The UK had a lot going on in the nineties. It was a high-point in our musical history and the scene was revered worldwide. But whilst Spice Girls were teaching the value of Girl Power and Oasis and Blur were battling it out for the hearts and minds of young, Adidas clad youths, somewhere, a new, hungry wave of ‘alternative’ British teens were crying out for something…louder. For me, the answer was Rachel Stamp. Beautiful, wild and paying seemingly little regard to convention Rachel Stamp were the band that made you feel you could do or be anything.
Once every few years, us Rachel Stamp fans have the pleasure of feeling that buzz all over again when they get together to perform a rare live show. Simona and I went down to meet Vocalist and Bass player, David Ryder Prangley at the charming Basement Tearooms under Camden Lock Market to chat about their upcoming gig and the band’s ongoing legacy.
Hi David, lovely to see you today.
And you too. It’s a bit early for me. I know it’s sort of gone midday, but I don’t usually wake-up ’til mid afternoon. I get out of bed, but I’m just not moving!
So are you more of a vampire, living the nightlife?
I suppose so, yeah. But a good vampire, or a bad vampire? That’s the question.
We’re very excited because you’ve got a gig with Rachel Stamp coming up on Valentine’s Day (14th February)! What makes a Rachel Stamp show the perfect thing to take your lover too?
I actually think it’s quite ironic that we’re playing Valentine’s day as most of our songs are about what a bad idea it is to fall in love. I guess our songs are romantic in the same way as something like Wuthering Heights, where it’s all sort of death and pain.
Our songs would never be like, “I’ve met someone nice, let’s go for a drink”, they were more like “I’ve met an angel and they’re literally an angel and I’m just a human being, so I’m going to have to die if I want to be with them”. That’s the general lyrical attitude of Rachel Stamp.
How’s Robin doing, is he going to be with you at this gig?
So the gig we’re doing now was actually meant to be a couple of years ago and it got postponed because Robin had cancer and he’s been very open about that. Thankfully, his treatment has been very successful.
I mean, he’s been through hell with that. Really horrific stuff. But the thing with Robin, he’s so committed to rock and roll. Even when he’d not long had an operation he’d be on stage playing drums and you know when he gets on stage, it’s gonna happen.
I’ve worked with Robin over the years, with a lot on bands I’ve produced. Everyone’s just surprised how quick and good it is. We’re very lucky, everybody in the band is a fantastic musician and take what they do very seriously.
How did the band get started?
I grew up in Wales, in a village called Dinas Powys. I got into bands back when I was a teenager. I was in a band myself when I was 13, doing gigs in clubs and stuff.
It was really hard to get anywhere in Wales at the time. It was before that mid-nineties, Welsh explosion of bands like Catatonia, Stereophonics and all that kind of stuff, so I moved to London where I met, Will Crewsdon (guitar) and we put together the band.
At the time, all the bands around were all kind of Brit Pop. So it was very much that quintessentially English kind of thing and being from Wales, I didn’t think of myself as being English. I never really got that whole kind of ‘Kinks’ vibe. Whilst I appreciated bands like Blur, for me, it was not really what I wanted to do. The British music that I liked was things like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, but most of the stuff I liked at the time was American.
So when we started Rachel Stamp, we wanted to not really sound like anything else and I think we achieved that.
So how would you describe Rachel Stamp’s music to anyone who has never come across you before?
If asked loosely to describe it, I would say we sounded like a cross between Prince and Black Sabbath with strange lyrics about my tortured, Catholic youth.
It seemed briefly there in the late nineties, that there was a new era of modern glam on the horizon that you were at the forefront of. Bands like yourself, King Adora and Placebo even seemed to be coming along and putting the glitter back into rock, while Britpop was trying to paint everything Khaki. Did you feel yourself that there was a movement happening at the time? If so, what do you think that happened to it?
