Alt-pop heroine on the brink of mainstream fame

Rising star Rebekah Fitch, 25, from east Belfast, is making waves with moody lyrics, soulful melodies and arty music videos. She chats to JOANNE SAVAGE about inspiration, faith and dark psychological terrain

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 8:00 am
Ulster's next indie queen Rebekah Fitch

Loose blonde hair tumbling to her shoulders and green eyes full of pensive feeling, rising indie star Rebekah Fitch is poised for the big time, having already received high praise from Hotpress music magazine, who describe her as a ‘Northern Irish pop phenomenon’ and none other than Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody who coos that with her ‘powerhouse voice’ it’s easy to see ‘great things ahead for her’.

The 25-year-old, who has just released her new EP Loose Ends, the title track of which talks poetically of life in terms of a tapestry “you gaze upon from underneath, but all you see are threads and strings hanging loose / So you can’t see the beauty seen from up above / The finished picture made from love’ - is an epically talented lyricist, pianist and artist with vocals reminiscent of Florence Welch, Lorde, and perhaps Portishead crossed with Bjork in her dippy heyday crossed with Amy Winehouse at the height of her angsty fame. Others have compared her to St Vincent, Lana Del Rey and Lady Gaga.

The former Strandtown and Sullivan Upper pupil and music graduate of the University of Durham, now based in London, describes her new release as carrying a powerful message that there is design amidst the chaos in the tapestry of our lives, an intentionality and completeness that will reveal the full picture in time.

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Fitch has been lauded by Gary Lightbody and Hotpress Magazine

Rebekah said: “The prophetic power of songwriting never ceases to amaze me. I wrote this song a year and a half ago for myself and a few others who were anxious about the uncertainty of their lives, and now it seems as if it’s a message for the whole world.”

Fitch has also been continuing to push the boundaries of her visual creations. “For Loose Ends, we wanted to create an alternate world that represents how we dwell in the underside of the tapestry, in the unknown and the chaos. I worked with weaving artist and director, Alice McCabe, and choreographer, Pascal Johnson (Dutch National Ballet) to evoke the creative process and motion of weaving.”

She stands among the loose tendrils of wool, singing of the bigger picture or tapestry of our lives, a final picture made by love; it seems messy and fraught from the underside, but from the flipside it has great beauty and structure.

Rebekah’s work has feeling, soul, bags of sentiment, and is supercharged with attitude. She approaches subjects such as heartache in 2020’s Dust, the video for which movingly features an elderly couple whose shared joy descends into the pain of separation, the two pairs of slippers replaced by one, shared meals become sad solo affairs, silence falling where once there was shared laughter, arguments and tears ripping apart their mutual equanimity, the old wedding photo suddenly absent from the wall, hands clasped together now pulled asunder.

Fitch has also tackled mental health issues in her work in songs such as I Need to Feel (2018) where she muses: “Constantly feel like I’m losing...I just can’t face being human...There’s never a good time to unload on someone and even if I did I wouldn’t have the words...It’s hard to open up to the people we are closest to. I need to feel again.”

Another Show (2017), a hugely addictive tune accompanied by another massively slick and accomplished music video, is another rallying cry in the face of inner darkness, the bad dreams running wild, the darkness amplified, velvet swallows at night, how cold it is inside the mind that wants to set the night alight, her broken electric soul and the final realisation, that though this is a mad world, it’s all we know.

Clash Magazine have noted her philosophical nous describing her as an artist “who delves a little deeper than most” and this fairly hits the mark; most of her songs released to date - and there are a surprising number considering she has only been devoted to her craft for four years and has not yet completed a full album - are intelligent ruminations on life, love, loss and emotional turmoil, but whatever theme Fitch tackles she finds a way to do so with beauty and grace in her approach, easily segueing from plaintive balladry to spiky anthems and cries from the darker reaches of the soul. One senses she has plumbed the depths and suffered for the incredibly trenchant emotional heft of her lyrics, and her music displays a wisdom that easily belies her youth.

“A lot of my songs are about my journey with mental health. It’s observations. Social commentary. How society works. How people tend to operate. I’m fascinated by that psychological stuff and analysing people and reflecting on how people work and think. For me, it’s about asking questions. If I find a topic that challenges me, that works. I want to create questions that will resonate with the listener and make them think.

“I first began experiencing bouts of depression when I was at university and engaging with that kind of dark emotional terrain. It was a fine line between finding catharsis and not wanting to lean into that darkness because it’s unhealthy. Over-indulging that kind of melancholy is dangerous so it’s kind of about trying to toe the line between using your experiences to create something that other people will relate to and find helpful and then not letting yourself go over the edge into that psychological wilderness. I want to create art that has something to say.”

