Louise Distras has been called “The new face of acoustic punk in the UK” with press likening her to fierce frontwomen, Brody Dalle and Courtney Love. She’s independently released two EPs and is set to release her debut full-length later this year produced by Steve Whale (The Business), engineered by Pat Collier (who has worked with bands such as X-Ray Spex) and with guests including UK Subs’ drummer Jamie Oliver. Very vocal about what she believes, Louise was recently featured in an article on sexism alongside artists Kate Nash and Rose Elinor McDougall (The Pipettes). Louise has given ConversatiosWithBianca.com an exclusive (full band) track – Shades of Hate – to debut from the as yet to be titled record to accompany the following in-depth chat. Louise talks about the music industry, sexism, activism and her local music community.
I’ve read your comment in a previous interview that hearing Nirvana’s album Bleach at 13 changed your life; how so?
LOUISE DISTRAS: If I hadn’t ever heard that album and the track ‘Papercuts’ I would have never ever picked up a guitar. At that point in my life ‘Bleach’ was the most visceral record I’d ever heard and something about it just completely resonated within me. I remember thinking that it sounded like someone was screaming and scratching at the walls in attempt to escape from their own prison cell, and I remember that’s how I felt too. ‘Papercuts’ was the track I liked the most so it was the first song that I learned to play on guitar followed by ‘About A Girl’. I grew up listening to ELO, The Bee Gees and Queen so I loved the pop melody and I still do. Nirvana turned me onto Punk rock and a lot of other cool bands like Mudhoney and The Melvins and showed me that writing songs was a way of making me believe in a better life for myself. Some people say that Punk is dead, but I’m a big believer in the fact that as long as there are kids out there that pick up an instrument and shout about what they think is wrong with the world, Punk will never die.
Who have been the biggest female role models in your life musically and otherwise? How have they inspired you?
LD: For me it’s quite a strange question to answer because I never had any kind of role model or anyone to inspire me whilst I was growing up, and I definitely never received any form of encouragement. Plus a lot of things passed me by as a teenager including riot grrrl and I think it’s because of the fact that I had no access to MTV2 or the internet and no money to buy records with, because I ran away from home shortly after I left school at 16. I was drifting for a long time afterwards and I couldn’t even consider spending the little money I had on anything other than food and rent, my life was only ever about survival. From a very early age I wasn’t ever consciously exposed to anything other than my own jaded and nihilistic youth, I had to figure everything out for myself. I was always been told that there was something wrong with me and that I had to be like somebody else, so I only ever wanted to be able to have the room to just be myself.
What were things like for you like growing up?
LD: Like I said, it was only ever about survival. I didn’t tick any boxes in order to receive any help so I fell through the cracks of the system, so I had to bring myself up. Thatcher completely destroyed the North of England in the 80s and as a result of that there are still very limited opportunities for people in which to find work or better themselves, so it was a tough place to grow up being in that situation. Wakefield was and still is a very aggressive place to live, because there’s nothing to do except drink beer and fight one another but there is also a measure of apathy equal to that rage – I talk about that in my song ‘Shades Of Hate’. It’s not an uncommon story, there are a lot of people out there that are still falling through the cracks of the system. It’s the most vulnerable people who suffer because of the governments decisions, we are effectively paying for our own poverty. You either sink or swim, and in order to swim you have to be exploited. Music gave me a reason to swim on my own terms.
What was your first introduction to the punk community?
LD: It was around five years ago when I was around 19/20. I was on tour with my old band and we met a really cool band called Helsinki Seven who we became great friends with, I guess it’s because we both came from small towns and we were broke and always had to figure out ways of doing things ourselves so we just started trading ideas/contacts and it all started from there really.
How did you first come to performance?
LD: From the moment I picked up my first instruments (the recorder and violin) when I was six years old. In terms of a band gig (again it was as soon as I knew a few chords), I was 13 and the gig was in a real crappy pub called The Tut N’ Shive in Wakefield one Sunday lunchtime. We were only in there because they served underage kids alcohol.
