Self proclaimed “Acoustic Foot-Stompers” Rita Payne (Rhiannon Scutt and Pete Sowerby) are one of the UK’s fastest rising acts. From supporting some of the country’s leading artists to appearing on BBC One’s The Voice UK, this unstoppable duo’s voyage to superstardom is unquestionable.
We caught up with the daring duo a few days after they finished their first tour, we bought the nibbles, pulled up some chairs and chatted to Rhiannon and Pete about playing 'hard to get', bopping (not grooving) and guitar solo's that make you go 'all funny', here's how we got on....
Hi Rhiannon and Pete, please take a moment to introduce yourselves and tell us just who ‘Rita Payne’ really is?
P: Rita Payne is an amalgamation of some of the letters in our two names.
Think Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort...but with less use of the phrase “Avada Kedavra.”
Your album is called ‘Stories from the Suitcase’ so, the question is, what is your favourite story from a suitcase?
R: In truth, the stories created to form our first album are almost entirely fictional, we invented a central character, then the lyrics took shape as their take on an imagined situation they would find themselves in. However, the songs which have the most personal meaning for us, Pete in particular, feature on ‘We’re Getting There, Aren’t We?’ which was written in an entirely new way for us; using our own personal experiences. So for me, my favourite tale on that album is ‘Goodbye’ as it is an intimate account of how our dedication to Rita Payne (portrayed as ‘the other woman’ on the track) has meant huge sacrifices in other areas of our life, and playing it live always reminds me of that. However as for SFAS, I think ‘Don’t Misuse Me’ is my favourite, the lyrics in that song have the ability of sneaking up on my and hitting me hard when I’m playing it live. On the rare occasion there have been tears shed at a Rita Payne gig, it’s been to that song.
P: Recording SFAS was a fairly rushed process. We had only been together as Rita Payne six months and were probably still a bit green. However, when a notable producer, who’d recorded with the likes of Editors and Bella Hardy, asked if we’d like to cut an album with him, we obviously jumped at the chance. My favourite story from that album is ‘Don’t Misuse Me’ but only when played live. It seems to be the one song that has a different meaning to everyone who listens to it. Recorded I would have to go with the Deep South tinged, ‘Jeremiah.’ It still gives me chills. My favourite from the second album is currently ‘I Can’t Promise.’ It’s a bittersweet ballad and every time I listen to it, I’m transported back to how I felt when I wrote the lyrics. It’s also one of only two songs on the album that features Rhiannon and I exclusively.
We’re both so proud of WGTAW so my favourite song could be different next week!
What was the first song you ever actually wrote and what was it about?
P: The first song I ever wrote was called ‘Little Lady Love.’
I was five when I wrote it.
It was about a girl who kept playing hard to get.
I was an emotional wreck at that age. I’d been through such romantic heartache.
How many M&Ms can you fit in your mouth at any one time?
P: We’re both allergic to chocolate and peanuts, and Rhiannon has a pathological fear of anything smaller than 5cm...So this question couldn’t be worse to be honest.
What was the first song you learnt to play as a band?
Peter, you met Owen Jones, how was that? What did you talk about?
P: I went to watch him promote his new book- ‘The Establishment And How They Get Away With It.’
We were on the same bill as him at last year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, and after seeing him rouse the crowd there, I had to go and see him again.
He’s such a lovely human being.
What music are you currently grooving to?
R: 2015 has been all about discovering new music for me, my new years resolution was to listen to at least one new song each day, and I think I’ve just about stuck to it! That has lead me to Sylvan Esso’s self titled album, which has taught me how important empty space is in a song, plus it’s a great album to dance to! Another track I urge everyone to listen to is ‘In The Way’ from Ani DiFranco’s 2003 album ‘Evolve’, which is somewhere between funk and jazz with some slinky bass lines and stunning sax parts… again, it should get you moving.
P: Well, I don’t really groove. I bop. So currently I’m bopping to homemade compilations, featuring artists like Lisa Hannigan, Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros, The Beatles, The Civil Wars and Charlie Simpson.
I’m actually just waiting, not very patiently, for Mumford and Sons new album.
You’ve just finished your ‘Spring’ tour, what would you say was the highlight of the tour was? Any low points?
P: I think we’d both agree that a massive highlight was going overseas for the first time as a band.
We played Le Blues Autour du Zinc Festival in Beauvais and the experience was beautiful for so many reasons. The atmosphere was incredible everywhere you went. We’d be sitting outside a bistro having coffee and people would come up to us and chat and want pictures etc. It was really special.
However, the UK gigs were also special for different reasons. Just the fact that we had a successful, first ever, tour is massive for us. When we set out...we had no idea whether people were going to actually come and see us. But they always did!
