Louise Distras is the kind of musician that the UK both needs and demands. Her acoustic punk observations on life away from the ivory towers and safe institutions carries honesty and warmth along with passion and anger. MetalMouth’s Gary Trueman had a post Hell Hath No Fury gig chat with Louise about her new band, being invited to play Glastonbury, women in music and dogshit parties.
You have a new EP out which seems to be following on from the momentum caused by the success of your album Tales From The Factory Floor. Was that the thinking behind it?
“Yeah, definitely following up from the amazing press and feedback that the album had, with this new release I kinda wanted to release something new for people that hadn’t heard my music from when the album came out. I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of shows and pick up a lot of new listeners over the past year. I thought with the track order where I’ve got four full band tracks and four unplugged versions of the same tracks it was a good way to show the two very different sides to what it is I’m doing.”
As you said, the album has done very well and led to more gigging.
“The response to the album was amazing. I think the lowest rating it had in a magazine was something like eight out of ten. It was great to have so much positive feedback but at the same time if it had been slated it wouldn’t have really made any difference to me. It wouldn’t have made me want to stop doing what I’m doing. The greatest thing about the process of making that album was that it was a team effort because it was financed through a crowdfunding campaign. There was a lot of people from all around the world who really believed and supported me in that record. I just couldn’t have done it without them and for that I’m ever grateful.”
Did you find the crowdfunding process easy?
“I did it my own way, I didn’t use Kickstarter or Pledge Music because I don’t necessarily agree with the way that they operate. I don’t think the way they work is conducive to creativity because as far as I know you start the campaign and have two or three months to raise the money and finish a record. It took two years from pre-production to release date for me to make that record. I believe in order for me to make it the best it could be it had to be that way. The way I went about it was better for the creative process in that it was just by donation on the website where people could pre-order it if they liked or take part in any of the other perks such as playing in people’s houses or buying a tee shirt or whatever. “
You said with the EP you split the EP between acoustic and band versions of the songs. You’ll soon be playing with a band behind you. Tell us a bit about that.
“The rumours are true. It’s not so much about who’s in the band, it’s more that I’m lucky enough to have a couple of first class amazing musicians, who, the way they play is just perfect for the songs. On drums there’s Jamie Oliver. He actually played drums on the album. On bass is Chema Zurita who actually was recommended to me by Jamie. Chema has worked with a lot of powerful and inspiring female artists in the past such as Texas Terri and he also plays with a band in the states called Fangs On Fur which are really cool. On Jamie’s recommendation I contacted Chema and he said yes so I was really happy. We played a surprise show at the 100 Club in London because I was playing a show with the UK Subs.
I kinda played the set as normal and then introduced the guys on, and nobody knew about it except for the sound guy, the Promoter and the Subs who saw the sound check. When they came on it was just like the whole place went absolutely crazy. It was such an adrenaline rush. Judging from how well that show went I think the full electric shows are going to be insane. I’m not going to be using my acoustic guitar either, I’m using a Gibson SG Special and a great big Marshall stack. I kind of feel like Eddie Van Halen or something, it’s brilliant and I’m really pleased with the new direction. I’m really looking forward to the full band shows”
You played Glastonbury last year, on the Billy Bragg stage. Your style of music, particularly your social commentary has been likened to Billy Bragg. Is that something that you recognise in your own music? Did he hear of you to get you to play that stage?
“First of all of course it was a great honour to be invited to play the Leftfield Stage at Glastonbury, the whole theme of that stage and everything that happens there is mixing pop and politics which is something I’m a big fan of. However I wouldn’t necessarily class myself as a protest singer which is a label people seem to be very quick to use with regards to my music. They try and pigeonhole me in that way. I view myself as an artist who is saying what I see every single day, and just trying to pass on the message the best I can.
With regards to Billy Bragg unbeknown to me he’s been a big supporter of my music for quite a while now and it was Billy that invited me to play and trade songs with him on the Leftfield Stage. He also invited me to take part in a live debate panel where myself and some other musicians and activists discussed the EDL and how music can counteract racism. Music is the most powerful tool there is so that’s why I try and use it to create something positive, a kind of positive energy.”
