Stricken City - Music Interview

Posted on 15. Dec, 2009 by Administrator in Music, Profiles

by Devoe Yates

It’s a rainy day in Manhattan and mere hours before they’re set to open for Rain Machine, and close out the CMJ Music Festival, the British chaps and lass of Stricken City are standing huddled beneath a tiny overhang outside of the Pianos club while guitarist Iain Pettifer shoots some Super 8 of the sights to be seen, this being their first trip out to play the States.
Their first album, or mini-album as they refer to it, was released in the UK to glowing reviews, and dropped November 3rd here in the unsuspecting States.   Songs About People I Know is chock full of both poppy dancy wonders and moody candlelit piano tales, and is one of those magical albums that’s a seeming masterpiece from start to finish with nary a mediocre ditty in its grooves.  One might liken their sound to early Cure outings if only they’d hooked up with the Talking Heads and had a spunkier Harriet Wheeler (The Sundays) behind the mike; it harkens back to the jangly catharsis of good ol 80s fun, but at the same time offers up something wholly fresh and addictive, a bit like a new flavor of chocolate I suppose. Rebekah Raa’s sultry and buttery vocals wail and brood with twisting turns while Iain’s spinning guitar, Mike’s flowerful bass, and Kit’s ubiquitous percussion give life to pop magic that often times makes it hard to notice that the lyrics often deal with darker matters about the pains of relationships, life, and the often bitter mixture of the two.
Their childlike delight radiates warmly as we sit down for some icy margaritas at a nearby Mexican joint, happy to be out of the rain.  Rebekah seems terribly transfixed by her margarita, she giggles at the sight of it, and it seems apparent that any man who was once tickled by the early cute-ish wiles of Bjork and wanted to mix them with the wild vibes of Karen O., would gladly order a Rebekah Raa poster for their bedroom.

Stricken City

h: How are the margaritas?

Rebekah: Aw, it tastes good!
Kit: It’s a bit early for a margarita.
Rebekah: Aw, it’s never too early.  It’s just like an Icee; I’ve never had it that way before!

h: How did this all begin?
Iain: Rebekah and I met when we were 15.
Rebekah:  Iain taught me everything I know about music, except classical music, I learned that on my own (laughs). He was in a band called Kenobi.
Iain: We did lots of covers, we kinda wrote some of our own stuff, which they’ve heard, and it’s baaaad.  Typical first school band kind of stuff, sounds a bit like Nirvana (laughs).  So that wasn’t really working.
Rebekah: We were in math class and he always sat behind me.  I sat with the geekiest kid in school, the one that everyone hated.  You and your friend, Tom, sat behind me, making fun of this kid, and I felt so sorry for him. I hated you, what a bastard!
Iain:  But we were both doing it to get your attention (laughs).
Rebekah: I just thought they were so mean, so I didn’t talk to him for a long time.  Then I started getting bullied by this horrible girl and I started hanging around with Iain and his group of friends, and they were all really nice.
Iain: We didn’t do any music in North Hampton, that wasn’t until we moved to London when we were about 19.
Rebekah: I started doing a really rubbishy degree and I didn’t like it, so I used the student loans to buy some musical equipment and started writing songs.  I wrote one song and I was really shy about it. I think Iain expected it to be rubbish, but it was actually quite good, wasn’t it?
Iain:  I was like, ‘Huh, it’s quite snappy.’ I didn’t know you could actually do that, so we did it together.   I went to university thinking I’d get a band together and didn’t, but I had little bits of music.  No words, just bits of instrumental stuff, so they became some of the early songs we did together.  ‘Five Metres Apart’ was one of those very first songs.  We’ve been writing for four and a half years, so it’s just developed over the years.  Before the guitar parts were more dominant, because we just wrote them in the bedroom without thinking about the rest of the band, whereas now we think about everyone else a little bit more.
Rebekah: Kit’s three years old, Mike’s a one-year-old and they’ve really made the band what it is. We do it together, don’t we? Like the song called ‘Pull the House Down’, the way the bass and guitar kind of weave around each other, we couldn’t have sat around in the bedroom and figured that out. We all did that in the rehearsal room together.
Iain: But the music’s written totally separate of the words. We’ll come up with music as a band, and then she’ll just wail her favorite words at the time. How do you pick which ones you’re going to start singing? You go through your book and start to pick out some of your words don’t you?
Rebekah: I just have a book that I write words in all the time.

h: Are the songs really all about people that you know?
Rebekah: They’re all very personal, there’s maybe one or two which are more about the situations I’ve been in with some people.  But a few are very directly about people I know.
h: Do they know?
Rebekah: (sheepishly) No. That would be really weird.  Actually I was really worried about putting the lyric sheets in the packaging for the album, I don’t generally like telling people my lyrics…. If you read them, and you’re the person it’s about, you can pretty much definitely tell that it’s about you.  It’s quite obvious. My mum’s never going to read this, so it doesn’t matter,  but one of the songs is about her.  Two of the songs are about my brother specifically. One of the songs is about this girl I really hated at college.  If they ever read the words, they’d be like, ‘What the fuck?’
Iain:  Can you put at the beginning of this article, ‘Dear Rebekah’s mum and dad, please do not read?’  A little disclaimer.
Rebekah: It’s a little bit embarrassing because you write such personal stuff, one night you might’ve drunk a bottle of wine and be like, ‘Right, rrraaaah!’ and write some stuff out.   It’s not necessarily how you feel every day, you just feel a little bit emotional at that point, so you spill it all out in a notebook, and then a month later, you’re recording a song about it, and then you start feeling a little bit guilty.  And then it’s on a record, and then it’s being released, and you’re like, ‘Oh fuck, what am I gonna do?!’ (laughs).
Mike: You can imagine what the next album is going to be called.
Rebekah: ‘Vague Songs About People I’ve Never Really Met Before!’ (laughs)

h: So for instance, who’s the first single from the album, ‘Tak o Tak’ about?
Rebekah: My mum and dad were always really religious when I was little and they were very strict. One day I wanted to go to Brighton with Iain’s family, his parents, his grandmother, his sister, and Brighton is about an hour and a half away from North Hampton.
Iain: It’s kind of a cool seaside town. It has a big gay community.
Rebekah: And my dad wouldn’t let me go there because he was afraid I’d come back a lesbian. They were really that strict.  So when they split up, when I was 17, I got really annoyed!  I was like, ‘Come on, you’ve had all these rules on me my whole entire life, and I haven’t been able to do anything,’ and now…the tables have turned.  So that was a bit of an annoyed song.

h: But it seems like such a happy fun song.
Iain: I know!  It’s the poppiest thing on the record.  That’s a little like what all The Smiths’ records are like aren’t they?
Rebekah: A lot of my words I think are a bit dark.  No, no, I don’t write too much about happy things.
Mike: You’re too busy being happy when you’re happy.
Rebekah: That’s the thing isn’t it?  You don’t ever think, ‘Oh, I’m really happy!  I’m just going to sit down and write a song,’ do you?  It’s more the other way around, more like, ‘I’m not going to go out tonight, I feel really depressed, so I’ll drink some wine and write a song.’  It’s true.

h: Mike’s being very quiet; tell me about his part in the band.
Rebekah: We love the way Mike plays bass, he plays all these flowery parts.
Iain: He’s very worldly.  It was always quite volatile before with various members, whereas Mike is a very calming influence.
Rebekah: Mike meditates.
Iain: You can’t really have an argument with Mike.
Mike: You can try your best (laughter).
Iain: I consider it a challenge.  I will break you, Mike.
Mike: In your dreams.

h: What’s been your biggest moment as a band so far?
Rebekah: It was in Paris. We were playing a show at this French club and it was going to be on a culture show there, it plays to about six million people.  We got there, all dressed up and all excited and a bit drunk, and when the curtains opened, everyone was cheering!  It was so nice, and during the ‘Lost Art’ song, people were singing along.
Iain: We found the YouTube clip of the show that it was on, where there are two people that come on and show these music videos and they have a Crap-o-Meter, and the crowd votes for the song of the week, and it was us against T-Pain, and we won (laughs).
Rebekah: We won on the Crap-o-Meter, how cool is that? That was a time when we got really drunk. I was meeting some quite important people and it all got a bit messy, but it was really fun. Iain hated me the next day, we had to go on a very long walk through a market, and he wouldn’t talk to me the whole time.
Iain: (shyly) It’s fine. (laughs).
Kit: I got drunk and emotional once.
Iain: He’s always having to drive on our tours in the UK, so, Kit’s all about driving, fighting, and then drumming (laughs).
Kit: Beats always come first.
Mike: He likes to beat people in rhythm (laughter).
Iain:  This one really big gig, there were about 1,400 people there. Some celebrating went on, some drinking. No one’s entirely sure how it happened, but suddenly there was a scuffle.  I don’t know what happened.
Kit: We were sort of play-fighting and I got angry. We had a tussle.
Iain: So if the show goes well tonight, expect something to happen (laughs).
It is with this that the band heads off to prepare for their show, and thankfully the show went well and there was no scuffling to be seen afterwards.  At least while I was there.
Pick up their new album, out on CD and special pink vinyl on The Kora Records - or if you’re lazy, you can get it on iTunes.  If you happen to check out their “Tak o Tak” video on YouTube, you can see evidence of Rebekah’s former days studying the ways of fashion at university, with all the bits of her last costume project well in use.

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One Response to “Stricken City - Music Interview”

  1. ToddWilliamson

    17. Dec, 2009

    [youtube ATMwzAseujM youtube]

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