The girls in the Raincoats have covered the Monks, but didn’t originally know the Monks possibly because they were so much like the Monks—formed perfectly from nothing and destined to disappear too quickly and leave anyone who discovered them later wondering how they’d ever happened in the first place. (Like Kurt Cobain, who wrote about them in Incesticide and helped get their albums reissued on CD.) Johnny Rotten famously called them the only band that didn’t make him throw up and that can’t be anything but true, even today. They play their first-ever Los Angeles show on October 11 at the Part Time Punks fest. This interview by Kevin Ferguson.
I see a lot of similarities between the Monks and the Raincoats. Odyshape is such a unique record with no context. People have barely started ripping off the Monks now and how long will it be before the Raincoats? Twenty years?
Ana da Silva (guitar/vocals): It’s strange you say that because a friend of mine just said that to me, and I kind of thought, ‘Actually, I don’t really know anything like it.’ I’m not saying we’re more original than anybody else, but it was our own thing. We tried everything, so it came out sounding quite different. I think you could kind of see that they’re all Raincoats songs, but they’re also very different among each other because we always tried really hard with each song to just try something new and explore things—find room for all the ideas that we had.
Did that hurt the band dynamics later on?
Ana da Silva: They were always difficult! Everybody was always bringing in new ideas. Obviously, that’s always a bit hard to take for other people—when you come in saying ‘You know, I have this idea and it’s different from yesterday.’ The rest of the band has to kind of get around that together with you. There was no problem with writing songs, really. I always found that the most fun. You put something from here, something from there, and everybody brings their own little bit different to somebody else. We never thought you got to a point when things sounded really good, because we never thought it was really finished. Still to this day, if we have a rehearsal for two hours before a gig and we haven’t done a song in two years we’ll still change something. We felt that the music was still alive, and you can always add something else into it if you like it.
Do you think that quote about you guys breaking up because of too many influences is bullshit?
Ana da Silva: I don’t think it’s the influences that are the problem. It’s where you want to go with the band that was the problem eventually. Some members were keen on going in a more palatable way—kind of going away from where we had started—and maybe the other members didn’t like that. That’s true. Like east African music into the Raincoats—to me that didn’t seem to make too much sense. And I think some people wanted to have some kind of more mainstream success. I felt that there was sort of a will to maybe compromise with certain things and I wasn’t keen on that. It just got very difficult.
What’s the most important thing you learned on stage?
Ana da Silva: Concentrate, and don’t drink! I drank one time—just a couple of drinks—and then I couldn’t remember the lyrics. I thought, ‘I’ll never do that again!’ We didn’t really know how to play well—that’s what Gina meant when she said we learned how to play on stage. But we weren’t the only ones. It’s just that there are lots of bands—men don’t usually say that about themselves. In fact, we had a classically trained violinist in our band! Yes, Gina learned to play after we decided to have our band and only a few months after we decided to have a band, we had our first gig. I kind of knew a little bit of guitar—I knew chords but I couldn’t play solo or jam with somebody else. We were ropey, to say the least, but we concentrated on the rehearsals. Instead of learning how to play things really well and getting tight, we just kept changing and changing all the time. I think that’s why she said that we learned to play on stage, because we didn’t know—especially her! She didn’t know how to play. We rehearsed a lot, but it was more creating than getting tighter. We’re still not tight, after all these years.
Do you ever find yourself trying to sound less ‘professional’?
Ana da Silva: No. We just try to do our best all the time. We never did that much practicing at home to get really good at it. We don’t try to sound worse than we already do. That would be terrible! I don’t think tightness is a desirable thing necessarily. It’s just having a lot of ideas and making the music sound good. I think music has to have pleasant things: melodies, harmonies, rhythms, noise and silence … all those elements. To me, music is a really big thing—there’s many possibilities. And that’s the most important thing. Much more than being tight. Of course, nowadays people are used to very tight music because of computers and drum machines. I think there’s room for that kind of thing, but for us it’s more what feels right and comfortable.
What’s the weirdest noise you’ve ever made on your guitar?
Ana da Silva: I don’t know, it’s just the way it sounded. We did the first album at a studio on Barry Street. Maybe it’s the sound of Barry Street!
Do you remember that Johnny Rotten quote about how the Raincoats were the only band that didn’t make him puke?
Ana da Silva: Yes! Is it just the Raincoats or does he mention another band?
Just the Raincoats.
Ana da Silva: We were having this debate with each other: ‘Did he say just say the Raincoats or did he add Delta 5?’ We wondered if we were forgetting somebody else. We were having conscience problems!
How did it feel when he said you were the only good band left?
Ana da Silva: We were really happy. He’s always somebody I’ve respected. I also heard one time that David Bowie said that he really liked us. But I didn’t hear it myself, so I can’t really be sure of that.
Da Silva is a Portuguese name, right?
Ana da Silva: It’s where I’m from! I had been here before for a month one time and I really liked London. I had just finished university and I didn’t know what to do. I just got into a plane and came to see what it would be like, and then it went from there. I didn’t have a specific reason, I just came, worked in a restaurant, and then I decided to study art. That’s when I met Gina—we decided to form the band.
