It’s been an astonishing 12 months for UK singer and songwriter Louise Distras. Since the release of her debut album, Dreams From The Factory Floor, it seems like she has toured non-stop across the UK and Europe, her work ethic never in question.
But arguably all that hard work might have been in vein if her debut LP hadn’t been so strong and fully formed. Throughout its running time Dreams From The Factory Floor paints an immediately recognisable portrait of a world on fire, and yet colours it with an unerring sense of hope that – should we work together as a species – things can and will get better. It’s a brilliant blend of a questing punk spirit, undercut with rock and pop smarts.
As Dreams… turned 1 then, Skin Back Alley caught up with Distras on the eve of another epic set of live shows across the UK.
Firstly, congratulations on “Dreams From The Factory Floor. “ We genuinely loved it at Skin Back Alley and it seems to have received wide acclaim elsewhere. Were you pleased with the reception of the record?
Thankyou so much! Please also let me start by saying that I’m a big fan of Skin Back Alley and it’s a great honour to be a small part of your ‘zine!
Yes, I am really happy with the reception of my first record, it’s humbling. What’s an even greater feeling though is knowing that the record was a team effort – made with the love and support of many punks, skins and rockers from all over the world. Without their belief, ‘Dreams from the Factory Floor’ would not exist and I am forever thankful.
You recorded the album at Perry Vale studios in London with Pat Collier and Steve Whale. How did that come about?
I first met Steve Whale at Rebellion Festival in Blackpool. Fast forward to six months later and we were writing and demo’ing songs at Steve’s studio and then recording them at Perry Vale. Two years later and ‘Dreams from the Factory Floor’ was released.
To be honest I’m still a bit overwhelmed by it all and I don’t really know why or how the whole process came about in the end. I mean, there was a lot of weird stuff…coincidences that happened and to me everything happened so fast. For example, one day we were at Steve’s studio experimenting with some new sounds on an early version of ‘Love Me the Way I Am’ and Steve said something about adding some African drums to the track, but where the hell were we supposed to find someone that could play African drums? Later that night we went to the pub and when we walked in, low and behold there was a guy called Dave playing African drums, so we invited him to the studio and the rest is history – you couldn’t make it up.
Maybe the stars aligned, and when they did they also brought the talents of Jamie Oliver (UK SUBS), Mick Talbot (Style Council), Jethro Baker (Buster Shuffle) and Jenny Woo to the record. It was a real privilege and an honour to work with so many amazing artists on my debut album. Steve Whale is an incredible songwriter and producer and Pat Collier is an amazing engineer and I am so very lucky and owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for having had the opportunity to work with them both.
What was the recording process like for you?
The last songs I recorded before the album were recorded by a mate in his garden shed, so working with Steve and Pat was naturally a huge learning curve and I now feel as though I’ve got a much better understanding of the whole process of creating a record from start to finish. Aside from that it was an emotional experience. ‘Dreams…’ encompasses a lot of bold, political, social and personal statements so all the tracks cut pretty deep.
Every recording process is totally unique, but for me all my favourite records are the ones that capture a special vibe. Overall I really feel that is something we captured on ‘Dreams…’ and I am very proud of what Steve, Pat and myself created together.
Do you get excited when you hear your music on the radio or in public? It was pretty cool that Team Rock chose “Love Me The Way I Am” as their record of the week and for “Shades Of Hate” to get airplay on KROQ!
Yeah I do get really excited. It’s so cool that Team Rock and Rodney Bingenheimer and so many other stations like BBC Radio 1 and XFM have been such huge supporters of the record. It totally blows my mind to know they are playing my music to so many people on the radio, and also that so many people are connecting with the songs on all kinds of different levels.
You’re a Yorkshire lass, and you reference your hometown of Wakefield in “Shades Of Hate” in particular. How do you think Yorkshire and Wakefield have shaped you as an artist?