Why is music important to you?
LD: Music is my saviour. It’s the only thing that ever keeps me awake at night and the only thing that gets me out of bed in the afternoon. It can make us feel happy or sad, it can empower us and give us hope. It’s a way of changing the world around us for the better. It’s a very powerful force and I believe it can definitely change the world.
What’s something else that is really important to you? What significance does it have to you?
LOUISE DISTRAS: To remain untied to anything other than myself, because otherwise things go wrong…and a good sleep.
I know that you “don’t feel comfortable addressing politics as a whole” in your music just yet but I’m hoping you can talk a little here about some of your beliefs and politics. You’ve previously mentioned ‘people politics’.
LD: Writing songs is based 100% on desire and as an artist you’ve just gotta go with whatever you’re feeling at that moment in time, otherwise your output is contrived and you may as well just not bother. In that particular interview where I said that, I’d been active for less than six months and I’d gone through a real dark period where I was homeless and some other stuff, so my writing was very introverted and self-analytical at that time as I was trying to figure the world out for myself and trying to make sense of why those things that happened to me. I didn’t feel quite ready to take on the world yet.
My debut single ‘The Hand You Hold’ signifies the end of that period in my life, where I’d figured some of those things out and decided on the action I was going to take to put those things right. There are a lot of things wrong in the world that not many artists seem to be addressing at the moment, here in the UK. It’s almost as if apathy is the new black and music in particular is way too safe and it’s that inaction that is breeding a lot of fear and doubt in the world. For me, the only way to kill that apathy is to make a no holds barred record that’s addressing what’s going on in the world and breed confidence and courage through positive action, rather than write some thirty minute self-indulgent-sob-story. ‘The Hand You Hold’ extends way beyond sexism and media exploitation.
It’s about the simple fact that one human being is not another human beings property or the government’s property and that we are all in control of our own lives and have the human right to live a life free of subservience and exploitation.
In terms of ‘people politics’, I believe that in order to make a positive change in the world we have to start with the way that we treat one another, which is why I wrote another song on my album called ‘Love Me, The Way I Am’. It’s a pop song about honesty, love, compassion and never under any circumstances apologising for who you are. It’s about the crimes of hate that human race commit towards itself because of fear and prejudice. It’s a call for us to embrace one another regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability or disability because no great ideology will ever be realised as long as there are warring factions and we’re still being assholes to one another.
What projects are you currently focused on? Your debut full-length record isn’t far off right?
LD: That’s right, it’s not too far from finished now. Recording my debut album has been my greatest single focus since pre-production started in London in September 2011. I was originally hoping to release it later on this year but there’s been a delay because I have no representation so I haven’t been able to finance its completion, which is why I set up an Album Fundraising Campaign on my website. Luckily I had a really good response from that for which I am eternally grateful. Fingers crossed that the album will be complete by the end of the summer and realistically I’m hoping to announce a release date before Christmas and then release it early next year however I will be touring before and after its release.
How do you feel about the new record?
LD: I’m totally in love with it, obsessed in fact. I’m really proud of my album, of the message it carries and the people behind it. I also feel really privileged of the fact that I’ve made my debut record all on my own terms.
Out of all the songs you’ve written thus far, which one are you most proud of? Is there a story behind it you can share?
LD: It definitely has to be ‘Love Me, The Way I Am’ for reasons which I’ve already explained. I’m totally in love with it. It’s just a great song with an empowering message, and it was really awesome to work with Mick Talbot from Style Council on the recording of it. He put down some really sublime piano and Hammond organ arrangements. It’s totally a pop song.
You’ve been making music for quite some time, before going solo you were in a band called Blockades; in your experience what are some a) important things and b) ridiculous things you’ve learnt about the music industry?
