Louise Rutkowski is best known for her work with This Mortal Coil, the 4AD label’s rotating studio project of the 1980s and early 1990s. She appeared on its latter two albums, ‘Filigree and Shadow’ (1986) and ‘Blood’ (1991), lending with her sister Deirdre her empyreal vocals to melancholically beautiful covers of songs such as Tim Buckley’s ‘Morning Glory’ and Colourbox’s ‘Tarantula’.

Both Rutkowski sisters began their musical careers in their native Glasgow when they were in their teens, providing backing and occasional main vocals to local indie outfit the Jazzateers and its follow-up Bourgie Bourgie. They then signed while Louise was still only nineteen to CBS with their next band, Sunset Gun. An electronic/soul trio, which also featured keyboardist Ross Campbell, Sunset Gun released three singles and an album, ‘In an Ideal World’ across 1984, but folded shortly after the release of the album.

After This Mortal Coil, Louise Rutkowski went on to join the Kindness of Strangers, which also featured fellow Glaswegian Craig Armstrong who has since gone on to become the Grammy Award-winning composer of soundtracks to films such as ‘Romeo + Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’. The Kindness of Strangers released an album ‘Hope’ in 1993 on Interscope Records, which included tracks produced by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, but this project was again short-lived.

Rutkowkski subsequently reunited with 4AD’s founder Ivo Watts-Russell on his next studio project the Hope Blister. In contrast to This Mortal Coil’s mutating cast of singers and musicians, she was its sole vocalist, appearing on its only 1998 studio album ‘....smile’s OK’ and singing covers of songs such as David Sylvian’s ‘Let the Happiness In’ and Brian Eno’s ‘Spider and I’.

Louise Rutkowksi put out her first record under her own name on her own Jock Records in 2001, which called ‘6 Songs’, was a set of Randy Newman covers. Now at the age of fifty, she has released her debut solo album, ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’.

On it, she has collaborated with Irvin Duguid, a classically-trained pianist and keyboardist who has worked with various rock artists including Stiltskin, Fish and Gun. Beautiful crafted, ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’ melts together Rutkowksi’s otherworldly, often surreal vocals with Duguid’s cascading keyboard and piano arrangements.

The album, which was written and recorded over a seven year period and released after a PledgeMusic campaign again on Jock Records, has been produced by the multi-talented Duguid. He has also mixed some of the songs, while other tracks were mixed by engineer and producer Calum Malcolm who worked regularly with the Blue Nile.

Since releasing ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’ in late February, Louise Rutkowksi has played shows in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, and also a one-off gig again with PledgeMusic funding in London, where she lived for many years before returning to Glasgow in 2006.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Louise Rutkowski about the making of ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’.

PB: You co-wrote ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’ with Irvin Duguid. How did you first meet each other, and had you known each other for a long time before you started working together?

LR: No, not all. I had been living in London for about ten years. When I then made the decision to come back home to Glasgow for my parents who were both elderly, I also decided to tackle writing again. I went to an agency that was in Glasgow at that time called New Music in Scotland, and I was given by them a list of people who were looking for other musicians to work with including Irvin’s.

I had already written some things by the time I met Irvin which I had tried to record with people. When we initially met up, I went over to his house and I played him the stuff that I had been working on. Then he played me snippets of the music that he had been writing. I knew straightaway that we should be pursuing this as I loved what he was coming up with.

PB: How many of those original compositions of yours did you keep and how many did you reject once you met Irvin?

LR: I binned them all (Laughs). I felt from what he had been writing already and what I could come up with to go with it that it would really work. It really sparked my imagination and got me going just in terms with what I could do with it. It was hard at the beginning because I really was coming back to writing after a very long gap, and so there were a few hurdles to jump along the way.

PB: This is actually the first time that you have actually recorded your own material since Sunset Gun. You said in an interview at the time of the Randy Newman EP, “I don’t particularly enjoy writing. I tried it many years ago. I find it too painful.” Had you done any writing between the end of Sunset Gun and starting work on ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’?

LR: Only a little after the end of Sunset Gun. I had a project with my then husband who was also a musician. The lyrics were both mine and his and all of the melodies I think were mine, but it didn’t really progress anywhere. Then after that none of my subsequent projects - my involvement with 4AD, the Randy Newman thing and the project with Craig Armstrong - required me to write. I was for a long time very much of the opinion that there are so many amazing singers in music that never wrote a note that it wasn’t necessary, but the thing was, however, that over the years people kept asking me, “Do you write your own music?”, and that began to sink in, and I thought, “Well, people are asking me for a reason.”

