Bilinda Butcher performing live in 2009
|Birth name||Bilinda Jayne Butcher|
16 September 1961 |
|Genres||Alternative rock, shoegazing|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass guitar|
|Labels||Lazy, Creation, Sony, mbv|
|Associated acts||My Bloody Valentine, Collapsed Lung, Dinosaur Jr.|
Butcher was born and raised in London and later relocated with her family to Golden Valley, Derbyshire. Her forename is an alternate spelling of Belinda and was chosen by her grandfather. According to Butcher, "if I'd been a guy I would have been named Bill, but since I was a girl it became Bilinda." During one of his radio shows, BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel once said Butcher was "being pretentious and tried to be special by spelling [her] name differently."
Butcher has said that growing up in Golden Valley was difficult as it was "very conservative." She has said that she was considered "a weirdo" as she wore clothes based on 1920s fashion and listened to records on a portable gramophone. Butcher stated: "My mother thought I was up in the clouds. I never watched the news or read the papers; it was like I lived in another era. Everybody was into punk and I was living in the 20s and 30s." At aged sixteen, Butcher moved back to London and began studying dance at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, but dropped out after nine months due to developing a case of cystitis due to a chronic urinary infection. She developed a serious liver disease as a result of mistreatment by doctors.
After dropping out of Trinity Laban, Butcher worked as a nanny for a French family in London for six months and later moved to Paris, France for another six months with her partner. The pair moved back to London, squatting in Brixton, and had a child, Toby. Describing the experience, Butcher said: "it didn't feel that great to stay in the squat, there was a lot of heroin and it's not ideal that a drug user's needle could sting your baby. Toby's dad was flipping out because of all the acid he took and I just wanted to get away from all the madness. We tried to live together but he was in too bad a state so it didn't work."
My Bloody Valentine
Butcher was recruited as a vocalist for My Bloody Valentine in 1987. She replaced original vocalist David Conway and shared vocal duties briefly with Joe Byfield. Butcher, whose prior musical experience was playing classical guitar as a child and singing and playing tambourine "with some girlfriends for fun", learned that the group needed a backing vocalist from her partner, who had met drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig on a ferry from the Netherlands. At her audition for the band, she sang "The Bargain Store", a song from Dolly Parton's 1975 album of the same name. She was chosen as a vocalist ahead of "this girl, Julie," who was in a relationship with Douglas Hart from The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Butcher was featured as co-vocalist and co-guitarist on My Bloody Valentine's non-album single, "Strawberry Wine", and the band's second mini album, Ecstasy, both of which were released in 1987 on Lazy Records. She performed vocals and guitar on all further My Bloody Valentine releases, until the band's second studio album Loveless (1991)—on which her guitar duties were performed by co-vocalist and guitarist Kevin Shields. She contributed a third of the lyrics to Loveless, as well as other releases including Isn't Anything and You Made Me Realise (1988), Glider (1990) and Tremolo (1991).
My Bloody Valentine attempted to record a third studio album after signing with Island Records in October 1992 for a reported £250,000 contract. The band's advance went towards the construction of a home studio in Streatham, South London, which was completed in April 1993. Several technical problems with the studio sent the band into "semi-meltdown", according to vocalist and guitarist Shields, and Butcher left the band in 1997, leading to an indefinite hiatus. My Bloody Valentine reunited in 2007, and released their third album, m b v, in 2013.
During My Bloody Valentine's hiatus, Butcher collaborated with two major bands. She performed lead vocals on two tracks—"Ballad Night" and "Casino Kisschase"—on the hip hop band Collapsed Lung's album Cooler (1996), and performed backing vocals on the Dinosaur Jr. song "I Don't Think", from Hand It Over (1997). At Primavera Sound 2013, Butcher performed with The Jesus and Mary Chain, providing backing vocals on "Just Like Honey".
Butcher's vocals have been referred to as a trademark of My Bloody Valentine's sound, alongside Kevin Shields' guitar techniques. On a number of occasions during the recording of Isn't Anything, Butcher was awoken and recorded vocals, which she said "influenced [her] sound" by making them "more dreamy and sleepy." A similar process was used during the recording of Loveless, on which her vocals have been described as "dreamy [and] sensual." Explaining the situation, Butcher said: "often when we do vocals, it's 7:30 in the morning; I've usually just fallen asleep and have to be woken up to sing [...] I'm usually trying to remember what I've been dreaming about when I'm singing." Her singing was originally influenced by Francoise Hardy and later by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth.
Butcher wrote a third of the lyrics on both Isn't Anything and Loveless but has referred to a lot of the lyrics as "plain nonsense." According to Butcher, she "didn't have a plan and never thought about lyrics until it was time to write them. I just used whatever was in my head for the moment." Some of her lyrics were written as a result of attempting to understanding rough versions of songs Shields had recorded. Butcher has said: "He [Shields] never sang any words on the cassettes I got but I tried to make his sounds into words. It always became my own thing in the end though. And that was the only power I had in the band."
Like Shields, Butcher uses a number of offset guitars. Her most notable instruments include several Fender electric guitars, including Jaguars, Jazzmasters and Mustangs. On occasion, Butcher uses a Charvel Surfcaster, which she has referred to as her favourite guitar. When performing live, Butcher uses a minimal amount of effects pedals and processors.
Butcher has three sons: Toby, Davy and Billy. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, she and Kevin Shields were in a relationship. After the release of Isn't Anything, Butcher suffered from panic attacks and depression and later took up taekwondo as an alternative to anti-depressants. She worked up to green belt status and has since studied both Flamenco dancing and guitar. She is an ex-smoker.
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