It’s just after 8 o’clock on a seasonably warm late-spring Boston evening. Due to some unexpected police activity clogging the local roads on the route to the Midway Cafe, the kinda-out-of-the-way Boston venue that was our arranged meeting place, Louise Distras is already seated at the bar by the time I make my way in. It’s the eve of the UK-based folk-punk singer-songwriter’s first-ever US show, and, having just flown in from her homeland the night before, she’s a bit…well…tired.
“I apologize in advance because my brain is still a bit spacey,” Distras leads with. In the interest of full disclosure, I find that there’s something intimidating about an artist about whom labels like ‘high-energy, face-ripping, ballsy feminist protest punk’ are bandied about. And yet, whether it’s the travel-induced spaciness, the pre-US tour jitters or, more probably, the genuine and thougtful nature she puts in to having a conversation, there’s also something immediately disarming about Distras, a good sign for a natural introvert such as myself.
Distras has teamed up with fellow folk punk Bryan McPherson for a three-plus-week US tour that will take them from the Bostonian-turned-Californian’s former home to his current one. It’s a flip-flop of sorts for the two, who recently wrapped a lengthy tour of the UK and mainland Europe. The two hadn’t met in person prior to the first UK gig, relying on the magic of social media to make the necessary connections for such a venture to work. Quite the leap of faith, at least on paper, and yet as Distras says, “I think we’re both pretty intuitive people that rely on our gut instincts a lot, and I think if either of us had a bad feeling in our guts about it, neither of us would have done it.” By all accounts, the UK/EU tour was a resounding success, paving the way nicely for a tour that’ll mark the release not only of McPherson’s latest solo album, Wedgewood, but the US/International release of Distras’ debut full-length, Dreams From The Factory Floor.
Though originally released through Distras’ own Street Revolution Records in 2013, Dreams From The Factory Floor found its recent, widespread release through California’s Pirates Press Records. “Ultimately, it’s all about getting the music and the message out to as many people as possible,” comments Distras. “Through Pirates Press and their amazing support, we’ve been able to take the record and put it out to people all over the world.” While the wider release will allow more people to hear the stellar album, it also affords Distras the opportunity to shine a brighter light on issues she cares about. Test pressings of Dreams… are being auctioned off at Distras’ website to help raise money for a human rights organization called Justice Now. Says Distras of the cause: “they are working with inmates in women’s prisons in California. Their key things are fighting for reproductive justice within women’s prisons in California, and they were fighting against the forced sterilization of female inmates in prisons. They work with communities that are effected by family members in prison, through music, art and things like that.”
Like most of us, Distras found the punk world at a fairly early age (twelve, to be exact), albeit via a bit more of an untraditional path for someone born in 1987, which marked the tail end of Thatcher’s ironclad grasp on the United Kingdom. “Wakefield, where I’m from, is a place that was completely destroyed in the ’80s by the right-wing government. It’s very, very apathetic,” says Distras, “there’s nothing to do for young people, there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of drinking.” As you’re probably imagining, life at home in such an environment left something to be desired. “I was surrounded by a lot of toxic energy. I was bullied at school for being different, bullied at home, and I just felt really alienated all my life.” Enter Kurt Cobain.
“The catalyst for me was hearing Bleach by Nirvana for the first time,” Distras says. “It was the first time that I ever heard, as I describe it, that sounded the way that I felt…my mum was working any and every job she could find to put food on the table and put clothes on our backs and everything.” Bleach might not sound like an obvious entry to the world of punk rock for female in the UK in 1999, but the punk world can be nothing if not unpredictable. “Hearing that record for the first time, and hearing for the first time that somebody else was feeling the same way as me. That’s the only way I can describe it.”