PB: Has your attitude towards writing changed at all? Do you still not enjoy it?

LR: No, I love it (Laughs). It is a total change. I really enjoy it now. It is a great space to go into with your mind.

PB: Did you write a lot more lyrics and songs than you actually ended up using on the album?

LR: No, I just wrote to exactly what is needed. I am not someone who will come out with screeds of things. I will just methodically work away at something until it is complete. I tend to potter around a lot. I change words, single words, things like that, but not to a crazy extent.

PB: ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’ takes its name from a film starring the 1920’s and 1930’s actress Louise Brooks. What was the appeal to you of Louise Brooks?

LR: I have loved her since I was young girl. I first became aware of her as I was growing up through my mum, who was a big film buff, and I thought she was amazing. Then I read a book about her, and there was an ‘Arena’ documentary as well that got me even more into her. I just loved her looks and her spirit as a person.

PB: A lot of the people have mistaken the picture on the front cover as being a portrait of Louise Brooks but it not. It comes, however, from a 1930’s medical text book, doesn’t it?

LR: That’s right. People have often mistaken it for me as well (Laughs), but it is by a friend of mine, Sue Mackechnie, who is an artist in Glasgow. She had used a different colour overlay of that particular image, which she had discovered in a medical textbook, on a Christmas card I had kept, and I just found it one day when I was in the process of thinking about the title and the cover, and I thought, “Oh, that’s the cover.”

PB: You said in a previous interview that you would rather not let people know what the songs are about. Why is that?

LR: I don’t think that it is that relevant. It is not a case that I would never say. If someone asks me, I usually say, “Well, this is it,” bur at the end of the day I think that you make your own interpretations. I certainly do when I listen to other people’s music. I connect it with something that has gone on in my life or someone or whatever and then that lyric becomes part of me, but it is probably not the same experience and meaning that the writer had when he came up with it.

We have started working on ideas for the next album, and I have noticed that my style of writing is changing quite a lot. It is becoming more focused and less abstract, whereas before it was more abstract and often quite supernatural. It is also becoming more direct and pictorial as well rather than mood-based.

PB: Having said this, however, you are often quite open and tell your audiences what your songs are about at your shows. ‘Who Are They?’, for example, was apparently about your experiences flat-hunting. What is the story there?

LR: It was when I was looking for the flat that I live in now. I went into this huge old tenement flat, and it was obvious that an older person had been in it because it hadn’t been decorated for years and all their old furniture and effects were still lying in it. I felt quite a strong presence in it and that there was a person who is still there, and so that sparked my imagination and I took that theme and thought of it from the perspective of a ghost. We can’t see it. It can see us though, and is wondering what on earth we are doing wandering around its house.

PB: What is ‘Rhoda’ about?

LR: ‘Rhoda’ was literally just a name that I liked. It was inspired by a case in the newspaper a few years ago of a family man in England. He was very wealthy businessman and had a big, huge house in the country, and then he set fire to it and killed his wife and children. It turned out as it usually does that he had financial problems. I was thinking about that whole story, and why it was so important for him that to maintain things that he had to destroy everything that he had. ‘Rhoda’ was the name of one of the characters and literally something that came into my mouth.

PB: You have had a lot of bad experiences with record labels. You were signed to CBS at nineteen with Sunset Gun and then to Interscope with A Kindness of Strangers. You, however, released this record through PledgeMusic. How did you find that experience in comparison?

LR: It was heaven. Don’t get me wrong. It was hard work. To do it you have to be very disciplined to keep it going, but the fact is that if you don’t do the only person to blame for it going wrong is you. Both my experiences on major record labels were soul destroying. Once they had signed us, neither record label was particularly interested in promoting us, and we kept waiting for something to happen and when it didn’t it was really distressing, especially when we thought that we had a good record. That was very much the case with A Kindness of Strangers in particular. It wasn’t perfect, but as a first album it was a good piece of work.

PB: You also used PledgeMusic to put on a gig in April at the St. James Theatre in London entitled ‘For One Night Only’. What was the story behind that?

LR: We wanted to have a London gig for the album, and for the people that invested in it that were in that part of the world. I am up here and as it had turned out Irvin has moved to London ironically, but just to make it happen in the way that we wanted in a good space and to give something back to the people who had already put money into it we went through PledgeMusic again. It worked well (Laughs). Pledge are very good at guiding you and making sure that you don’t start campaigns without good solid figures behind you, without knowing that you have the support of the fans behind you to make it happen.

PB: You seem to be very careful as well about which venues you play in Scotland. You have often gone for smaller venues but those which have a strong ambience such as the 13th Note or the CCA in Glasgow or the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh. Has that been a conscious decision?