That’s a really interesting question. I think that in Rachel Stamp, whilst obviously we loved artists like Bowie and Marc Bolan and in some ways were trying to do something similar, it was also very much of the time. I think the same applies to Placebo and King Adora; even though it was heavily influenced by the early seventies glam thing we weren’t trying to do a revival. I think lyrically, all the bands had been heavily influenced by Nirvana and the grunge movement and the fact that everybody was quite cynical at the time, for better or worse.
Interestingly, I think for the fans it was very much like a movement and people into Rachel Stamp were into Placebo and into King Adora, but for the actual bands there was somewhat of a rivalry going on.
Did you know any of those guys?
I got to know Brian, Molko, and I know one of the guys from King Adora and we’re friends now, but initially it was just competition. It wasn’t like, “Yeah, we’re all in this together”. It was really like, “Fuck you, I did this”, or whatever. Which is quite funny when you look back on it.
Prior to that, I think that for all its androgyny, pop music was quite homophobic and sexist. The thing about that mid-nineties ‘movement’ was that it was no longer a big deal to be gay. It didn’t make any difference. And that sort of sexism had gone out the window. You know?
I had always loved female artists and I looked up to them as my peers. The whole riot grrl thing had happened and from Rachel Stamp’s point of view, we were very much part of that attitude.
I think for the people getting into us, it was good and you can see the influence now. In the 90s you’d rarely see gay couples walking down the street holding hands. You just wouldn’t get it. I used to get regularly threatened for wearing makeup, just walking down the street and it’s hard to believe that now. So I think what we were doing has had a positive influence.
Do you feel like maybe there was a more rebellious nature to the music scene of the late nineties/early 2000s that is lacking now?
I think the difference maybe is that in the 80s and 90s at least, if you were an ‘alternative’ person, that you really were fighting against the norms of society. I think that maybe to certain extent it’s a lot easier to be kind of weird these days. I’m not sure it necessarily means as much as it used to.
You know, it used to be that you were taking your life in your hands. If you were to walk around Cardiff with pink hair and makeup, you literally would dice with death because there was like 20 people that wanted to kick the shit out of you just for looking like that, in the middle of the day, let alone in the evening.
Gender has become (or maybe reemerged) as a mainstream top discussion over the past few years. Are you happy this topic has gained some awareness?
I think it’s really fascinating. I think it’s kind of a trend at the minute to talk about gender, but that’s good. We should take advantage of that because it’s going to influence younger people so they can grow up with different attitudes to the generation before them.
I know a lot of young people and younger artists who use the term non-binary. It’s a really interesting term and I think if that term had been used in the mid-nineties, a lot of my friends and probably myself would have used it.
It’s not really to do with sexuality but with what you’re expected to do and how you’re expected to act within society. A lot of people are rejecting traditional gender roles that just don’t apply to the modern age. I mean it is kind of ridiculous when you think that men and women are supposed to wear certain types of clothes. It’s just a bit of material that you’re hanging on yourself. You know, there used to be a time when it was outrageous for girls to wear trousers!
Do you think Rachel Stamp as a band, and yourself individually, have had any role in that becoming a mainstream topic now?
I think probably so, just because, you know, we were featured in fairly prominent magazines like Kerrang! and Metal Hammer and I’ve met quite a few people who saw the band and it inspired them to just be comfortable with who they were themselves. I can’t say for sure, but I think that the visibility of the band, as well as bands like Placebo in particular, definitely inspired a lot of younger people to just be who they were without caring too much what other people thought, which is great, and I’m very glad that that happened.
What are your own feelings on gender?
I always had like a strange relationship with gender myself. Growing up in Wales where there was quite a macho drinking culture; I just didn’t identify with that at all. For a long time I was questioning gender and what I wanted to be. When I moved to London, the way that I looked was really influenced by the fact that I liked a lot of female artists. My role models are people like Suzi Quattro and Joan Jett and then my male role models are people like Prince.
But you know, I think now I’m at a point in my life where I’m just happy being what I am. I don’t really see myself as male or female in a traditional sense. You know? If you want to go beyond that to science, I think that the way people’s genetics are made up, I think there’s different gradients of being male or female. But really I think gender in people, it’s just kind of a bit boring. It’s kind of like, “Get in this box. Get inside this box. Get in the other,” you know? I’m just not really interested in getting into a box. I feel I just want to act the way that I act and be influenced by the people that I’m influenced by and not really care about the, you know … physical makeup.