I’d honestly say a low point may have been the amount of fast food we ate. Even though we really tried to eat well, which we did for a large part, sometimes the only option is a big, fat, burger.
Which guitar solo stills gives you a ‘funny feeling’ when you hear it now?
R: I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear to Lindsey Buckingham’s live version of ‘Big Love’ and it not send a shiver down my spine. I was lucky enough to see it live in 2013 and I hope that memory never leaves me. Fingerpicking genius.
P: I have to agree with my partner on this one. I was on a train to London when I first heard it and I cried like a baby.
Also the two solos on Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ make me go all funny.
Tell me a fascinating fact about the band that even Google doesn’t know?
P: Without fail, we could pick each other a three course meal, including drinks and it’d be right.
How did the two of you meet and realise you’ve got chemistry together?
R: Pete and I were both in the wind band at our secondary school, Pete on drums and percussion and I was on alto sax, absolutely smashing the Braveheart, Titanic & Lion King soundtracks (they liked variety at our school) so we’ve been aware of each others interest and talent in music for years now. We’ve been in and out of various bands together since then, an indie rock band called ‘One Word Answer’ in school, and then came Roundhouse, a college classic rock band, and I think it was then we realised we were on the same wavelength regarding song-writing, but unfortunately it wasn’t until years later we acted upon it as a duo and formed Rita Payne.
P: The chemistry thing just seemed to happen. I don’t think either of us possesses the gift of telekinesis, but if we did...it’d only work on each other.
We can change the structure of an entire song...mid flow...onstage...without verbal communication.
I’ve never actually experienced anything like it...and nothing has ever come close to it musically. I recently sang a duet at a party with a very accomplished singer. I honestly felt lost.
Favourite Sunday Morning album?
R: At the minute, a Sunday morning album for me is Tom McRae’s – Just Like Blood
P: James Taylor’s Greatest Hits.
Name three people (alive, dead or fictional) that you would like as dinner party guests?
R: Phil Lynott
Any advice you would give to new/struggling musicians?
R: Know your strengths and work to them. We often say, we can only do what we do.
P: There’s no point trying to be something you’re not. So if you’re striving for a sound that already exists. Don’t. Just grab your instruments and play what you want to play.
Also, be humble, always work hard and if people are telling you that you’re
making a difference to their lives...don’t give up.
R: Another important thing to consider is what you want to achieve, is it a career, or just the enjoyment of getting out there and performing on a weekend. I think once you’ve realised why you want to play, working our what motivates you to do so is also important.
P: One of the huge driving forces behind why we keep pushing on is because our feedback and reviews have been so positive, we have a loyal fanbase and even when that consisted of only a few, knowing that our music was appreciated by just those people spurred us on.
What does music mean to you?
R: For me, I’m realising more and more how cathartic simply listening to music is, and how much I rely on it to help me navigate my way through the tough times in life. I’ve taken to using long car journeys to listen to albums in their entirety, allowing them to take me somewhere else for that period of time. When I come back to reality, I usually find I can look at situations with much more clarity, so I’ll never under value music and it’s ability to help me process information. As for playing music, that’s a whole different thing! For me, the joy is in playing music with other musicians, that’s when I have the most fun. That’s what’s so lovely about music, it can be a totally intimate, personal experience in one moment, and then a huge collaboration shared by many in the next. It’s the closest thing to magic I’ve ever experienced.
P: For me...all music is a soundtrack.
I never just ‘put music on.’ There’s always a reason behind it. For example, if I’m veering towards a negative headspace, my music will absolutely reflect that. Similarly, if I’m feeling positive and alive, the music I listen to will also contain both of those elements.
It’s why I’m rubbish at listening to the radio- because I can’t determine the mood of the songs.
In terms of playing...I’m kind of accidentally a singer. Singing was never something I actively pursued, so in truth, I only get the ‘feeling’ when I sing Rita Payne songs...or songs that mean something to me.
I’m a drummer first and foremost, and when I get the chance to drum, it’s a massive rush. It’s like working out. All those endorphins are released and it just invigorates me.
In your opinion, what is the BEST album/record ever released?
P: Forgetting history, forgetting ‘what you’re supposed to say’ and just answering absolutely personally, I would have to say ‘Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons.’
What was the last book you read?
R: Approximately 18 years late to the party, I’m currently reading the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy by Philip Pullman, and am absolutely absorbed by it. Despite Pete repeatedly pointing out they’re children’s books. Okay mister I LOVE Harry Potter.
What classic song would you have liked to have recorded and why?
P: ‘Come Together’ by The Beatles. No question.