For anyone that has never heard of Wakefield, it’s an ex mining city that was destroyed by the Conservative government in the 1980’s. Even today there’s mass unemployment and people are still being signed off to destitution. There’s nothing to do except drink and fight one another. It’s an incredibly apathetic and hostile place to live…you might be lucky enough to take a step forward but you’ll always get dragged five steps back. So there’s this inherent attitude of, “Why should I bother? I can’t change anything.” There’s just too much negative energy. Like anybody else, I’m just a product of my negative environment…but I’m really trying not to be. Punk rock showed me that there was a way out, it taught me to always flip the coin, and taught me no matter what to always keep moving forward.
One thing I discovered recently, is that Wakefield is also built on top of a death walk which perhaps explains a lot. Underneath the city there’s a labyrinth that goes on for miles. After the Act Of Uniformity was passed in 1662, these tunnels were used as escape routes for non conformists. Apparently the tunnels were also used to transport bodies after people died of plague.The tunnels are everywhere, they even run underneath what used to be the insane asylum and every single one of the tunnels is connected to the churches. I’m pretty sure they’re still used today by Freemason’s. Either way it’s all a mystery and one thing I know is that I am perpetually unsettled there and as though I was walking on death, and it turns out I was afterall.
You’ve previously said you’re not trying to be a politician, and don’t think of yourself as a “protest singer”, but your songs certainly have a very strong sense of social justice. How was that sense sparked and developed in your life, and in your writing?
I’m not trying to be anything except myself and I’m only ever speaking about what I see and feel. All my life, I’ve always been the same and it’s always got me into trouble. Some people can go through their lives witnessing terrible terrible things and still sleep easy at night, I’ve never been one of those people. So I want to somehow leave the world in a better place than how I found it. Maybe growing into the person I am today was sparked by the fact that like many other people I was bullied and battered around as a kid. So now as a result, I fucking hate bullies. That’s probably it.
There’s a very poetic quality to your lyrics, and the title track on ‘Dreams From The Factory Floor’ is essentially a prose poem. Do you consciously try and be poetic? Which poets do you admire?
No, I have never really tried to be anything especially poetic. I feel like the greatest writers are the ones who take something that is really difficult to describe, and turn it into something simple that everybody can understand. Steve Whale is one the greatest poets and lyricists ever in my opinion. Also I really like Lydia Lunch, John Cooper Clarke of course, and recently I’ve been listening to Gil Scott Heron. ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’, is one of my favourites.
They say you should never meet your idols, but I’m guessing Billy Bragg is one of yours? What was it like meeting him, sharing a forum at Glastonbury with him, and having him support your music?
Sorry to disappoint I guess, but Billy Bragg is not one of my idols. All of my favourite rockstars are dead. However that’s not to say it wasn’t cool to meet Billy. He’s such a great guy, and an amazing songwriter/activist that I respect and admire very much. It was an honour to be invited to trade songs with him at Glastonbury. It’s a great feeling to know that he supports my music but I think it’s even cooler that he’s passionate about supporting so many other new artists too. Afterall, the bands that we know and love aren’t gonna be around forever so someone’s gotta carry the torch, and I think it’s so cool that he’s at the forefront of doing that. Billy Bragg is well cool.
You’ve been working your backside off touring all over Europe this year in particular. What has the reception been like at your shows?
The reception has been amazing, and the energy from the audiences at the shows is pretty crazy and intense. The shows just keep getting better and better. I just want to work hard and play as many shows as humanly possible. I really do love being on tour, it’s my most favourite place to be. Right now, I am discussing tour plans for 2015 and it’s my intention to visit as many new places as possible so fingers crossed.
You spend a lot of time on the continent as well as the UK. Do you find there is more of an appetite for your music in wider Europe than there is here in the UK?
It’s not just the UK and Europe, it’s Canada, the USA and Japan too.
Every person I speak to at shows and online tells me the same thing; that they are sick of plastic, anodyne music that’s over saturated with sex. Even alternative music is very safe nowadays, and there is a growing appetite everywhere for a real alternative.
Do you think that punk music has a role to play in the UK in particular, and the wider world, today?
