Interview with Bitter Ruin

Photo Credit: Joseph Shepherd

Photo Credit: Joseph Shepherd

Delusions of Adequacy:  Hello Georgia and Ben!  It’s so wonderful to be doing this interview with you.  I’ve only recently found out about Bitter Ruin, but I was instantly bowled over by your sharply intense, stirring, dual vocal acrobatics, spirited guitar sound, and, well, what can I say – bitter and bracing lyrics.

You have two EPs under your belt, a self-titled EP released in 2007 and the We’re Not Dancing EP in 2008, and you are scheduled to start recording your debut album with Jason Rubal in the U.S. in December.  Before touching upon all that, I’d like to find out more about your beginnings as a duo.  How did you meet up and are you both together in a strictly musical sense?  From what I’ve read, you are from different parts of England, but are based in Brighton at the moment.

Ben:  Yes, we are from opposite ends of England and we both travelled to Brighton to go to music school. When we met we were both in Rock bands and singing in completely different styles. We got talking and had barely heard of any of each other’s influences. So really our music comes from the collision of two completely different worlds.  As for our ‘relationship’, well that is and will always be a mystery!

DOA:  You have a very distinctive musical and vocal style that defies easy categorization, with “just” vocals and guitar, and a bent towards the dramatic and theatrical without being campy or morbid.  You’ve probably already been tagged as “Dark Cabaret”, but there other elements to your sound, from the flamenco to classical runs of guitar to the use of acoustic guitar to the intertwined harmonizing and call and response dueling vocals that recall other genres.  Is there a particular style that you prefer to be categorized as?  Did you know from the outset how you wanted to sound or did it evolve over time?

Georgia:  It’s a genre of its own, really. We’re waiting for someone to come up with a new genre that can typify it. It makes our job very difficult as everyone’s first question is “What do you sound like?” and quite frankly, we sound like us and only us. There are of course obvious influences and these days nothing is original, but we’re certainly not copycats or even ‘chart friendly’.

We had NO IDEA that this was how we would sound together. Although we do work very hard on our arrangements, people say a good idea is supposed to come from some divine force and maybe that’s why we don’t know how our musical style developed… ha ha, maybe Buddha writes it for us??!

DOA:  What are you musical backgrounds?  Are you both classically- trained vocalists, and Ben, what has been your path as a guitarist and what types of guitars do you use?

Ben:  Georgia is a trained vocalist, having studied the voice for about twelve years, and actually teaches singing in her spare time.  I, on the other hand, am newer to singing, but have learnt a lot from Georgia (though try as I may to match her I’ll always be in her shadow!).

My path as a guitarist began at the age of fourteen with the usual teen love for Rock and Metal, but through the years I have experimented with all different styles of guitar.  More recently Flamenco has had a massive influence on my playing; it has a raw passion that I haven’t found in any other genre, and it translates perfectly with the passion in our lyrics.  I currently play a Cort steel string, and my pride and joy, a K-Yari classical nylon string guitar.

DOA:  I love that you both sing on most of the songs and that your powerful, passionate, and well-matched delivery creates for some tense, but lively songs.  Georgia, you especially belt it out impressively, but have such fine-tuned control of your voice.  How much effort is it to deal with the vocal complexity of the songs?

Georgia:  Well, I like to challenge myself as a vocalist and so most of our stuff ends up being a vocal circus. I like to think that I make covering Bitter Ruin songs really hard! Ha ha, only kidding, I’d love to hear some covers. The way I sing is basically down to what I find emotive and powerful, but creating all of that whilst still making a song sound beautiful can be tough. The voice is just as much an instrument as it is a paintbrush, you need to use tonal variety and tell a story with the lyrics, while making everything sound authentic… something like that!

Photo Credit: Joseph Shepherd

Photo Credit: Joseph Shepherd

DOA:  You have earned raves and renown for your live performances.  How do you prepare for a show?  What is it like to be in front the audience and singing and playing your hearts out?  I hope this doesn’t sound like an odd question, but is there a difference between sitting or standing or moving around the stage while performing?  I’m assuming, Ben, that you sit for the duration while playing guitar while Georgia, you get to move about?

