By Steven Oldham
Defining yourself by what you are ‘not’ may be quite common in politics, but it is unusual to find such descriptions in the music scene.
However up and coming singer songwriter Louise Distras does just that, describing her style as ‘anti-Ellie Goulding’. While she says it with a wry chuckle, one can’t help but think she is half-serious.
The talented 24-year-old will be coming to Stockport next month as part of the annual Strummercamp festival. Distras, a self-proclaimed ‘DIY-punk’ artist, will be performing at the weekend-long festival at Stockport Rugby Club on the 27-29 May. Strummercamp is a not-for-profit independent festival, described as DIY supporting and awarded a ‘Friendliest Festival’ privilege by efestival.com.
Louise has been perfecting her craft for over ten years. Classically trained, she played recorder from a young age. She says: “I was six when I started my training. My outlook on music changed when I heard Bleach by Nirvana aged 12.”
Nirvana and The Clash are stated as Louise’s primary musical influences. She has used both bands to help form her sound. She explains: “I’d describe my style as honest, catchy, DIY punk rock. Not the sugar coated stuff you hear on the radio. People are quite surprised when they hear the noise I can make with just a guitar and my voice.”
Distras started out aged 14 performing covers in local venues, before starting to perform original material aged 16.
Louise writes her own material and is quite open about what she writes about. She disagrees with songs that make overt political statements; she isn’t comfortable doing this in her own work either.
“I write about maybe quite clichéd stuff like my childhood, past relationships, domestic abuse. The most political work I do is stuff that deals with the way we treat each other, people politics.”
She also says she likes to leave her lyrics open to interpretation. Rather than taking the ‘Coldplay’ approach of dressing everything in flowery language, she prefers the demotic techniques of Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner.
“Everyone can relate to what he says, he speaks how anyone would. I like to do the same with my songs so people can gather their own meaning from my music,” she says.
Distras has an unplanned approach to songwriting. She has no set formula, and it takes as long as it takes.
She explains: “It comes in waves – sometimes I can be sat doing nothing then I will pick up my guitar, play a few chords and scribble down some lyrics. It’s all about energy and emotions.”
This approach shows in her music – if she’d have approached it any other way her music wouldn’t sound as raw and unique as it does in the current musical spectrum.
“I hear Eliza Doolittle singing about skinny jeans and end up thinking ‘what does that mean?’ to myself,” she ponders, perhaps justifiably.
RAW TALENT: The singer-songwriter’s stripped down sound of guitar and vocals is a big hit
When I spoke to Louise she obviously hasn’t got caught in the trappings of a rock and roll lifestyle just yet. She describes the most interesting things she’d done all day as putting a load of washing on and sorting out her broadband! It transpires she doesn’t care about the traditional rock star persona anyway.
She says: “I’m sensible, maybe too much so? If I spent all my tour off my face on drink or drugs I wouldn’t have time to concentrate on my music,” before adding, “do these bands that do all those things just want to be on the fast track to fame? That’s when you lose control of who you are as an artist.”
Although she doesn’t take it to excess, Louise still enjoys a night out.
“I can still go out for a night out and drink everyone else under the table,” she says proudly.
When asked what she does when not touring, her commitment to the cause shows. She says: “I’m pretty much all about the music. I go to gigs or will strum my guitar until eight in the morning. I’m really boring compared to other musicians I suppose. I like reading and cooking.”
Her favourite dish?
“Mashed potato definitely. When other girls get depressed they sit eating chocolate. I go on a carb fest and make a big pan of mash.”
So how did she get involved in Strummercamp?
“’In January I was invited to be involved with Strummerville, another not-for-profit organisation based on the ethos of Joe Strummer. Promoters from Strummercamp saw me there and that’s how I got involved.”
Louise built up a cult following on the Manchester scene with old band Blockades, and last performed in the city just under a year ago on her own at the Night & Day on Oldham Street.
Co-organiser of Strummercamp, Phil Fitzpatrick explains the history of the festival.
“We’re in our sixth year. I met Kevin Nicholson not long after Joe Strummer died. We hosted a Clash tribute night in Ashton and it was successful so we organised the first Strummercamp. It was organised chaos!”
The first Strummercamp attracted about 400 people. It has since grown to double that, and the same sort of attendance is expected this year.
“We have had big acts like Billy Bragg, The Alarm and The Damned here in the past. Most of our acts though are just like-minded musicians who are doing it to commemorate the memory of Joe. It’s a tribute to the man’s influence that people do this.”
As well as The Clash and Nirvana, Louise states authors as influential on her.
“I read a lot of outsider novels when I was growing up. I was a bit of an outcast, so when I read Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski it really made a difference. I didn’t feel alone anymore.”
Louise also states German philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche as a reference.
“He is the Godfather of nihilism. He was quite forward thinking considering it was the late 1800s when he was writing. He was the first person I know of to challenge ideas based on morals and religion. I like how he asks questions about things that are based on something that doesn’t physically exist.”
By limiting herself to just a guitar and a voice, Louise is relying on her passion and energy to win the crowds over. With her obvious determination, don’t bet against her to succeed.
Louise’s new EP Heartstrings on a Handgrenade is released on May 2. For more information on Strummercamp, visit www.strummercamp.co.uk
Watch Louise perform ‘Spiders’ from her debut EP of the same name: