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Interview With 'Louise Distras'

Louise Distras is part way through her “Street Revolution” tour as she hits the Cluny venue in Newcastle on a cold, Thursday in January. She's running a little behind schedule, thanks to a tire blowout on the way up to Toon. She's relaxed as we enter the dressing room, asking if we're okay and apologising for not being able to meet up sooner. We chat about how things are going as we settle down, Louise asking if I mind if the interview is filmed as she's putting together a tour diary for Louder Than War. I'm cool with that so we sit down on a pair of adjacent sofas and start talking. 3SAO: Music’s obviously really important to you, so, how did you first connect with it? LD: How did I first come into music, well in the first instance, it would be… My earliest memory would be, it’d be a Sunday afternoon; my Mum would be hoovering the floor and doing the washing and doing the ironing and then she’d be playing ELO and Bon Jovi, Queen Greatest Hits 2, Whitney Houston, ABBA, Earth, Wind and Fire full blast, singing at the top of her lungs, while she’s dancing doing the ironing. So that was my first introduction to music really. Oh and Bee Gees. My mum’s the biggest Bee Gees fan ever, so that’s the kind of music I grew up on, and so that was my first real introduction to music. 3SAO: So how did you end up gravitating more towards Punk? I know you left home at quite an early age, so, did you go into the Punk scene around then or was it before that? LD: Well I always liked guitar music, because I was bought up on Queen and even like Elton John and ABBA, that’s still guitar music, in a sense, so I’ve always loved guitar music and I was at school and one of my friends made me a mix tape and they made me a copy of “Bleach” by Nirvana and that was the album that changed my life, because when I was growing up, I was bullied at home, I was bullied at school. Growing up in a very small ex-mining town, where there was a lot of anger and a lot of racism and quite a lot of bigotry. So when I heard that album for the first time, it was the first time I ever heard something that felt like how I felt inside and it sounded like rage and pain and love and loneliness and knowing that there was something else out there that felt the way that I did made me feel like I wasn’t alone for the first time in my life. So hearing that album was what inspired me to learn to play guitar. And how I actually learned to play guitar was by borrowing my friend’s guitar and bunking off school. We used to basically bunk off school, and go and sit in a field and smoke cigarettes and smoke weed and teach each other how to play power chords and basically all Nirvana songs are power chords, so once you learn the one chord shape, you can play every single Nirvana song that exists. So that was how I learnt how to play guitar. And then, when I was 16, as I said, I was bullied at home, bullied at school. The political climate, growing up in a small town, the social climate, feeling alienated and isolated and outcasted all rolled into one cataclysmic event which resulted in me running away from home when I was 16. So I ran away and, like a lot of young people who run away, the reason why they do it is because they feel so desperate that they feel like living on the streets or sleeping on a stranger’s floor is better than what they’re going through at home. And that was what the case was for me. So I ended up staying with and meeting a lot of strangers and finding myself in a lot of very uncomfortable and dangerous situations with a lot of dangerous people, who did ultimately take advantage of me because I was a vulnerable young adult. It was strange because, at the time, I didn’t necessarily realise it, not because I was naïve- because of the things that happened to me when I was growing up, I sort of grew up before my time. I was sort of an old head on young shoulders, but, I guess because of the extremities of what I was going through, any trauma that I was experiencing at the time, repeated traumas, didn’t necessarily get processed. 3SAO: You kind of feel like you’re living in the moment THAT much that it almost becomes day-to-day. LD: It’s not even necessarily living in the moment, I would call it just completely disassociating. It’s like being de-personalised. I was like I was literally glued to the ceiling watching my life unfold in front of me. It was like everything was really fuzzy and black and white. It was like watching a movie. It’s like I wasn’t really there. So when these things were happening to me, it was like I was checked out. I wasn’t in my body. Maybe it’s some kind of survival mechanism. I was talking to my bass player, Matt about it, and he told me about something that’s called “future shock” and it’s like when you have repeated trauma for a really long time and you’re in that survival mode, and you’re de-personalised and sort of checked out to what’s actually happening, he said, what happens is that it catches up with you later down the line. And that’s what happened to me. It was like going at a million miles an hour and all of a sudden, crashing into a brick wall and everything just fell apart. And that’s when I started writing “Dreams From A Factory Floor”, my first album. All my songs are real life stories. Real things that have happened to me. Real experiences that I’ve seen, heard, felt. And the first album, “Dreams From A Factory Floor”, was just pure therapy for me. I was never trying to be a Rock star or trying to