LR: I have never gigged heavily. It has never been part of my career, but because of the nature of not only the kind of music that I tend to be involved in but also because of the kind of person that I am I just don’t want to go to playing places that I feel just don’t benefit the music for the sake of doing lots of gigs. The downside of it is that I am not playing that often, but I am quite purist about it.

It was the same with the album launch in Glasgow. We did that at the Glasgow Print Studio, which is an art gallery. I have got to a point with my musical career where I am to going to do things the way that I want to do them, and that comes again unfortunately a result of having bad experiences with record labels

PB: It took you seven years to complete this album. Why did it take you so long? Obviously Irvin is very busy. You said that he lives in London now, and he does a lot of film and TV music. Was it difficult pinning him down and finding blocks of time to try and work with him?

LR: No, when we started writing together, I don’t think that either of us envisaged that we would have an album. We both just thought, “Let’s give this a whirl and see what happens.” That was part of it. We lost a block of time as well as my mum died, and it took me a while to recover from that. I hadn’t written for years and Irvin had never written this way and those were other factors. It had its own momentum and time span really.

There was also the issue of how to fund it. I went down various paths like trying Creative Scotland or private investors, and I got so far with them and then had to stop. Then Pledge started to become a real focus in music, and we went down that course and from that point onwards it really sped up. Finding the mechanisms how to get it and the manufacturing done were also major factors.

PB: You and your sister Deirdre were two of the main contributors to This Mortal Coil and both ‘Filigree and Shadow’ and ‘Blood’. Is it true with ‘Filgiree and Shadow’ that Ivo Watts-Russell had originally wanted to get Scott Walker to do the parts that you ended up singing?

LR: Ivo certainly wanted him involved with that record. He had nearly finished it from memory. Then we were introduced to him and we had a meeting with him, and he offered the parts to us. There was a kind of running joke that if Scott Walker wouldn’t do it we would do it. I am sure that Ivo really just thought that, “These girls are right for what I can hear in my head.” That was the way he tended to work, and on gut instincts.

PB: A lot of the tracks on all three This Mortal Coil albums were often obscure covers. How aware were you of beforehand of the songs that you ended up singing on such as Colourbox’s ‘Tarantula’ and Tim Buckley’s ‘Morning Glory’?

LR: I knew who Tim Buckley was, but really a lot of the stuff was completely new to me. Ivo would send us cassettes of the originals to listen to prior to doing the recording, but I didn’t really know any of the songs at all.
PB: Did you have any choice of what you were going to sing or were the songs entirely selected by him?

LR: He selected them.

PB: You also worked on the Hope Blister album, ‘….Smile’s Ok’. Is it true that Ivo enlisted you to do some demos and it was only halfway through the recording of the album that you actually found out that you were making an album?

LR: He initially told me that was demos, a come and help me out kind of thing. He sent me the songs to listen to and I went into a studio in London and went to work and put them down. He was literally still experimenting at that stage and thinking, “Is this going to work?” When we did the recordings, he decided that he liked what I had done. It was a lovely surprise because I just thought that it was demos.

PB: What was the most important thing that you think that you learnt from him?

LR: To be authentic. Ivo only dealt with things that he absolutely believed in. He had a total commitment to doing what he was doing, no matter what other people might be doing or what might be stylish or what might be popular. He had this total conviction - “I believe in this and this is what I am going to do.”

PB: Finally what plans do have for the future? You mentioned that you were working on a second album.

LR: Yes, we will be working away on that. I am looking at getting more gigs in the diary for hopefully later this year and also next year. I am looking at festivals here and in Europe as well. I never particularly thought that I would put this album out and it would set the world on fire. It is the kind of music that is slow-burning and people that like it really like it.

I have always seen parallels with a band like the Blue Nile. If you stop someone in the street, they will probably go “Who?” but they can sell out concert halls three nights in a row. They have been my business model. I love them to bits. They are of my generation, and I went to see them at a show in Glasgow a few years ago, and I just sat there and I listened around me and to what people were saying, and I thought, “You know? This is it. This is what as an artist I would love. This would suit me fine because all of the people sitting in this hall love this band to death and they will always love this band.” That is the kind of fan base that I want, and if that means that will be a smaller fan base, so be it. At least they will be loyal. The music that we are writing is not mainstream. It never will be, as it is on a quieter plane.

We have done a fantastic first album. We have got through a lot of hurdles to get there. I am proud of that, so let’s keep going now and see where we can go.

PB: Thank you.

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