Staying with the festival theme, you came up with quite an interesting fact tonight. Only 6% of bands and artists at festivals last year featured female musicians. That’s shocking surely?
“It is shocking. That actually was in relation to the Warped tour in America which is the biggest travelling tour out there with hundreds of bands and where 50% of the audience are young women. However it’s less than 6% of the line up. It’s a disgusting statistic that really exposes the inequality there is in the alternative music scene. To me these statistics just say the stage is not for women which is ridiculous. I feel that if the American industry gatekeepers and festival promoters were to follow the lead of Mark Sesin (Hell Hath No Fury Promoter) or Jenny who organises Rebellion Festival then we would be on a more equal footing.
If young women can see other women on stage playing then hopefully that will inspire them to pick up guitars themselves and be creative and channel themselves. With regards to the UK in 2014 it was actually of all the major festivals there were, there were only two female headliners. One of them was Paramore at Reading and Leeds and the other one was Lily Allen at Latitude and that was only because a band dropped out. It’s a problem that’s happening here as well and it needs to be addressed. Some people might say there are no women musicians but the proof is tonight for example, there are. I don’t see male musicians or female musicians, it’s just musicians.”
So theoretically if the population balance is half and half so should the musicians be?
“Exactly, there’s no reason why not.”
Interestingly this year we’ve already got Within Temptation and Fleetwood Mac as headline acts at two different festivals. Bloodstock and Isle of Wight respectively, so it’s a small start.
“My concern is with the female musicians that are up and coming and them not being given the platform that is passed on to guy musicians. It’s just very unfair. It’s also very unfair for women who want to go to shows as well. Just from my experience and the experience passed on of women who come to my shows, it’s very male dominated, it’s very threatening. A lot of girls don’t want to stand at the front because they’re worried they’re going to get grabbed or forced to the back. Live gigs should be a safe environment for people of all backgrounds to go to and feel safe and enjoy themselves. That’s what punk rock is supposed to be about in the first place, right? Freedom of expression in an environment which is safe to do that”
Have you got any tours or festival dates planned for this year?
I’m announcing a tour going back to mainland Europe, for a solo tour which is May 1st until the 19th. I’m going to be playing shows in Germany, Austria, Poland and some more places. Joining me on the tour is a very special guest from Boston in America, a great solo acoustic punk singer called Bryan McPherson. He’s actually on a bunch of shows with The Dropkick Murphys on his first time coming over to Europe. After that we’re coming back to the UK for a bunch of shows from May 22nd until May 31st, these are going to be full band shows, no one knows yet but they will be. In October we’ll be playing at Strummer Camp Festival in Manchester and also Bearded Theory Festival in Derbyshire, playing the Woodland Arena stage on the Saturday.”
You’ve done a lot of gigs, a lot of festivals and touring, is there anything that sticks in your mind?
“I remember on my first ever European tour I played in Hamburg and played at this squat called F115 or something. They had this big party that I played at, the theme of the party was like a dogshit party. So they had this photo gallery with all these pictures of all this different kinds of dogshit, and then they had dogs, and biscuits shaped like dogshit. Everywhere you went you didn’t know what was shit or what was edible. They had speakers with fart sounds coming out of them, the toilet roll was brown. I played a show in Berlin once and I was playing Love Me The Way I Am and this guy just got up on the stage and put his face between my legs. It was awful. At the time I, for some reason felt so ashamed even though it wasn’t my fault. I was so shocked I couldn’t do anything.
Whereas now because I’ve got a few more shows under my belt and feel a lot more confident and independent, now I would definitely reacted differently should that happen. Again it’s symptomatic of what we were talking about earlier with the inherent misogyny. It’s not just in England, it’s everywhere, but if we work together we can change that and shift the balance”
Louise Distras wiil be playing the following dates in Europe in the UK. Support will come from Bryan McPherson. European shows will be solo acoustic while UK dates are likely to be all full band dates (tbc)
Louise Distras online: https://www.facebook.com/louisedistras