Simon Jay Catling 22/03/2010
The old cliche that there's a thin line between love and hate is never more apt when describing acoustic male/female duo Bitter Ruin. Both on record and live, Brighton-based Georgia Train and Ben Richards seem to be at each other's throats one minute and yearning over one another the next, and the added theatricality they put into their heart-on-sleeve songs of love and betrayal hasn't gone unnoticed- here at GIITTV we picked them as one of our ones to watch for this year. Simon Jay Catling caught up with female vocalist Georgia Train to discuss their very personal past, present and future.
GIITTV: How did you meet and begin Bitter Ruin?
Georgia: Ok, are you ready for the cliché? We met at music school! We actually wanted to play rock to begin with, but I think we were too picky to find any other musicians and eventually Bitter Ruin took on a life of its own. It's funny because the music we make now was never what we had imagined or what we had wanted, but now we've fallen in love with it and it just keeps going!
What drew you to each other as a songwriting partnership?
Well actually, we were both songwriters before we met each other, our styles were completely different and I think we found that intriguing. We wanted to understand each other's worlds and found that incorporating the two styles created something quite addictive.
How has your songwriting relationship progressed since then through the EP and first album?
Wow! A LOT! The first album to us feels like it was just experimentation, I don't think we'd really found ourselves then and it also takes time to get feedback from listeners to find out what has worked and what hasn't. So by our second album, there was a definite unity to the songs and a continuous energy that has ended up as our overall statement. For example, we knew we wanted a punchy sound, we didn't want our music to be "background music" - so the second album is definitely NOT that.
There's this wonderful dark constant in your music of embittered ex-lovers unable to let go of each other despite everything; at some points it feels like you're playing characters whilst elsewhere it feels intensely personal; how blurred is the line between caricature and real life?
Well, unfortunately, all of the songs are about real life things; past traumas and horrible times that we all go through. But they're certainly not directed towards each other. These songs are about the past, but when something big has happened in the past that has had a lasting effect, you seem to be able to summon those feelings and express them whenever. It doesn't feel like acting, it feels like a natural representation of what the songs are about. For example, I think it would be very strange if I were to sing a song about anger and hatred whilst smiling. Of course, every good songwriter is good at exaggerating and telling things in a way that can be interpreted by everyone, so there does have to be some twisting. But there are no lies.
It seems there's a very close friendship between you and Ben; how important is that that when writing and playing?
Very important. I think the main thing has to be that you are able to tell each other when something sucks! If you aren't the best of friends, you may feel like you'll be offending each other - this just leads to a polite way of writing which usually equals crappy songs.
Live too, there seems to be an added theatrical element; is that something intentional you do?
It's absolutely intentional yes. We pride our shows on being something to watch as well as to listen to, and I don't think bands think about this enough. Also, it's fun! We are always honoured that a venue or promoter will give us a stage to do what we like with, so why waste that opportunity.
Is drama, film and theatre something you're both particularly interested in?
Oh yes. It's our lives. Performance and everything that surrounds it is what we thrive off. We constantly talk about music and acting. When we're watching TV, we spend 90% of the time analysing the actors or the directing or the musicality, often we're really mean critics [laughs] I think we like to learn from other people's mistakes!
You've a new album on the way; what themes and styles can we expect?
Well, it's our first full length album for a start and it was recorded in a totally new way. We went over to the states to work with The Dresden Dolls producer Jason Rubal, and we were completely confined to the studio; we slept, ate and worked in there...plus we were snowed in. But the songs are honestly the best yet. They each have a very different vibe, there's some commercial stuff and some totally bizarre stuff. There's some fun songs and some really sad songs and as always some angry songs! We've really made this album for the fans this time; we've tried to show a lot more character and kept things raw but complex.
For all the expansion of technology and splintering of genres over the past decade, it seems that simple voice and guitar music still resonates as strongly as ever; why do you think this is?
Personally, I think good lyrics will transcend through any genre, and I think that a lot of acoustic stuff has to start with a good song, otherwise there's nothing else there. You can't cheat when it's that naked!
Brighton seems to have a great freedom attached to its music scene at the moment, in that there's such a diversity of music coming out of the city; the flip side to that is that there must be a lot of jostling for position amongst all the eclecticism; has it helped or hindered you being in such a competitive and creative place?
Well yes, there is but I don't really think it's made a difference. I think we are so far away from what everyone else in Brighton is doing that we kind of sit in a world of our own, which is nice because it means that we can play with anyone and still kind of fit in. There are a lot of bands in Brighton who are trying to be different, but you can always tell when that's the case. It's obvious when you're being yourself and there's a difference between being an exaggerated version of something you really are and trying to be something you're definitely not.
Finally, what are the plans for the rest of 2010 and beyond?
We're hoping to tour the world. We've got a few dates booked already but we're trying to decide if we can afford to do America! We've got lots of new merchandise in the pipeline and we've just released a video for 'Beware' which is already getting regular play on US TV channels, so hopefully it'll be on MTV in the UK soon. But the biggest thing is the release of this new album, it's released in May...so keep your eyes peeled!
Bitter Ruin's new album, 'Hung Drawn And Quartered' is released on 26th May