‘I don’t think you need to have suffered to be creatively successful’

Fitch, who grew up in a musical household with her mother playing a panoply of instruments and her father listening to all kinds of rock and pop, most memorably Bruce Spingsteen, always dreamt of life as a singer/songwriter, but didn’t begin to see it as a feasible path until university when she started to meet other fledgling artists, music producers and dedicated musicians who like her wanted to carve out a creative niche for themselves.

She began jotting down fragmented lines of poetry and lyrics, and melodies and hooks would come to her sporadically. As her output grew she began to work with top-notch producers and music video directors and her oeuvre to date is nothing short of visually, instrumentally and vocally stunning.

Fitch reveals her intense love of performing, losing herself in the music, and one of her proudest career moments to date has been playing support for Tokio Myers at the SSE Arena. “I was out there looking out into this dark, faceless sea of people and it was incredible. But what I most enjoyed was meeting fans afterwards and hearing what they had to say because you don’t write music for the press or whoever else, you write it for the people who are going to listen to it, think about it’s meaning and ideally find joy and comfort in it.”

She confesses she is fairly regimented in her creative process and tends to write while at her beloved piano or on guitar or flute.

“As a creative it’s important to have a schedule but obviously you can’t dictate when inspiration will strike. I do have a routine but I do have so many other things to do. At the moment I try to be disciplined in setting aside time to write. Because there have been no gigs for the past 14 months I’ve been teaching piano and English as a foreign language and I also work in a cafe. I do a lot of Zoom gigs.

“If I get an idea or a lyric I make a voice memo or jot it down on my phone and generally I am the kind of person who is constantly singing, listening to music and generating ideas for songs. I try to get into the habit of productivity, hard as it is, because you never know when you are going to come up with something that is absolute gold. Sometimes people think they have to have suffered a lot to write anything productive and I don’t think that’s true. Music needs to have a variety of purposes and not just this exploration of pain, we need songs that bring joy and hope too. I’ve never written a love song in my life, I try to steer away from that. You write a song, and you can still be performing it years later, so I want to write lyrics that will feel true long after composition.”

NI music scene full of ‘mutual respect and love’

“Everyone is very conscious that they have lost time,” says Fitch of her fellow artists who have struggled as a result of the pandemic. “But if you are a creative you’ve lived with a degree of uncertainty anyway and if you want to be a musician you have to face negativity and rejection and hardships. It comes with the job really. So we’re all resilient already, so if there is recognition of what we have been through and the importance of what we contribute, then that will be enough. Artists are generally passionate about what they do. I think it will take time, but we will come back from this and hopefully come back stronger.”

Rebekah very much sees herself as part of a burgeoning Northern Irish music scene that is full of “mutual respect and love” and has immense fondness for local artists such as Gary Lightbody, Roe, Jealous of the Birds and Riva, who she lists off as inspiring her own sound alongside Florence and the Machine, Lorde and Marina and The Diamonds. On her iPod, she confesses, you will find “everything from Bach to Bjork”.

“Northern Ireland has a lot of pioneering artists who I definitely look up to and everyone here really gets behind each other and is very invested in what others are doing.

“When I was starting out I worried that the music scene here would be very competitive or bitter, but there’s really more this attitude that if one person does well it really elevates the platform for everyone else, which is lovely.”

Rebekah was included in Hot Press and The Thin Air’s 2019 Watch Lists, along with being nominated for Best Emerging Act by judges of the prestigious NI Music Prize.

“It’s nice to get recognition from people in the industry but I think that over the years I’ve learned that I really just value the opinion of my listeners. You don’t write for a good review, you write for the people who are actually going to listen to and engage with your music. I’ve no idea when my debut album will be out, I’m just writing and recording music and enjoying it and seeing how it goes. But hopefully in the next few years.”

What is the alt-pop heroine most looking forward to as lockdown restrictions lift? “Just to see massive groups of people and have spontaneous musical activity. I miss hanging out with friends, all kinds of social gatherings and of course I miss the live gig so much, both attending them and performing my own. I long to be back on stage.”

She regards her life as one of pursuing her belief in God and creativity. “I want to live out my faith and make music.”

‘Faith has kept me going under lockdown’

Like many singer/songwriters Fitch has found lockdown tough. While many of her contemporaries have found the pandemic has offered them a fertile period for writing lyrics and composing melodies, she has felt less inspired by the stasis, more like “trapped in a cycle I can’t wait to get out of” and like many, laments the impossibility of the live gig.

What has been her lockdown survival strategy then? Gin, jigsaws, Netflix?

“Staying plugged into my church is what has really helped me through lockdown. That’s been awesome. Just having that time to chat to and pray with other people online each week.

“I attend an Anglican non-denominational church in London. I am someone who is very much sustained by faith. Absolutely.”

During 14 months without the live performances that are her bread and butter resourceful Rebekah has been working several jobs to stay afloat, including teaching piano, English as a foreign language and working in a cafe.

“I hope artists can emerge from all this more resilient and recharged and stronger.”

To listen to Rebekah Fitch’s new single Loose Ends visit www.rebekahfitch.com.