1980s Culture / 4AD / Louise Rutkowski

A chat with Louise Rutkowski

Fans of the infamous 4AD label will be no stranger to the name Louise Rutkowski. She sung on This Moral Coil records as well as The Hope Blister. She almost recorded Prefab Sprout’s ‘Horsin’ Around’ with her sister Deirdre until Paddy McAloon took it back and recorded it himself. Most importantly she has just released her debut solo album ‘Diary of A Lost Girl’ . RepHERtoire rang her up one windy night last month and had a wee chat, as she would say.

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Miranda: Can I start off my asking you a little bit about your background?

Louise: I was born in Paisley which is about fourteen minutes away on the train from Glasgow. I moved to Glasgow when I was five and then grew up here. I’ve lived in London a bit. I’m back in Scotland now.

Miranda: What kind of music did you listen to when you first started to really get into music, I guess like me, as a teenager?

Louise: Both my parents, particularly my mum was very music conscious so I can remember sitting watching Top Of The Pops at a very early age because it was on. They had a big record collection so the thing about that was I grew up listening to all sorts of things.

Miranda: You already had it in the house.

Louise: Yes. I grew up of all sorts of things, probably the first voice I remember was Jim Reeves. I remember being really struck with that, they were always playing his records. Because my sister and brother were older I had the influence of their record collection. Roxy Music, Beatles, Rod Stewart.

Miranda: You inherited their record collection.

Louise: Yeah. I would say a bit of everything, it was all around the house.

Miranda: Did you ever go out and buy your own stuff?

Louise: Music really came through to me when I discovered punk because I was about thirteen when the punk thing took off. There were two people: Blondie and Sex Pistols/PiL. Those were the two artists that had the most impact on me. That’s when I remember going ‘arghh, music’s amazing!’

Miranda: I’m always quite interested when I talk to girls about music, quite often they say that collecting records is a blokes thing. I want to disprove that myth.

Louise: I remember my sister went out and bought Never Mind The Bollocks so we could have that around. I was obsessed with John Lydon, he was my ideal man, he still is actually. She brought me the first PiL single as well.
It was an amazing period for music and inspiration, I think about this about a lot. I count my blessings I am the age I am when I look at some of the artists today, dollar signs in their eyes. With people like Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde there was intelligence there, they really inspired you. They were still attractive, sexy women but the modern artists, they talk about power but they’re not powerful at all. They present themselves as a porn mags idea of how women should be. Its a shame people have grown up with that crap.

Miranda: Moving onto your album. First of all, the cover, immediately I thought ‘that’s Louise Brooks’

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Louise: No, its not. I love Louise Brooks and the album title is a Louise Brooks film. The artist who did that picture, both she and I like that era. She does quite a bit of stuff with imagery from that era. It was from a medical textbook from the 30s and it was a series of neck exercises to maintain their jaw lines! I have a huge poster of the film in my bedroom and I was trying to think up the album title with a friend and of course we were staring right at it. It kind of fits in with the way I was when I was writing a lot.

Miranda: We’ll go back in the past and talk about This Mortal Coil. How much creative imput did you have in that whole project?

Louise: I would say not a lot but that makes it sound negative. I don’t mean it that way, really Ivo picked the musicians because he knew they’d deliver what he wanted them to deliver. I was very much being yourself. The records were recorded over time and in stages so when we recorded the vocals, my sister and I, there wasn’t really much there. That was deliberate on his part I suspect. When the records came out it was a bit ‘that’s interesting’! We met Martin McCarrick he was the cellist, he was the one we met up with.

Miranda: I’ve been told that when you were in Sunset Gun, your first band, you had a song written for you by Paddy, is that right?

Louise: Well he wrote ‘Horsin’ Around’ with the idea that we would record it and I have the demo of it*. We nearly signed to Kitchenware, we were in talks with them. We went down to Newcastle a few times, we met Prefab Sprout and went to their gigs. That wee relationship was through that. We didn’t sign to Kitchenware in the end, obviously. The next thing it turned up on Steve McQueen.

Miranda: He took it back!

Louise: How dare he! Wrote a song and took it back (laughs)

Miranda: Let’s talk a bit about your new album then, Diary Of A Lost Girl. The song that really stands out for me is ‘Mimi’ which is bout your mum isn’t it. There’s a line in there that I have to ask you about, what was written in ‘her last goodbye?’

