Currently folk is an ever-present genre in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to the work of acts such as Fleet Foxes and Mumford and Sons. On 26 September, Medicine played host to up-and-coming singer-songwriter Luke Ritchie; an artist who is looking to join such heady ranks with his sincere stage presence and melodic song-craft. With acoustic guitar in-hand Ritchie showcased five tracks from his debut album ‘The Water’s edge’ accompanied by his sister Charlotte on backing vocals, and instantly exhibited why he had been compared to artists such as Nick Drake and John Martyn with his lush soundscapes and deep lyrics. I sat down with him after to his set to discuss his hard-rock beginnings, Czech cinema and the backlash that comes with creating music in a form that has been embraced so fervently by the zeitgeist, which begs the question: Is folk an empire in decline?
Matt: First things first Luke, are you related to Guy Ritchie?
Luke: No. Or Lionel. It’s spelt differently, but I’d rather be related to Lionel.
So does that mean you’d be open to doing Madonna covers?
Well, Maybe. Things haven’t got that desperate yet!
You should definitely consider it, some of the new stuff is incredible. Could you tell us a bit about how you got started?
It was at Uni really, I studied English literature at York University and it was there where I learnt I could sing, whereas before I used to just play the guitar. I was in a battle of the bands down there– I hope there are no recordings of what we did then.
Was it a folk band?
No it was quite a rocky band, I love my rock music. That’s sorta where i come from. This album is obviously not in any way a rock album. It came from a whole bunch of material that I’d written on my own that just didn’t fit in any other places. It’s probably my most honest, introspective acoustic stuff.
Your bio mentions you did one song every week for six months, how was that as an experience?
It was pretty intense. I don’t necessarily recommend it, but I’d just been procrastinating for ages. Like a lot of unsigned musicians i just felt like you just feel like you’re waiting for something to happen, but you never get anything finished, so I just set myself a deadline just to get some music finished.
Flea from the Red Hot Chilli peppers when talking about their last album said sometimes you can’t wait for the artistic inspiration to strike, you’ve got to just get down and graft to get the songs out, is that what you found.
I think that’s true. Some of my favourite songs do turn up in twenty minutes, and that’s the best thing ever, when a song just lands in your lap. But that almost never happens, most of the time you have to work at it. I find song writing, and especially writing lyrics the most painful bit, but also the most rewarding bit, as well. It’s a lot of work, and I’m quite precious about it.
Where do you think folk is at the moment, do you put yourself in the same bracket as acts like Mumford and sons and Laura Marling, or do you want to distance yourself?
No, I really like those acts. It’s funny how music develops, when I wrote those songs I was in my own little place and they just came to me, but you see these as part of a wider movement of acoustic music. I was playing London for about two or three years in a great venue called The Slaughtered Lamb in Old Street and that had a really good Blue Grass, Country and Americana kind of vibe. So that’s how those songs developed – I was just alone with my guitar. I’d say my music’s more folk-rock, more in the vein of people like Paul Simon and Joni Mitchel and stuff. I love Led Zeppelin who have always had a folky vibe, that’s the stuff I love. If Mumford and sons weren’t so massively popular there wouldn’t be a backlash. I remember when i first heard him [Marcus Mumford] and the way he sings, there’s a real passion and a real energy, I found that really refreshing. I respond more to singers like that.
Do you fear the backlash from going electric, what if you’re subjected to some sort of Bob Dylan style tirade?
(Laughs)I fear a backlash from being acoustic! Everyone’s like, “Stop being acoustic!”
Really? But that’s all the rage now!
I know, I think that’s exactly why the backlash is kicking in, everyone’s doing it.
It states on your bio that you loved grunge when it was around, any favourites?
Soundgarden, big time. I‘d say they’re the band I listen to the most. They’re the perfect mixture of really dark harmonies and really clever rhythms. The drummer’s fucking amazing.
But did you hear the album Chris Cornell (Soundgarden frontman) did with Timbaland?
It’s best just not to talk about it. Off the record, that’s the worst thing I’ve heard. Apparently it’s because he was clean; apparently, you stop doing drugs, decide the world is great, and make a record with Timbaland. The Record Company wanted to get him back on drugs as soon as possible. I’m definitely worried about their new album.
Apparently their comeback shows have been insane.
Yeah, I saw them at Hyde Park and the weather was just apocalyptic. There was just torrential rain; they played Black Hole Sun and it felt like the Mayans were right and we were all gonna die. Amazing.
You travelled around a lot growing up, living in a lot of different places, where do you consider home?
It took a long time, but I now think of London as home. I grew up travelling around Europe with my family. I lived in Paris for a time when i was a teenager, so moving back to London took a bit of an adjustment, but I love it now. I feel English now, but it took me quite a bit of time to get there. I missed all the pop culture references like Neighbours, or whatever. I was just like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” So I just felt a bit dislocated when I came back..
Does your music reflect your background?
Definitely, especially being English i think there’s a big colonial legacy of being English. It’s almost as though, if you’re English, you’re responsible for the British Empire. The idea of being in an empire in decline is on my mind quite a lot.
How has your Uni tour been and how does RHUL compare to the other destinations? What do you think of our castle?
It’s been good, students are such a discerning bunch but all the audiences have been great. Holloway is such a beautiful place, although someone told me today that it [Founders] is insulated with hay and paraffin. Do they tell you that when you just move in to stop students smoking?
Probably, the powers at be here do tend to lie a lot. We’re not even in London… Moving on, you performed with your sister, is that something you do a lot?
We’ve sung before, on and off, but we’ve never actually toured before. She’s always off being trendy.
Any quarrels so far?
Not yet, but we’re only four days in. And also she’s driving me home tonight…
Who would you say is Liam and who’s Noel?
I’d say Charlotte’s definitely Liam, she’s just got an attitude problem. Don’t approach her.
Do you have international fans?
Not really, we’ve just played round nationally. We’ve done a few bits internationally; I was on a random sound track for a Czech film though.
Ah yes, Horem Pádem (Up and Down)
That was it. It was really weird, it was like the biggest domestic grossing film in the Czech Republic ever, but no one’s ever heard of it. I turned up in Prague and the president was there and a red carpet with the film up on all the billboards. We had an awesome time.
Nice. And Finally: Juicy Pear or crunchy Pear?
Good choice. Thanks very much for your time.
My pleasure, thanks for having me!