Punk Ska Press chats to Leeds singer-songwriter Louise Distras about her career.
Punk Ska Press: Last time we chatted (for Female First) was back in January, and you’d just announced that you were joining Strummerville. What’s changed since then?
Louise Distras: Hello! Yeah, quite a lot has changed in such a short of space of time, it’s crazy but good. In short I’ve been doing a lot of recording, a lot of gigs, a lot of promo, I’ve met a lot of cool bands and made a lot of friends. Mainly I’ve been getting ready to release the follow up to my debut EP. It’s called ‘Heartstrings On A Handgrenade’ and it comes out May 2nd. As you can see, I also changed my hair colour.
PSPress: How has being affiliated with Strummerville helped you?
LD: Their endorsement has helped me alot. The D.I.Y platform and getting into the Top 20 chart has been an invaluable tool and has helped me get an amazing amount of exposure for my music. There’s a lot of love and a real family vibe between all the bands, and through Strummerville I met Rob Galloway who fronts a punk band also on Strummerville called The Yalla Yallas.
We became friends and did some gigs together. We released a limited edition split EP called ‘Big Society Blues’ at the end of March that we recorded with Grant Henderson at Loom Studios – which also supports Strummerville artists. The whole concept behind the split EP was that we wanted to make a live punk record that was completely organic and stripped back in under an hour. Without Strummerville I would have never met Rob or Grant and never had the opportunity to do any of those things or get my music out to a whole new audience.
PSPress: In May you’ll be releasing your new EP. Are you excited for the release?
LD: Yeah totally. It’s got a totally different sound to it than my first EP, I love it and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. I recorded it with Ben Peel from Thee Deadtime Philharmonic (another Strummerville band).
I asked Ben to produce my EP because I trust him and we have great chemistry and I think it shows on the record. There’s a lot of energy and I think it comes across that we had fun making it. There’s just the right balance of harmonies and percussion, and it has a more focused sound than my first EP. I’m really proud of it.
The launch party is going to be a free gig at Hope House Studios in Leeds with Jimmy Islip (That Fucking Tank), Skint & Demoralised, Miranda Vs The Crok, and March Of Dimes on the 28th April, and I’m really excited about that too.
PSPress: Where did the inspiration come from for the name “Heartstrings On A Handgrenade?”
LD: Somebody once told me that I wear my heart on my sleeve and that my guitar was my weapon. I thought it was dead funny but at the same time it summed up the vibe of my EP perfectly so I just went with it instead of trying to over think the title.
PSPress: You’ve been compared on a few outlets to Frank Turner. Do you agree with the comparison?
LD: Frank Turner is an incredibly well respected musician so I find it really cool that I get compared to him. As I’ve said in the past, he influenced me with the transition he made after Million Dead but I never decided I wanted to sound like him after my band split up. I guess that people will compare me to him quite often because we have similar roots, just the same as I get compared to Courtney Love because I have a raspy voice and blonde hair. I can think of worse comparisons.
PSPress: “Bullets”, in my opinion, is one of your best songs to date. Do you have a personal favourite?
LD: I love all the tracks I’ve recorded for loads of different reasons, whether it’s because of the lyrics, because they are fun to play or because they have sentimental value. It’s really hard to pick just the one, but ‘Bullets’ is really fun to play.
PSPress: How are things progressing musically, in the world of Louise Distras?
LD: Things are progressing really well. I’m a lot more confident in my writing and I feel like my sound has matured a lot and has a lot more direction to it now than it did six months ago, and my voice and guitar playing has come on shitloads.
Over the past year I’ve really found myself as well as the direction in my music and the last six months have been really cool and I’ve learnt a lot. I’m feeling pretty settled in myself and in my music now and I feel really good.
PSPress: You seem to have a grassroots, punk-rock mentality to your music. Who are your influences in the punk scene?
LD: Billy Bragg, The Clash, Chuck Ragan, Milloy, Rancid, The Distillers, and mainly the guys that I’m friends with and the new friends I meet on my travels, especially those who have who have decided to go solo after their bands split up. It’s really inspiring to know you’re not alone and that you’ve got a group of people behind you who love and support you.
PSPress: Where do you get your inspiration lyrically?
LD: All sorts of things inspire me – things that piss me off, memories, love and hate, politics, bad stuff that’s happened to me and just life in general really.
I don’t really tend to lay all my cards on the table with the subject of my songs and I prefer to just have a subtle undertone as to what it’s about. For example, most people don’t realise that I talk a lot about domestic abuse and violent relationships because I wrap them up in a nice little package with pop harmonies that people can tap their feet to.
Some of the greatest songs in the entire world have been written about nothing in particular but they became great because they were catchy and the listener had their own interpretation of the meaning. I’d like to think that I could create the same reaction with my lyrics.
PSPress: What makes you stand out ahead of other female singer-songwriters like, for example, Laura Marling?
LD: Whenever I’ve listened to Laura Marling or Ellie Goulding, I’ve always felt like their tracks are just really sugar coated. I’ve always believed that it doesn’t necessarily matter what you say or sing – it’s the fact that you believe in what you say with every part of you that matters – and whenever I’ve listened to Ellie Goulding etc, I’ve just never quite believed what they’re saying.
I guess I seem to stand out like a sore thumb because I’m not a size 8 and because I believe in myself and in the things that I say and I hope that comes across in my songs whether people like it or not. Life isn’t sugar coated so I don’t really see why I should sugarcoat my music either.
PSPress: Besides the EP, what else is coming up?
LD: I’m doing a bunch of gigs across the country to promote the EP, radio sessions, interviews and the usual kind of promo stuff. I’m playing some really cool festivals in the summer like Rebellion in Blackpool, Strummercamp, Rock & Rail and Norwich Punk House Crawl. I’m really looking forward to all of those because they’re all great opportunities, plus I get to play alongside the bands I listened to growing up such as Bouncing Souls and Pennywise as well as my friends with so I’m really excited.
PSPress: What are your release plans after the EP? Is an album in the works?
LD: A lot of people have asked me if I’m going to release an album anytime soon, and the answer is no. Even though I’ve been writing and performing my whole life (and to some it might feel like I’ve been around for a long time), the reality is that it’s not even been six months since I released my first solo record.
I do think that I’ve got more than enough material to make an album that I’d be proud of, but the three song formula is working pretty well for me at the moment and I don’t want to give everything away just yet. A few labels have approached me but it’s not felt right. I don’t want to sign with a label and do an album purely for the sake of being ‘signed’, I tend to follow my gut instinct with these sorts of things and I’ll know when it’s the right thing to do.
After ‘Heartstrings On A Handgrenade’ has been released I’m going to make a music video and put out a single that I’ll be promoting at the festivals. There are plans in the pipeline for a new split EP that I will be recording in London over the summer in between festivals, and a new solo EP before Christmas.
PSPress: What is your aim for the rest of the year?
LD: I really really want to play one of the small stages at Leeds & Reading this year and I think that’s something that every musician out there wants to do and can relate to, so I’d be really happy if I can do play there this year.
My main aim for 2011 is just to carry on doing what I’m doing; plugging away, play more London shows, get a lot more radio play, put out more records and stuff like that. I want to take things up a level and the sort of gigs and festivals I’m doing over the summer are providing a massive platform for more people to hear my music so I’m just going to push things forward and see what happens really.
PSPress: Do you have any other messages for everyone reading?
LD: Just a big hello to everyone and thankyou for reading, go check out my stuff and if you like it come and say hi!