Louise: The story behind that really was that when she went in for a fairly routine operation, she had a sort of hernia which had become infected. She had the operation and all was fine and she looked like she as recovering and then very quickly downhill and they shifted her into intensive care so for the first few days of that she was very heavily sedatated. She was still compus mentis and we could come and see her, she was awake. Those days she couldn’t really communicate properly, she asked for paper and we gave her paper. She wrote down incomprehensible things, I don’t really know what she was trying to say, and to be honest I’ve put the bits of paper away in a drawer in my dads house. One day I might be able to open that drawer again and have a look, but its gonna be quite a while. That’s where that came from, she was definately trying to communicate something. I do remember her writing SOS and when I am able I think about that and what she was trying to say.

Miranda: Did writing that song help you grieve?

Louise: Yes it did. We’d written some stuff already before that. Of course, that happened and I was completely floored, but when I came to a bit I realised I’ve got a gift here. To be able to express, my mum was very supportive of both my sister and I in our music. She was very musical.

Miranda: She completely understood your passion.

Louise: Yes. Both my parents were like that. I was talking to someone today, a lawyer. She said she would’ve loved to have been an actress but her parents wouldn’t allow it. She wouldn’t be doing that to her own daughter. That’s so Victorian! Still to this day, I am supported.

Miranda: Your sister Deirdre, what does she do these days?

Louise: She’s up in Scotland but she was over in Ireland for a while, she went back to University. She went to Trinity in Dublin and studied psychology and she was over there and married at the time. She came back to London for a while, this kind of thing. Shes kind of hoping to get back into writing and things. She’s just flittering about and seeing what it is she wants to do.
Miranda: Now, you’ve had a bit of a break from music for a while and listening to the album, is it telling us what you’ve been doing over the last few years.

Louise: First off I never realy walked away from music, if you have been in projects that have had profile and you go away and do something that is not a profile thing there’s the assumption that you’re not doing it. I did the Mortal Coil thing, then I did The Hope Blister thing but before I took the break I did a record with Craig Armstrong. It was a one album deal signed to Interscope in America (The Kindness of Strangers ‘H.O.P.E), it was a fairly miserable experience. At the end of that I thought I can’t be bothered with this anymore so I took a job with the Arts Council in London in the music department I was the Assistant Music Officer. I didn’t want to give up music but I wanted to do it my way. I totally didn’t bother with the music industry and I did a lot of gigs in small venues like arts centres, I did a lot of songs by Randy Newman. I was just pleasing myself. I did that for over seven years, I sang in jazz things…

Miranda: Sometimes its nice to sing other people’s songs.

Louise: You learn a lot. I felt I hadn’t had much live experience because all the projects were albums, studio based. That really annoyed be, I wanna be a good performer. I squirrelled myself away and did thinks at my own pace and developed skills I felt I didn’t really have. the decision to write again was a big one for me because I knew I would have to engage in the music industry again which I wasn’t mad keen about. The desire to write and prove something to myself was really much greater. That’s how I’ve arrived at this album.

Miranda: It sounds like a very personal album.

Louise: Very.

Miranda: When you sat down to write, was that your intention?

Louise: Its something I sort of thinking about, it was the first writing I’d done since I started out in the music. There are personal things there. Like Mimi, obviously. The vast majority of them are stories, I’m a huge Kate Bush fan

Miranda: I can hear that

Louise: I totally admire her writing. I was trying to work along those lines

Miranda: The song that stands out for me is High. It songs like a love song to a long term lover. A mature relationship, perhaps.

Louise: I tend to be a wee bit whorish about these things. They start off with something and then go somewhere else. It started out as a personal relationship, the relationship didn’t continue and we did see each other for a fair number of years. Its from the perspective of what that personal taught me, it really doesn’t matter if that relationship has ended, you’re now a better person.

Miranda: Do you have a favourite on that album?

Louise: The Passing.

Miranda: It’s very cinematic

Louise: Yes it is. Its one of the first things we wrote together (with Irvin Duguid) so I’m probably fond of it for that reason.

Miranda: Have you got any plans for gigs?

Louise: We’ve got a pledge music campaign running at the moment, its for us to play in London at St James Theatre in Victoria and thats a full length gig, 8th April. The campaign is called ‘One Night Only’ http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/louiserutkowskigig
and you can buy a ticket off it plus you get a live track demo.

‘Diary Of A Lost Girl’ is available on iTunes and Amazon

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