There’s something instantly likeable about Rita Payne.
The amiable Doncaster duo, comprising of multi-instrumentalists Rhiannon Scutt and Pete Sowerby’s, are just two years old – but their driving ambition has seen them rocket through the unknown period straight to being full time musicians. We met up for a pint with the pair prior to their In Session set to talk roots, influences and… Will.I.Am?
So folks, what songs will you be playing for us and why?
Pete: The Patchwork Song and Goodbye.
Rhiannon: These are new ones. They’re quite different to what’s on the album – so it’d be nice to show a different side to us.
The name… who exactly is Rita Payne?
P: We needed to publicise the first gig we ever had, we needed a name, I was like Peter and Rhiannon could be ‘Rita’, that’d work – and when we took the rest of the letters , the only word that we could make was ‘Payne’.
R: There are people called Rita Payne, an American journalist was ahead of us on Google for a while – but not anymore!
When and how did you form?
R: Our first gig was at Milo’s in Leeds, March 21 st ,2012.
P: We played to our parents. We’ve known each other since we were 11, in the same form at school. We both found ourselves back at home in December 2011. Rhiannon Facebooked me to front a punk band.
R: I was asked to play guitar in this band and they needed a singer, I thought Pete would love that.
P: I said no, and then a week later I thought, why don’t we play music we actually like.
Did you have real jobs before the band?
R: I was working in Debenhams.
P: I was at Doncaster Dome, setting up events. We both got degrees, in drama and music tech, but neither of us could find work in those fields.
R: It’s nice to actually do something similar to what we studied.
What are your influences and have they changed since forming?
R: For me it will always be Fleetwood Mac and Ani DeFranco.
P: Liam Gallagher and Paul Rogers. I’ve always been interested in vocals. As a band we’re influenced by Civil Wars, Lisa Hannigan and Mumford & Sons.
And how did the album come about?
P: Keith Angel saw us in Doncaster and said he’d love to record us – one week later we were in the studio! From the first gig to recording the album was just eight months. It was a fast process but we don’t do things slow.
Did you have a fan base prior?
P: Not so much – but the album launch at the Ukraine Centre in Doncaster was almost a sell out twice-over.
Are you still happy with the album?
R: Yeah. We’ve out-grown it though. It was a nice snapshot of where we were then.
P: I’d be worried if we still think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.
Was the ‘nu folk’ tag inspiring?
R: I’ve always been into folk in a big way.
P: We don’t class ourselves at folk – but we get classed as it. The folk scene has been unbelievable for us, everybody listens, the crowds are so attentive.
You’re from Doncaster, but you’re in Sheffield a lot. How come?
R: Sheffield seems to have really taken us in. We’ve had a lot of great experiences here.
P: Our manager is up at The Greystones – he’s our musical Godfather. Wherever he is, we want to be. At The Greystones we supported Wilko Johnson and The Blockheads – it was a big moment for us. The last time we played there Jon McClure was in, he spoke to us and was like: “I just want to play, now!” He sent out a Tweet “who wants to host a gig at their house tonight?” Responses from all over came in. We jumped into a mini-van, headed to this house in Leeds, and about sixty people were going mental. We played on some stairs, Jon did the same, then we went home. It was one of those nights.
Do you enjoy touring?
R: We love playing live!
P: Walking on stage and getting clapped before even doing anything. It’s the best job in the world.
R: We’re so privileged to have people want to pay to see us.
P: It’s so humbling. For people work five days a week, get paid, and use their money to see us because they like our voices. We’re so taken aback by it.
You’ve really come a long way in such a short amount of time, haven’t you…
R: We both gave up our jobs in order to give it our all.
P: If we were gonna do it, we wanted to do it right! We treat it like a full time job.
What’s your ambition?
R: The first milestone for me would be to live comfortably from it.
P: I want it all. Everything. Superstardom. If you start out and don’t want that then don’t bother.
You appeared on series two of The Voice, how did that come about?
R: It was amazing. A great experience for our 15 seconds on TV.
P: We applied one month after our first gig, we thought, why not? We were surprised to get through the first two auditions. The competitors were of such a high-standard. It was a long process just getting to the filming rounds. Before the first audition and it airing we released an album! They were so accommodating, I don’t have a bad word to say.
R: Will.I.Am was so lovely and helpful. It worked well that we didn’t get through – our profile rose without the stigma.
P: We wouldn’t do it again, but we don’t regret it at all.
Finally then, plans for 2014?
R: We’ve got some festivals lined up, hopefully more. We just want to move forward – we don’t like standing still. We’re big believers in D.I.Y and having control – and so far it seems like it’s working well. We’ll record the second album in Spring with Alan Smyth here in Sheffield.
P: We’ve had so many great experiences and improved so much – we just want to use what we’ve learned both in the studio and on stage. We’re totally passionate and serious about what we do but, in the end, we just want to have fun. We have no qualms with reaching out to the mainstream, if it happens great, if it doesn’t great – as long as we get to do this!