“I certainly don’t think Thatcher is a feminist icon, she had no interest in social equality” so says Rebecca Stephens after we’ve conluded our interview and we can’t help but think “Ahh, how we’ve missed you Becki!”
So let’s recap !
Brighton’s polka dot 60’s uber girl-group revisionists The Pipettes were undoubtedly great fun but one always suspected they had a time limited appeal and that creatively certain members of the group may have had more offer then forever playing the role of polka-dotted pop princesses. Certainly after a fabulously, frivolously, frisky debut album the band did seem to lose their way and when Rebecca Stephens, arguably the Pipette whose pop personae as “Riotbecki” infused the group with much of its personality and spirit, quit the band many of their fans followed suit.
But the good news is she’s back, relocated to Manchester and has a new band, Projectionists formed with her friend and multi instrumentalist Peter Marshall. Between them Pete and Becki have recruited a team of musicians with an enviable musical pedigree for as well as including an ex-Pipette they take in musicians from Alfie, The Earlies, Liam Frost, The Slowdown Family and Star Crossed Lovers.
Projectionists music certainly won’t disappoint Rebecca’s former fans, it still gives a nod to the infectious melodies of her former groups output but it’s a far more sophisticated musical cocktail, the sort of great indie pop that remembers the basics – if you don’t have a tune you don’t really have a song and this is beautifully crafted, thoughtful, elegant pop. Stephens’ lyrics are a combination of beautiful desolation and raw honesty and whilst being introspective and confessional they never come across as self-absorbed, egocentric kvetching! Yes they may be wistfully melancholic, but they are also full of hope. Fuck knows we could all do with some of that when we imagine David Cameron knotting his tie in the morning before setting off to implement the latest round of savage cuts( which sadly doesn’t include his own throat 😉 )
We caught up with Becki ahead of the bands EP launch and chatted about the band, her move to Manchester and also her work as singer with the ever innovative Jecsa Hoop.
VP: Hello Becki, it’s been a while since you left the Pipettes, you had a brief joint musical project as Electric Blue and then it all went rather quiet until we hear news you’d upped sticks and relocated to Manchester. Was that a purely musical decision, or did you feel like you needed to get away from Brighton for fear of forever being typecast as “Riot Becki” From the Pipettes
REBECCA: Well the fact that I’d started writing music with Peter who was based in Manchester was obviously a massive factor, but yeah I was finding it difficult to get musicians together to work with in Brighton. I was also working as a band booker and job prospects in the area weren’t exactly great . It was one of those ‘if I don’t change now I might be stuck doing the same thing until I’m forty moments” and so I decided to radically shake things up ! Manchester was a city I’d always loved playing with the Pipettes it seemed to have a great music scene, like Brighton but bigger, and so here I am!
VP: How did the band get together and how did you decide on the kind of musical style you wanted to go for, given you all sort of come from different musical backgrounds?
REBECCA: Well that’s Pete again, he seems to know everybody, the master networker [laughs] The initial songs were my original demos arranged by Pete and then Christian brought his Moog on to that and rearranged some of the songs, as did Sam with his bass playing. Sam’s ear is amazing and he was able to pinpoint things which he thought didn’t quite work. Paul’s a great producer and he was able to draw it all together, Christian and I were maybe leaning towards a more retro sixties sound and Paul cleaned it all up a bit. So yeah it happened organically, everybody’s really good at what they do, so we’ve never had to turn around and say like, “thats bloody shit, take it off” [laughs] When it came down to the songs, everybody liked them so it was just a case of polishing and expanding them really.
VP: And your debut EP’s been released, so exciting times, I think you mentioned to me that you’re adding another two tracks taking it to six.. A maxi-EP so to speak!
REBECCA: Yeah very exciting , it’s been a long time coming we’re playing at the Castle in Manchester which is a lovely little venue so really we can’t wait . The extra two tracks were a late development really, but we decided in order to concentrate on completely new material, and start working hopefully towards an album, we’d put out everything we’ve done up to this point, so yeah, it is like a mini album!
VP: So these two additional tracks are basically the first songs that you wrote on your own, post-Pips ?
