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Rhiain and the Utter Strangers - Rhiain and The Utter Strangers Newsletter Interview

21 Aug 2012 // An interview by Shade

Rhiain and the Utter Strangers is the moniker of Wellington based anti-folk songstress Rhiain McGrath. Her first EP Heartplusmelody released on 24th August 2012 is a lyric-heavy ode to childhood, recorded with long-time musical collaborator Oli Wilson (of Knives at Noon, The Chills).

Her music draws influence from contemporary folk luminaries Joanna Newsom, Fiona Apple, and Laura Marling. Rhiain says "the music is not about doing something pretty, I use my voice to portray emotions in a way that is honest and has integrity". Rhiain answered the following questions for muzic.net.nz:

How did you come up with the name Rhiain and the Utter Strangers?
The name Rhiain and the Utter Strangers is pretty literal actually. I had been working on some demos with my friend Oli Wilson [Knives at Noon, The Chills] and we decided to record an EP. We recorded the EP in Dunedin, where Oli lives, and essentially over the course of a couple of days various musicians through various connections Oli had, ended up coming down to the studio and adding there musical perspective to the recording. The fun and interesting part was that I had never met any of them before. They were all incredibly talented and incredibly generous with their time and skills and really, the EP became so much beyond me, it became an us. Initially I was planning on releasing the EP just under my name as a solo musician, but It all happened very naturally and now I can’t imagine it any other way.

How would you describe Rhiain and the Utter Strangers’ music?
I guess I would say it is a little bit folk pop with a theatrical influence. It's lyric heavy and full of mood. I tend to like extremes, so usually one part of a song will be sweet and lush and then the next will be loud and clangy. And I think that sums up my personality as well.

What can we expect to see from Rhiain and the Utter Strangers over the next year?
We are hopeful for a few things really. We’re trying to get our hands in as many creative pies as possible. We have already begun writing for a new EP. We are currently working with some film savvy friends to get some video clips made. But most of all we really want to establish ourselves as a live act so hopefully you will see and hear us around a lot.

What advice would you like to give to other aspiring musicians?
Fuck dreaming, make plans.

How do you come up with your lyrics?
It's different every time actually, no real method in place. Sometimes I will sit down with pen in hand and spend hours crafting away the lyrics with a specific idea in mind. However, alot of the time I will just sing, without any real thought at all, just to begin creating a melody or what not, and the words will just appear on my tongue. In those moments, I think whatever is floating around inside me just comes out without me even trying. Sometimes, as I am drifting off to sleep a line will just come to me, or even just a few words.

Who would you most like to support live?
Gosh, the list is endless! Last year I went and saw Sufjan Stevens (which was literally the best gig I have even seen, FYI) but I was green with envy of Renee-Louise Carafice who opened for him. So green I was worried I was turning into the female version of the hulk, or shall we say, she-ulk. But then again, I was that envious of his backup vocalists. I’d kill to do backup vocals for him. Literally. Well figuratively literally. But honestly, at the moment I am keen to play with whoever, whenever I can.

How do you believe Rhiain and the Utter Strangers fit into the NZ music industry?
To be honest, I’m not sure that it does ‘fit’. But I think that is the beauty, or what should be the beauty of the New Zealand music industry. I think we kiwis are a creative and open minded folk especially when it comes to music and whether it be due to the smallness of our country or our enduring suffering of the tall poppy syndrome, but I think we tend to like what we like regardless of its commercial success. In fact I don’t think “commercial success” is even on the periphery of most musicians in New Zealand, well, certainly not mine. And I think that is what is great about New Zealand, we have the ability to be independent artists making music because we love it and I think people respond to that, regardless of what genre you fit or do not fit into.

What is your favourite NZ venue?
I think I am a bit spoilt for choice living in Wellington. I have to say though, I have always loved the Opera House. I have never played there, but I would love to be able to. The atmosphere in that place is so alive. It's massive, yet intimate. I’ve never seen a bad gig there.

What is the best part of being a musician?
For me, finishing a song, singing it to myself at the top of my lungs and feeling like I’ve just articulated something I wasn’t able to say before is what I love dearly about making music. Also, there is that moment just after you have played a gig. Whilst ideally the whole process is fun and enjoyable, often for me it isn’t. Especially leading up to a gig I am so ill with nerves that I forget why I am putting myself through such pain. But after the show I remember. And I feel alive.

What is in your CD collection at home?
I have quite a lot of music and quite a diverse range. My melancholic mood is a huge dictator of what I listen to. Often upcoming shows will determine my playlist so this year has featured a lot of Beirut, St Vincent, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. Then there are my comfort artists; Joanna Newsom, Sufjan Stevens, Laura Marling, Ryan Adams. The last album I purchased was Dead Man’s Bones. But I must confess, there is always room in my life for the likes of Justin Timberlake and everything Glee.

What is your favourite place in NZ to be?
For me it’s always about the people. Places are far more magical when you are with magical people. Obviously I love Wellington, I mean, you gots to have love if you choose to endure Wellington winters. But I also have a fondness for Whangarei, the Coromandel, and the west coast of the South Island. I’m actually a huge fan of New Zealand. We have such a fantastic country and I am always reminded of this when overseas friends come here for a roady.

What can you never leave home without?
Aye me, my bag is always full to the brim! Usually I will always have one or two notebooks with a handful of pens, my iPad, headphones, wallet, a few shades of lipstick, a pocket torch, a scarf and a guitar tuner and capo.


About Rhiain and the Utter Strangers

Rhiain and the Utter Strangers is the moniker of Wellington based anti-folk songstress Rhiain McGrath. Her first EP Heartplusmelody out on the 24th August 2012 is a lyric-heavy ode to childhood, recorded with long-time musical collaborator Oli Wilson (of Knives at Noon, The Chills).

McGrath had a musical upbringing, performing musical theatre and singing in church. In her final year of high school she took out the lyrics section at the nationals of the Smokefree Rockquest alongside Wilson. However music was put on the backburner when she began working as a legal secretary and it wasn't until a cathartic trip to Texas that she realised she needed to follow her dreams and record and release her previously bedroom-bound songs.

Her music draws influence from contemporary folk luminaries Joanna Newsom, Fiona Apple, and Laura Marling. Rhiain says "the music is not about doing something pretty, I use my voice to portray emotions in a way that is honest and has integrity".

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Rhiain and the Utter Strangers


Year: 2012
Type: EP

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