Interview: Louise Burns
Published on September 2nd, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Although just 25-years-old, Louise Burns is already a relative veteran of the music industry. In 2001, she signed to Maverick Records as the bass player of Canadian pop-rockers Lillix but, aged 20, she left the band amidst record company pressure to commercialise their sound.
Earlier this year, she released her debut solo album Mellow Drama to critical acclaim – it was even long-listed for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize – and, in doing so, rounded off one of the most morally satisfying music tales of this or indeed any other year: that is, by walking away from a world in which Avril Lavigne’s writing team were being forced upon her and achieving success on her own terms through sheer natural talent.
Delighted by both Louise’s music and the story behind her reemergence, Rocksucker fired off some questions in the hope of finding out more…
Buddy Holly came to my mind when I first heard “What Do You Wanna Do” to I was gratified to see him name-checked at the beginning of the biog on your site. Which other artists from the same era particularly inspire you? Do you see any modern day equivalents?
I’m inspired by many artists from that era if not all of them: right when pop and rock was in its early development. Back when pop music was still pure. Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson… As for a modern day equivalent, maybe Jack White?
Is it a relief to break out on your own after years of juggling various bands? Is it easier being in charge? What’s your live set up – do you have a backing band? If so, who?
I wouldn’t call it a relief, it’s actually a lot more pressure because if someone fucks up, well, that means me with only myself to blame! Collaborating is fun, but I think I work best alone in the studio; that side of it is somewhat of a relief. I have had a backing band in the past but now I’m leaning toward a more simpler “paired down” live show…more slide guitar and atmosphere.
How do you feel about making a record which has been variously described as “country pop/girl group” and “shoegaze/macabre”? Strange but lovely bedfellows! Are you at all bothered about how your music gets categorised by people?
The only time I am bothered by it is when they miss the mark completely, calling it happy, light, swingy stuff. The lyrics are pretty important to what I do: because I’m writing really melodic songs, the dark side is brought out by the subject matter. If people can see that, I’m good. But again, if someone thinks I’m just writing earnest singer songwriter fluff, that’s quite bothersome!
You’ve mentioned elsewhere that Lillix were “trained to write for radio”. What kind of musical compromises did you feel like you had to make there? Did it lead to in-band tension?
We ended up writing music we didn’t like in order to get played on radio, so that’s a hit to your integrity. What started as a basement band became a business plan, and that was pretty gross. We definitely had some inner band tension because of this! But ultimately we knew we were in it together and had to be each other’s support team, I suppose…
Apparently you co-founded Lillix as an 11 year-old bass player! What attracted you to the bass at such a young age? Do you come from a musical family?
I didn’t really know what a bass was – I’d played piano my whole life and was more interested in the drums! But when I was asked to join, that was the only remaining instrument. Fourteen years later, still trucking away at it – crazy how many bass players seemed to have started playing bass by this strange twist of fate! My family is not musical at all: my dad was a chemical engineer and my mom was a physiotherapist. However, my dad played lots of Beatles and Dylan growing up. I think that helped…
Is it true you were hit on by Anthony Kiedis?
HA! No! Where did you hear that? (Rocksucker says: er…here.) He definitely gave a good solid check out to two other girls in Lillix in a restaurant one time. That was pretty interesting. I don’t think I’m Anthony’s type. Bummer.
How did you enjoy touring with Sun Wizard? Any plans for you to come over to the UK at any point?
I loved it! They are my brothers. We had some good times indeed. I hope to come to the UK one day! Maybe next year? I’ve just got my UK passport (my Mom is English) and am greatly looking forward to using it.
Congratulations on making the Polaris Music Prize long list, if not the final short list. Who do you think should win it?
Do you have songs in mind for a second solo album? Or indeed any other projects lined up? Anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
I’ve been writing a lot, but not enough for my second record. I’m going to take my time to avoid the “sophomore slump”. I’m in no rush. Collaborations in the future for sure! I sometimes sing with my friend Mike, aka Blood Diamonds. I contribute vox to a lot of bands- I hope to continue doing that and maybe some playing around here in Toronto as I’ve just moved here. I’m also starting an experimental kraut-jazz band with Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga.
Any up-and-coming artists you’d like to recommend or give a shout out to?
If we asked you right this moment to name your top three albums of all time, just off the top of your head, which would you pick?
I’ll go by the ones that have made the biggest impact on me in the past decade (though this is VERY DIFFICULT!!) 1. The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs, 2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Tender Prey and 3. Neil Young – Harvest.
Louise, thank you.
Mellow Drama is out now on Light Organ Records. For more information, please visit louiseburnsmusic.com