REBECCA: Well one track is one of the very first songs I wrote when I left the Pipettes and the other is the first we did as The Projectionists. I used to write all the lyrics but that’s started to change. I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been a different experience as previously in The Pipettes there were seven of us all writing songs, which kind of took the pressure off . And now The Projectionists is very much about is all coming together and collaborating, my demo making process is limited due to my own technical shortcomings [laughs]. I can only play guitar and keyboard well enough to write demos, so it’s lovely to come up with a verse, a chorus or a middle eight take it to the band and these amazing musicians start playing it and I go “that’s exactly what I wanted! “
VP: The songs on the EP have quite a melodic, upbeat vibe whereas the lyrics are wistfully melancholic…
REBECCA: [laughing] Yeah I didn’t realise that until about 6 months ago when I turned to Sam and said ‘You know what my lyrics are a bit Emo really aren’t they !” which is a bit embarrassing[laughs]
VP: Yeah you mentioned it’s been a long time coming and the demos have been floating about for a while now, even with all the technology we have at our fingertips and social networking is it still difficult for a band to release a physical product ?
REBECCA: You know, it’s changed so much from how I remember it four years ago. It’s totally different world , it’s far more viral, the internet plays a much bigger role now. For example with The Pipettes we played four or five gigs a week, I mean that was how we did it, building up a fan base, gigging constantly and throwing out a few limited edition 7″ releases via small independent labels. That was how it all happened and it was a slow process whereas now there’s a kind of pay to play mentality, it seems less supportive, I mean I think we’ve only been paid for one gig we’ve played. To be honest it’s a bit insulting for bands not to be given anything! That’s one reason we’ve limited our gigs, the cost of travel etc means you’re effectively losing money. So we thought ‘sod it’ we need to concentrate on making music and getting it out there! So that’s why it took so long we were uming and ahh’ing over the best way to go about things really! Once we decided to release an EP that was the easy bit, we realised we need to focus on writing an album, maybe releasing the odd thing on the net, but really focus on the music as opposed to live shows at the moment.
VP: So the myth that bands can sustain themselves via gigging ? Not much evidence of that unless you’re huge ?
REBECCA: Yeah, I mean at a certain level you can, bands can make their money gigging during the festival season, but I would estimate you’d have to be playing venues of 1000 plus to see any real return! It’s so expensive! So for most new bands it’s out of the question! When the Pipettes started in 2003 it used to be the norm that the first band on the bill would get about 30 quid, the support about £50 and the main band whatever the agreed fee was. I can’t remember not getting paid for a gig back then, but now it seems completely standard, I mean you don’t even get a free fucking beer! When I was a promoter down in Brighton I’d make sure they were at least given expenses and a drink, cos I’ve seen it from both sides. So it’s defiantly changed in a negative way toward bands.
VP: So 2012 will be full steam ahead writing ?
REBECCA: Yeah, we’ve got four songs for the album and Pete’s just got a studio in Salford so we’ve decided to go in once a week and start demoing. One of the new songs we’ll be playing at the EP launch kind of captures the direction we’ll be going in! We’d love to do some festivals but we’ll have to see if we can do it without the help of the almighty booking agent !
VP: And are you still singing with Jesca Hoop ?
REBECCA: Yeah, she’s got her third album ( second in the UK) coming out soon and so we’ll be playing some shows as of next week, so can’t wait to get out there and do that.
VP: So how did you end up singing with Jesca ?
REBECCA: That’s due to the master networker Pete again! She’d just moved to Manchester on the back of doing a tour with Elbow and must have thought, “What on earth am I doing in sunny California ! I’ll move to Manchester!” This is what happens you see, Manchester just draws you in – “My life is shit, Manchester will make it better!” [laughs] So yeah, she moved here and Pete knew her manager through Elbow and heard she was looking for musicians and singers to replace her band from California. He said why don’t you audition, but when I heard her music I was like “Are you kidding me??” I’d done three part harmonies and this was like really technical singing ! I thought I’m really not gonna get this, but I went along, did the audition, and I did get it!!( that was two years ago and another reason I moved to Manchester ) I love it, she’s really opened my eyes to singing and I feel a much stronger singer for it, a lot of the time it’s just me and her in a bus which makes a big change from travelling around with about ten people in a sweaty van!
VP: With the Projectionists You’ve supported some pretty buzzworthy bands, what’s been your fave gig so far?
REBECCA: Hmmm, I think maybe our first stands out the most, with I Blame Coco, because there was such a buzz and it was so busy. I really thought I was gonna shit myself for fear it would all go horribly wrong beforehand as I wasn’t used to fronting a band, but as soon as I came off stage I was like – that was amazing I want to do it again! So that felt like a major achievement, overcoming the fear, mind you some nerves are a good thing, they give you that adrenaline to see you through.
VP: Any pre-gig rituals ?
REBECCA: I might have had a little drink in the past, but now I don’t even think about it, which was one of the best things ever, realising I could go on stage and do this without any alcohol at all! I think my main ritual now is I like to get a feel for the room, maybe get in the audience for the support, take in the atmosphere, I find that so much better than just sitting backstage stewing in the juice of your own nerves!