First gig you ever went to?
R: The Corrs, Sheffield Arena. A powerful start to my live music education.
P: Elkie Brooks when I was 4 years old.
Who are your musical influences?
R: My guitar style has often been described as pretty unique, but when I play I hear a total amalgamation of two artists I’ve already mentioned; Ani DiFranco and Lindsey Buckingham. Intricate rhythmic fingerpicking, strange tunings, and some serious attack… all what I’ve learnt from those masters. I love playing with dynamics and pauses, bringing a track down to almost nothing, then building it back up to a roaring climax using just the guitar. I guess only having one main instrument in Rita Payne, it has forced me to really focus on what I can do with it to alter the sound throughout a set and keep it interesting, using technique alone.
P: I started to develop my vocal style when I was about 16, and that process basically involved trying to ape Liam Gallagher and Paul Rodgers. So even though my voice is far removed from both of them now, it was they who influenced me.
Musically I have to be honest and say I’m influenced by Rhiannon. Her guitar style and the moods she can create, influence my lyric writing more than anything else.
There are many good bands and musicians out there, who would you ask the readers of musicmuso to check out?
R: I would love to steer people towards a Manchester based artist called ‘Little Rach’, she is the hardest working touring musician I’ve come across. She opened many of the shows for us on our Spring Tour, and each evening she took my breath away. The song ‘Made to Love Music’ is particularly moving, and I guess answers the above question ‘What does music mean to you?’ in a much more concise way!
P: I agree with my partner on this one.
Who would you like to know has your music on their iPod, MP3 or cassette walkman?
P: Probably some big label executive who wants to give us loads of money and stuff.
If you could describe your music in the form of a fictional character, who would it be?
P: Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. He’s all bouncy and stuff, but deep down, you know he’s got a dark side.
Do you think we can ever live in a world where a chicken can cross the road without having its motives questioned?
‘Hold Me Once’ has beautiful melodies that caress the temples, what was the process of making this track?
R: Generally, we write on an entirely 50/50 basis, I write the music, Pete writes the lyrics, however Pete brought this to me as a fully formed song, written after a tough breakup. We recorded a demo, then left it alone. A few weeks later, we were in the middle of a song-writing session, and this chord progression came to me… then I began to sing the lyrics to Pete’s song, which seemed to fit perfectly over the top. This then became the ‘Hold Me Once’ that features on WGTAW. What makes this song for us, is the other musicians featured on it, particularly the soaring violin parts, by the great Pete Howe. To my ears the fiddle part takes it from an acoustic track to something reminiscent of a baroque ballroom. A definite highlight on the album for me.
P: The song, up until about a month ago, was the most deeply personal thing I’d ever written.
I sat on my bed with the guitar and it just poured out in about ten minutes.
I showed it to Rhiannon and, well, see her answer.
Have you had any ‘Spinal Tap’ Moments? If yes, please share!
P: No, we are uber professional….
There are many social media platforms out there, which ones have proved the best for you in order to spread the word about Rita Payne?
R & P: Without a shadow of a doubt, Facebook has been the most successful way to get information to our fans, we love to include our fans in everything that we do, and pay them back where possible for their unfaltering loyalty, and Facebook is a wonderful way to spread the gospel of Payne!
Twitter is wonderful for finding our about opportunities, other bands, events and venues, but in terms of us connecting with our fans. We can’t beat Facebook!
We were loving the responses to the main set of questions so were intrigued to see what they said about our round of quickfire questions, we buckled up tight and hit the gas....
Coffee or Tea?
Coke or Pepsi?
BBQ or Picnic?
Ed Sheeran or Jack Johnson?
Drum machine or the real deal?
R: Real deal
Mac or PC?
R: Newly a mac convert.
Fry up or Sunday roast?
P: Fry up.
Lemmy (Motorhead) or Ozzy (Black Sabbath)?
CD or Vinyl?
Car or Motorbike?
Walking or Cycling?
Acoustic or electric?
Frozen or Maleficent?
P: Toy Story
Shower or Bath?
Tattoos or Piercings?
Robert De Niro or Al Pacino?
R: De Niro
God or Google?
We'd like to thank Rhiannon and Pete for taking the time to take part in our Introducing feature, we'd like to wish them both the very best for the future and look forward to catching them live. Talking about catching them live, there's a few dates below where you CAN see them over the next couple of months. If you can spare a few minutes, why not check out their social media channels, they're all listed below the live dates....
24th May - Sofar Sounds - Newcastle
30th May - BAMfest - Bedale
19th July - L-Fest - Uttoxeter
25th July - Tramlines Festival - Sheffield