From the musical perspective of a young person in their twenties, the whole rock genre is beginning to stagnate because it’s the same dinosaurs singing the same songs and headlining the same festivals every year. Fast forward to five, ten or maybe twenty years from now and it’s easy to see that these bands will no longer exist, so it’s up to the new breed to carry the torch into the future, pass on the message and create the soundtrack for the new disenfranchised generation, because right now there isn’t a soundtrack – or at least one that isn’t afraid to piss off the powers that be.
The whole world is on fire right now, and music as a whole is so safe and apathetic. Perhaps part of the reason for that is because people have been institutionalized into channeling their frustrations as Facebook and Twitter statuses instead of painting a picture or writing a song, I dunno. Expressing ourselves on anti-social media creates a kind of fake satisfaction that promotes complacency and curbs counter-culture. Expressing ourselves through art and music and sharing it with others completely changes the lens by which we view our whole culture and existence, and for me this is why the questioning spirit of punk is more relevant than ever and will always have a place in the world.
Your music and lyrics have a punkish sound and spirit, but it strikes me that there is also a strong sense of pop melody in your work. Is that a fair observation?
Yeah for sure. I think the pop influence comes from my Mum because she used to always play Queen, Elton John, Abba, Bee Gees and ELO records in our house every Sunday. So that’s probably the reason I’ve always had a greater appreciation for music that was around way before I was born, rather than the music that’s around now. The music in today’s charts sucks, I wish I was born in the 60s.
Which other musicians, punk or otherwise, do you currently admire?
Staples of my record collection include lots of Nirvana, The Clash, Queen, Rancid, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney,The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and ELO. Recently I’ve been listening to Tim Timebomb mixtapes, Lemonheads, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Roky Erickson, The Melvins, Shannon and The Clams, Eddie Cochran, Cocksparrer, The Interrupters, 7 Seconds, Allusondrugs, Lydia Lunch, and The Talks.
Also my favourite new discovery is the ‘Into The Wild’ movie soundtrack. It’s written by Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. I have always been a big fan but this record totally blew my mind and has been the first record that’s really spoken to me in quite a long time. I’ve always just been of the opinion that a good song is a good song and to me there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, and also that Freddie Mercury is still the greatest.
We occasionally pat ourselves on the back as a society in terms of how far we’ve come in our thinking around feminism, sexual equality, racial equality; but from what you’ve said recently, you still comes across a lot of barriers and inequality in your travels and career?
Like so many other people, I could sit here and give you so many examples of the barriers and challenges I’ve faced over my whole life, as well as the negative things I have experienced whilst being involved in music. But at this moment I don’t feel like talking about it, because I feel as though I have now developed a little bit of a greater understanding of why these divides are created and I don’t want to focus on the problems, but only the solutions and how we can overcome them. These divides and oppressions such as sexism, classism, racism, and homophobia for example, are all interlinked. They are all branches of the same tree that lead back to the same root. The solution surely is to kill the root, right? But it’s difficult to do that when so many people are manipulated and programmed to blindly depend on it to survive and as a result defend it by any means necessary. The only way forward is to unite against these divides and cynicism is by means of positive energy, and planting more seeds to grow new trees.
Does the increase in support for organisations such as UKIP, and the more extreme groups like Britain First, the BNP, the EDL etc. concern you? What do you think the root cause is?
99% of human beings have something in common, and that is we all bleed red and we are all being farmed and enslaved by the 1%, and that is something that I wish people would open their eyes to. The fact that there are people out there who can’t see this makes me feel so fucking sad. When we the 99% fight with one another, we are playing the system’s game and that is exactly where they, the global elite, want us to be – distracted and dumb. Because if we were all tuned into the same human frequency then we would be united as one consciousness, holding the elite and their puppet politicians accountable for the crimes that they are committing against us and our planet, our home.
I understand that you have a fierce DIY ethic regarding your music and career. It strikes me that in the digital age, with the collapse of the old music industry structures, the most forward thinking artists are using elements of that DIY approach to connect with their fans. What do you make of that and how do you see the industry developing?