I read a quote from Gina: ‘When I came to London, I had about four albums with me. I had a Prince Buster album, I had Sgt. Pepper’s, and I had a Melanie album, I think the first one. And I had Toots and the Maytals’ Funky Kingston.’
Ana da Silva: I don’t think I brought anything with me, actually. I came with a very small suitcase. I think I brought some cassettes? They were compilation cassettes that I had made, sort of. One of the first albums that I bought after I was here was Horses by Patti Smith. I heard it at a party of a friend—I thought, ‘God, I’ve never heard anything like this before!’ I asked who it was, and they said it was this woman Patti Smith. Next thing I knew I went and bought the record at the Rough Trade shop.
What was it like the first time you played in America?
Ana da Silva: It was great! Going there was great and New York was the most amazing thing. It was a bit like a dream place—so different than anything I had ever seen. You see all that smoke come out of the street and you think, ‘God, I’m in a kind of film!’ But I’ve never been to the West Coast. I never thought I’d go with the Raincoats because we don’t really exist as a working band anymore. I’m so happy that we’re going to San Francisco and Los Angeles and Portland, and I think we’re going to New York as well.
The Raincoats are really different from your solo work—you use a sequencer for most of your solo material and the Raincoats are way more loose.
Ana da Silva: It’s a completely different way of working. You just put the notes there, press play, and then it’s done. I used a sequencer, yes, and now I’m using a computer. I’ve learned how to deal with Logic Pro—it’s a bit of a nightmare but I’m there now. But when I play with the Raincoats, I play mostly guitar and sing. It’s a very different thing. They don’t even cross over.
Just an entirely separate region in your brain?
Ana da Silva: Probably! My hands!
Do people really cry at Raincoats shows?
Ana da Silva: I haven’t personally seen that but I’ve known because people have told me. I’ve cried a couple times—certain songs more than others. I just remembered—when Kurt Cobain died we were doing a gig in New York. We didn’t know he had died because we were in the van going to New York and then we were on stage doing sound check. The person from Geffen was there and he told us. During the whole performance when I was singing my songs, I just kept relating certain lines to what had happened. He used to really like ‘The Void.’ I knew that the audience was feeling a great loss because of him dying and all that. It was a very, very emotional gig. I didn’t cry though, because I was determined not to even talk about it.
Did the Nirvana-era fans treat you any differently from those in the ’80s? What about your fans today?
Ana da Silva: We had quite a lot of respect from people of our time—like Gang of Four and the Slits. Lots of people liked what we did. We didn’t feel isolated in that way. I didn’t know Nirvana’s music when I found out that he was a fan—I heard that later. I was really, really thrilled when I heard it! I liked his stuff and what he carried on doing. We reissued everything on CD, which we wanted to do. These records haven’t been available for a long time—they should still be available. That whole generation and the riot grrrl movement as well—they seem to have been quite inspired by us. I suppose that all those bands during that era seemed to like what we did in that way. Suddenly you think it was worth doing because it’s still having some kind of impact.
Do you think the Raincoats sound feminine?
Ana da Silva: I think they do. We didn’t think of anything like that though. It was just a group of women together playing music. But then we started thinking, ‘Is there something female about this?’ And I kind of think there is. It’s very difficult for me to say and I’m not into a lot of theory and things but I think there is. It’s up to you as a listener though. Do you think we do?
I’m not sure I can say one way or another because the band is so unique. There’s nobody out there to compare the Raincoats with.
Ana da Silva: The other day, for instance, I was listening to Blur. They were playing—I don’t know—Glastonbury or something, and I was thinking, ‘This isn’t even man’s music, this is lad’s music!’ It’s boisterously masculine, a bit like people in the pub singing together or at a football match and they all go, ‘Ahhhhhhhh ruuuuuuuhhhh!’ To me that sounded really male, and our music is female. I guess because it’s by females. Our manager is female. When we recorded we had men producing. At the time I don’t know if there was a woman producer out there even. Any group is a sum of the members of that group; we were four women. There’s characteristics, you know, when we all sing together—it’s just like a bunch of girls singing in a playground!
Do you think it’s different to be a woman playing music today than before?
Ana da Silva: Not enough in my opinion. People sometimes feel very—I don’t know—scared, I think. You need to have a bit of cheek. For any art you need to have a bit of … you could call it courage or cheek, whatever. Just go for it! I think maybe women are a bit more scared with not being very good at walking into a shop and buying a guitar. But a lot of men I know feel the same way—they go into a shop and they feel completely frozen because of the way they play. I think it’s rubbish, really—it’s horrible!
THE RAINCOATS WITH SECTION 25, MEDIUM MEDIUM, KID CONGO POWERS, THE JAZZ BUTCHER, ABE VIGODA AND MANY MORE AT THE PART TIME PUNKS FESTIVAL ON SUN., OCT. 11, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 3 PM / $20-25 / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM. THE RAINCOATS’ SELF-TITLED LP WILL BE REISSUED ON KILL ROCK STARS ON TUES., OCT. 13. VISIT RAINCOATS AT THERAINCOATS.NET OR MYSPACE.COM/THERAINCOATS.