Apart from Rachel Stamp, have you got any other projects that you’re working on already?
I’ve got a solo album ‘Black Magic & True Love‘ coming out on the same day that Rachel Stamp’s going to play the Underworld. I’ve also got this band, Spiral Dial with Liza Bec that’s like a much more leftfield thing and I’ve just written an album with the Lux Lyall called Vamp, which is coming out this year. I play guitar and bass on that and we wrote the album together.
Who would be your ideal artists to perform a duet with?
This very nearly came true! My favorite singer is Inger Lorre. She was singing in a band called Nymphs, and is now a solo artist. When Rachel Stamp got together, we were all talking about bands that we all liked. Me and Will would be really into like Red Cross or whatever. Or like, Robin and Will were really into like Body Count and Ice T and then Sheena and me were into weird things like John Parr. But The Nymphs was the one band that everybody was into before they were in Rachel Stamp. So we actually covered a Nymphs song called ‘Sad and Damned‘. We did it when we performed in Camden a few years ago, and the singer from Nymphs got in touch with me saying that she really liked our version. So we’ve sort of become friends online now and we plan to do a record together. Hopefully that will come to fruition, she’s definitely my favorite singer.
If you could go back in time and live one year of history, what year would that be?
Wow, that’s a really hard question. From a personal, sort of hedonistic point of view, that would be maybe some time in the 1920s where people were dressing crazy, drinking champagne and driving big cars like the Great Gatsby.
But I think musically, maybe go back to 1955 when rock and roll really started with Little Richard Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. Maybe to be there at the start of that, because, you know… I can’t imagine! Even now when I listen to a Little Richard record it’s incredibly exciting to me. So to have heard that at the time of its inception would be amazing. Or perhaps the late sixties when Jimmy Hendrix was around. ‘Cause again, I can’t imagine what it must have been like hearing those sounds for the first time. Nobody hadn’t done it before! He’s still my favourite pop star and he’s just got everything. He’s an incredible player, reckless and wild and just looks fucking cool.
So, of course, you played the Underworld two years ago as well. Is there any reason you chose to come back to this venue in particular?
Well, Camden is very significant in the history of the band. We were initially signed to a deal with Warner Brothers, after a gig at what used to be called the Monarch… but not the Monarch that’s there now. The place that went on to be The Barfly which has now closed down.
Then we used to play this big club night called Hard-Boiled, run by a guy called Simon. After we were dropped (before anyone had heard of us) and were putting out our own records, he put us on every month and that’s where we built our following. Then you sort of move down to the Underworld because its a bit bigger. Then eventually we would go down to, Camden Palace, you know, Koko where we would play the ‘Feet First’ nights.
So it was really where the band started and where we really got popular. Robin’s first gig with us was at the Underworld as well. We like the venue, we get on really well with the people that run it.
It’s a very easy to do show there. It was the Underworld where someone once handcuffed themselves to me when I came off stage! Loads of things have happened there, so it just seems like the right place at the right time.
I’m really looking forward to the gig. It’s really interesting when we do Rachel Stamp gigs cause people have such strong memories of the band. We’re very lucky that the band means so much to a lot of people. So there’s a responsibility to kind of fulfill everybody’s expectations, but at the same time, it can’t just be nostalgia because that would just be horrible. You know, it would be like, sort of wheeling corpses on stage and I’m just not interested in that.
That’s the funny thing, singing a song that I wrote when I was 20 now and making it mean something to people, which is a challenge sometimes, but I’m confident that we can. Everybody in the band is very precious about it. We approach every gig we do like it’s gotta be the best gig we’ve ever done. It just has to be. I don’t want people to come and go, “Oh yeah. It was a night out of nostalgia. Reminds me of when I used to go out and get drunk” you know? I want people to come to the gate and go, “Wow, I experienced something really great tonight”!