Like many other young artists, I grew up with Myspace so I have no experience of working within the confines of old music industry structures and therefore can’t make any kind of comparison. But one thing that never gets old and out of date is doing things yourself and on your own terms. The new DIY generation is the new music industry.
You had what could be described as a difficult early life and ran away from home at 16. Did that play a big part in developing your strength of character and work ethic, or was that already in your DNA to some degree?
Like I said, I guess it stems from the fact that like a lot of young people, I was bullied really badly at home and school. Whenever I fought back, it was me that got into trouble whilst the bullies totally got away with kicking the crap out of me – total hypocrisy. Anyway, whilst living at home there was nothing I could do about it until I ran away. I guess I never really thought about it this way at the time but in retrospect it opened my eyes to the way that the system treats young people.
If you are someone who comes from poverty or an abusive background or both, you are automatically at a disadvantage and your entire future is at stake because the more obstacles there are to overcome, the less likely you are to reach your full potential. Once you are trapped within those confines and those cracks, it’s very difficult to get out because it is working against you rather than for you. One way or another you are still being abused and bullied whether it’s by people at school, your family or the system, and it’s always the most vulnerable people who pay the price – young people, the poor, the elderly, the differently abled and the sick.
For me, punk rock gave me the inspiration to create my own destiny on my own terms. In terms of how I went about trying to go about that, I’ve never known anything different than somehow trying to make something out of nothing. It’s back to that thing of moving forward and flipping the coin, and also I guess I just don’t know how to take time off ’cause there really is no time like the present.
Press and blogs (ourselves included!) zero in on the more ‘serious’ side of your music. I presume you find the time to have fun too?!
Yeah they do, but the questions they ask me are all based on the one album I have released and the statements that have been made so far. I am still a new artist, and I hope to be lucky enough to release many more records in my lifetime. Part of that process for me is occupying my space in a positive way and doing my best to highlight the things that I care about, rather than talking about twerking or what I ate for lunch or what brand of shoes I’m wearing today. Even though it can all seem pretty serious, everything about what I’m lucky enough to be able to do is fun, if it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t do it.
What does the concept of success mean to you? What would you like to happen in your career now that Dreams… has been out for a while and been well received?
To me success means living life on your own terms and living your own truth. ‘Dreams…’ was released exactly one year ago, and I consider myself totally privileged to be able to live my life doing what I love, playing music, travelling and trying to spread a positive message whilst doing so. The next step is to always keep moving forward.
What’s next on the schedule for Louise Distras?! Are you planning ahead to your next record yet?
Yes, there was a bunch of new tracks demo’d during the summer, and I am really excited about them. But I won’t be rushing the process or revealing anything just yet. Right now there’s a lot of big plans in the works for next year, so stay tuned!
Louise Distras embarks upon an extensive UK tour beginning tomorrow night in Huddersfield. Confirmed dates are as follows:
2nd October: The Parish, Huddersfield
3rd October: Dog & Partridge, Bolton
4th October: The Full Moon, Cardiff
8th October: Amplify Youth Project, Northwich
9th October: Sound Food & Drink, Liverpool
10th October: Adam & Eve, Birmingham
11th October: Fighting Cocks, Kingston
14th October: Lady Luck, Canterbury
15th October: The Cornerhouse, Cambridge
16th October: Owl Sanctuary, Norwich
17th October: Unity Hall, Wakefield
18th October: Star & Garter, Manchester
23rd October: Yorkshire House, Lancaster
24th October: Bannerman’s, Edinburgh
25th October: Cobra Club, Dunfermline
30th October: Santiagos, Leeds
31st October: The Basement, York
1st November: Intake Club, Mansfield
7th November: Green Room, Welwyn Garden City
8th November: Holroyd Arms, Guildford
14th November: Stag and Hounds, Bristol
21st November: Corporation Club, Scarborough
12th December: Polish Club, Barnsley
Read our 5/5 album review of “Dreams From The Factory Floor” here.
Read our live review of Louise performing earlier this year at Shepherd’s Bush Empire here.
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