Ben:  We prepare for a show by rushing to catch a train… usually forgetting something and having to turn back… doing a really quick sound check and then sitting in the corner looking creepy and suspicious till we play! There’s no pep talk, I’m afraid. Maybe we should devise one?

Singing your heart out in front of an audience can be really liberating or really odd and frustrating, depending on the crowd. If the audience doesn’t really look like they’re getting it, we feel a bit silly… but carry on regardless!

Actually, we both sit and stand for different songs, sometimes we sit back-to-back, sometimes Georgia sits in the audience on the floor while I stroll among them playing guitar, and other times we are just standing up screaming in each other’s faces. Whatever feels like the right thing to do!

Photo Credit: Joseph Shepherd

Photo Credit: Joseph Shepherd

DOA:  Now I know your latest EP is titled We’re Not Dancing, but it seems like a lot of elegant dancing poses are being struck by the both of you on that EP cover, your official site, and in promo photos.  LOL  Do either of you have a background in dance?  Is it something that you bring to the live experience at all?

Georgia:  Yes, we both ‘throw some shapes’ on stage! But it’s probably not quite what you’d call a choreographed dance. If you watch the video for “The Vice” or “Stand to Attention” you’ll see what we mean. As far as training, I’ve had a little bit but not at all to a professional level.

DOA:  You’ve captured the spirit of your live performances on your EPs as far as I can tell.  How did that work out?  Did you record each song all in one go?

Ben:  That would be telling! Actually, we record in a variety of ways, some of the takes are live, yes, and some we’ve edited… however, we’re very proud to say that we’ve never used AUTO TUNE! Damn the guy who invented that!

DOA:  There is a lot of dense, twisty wordplay going on in your songs, from “I’m fearsome, fearless, famished for a fight / And hungry for a handful of a fist flung for fun” on the feisty “I’m Going to be a Murderer” to “I wanted to think like you thought to answer some of the “whys?” / So I took a blindfold of denial and bolted it to my eyes” on “Outrageous” to “I can accept now fighting only ends in pleas / How can I protest when you’re stronger than me?” on “Soldier”, but for all the bitterness, bleakness, and blackness to the lyrics, there seems to also be a rousing, high-spirited nature to your vocal delivery and dashing guitar lines that balance it out.  Do you share in songwriting duties?  Are most or all of your songs from the “storyteller” point of view or do you draw upon your own lives too, from past destructive relationships or break-ups or other events?

Ben:  All of our songs come from real life experiences. They are all real!… Maybe a bit exaggerated, but very real. However, Georgia isn’t really “going to be a murderer”… I think?!

Photo Credit: Joseph Shepherd

Photo Credit: Joseph Shepherd

DOA:  As mentioned earlier, you’re set to record with Jason Rubal soon.  Are you currently writing and composing for your up-coming full length?  Will you go into the studio this December with everything fully formed or do you expect to chisel away at the statue, so to speak, while ensconced in the studio?  Do you have plans to alter your core sound at all or are you aiming to keep your sound intact?

Georgia:  Yes, we’re writing at the moment and we’ve got lots of new songs waiting to make their debut appearances. As far as what we’ll do in the studio, I think we are just focusing on making the songs as good as possible and we’ll worry about how to record when the time comes. Also, I think Jason will have some really interesting ideas that we’ll probably try to draw from him too.

DOA:  You have an official site at http://bitterruin.com/ and a MySpace profile at http://www.myspace.com/bitterruin where everyone can find out how to purchase your EPs.  You’ve also gotten entangled in that newfangled online contraption called Twitter.  What do you make of it?  Do you feel you’re frittering your time away or is it a good way to disburse information to your fans?

Georgia:  Let’s face it, Twitter sucks! But if it allows our fans to talk to us directly then great, we just think it’s pretty boring. No offence Tweety Peeps! Don’t unfollow us. Please.