make it as a musician, I’ve always just viewed art as therapy. Which is what it was for me, when I was homeless and I was being in all these different places. It was like everything was just different all the time, and really extreme, but the one constant thing that was there, the grounding force for me was the records that I listened to, like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Jeff Buckley, Deftones, Pixies, things like that. And having my guitar and being able to express myself in a way that other people couldn’t control, if that makes sense. A lot of people look up to other people and want to be like somebody else, but I always just wanted to be like me, and I’ve always felt that, my entire life. To fight for the space just to simply be myself. I think actually, writing songs and expressing myself in such a way- that’s how I’ve been able to just be me. On my own terms, you know, but I think that’s the case with Punk Rock in general. That’s what it gives us, doesn’t it? It gives us that sense of freedom and another world is possible, and we can create on our own terms. 3SAO: It's like, for me, Joe Strummer was a huge influence, but more as a person than he actually was a musician. Because he went; “Do this, do that, be your own person – you want to run a marathon? Run a marathon; If you wanna go off and do a busking tour – go and do a busking tour.” I take it that’s very similar to what you took from the whole Punk movement of just “do what you want, do what you need to do”. LD: Well, I think it was, for me, it was the case, like I said, that music was therapy and freedom of expression and also, in terms of, when we wrote and recorded “Dreams From A Factory Floor” and released that album, in terms of where I’m from, in Wakefield….. I need to go right back actually – even as a teenager, when I was playing guitar and playing gigs and doing what you do when you’re a teenager and living in a small town, you know. I always felt on the outside of what was happening in the local music scene. I just felt like, as if what I was doing wasn’t cool enough. So, in terms of a relationship that I have with Wakefield and the local music scene, I think the best thing that it ever did for me was to not want me or not be interested in what I had to offer. Because it kept me on the outside looking in, which I think, as an artist and as an observer, that’s a great perspective to have. It meant that I would just grab my guitar and jump on a Megabus or Easyjet and just play literally anywhere and everywhere else. I’ll play at people’s barbecues, people’s bedrooms, people’s living rooms, little clubs, cafes, festivals, and everything in between. I’ll play anywhere and everywhere, me, because I love to play. So, just through that, just doing it, just getting on with it, just because I just enjoy playing. I never had an agenda, it was just therapy but then people started to like it. But then because people liked it, it took me all over the world. So, it’s been quite a whirlwind really. Because it’s not like I was trying to do anything. It’s just that I wrote these songs and people liked them, you know. 3SAO: It’s not like you said “right, I’m gonna play for four/five years; do an album; tour for a year and a half; have a break; go back; do this...” It’s been very kind of organic and almost reactionary. I didn’t hear the first album really until last year, and it feels really quite raw and honest and I think that’s why people have connected to it, in the way that they have. Do you get that sort of reaction from people who come to gigs, or see you in the street, or whatever? LD: I think that the people who hear these songs aren’t fickle gig goers or fickle music fans. The people that like these songs are real hardcore music fans and basically- I mean this in the nicest way possible – are a bunch of complete weirdos. When I play shows, and I look at the audience, it’s basically people like me, and young people who are exactly the same as what I was like when I was 13/14/15 years old, growing up. I think that’s the great thing about music. Like, I heard Nirvana for the first time and it changed my life; and made me feel less alone. That inspired me to pick up guitar and start writing songs, and then now, I get kids coming to my shows, telling me that my music makes them feel less alone. It’s mad. 3SAO: I can imagine it being quite a strange feeling, as well, especially as you’re using it as catharsis or therapy, and you’ve got these other people coming up to you and going “I felt this way and it helped me to know that somebody else has been there before”. LD: Sometimes it’s strange, but, it’s mostly not strange, because I think, at these shows, there’s a very strong family vibe, so it’s like we feel like we all know each other already because we all come from the same place, of being on the outside. So, it makes for a great family. That’s why I jokingly call people who like these songs “true believers”, because they’re true believers in art and in music and in expression and freedom and being against censorship and being kind and things like that. They’re all really nice, smart, super friendly, intelligent people, who just love music. 3SAO: It feels as though you’re constantly gigging. I think this is like the second or third time you’ve played the Cluny that I know of in about the past year, year and a half? LD: Yeah, they just keep inviting me back. I take it as a compliment, I mean, like I said, I was never trying to be famous or any of that shit. I was just literally writing my songs, playing them, just for the pure joy of doing it. I get the same buzz out of singing these songs on my sofa, in my living room at home, or playing to one person or playing to thousands of people at a festival. Every time it just feels like I’m in outer space. I have the pure love and joy for what I do, and that’s enough for me. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. I don’t just play guitar, I play bass, violin, piano. I play most of the stuff, well, except for the obvious stuff, that’s really good like the drums on the album. But you know, I play a lot of the stuff myself on the records and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. I’ve been doing it since before anybody heard of me and I’ll be doing it when everyone’s fucking dead and no one gives a shit about me, and I’m old. I’m gonna be doing this for the rest of my life, so it doesn’t make any difference to me if people like it or they don’t, because I’m just doing it anyway because I love it. It’s a great feeling though, to be able to play these songs all over the world and not get booed off stage. 3SAO: You say that you’re doing this purely because of the love that you have for performing and for music and it’s almost like it’s quite natural for you. Because I know, a couple of months before the tour started, you were like “has anyone got sofas we can crash on – trying to keep this as low budget as possible?” And then in a few months’ time you’re off to the States to do Punk Rock Bowling. That must be so cool to still do “this” and then go and do something as prestigious as that? LD: Well it’s the second time I’ve played, don’t you know! Like I said, I’ll play anywhere, I’ll play in someone’s living room or I’ll play at Punk Rock Bowling and it’s the second time I’ve played there, I’ve done Glastonbury. I’ve done all kinds of cool shit, played all over the world, not gonna name drop the countries I’ve been to. It’s great, but it’s a complete honour and a privilege to be able to do this. I don’t feel like it’s my God-given right or it’s something I’m entitled to. I view it as a gift from the universe to be able to actually live a creative life and to be able to do this. I’m completely lucky and privileged, I don’t take any of it for granted whatsoever. I just love to do it so I will just keep doing it as long as the universe allows me to do it, and be blessed and grateful for every second. Also, to be able to meet and make so many friends along the way is great as well. I’ve got a lot of friends all over, a lot of families, a lot of tour families as well – people who have adopted me and my band, and my crew on the road, so they feed us up and stuff, let us sleep on their sofa. It’s nice, yeah! When it came to putting that Facebook status up, “can anyone put us up?” Me and my band and crew, we’re all really social, we like to hang around with people and we like to make friends, and we’re all best friends ourselves, so we would always rather stay with our friends on the road, and our adopted sort of tour families and hang out with them, rather than just doss in a hotel, eating shitty takeaway food. Not that we can afford takeaway food, but you know what I mean, with QVC on, and not being around people. It makes us feel good when we can be around people. We’re all depressed weirdos ourselves. 3SAO: It keeps us… not entertained, as such, but engaged. Plugged back into civilization. LD: Yeah, it’s when the tour finishes when malaise kicks in. And then it goes from 100 to zero, and then the next thing you know, it’s just like “what is my life? I wanna go back on tour!” It’s usually you go home – the first 24 hours are home are great, because you get a shower, you get a hot meal, you do a bit of washing, maybe watch a film or something, your on Facebook or play a bit of guitar, and then after the first 24 hours you’re like “I just want to go sit in the van”. 3SAO: You’ve got the new album coming out this year, how is the year shaping up for you, have you got a plan – do you know what you’re doing at the moment? Or is it just like “Let’s see what happens, let’s have a bit of chaos”? LD: There is a plan, but there’s also a lot of chaos as well. But such is the nature of my life. Over the past two years, I’ve mostly been in the studio, recording the new album. This time last year we went to Oakland, California to record the new record with Ross Petersen. Ross is a very awesome, talented producer. He’s made records with Springsteen, Goo Goo Dolls, John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Steve Whale of the Business as well. We also made it with Andrew Scheps, who has done a lot or stuff with Adele, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Green Day, he did the last Rancid record and stuff like that. We went out there because we mixed a couple of tracks with Ross ('Aileen' and 'Outside of You'), and he really liked them, so he was like “I wanna hear the demos of the rest of the stuff you’ve got”, so we sent him the demos and he REALLY liked it. He really loved the songs, he really loved what they stand for and the message behind them, so he invited us to go up there and he said “There’s a nice studio here, full of really really nice people, great equipment, great musicians – why don’t you come over and we’ll make the record?” That’s a fucking once in a lifetime opportunity right there – you don’t say no to that! So we did; we went there, recorded twenty tracks and they sound incredible. The whole studio experience and personal experience and everything creatively of making the record was the absolute best time of my life. Everyone involved in the record really cares about it and is really passionate about the songs, so I basically felt like I was in outer space for the month while we were there and it was the most creative time of my life and it definitely captures the very strong vibe, which you can feel, there’s a lot of energy in it. Especially considering the fact that it was recorded in Oakland. Oakland is a very historical place that’s known for a lot of music and protests, marches, you know – historical moments! You can definitely feel that in the record, but it’s not a protest record. I’m not a protest singer, I’m just saying what I see and what I feel, but it’s great. It sounds like Fleetwood Mac. 3SAO: I love the idea of that, of you getting all “Stevie Nicks”d up. LD: (Laughing) Yeah! When my real music career fails, I’m just gonna have a fake music career, just go on “The Voice” and do Stevie Nicks. I love Stevie Nicks, she’s awesome. 3SAO: I remember, the first thing I really heard from you was 'Land Of Dope And Glory' and I remember listening to that and, for me that was just “woah, what’s this?” LD: Yeah, I’m really excited about all the new songs. The whole set I’m playing every night on this tour is all new songs, so it’s great to – after being in the studio for so long – to be able to step outside into the real world and actually play the songs in real life and play them to the people who want to hear them and who care about them the most. Because that’s who these songs are for. The people who don’t wanna hear them – the songs weren’t written for them! So it doesn’t matter. So the plan is: I’ve released the “Street Revolution EP” I think last week, so that’s four tracks, as a taster to what to expect from the new album. It’s offering something new for the long-time hardcore fans, but also offering something brand new to people who might have never even heard of me before. And also it’s a great opportunity to just get back out on the road and thrash it out and to play the songs. 3SAO: I immediately thought you could do any of those songs, just you and an acoustic. You could just walk onto any street, do all four songs, then walk off to another street and do it again. LD: So the plan after this is I’m touring the UK again in April, supporting The Men That Will Not be Blamed for Nothing (very great band), that’s a tour of major cities, and then in May, I’m touring the US, then I’m touring Germany, Mainland Europe in June and July, doing some festivals. And then, coming back to the UK to do some UK festivals for the rest of the summer, and then hopefully the album will come out after the Summer- some time like September/October/November time – fingers crossed! I’m excited, I can’t wait for everyone to hear the songs. It’s been a long time coming, so it’s gonna be well worth the wait! 3SAO: I think with doing so much yourself as well, it’s going to take a long time. LD: Yeah, exactly, and even though at the moment, at this exact moment, I’m unsigned, I didn’t want not having a label or not having any financial backing to mean that I had to skimp on production and quality. I always want to be able to give the songs the best chance that they have, because I think that they deserve to be heard. So that’s why we worked with really nice, talented people, who cared about the songs as much as I do. Because that’s where the magic happens. That’s why we went there. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. 3SAO: You end up sort of feeding off each other. LD: Exactly, I didn’t want the fact that I’m unsigned and I’m skint to stop me from making the best record that I can create. And I have made the best album – I’ve made the record that I always wanted to make, and I’m already working on the third one and the fourth one. I’m always thinking way ahead. 3SAO: I think you have to with things like this. You can’t just go Product – Tour – Product – Tour, you’ve got to kind of go “right, I’m doing that, but, yeah, I’ve got an idea for this, and it’s not going away – I need to do it now!” LD: Yeah, just keep it going all the time, you know, when the tap’s on, the tap’s on, you can’t pick and choose when you get to be creative, you’ve just gotta get on with it. Otherwise it makes you go a bit weird. If you don’t get to express yourself for a while it just starts to eat you up inside. 3SAO: Yeah that’s it, I know if I’ve got something I need to write, I have to write it there and then. One last question: Louisefest- you can have anybody you want – musicians, artists, speakers, poets, if you want to go for a full on sort of Woodstock vibe with Punk? LD: Right – I’d have Doug Sahm from the Sir Douglas Quintet, Dolly Parton, John Lennon, Joe Strummer, Bobbie Gentry, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Utah Phillips, Bruce Springsteen, Vengaboys, Slayer, ABBA, Small Faces, The Ruts, Who would you have (to Jake)? Jake (who's recording the interview for her tour diary): Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slipknot,...... LD: Pascal Briggs – is an artist who everybody should check out, Call to War… That’s probably about it for now. 3SAO: So that’s the main stage sorted? LD: Yeah (laughing). And with that we call it a wrap. Louise has the gig to get ready for. It looks as though it's going to be a busy year for her and she's going to need these little moments of peace whenever she can grab them.

Check out Scott's review of Louise's Cluny Show here.

Interview - Scott Hamilton

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