrics and harmonica playing and the cello/voice combination with Arthur Russell.
I read a lot of Deborah levy.I am listening to Patricia Highsmith books read aloud to help me fall asleep.
I feel aligned with all women with a leftish feminist perspective, who value creativity.
I love Chan Marshall, Patti Smith, Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, Kathleen Hannah.
I love what Tracey Emin is doing in Margate with her school and studios.
I love Courtney when she rants about certain things and she makes a lot of sense.

You hit the road again these days, dates over in the UK and you've got a little band too. What are your future plans for promoting the album?
We are working on a plan to do lots of festivals and hopefully tour in in the USA, European countries and Japan. Then maybe another recording.

What can you tell me about your collaboration at the upcoming exhibit Women in Revolt! at the Tate Britain later this year?
I have a short film in the exhibition and am being filmed for a Tate Britain podcast to go with the exhibition. Also there is a compilation album of lots of women's music afoot too.

The cover art of your LP I Play My Bass Loud is one of your art work, painting you titled Loneliness. You are a women with so many talents; years ago you just stepped in front of your camera (another of your loves in life), framed your own face in a tight close up and for the entire three minute duration of a Super 8 cartridge, you simply screamed. You are a film maker, painter, musician, songwriter... What do you think, where can we catch the most pure Gina Birch?
I am a hybrid... a mixture of all these things. I am excited by all the different mediums at different times and they are all fairy raw I think. I think the rawness is what links my different works and maybe sometimes that is more evident in the painting... so Im gonna say... Painting!!!

I think you don't, but I still dare to ask you; do you regret any life decisions in your past?
Sometimes at night, lying in bed, I think... why did I do that, why did I make that decision/ but in the light of day everything makes much more sense and I am happy with how things have turned out. One different decision could have changed so much.

Varja Velikonja
(Rock Obrobje, maj 2023)