Described as the love child Patti Smith and Billy Bragg never had, Louise Distras is an acoustic songwriter from Wakefield who stands up for what she believes in and pulls no punches.
We’re a fan of anyone that refers to David Cameron as a dickhead, but when you couple that with her ability to channel her anger into some damn fine songwriting, and her tendency to wield her guitar like a deadly weapon, it makes you want to pay attention to what she’s saying. Because she has something to say and she’s here to say it loud.
Currently working with Steve Whale (The Business) and Pat Collier (The Vibrators) in putting the finishing touches on her eagerly anticipated debut album, LTW met her at this year’s Rebellion and recently sat down for a cuppa and catch up.
LTW: Do you remember the first song you wrote? What was it about?
Louise: Me and my brother used to record our own radio ‘shows’ and I remember when I was around 8 years old singing a song I made up about a girl that wasn’t being very nice to me so I sang about how horrible she was. I guess that was the first song I ever wrote! But it actually took me a really long time to be able to build up the confidence to start writing lyrics and sing in front of people, and I don’t think that happened until I was around 17. My first ‘real’ song was a very twisted introspective kind of anti-love song. Even as a teenager it was never my intention to sing about getting drunk, shoes, glittery handbags or soppy love songs about guys I liked.
LTW: If you could have been in any band, any genre, any decade, which band would it have been and why?
Louise: Growing up my life was a total drag, I got beaten up at school, bullied at home and I just felt like a total reject that wasn’t worth anything to anyone. It all changed when I was twelve and I discovered Nirvana. ‘Bleach’ was the first record I heard that really resonated within me as a teenager, and if I’d have never heard that record I would have never discovered punk rock, or picked up a guitar. I can definitely say that my greatest single inspiration always has and always will be Kurt Cobain, because his music was the first music that I ever truly connected with. However that doesn’t mean I would necessarily ever want to walk a mile in his shoes.
LTW: Really? I didn’t have you down as a Nirvana fan to be honest!
Louise: It’s Nirvana that turned me onto punk rock, and punk rock gave me (and continues to give me) that creative focus, freedom and identity to be myself and live my life on my own terms.
That’s the whole reason why I wrote ‘The Hand You Hold’, for men AND women. To empower them with that fact that they aren’t somebody else’s property and nobody has the right to tell someone else how to look, act, think, feel, or pass judgement on the way another human being chooses to live their life. We’re living in this degenerative culture that’s perpetuated by tabloid newspapers, sexist marketing campaigns and reality TV shows that celebrate bullying and prejudice. The media tells us, especially women and young girls, that what we look like is more important than what we say and do. Is it any wonder that so many people feel so shit about themselves?
LTW: You like to interact with your fans on twitter and Facebook, do you have problems being so accessible or is it a valuable experience?
Louise: I’m not really a fan of this whole rockstar hierarchy-pedestal thing, it’s not real and it doesn’t exist but I do experience problems and online bullying. However, I find it funny that I get so many threats and nasty rumours spread about me for simply speaking out against what I believe to be wrong, after all, I’m just one woman with an acoustic guitar…what’s so scary about that? Online bullying is becoming a huge issue though that’s destroying the self worth of a lot of people, especially teenagers like Amanda Todd who were bullied so badly they took their own life. To anyone else out there that’s going through the same thing, they should know that they’re not alone.
LTW: How do you cope with the negative interaction online?
Louise: By not caring about what people think of me. The whole point of art and punk rock is to challenge the world around us, to try and make sense of it, to express ourselves, improve our environment and to keep on pushing boundaries rather than imitating and regurgitating. I love the fact that the one track I’ve released is pissing so many people off and freaking them out. That’s exactly the sort of reaction I wanted and it’s really exciting, interesting but kinda depressing at the same time. It’s really important to me to be accessible to everyone that connects with my music and it’s definitely a valuable experience because we help, inspire, empower and learn from each another – it’s a two way thing – and I’m not going to be a victim that sacrifices that connection because of people who are nothing more than bullies.
LTW: Moving on to something else controversial, do you think artists should be activists? Isn’t the role of a musician to entertain?
Louise: To me, an artist is someone that pushes boundaries, observes and challenges the world around them, and tries to make a positive change to that environment. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the artists output can’t be entertaining. It’s a very powerful tool that can be used to unite people and achieve a larger goal. The kind of attention you get definitely opens up opportunities to bring wider attention to issues that you care about, and speak out on behalf of those who are most vulnerable. However some musicians don’t have the guts to step up to the plate and they don’t want the responsibility – just the royalty cheques. Each to their own, but I’d be lying if I said I had respect for anyone who perpetuates that kind of soulless insipid crap in the face of everything that’s happening right now.
LTW: You’ve been really active in the campaign supporting Pussy Riot in particular, why did you feel it was important to speak up?
Louise: Pussy Riot are ordinary people, fighting for freedom and speech and equal rights for all. They are no different to me, you, our mothers, sisters or the women that walk past us in the street, and that’s why I felt as though it was so important to speak up and try and motivate people. If we don’t unite and fight for our own basic human rights then who will? The more noise we make, the more people will hear us.
LTW: Who are your songwriting heroes?
Louise: Definitely Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Jeff Lynne from ELO, Barry Gibb from The Bee Gees, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson and Joe Strummer.
LTW: Really? Barry Gibb?
Louise: Definitely! “New York Mining Disaster” and “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” are two of my most favourite songs ever. A great song is a great song regardless of genre.
LTW: What are you dressing up as for Halloween? Zombie Barry Gibb? Too soon?
Louise: My friend and I started writing a story about a character we made up called ‘Zombowie’. In the first chapter, Zombowie makes his ascent from the Underworld to take over planet Earth. He somehow loses his red dancing shoes, we haven’t decided how or why yet, but we know that without his red dancing shoes he loses his immortal David Bowie Zombie powers and has twenty four hours to find them otherwise he will become the living. The horror! …so maybe I’ll dress up as Zombowie. That might be kinda cool.
LTW: What’s next for you music wise?
Louise: Right now I’m finishing up my debut album, shortly I’m going to be announcing a release date, and a whole bunch of other stuff plus shows in mainland Europe and the States to coincide with my record coming out. More information about my music, tour dates and debut album release news can be found on her website.
Interview by Hannah McFaull. You can read more from Hannah on LTW here.