LD: I’ve learned that any band is only as strong as its weakest member, and that you should never under any circumstances have to compromise yourself and your artistic vision in any way shape or form. If music is not the thing that keeps you awake at night and is not your reason for waking up, I’d say keep your day job.
There’s this thing called the 10,000 hour rule, and the music industry definitely doesn’t operate in the way that a lot of people think it does. I became aware of the reality of it all pretty early on, so by being realistic and completely focused on writing songs I’ve avoided becoming jaded. If someone’s motivation for writing songs is money, glory and fame then they should just forget it. It’s real hard work.
I read a feature on sexism in music where you were quoted: “This morning, I received two emails from two men on different levels of the music industry. One from a promoter that considered telling me he wanted to have sex with me a higher priority than actually confirming a gig date and a second from a well-known record producer who suggested I ‘form a band/ join a band of ugly guys who can play’ to make myself look better.” How do you handle these types of things? What advice can you give to other female musicians?
LD: When I started playing guitar I never even considered the fact that I was female to be a problem and I still don’t consider my gender to be an issue now. It’s OTHER people that have an issue with it, so I tell those guys to go fuck themselves and I’d advise any other female musician to do the same.
Never under any circumstances should anyone ever have the right to tell someone how to look, think or feel in order to be creative and that was the whole reason I wrote my first single ‘The Hand You Hold’. Every single day the media rams it down our throats that our validity lies in our youth and sexual appeal, and that we have to look a certain way in order to be taken seriously…and as a result all of that casual sexism has filtered down into everyday life, where young girls and women believe all of those corrupt values that the media enforces resulting in low self-esteem and eating disorders. I want to empower young girls and women (and guys too) to the fact that none of those superficial things matter, and what’s really important is never compromising yourself or your creativity and living your life on your own terms.
Recently you’ve been working with the folks at Strummerville, tell us about the experience. How do they help artists?
LD: I had a brief encounter with Strummerville in early 2011 when they helped me a little with regards to financing the recording of my second EP but that’s about as far as my relationship with Strummerville goes to be honest.
Tell me about the local music community where you’re at. Any local bands you’d like to give a shout out to?
LD: Wakefield is a pretty insular place and as a result of that it seems to have developed its own very particular scuzzy Pavement influenced kind of music that’s referred to as ‘Wakey Pop’ which I feel dominates the music scene so there hasn’t been much room for anything else or the sort of bands I’ve been in. However I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative thing in my case because that kind of non-inclusion led to me going on tour a lot and operating outside of the local scene in other cities and countries which I feel ultimately is the only way to get good at what you do and build a real audience anyway. There’s a DIY community called ‘The Rhubarb Bomb’ that ties in with that and those guys run a zine and put on a festival called ‘Long Division’ once a year which I think is really cool, and there’s also a rock and metal venue called ‘The Snooty Fox’ which I love, that place has been going for a really long time. There’s nothing really happening in terms of punk gigs, and there’s definitely nothing that even slightly resembles an occupy movement or forum for political discussion, which I find really frustrating.
What does success mean to you?
LD: Success is empowering someone to make a positive change to their own life, which in turn inspires someone else to make a change to their life and someone else’s. It’s being able to live your life by your own terms and still be able to put food in the fridge.
What’s next for Louise Distras?
LD: This week I launched a new web series to preview the brand new tracks from my debut album.
My friend Jason and I had some fun in between recording sessions and filmed me playing the new tracks in the streets of Wakefield and London. The value of music has been lost and illegal downloading has become the norm, so artists are having to find other ways of getting their music out there and this is just my way of getting the new tracks out there in an interesting and fun format on my own terms before the album is released, and consequently put up for illegal download by other people.
In the immediate future its Rebellion Punk Festival here in the UK, followed by lots of touring in the UK, and mainland Europe to promote my debut album before its release which will be early next year. For now it’s just a case of finishing the little bit of work left to do on the album and laying the foundations for its release, I’m really excited for everyone to hear it!
For more Louise Distras.
*Louise live photo by Seraphic