While many a pre-teenage boy was inspired to pick up a guitar based on the music that originate from Seattle garages (or Queens garages…or London garages…), the same cannot be said for females of the same age. In many ways, Distras has been pioneering the carrying of the independent punk flag amongst women of this generation, but she’s drawn inspiration from a couple of sources, one likely, one a bit more unexpected. “Joan Jett’s attitude and approach, her strong, independent, DIY mentality was definitely inspiring when it came to setting up Street Revolution Records and selling my album,” says Distras, adding that she “actually found out recently that Dolly Parton took the same approach as well in the early stages of her career. She said something like even if she hadn’t received all of these amazing responses to her music, she would still be selling records out of her car because it’s just what she does. It’s just like breathing air to her.”
Distras displays a sense of responsibility for carrying not just the socially conscious punk flag, but of leveling the playing field for women in the scene. The lack of gender equality on the main stages of the UK and European festival circuit, not to mention the Warped Tour here in the States, draws particular ire. “What kind of message is this sending out…about what it means to be a young man and what it means to be a young woman, and how men and women see their roles?,” asks Distras rather concisely. “The stage is for the guys, and the girls are groupies.” Distras’ own shows showed a similar trend at first, but the tide seems to be turning. “When I first started playing solo shows three years ago, there wouldn’t be many young women,” says Distras. “As time went on, young women started coming to the shows, but they’d stand at the back because that’s the safe place. Now, the women stand at the front of the shows and jump around.”
Distras has come an awful long way, literally and figuratively, in a fairly short amount of time. There’s a sense of honesty, urgency, and integrity in her lyrics that force the listener and the audience to pay attention and to join the cause. “People have said that music can’t change the world, but I really do believe that it has already and will continue to do so,” says Distras. “It certainly changed our worlds and led us down this journey that we’re on now. Even something as simple as having a bad day and hearing a song on the radio that makes you feel better is an amazing force.”
For Distras, there’s a lot in the works for not only the remainder of this year, but for next year as well. You’ll have to check out our full interview below for more specifics. While you’re at it, you can stream Dreams From The Factory Floor in its entirety! And if you live in the Western half of the US, you can check out the McPherson/Distras tour rundown here.
(Editor’s note: Transcript is edited and condensed for clarity. Some unintended technical difficulties/operator error led to the beginning of a conversation about Distras’ fellow singer/songwriter Bryan McPherson, with whom she is currently touring, getting unrecorded. The “you guys” in the first question is in reference to Distras and McPherson.)
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): How did you guys first hook up? Did that tour come together first and then this one?
Louise Distras: Bryan’s profile’s really gone up over the past year or so because he’s done so many amazing tours and he’s got his new album coming out. It just turned out that we had a lot of mutual acquaintances and friends in bands that we’ve both been on tour with or played shows with, such as Street Dogs or Face To Face or The Mahones even. It was through those mutual friends. I first found out about Bryan through Katie from The Mahones, so we just started chatting on Facebook. It’s a really good way to bridge the gap. So I invited him over to tour mainland Europe and the UK, and then he invited me here, and the timing worked out perfectly. Particularly with the album release for both of us, but also I think that the kind of music that we both play works well together. As performers, we’ve got a lot in common in terms of our approach.
So you guys hadn’t met each other at all in person before he flew over there? Just through the magic of the internet?
Yeah, just the magic of the internet!
That’s sort of a big deal then, to book not only that tour but this one as well and just sorta hope that, fingers crossed, that you guys hit it off and that you don’t hate each other from jump street, you know? That’s sort of a big leap of faith.
Yeah, I guess so, but as it turns out, I think we’re both pretty intuitive people that rely on our gut instincts a lot, and I think if either of us had a bad feeling in our guts about it, neither of us would have done it. We’re both pretty strong-minded about things, so we wouldn’t have done that. But it’s worked out brilliantly. There’s been absolutely no stress whatsoever, he’s been fantastic to tour with. He’s a really nice guy, and he’s got great songs and he’s a great performer. It was an absolute pleasure having him in Europe and the UK, and the responses to his music were exactly what I expected and hoped for if not more. He was received amazingly by the European and UK audiences.
Oh good! That’s awesome. It’s always nice to hear when guys from around here do well. Because you get nervous and cross your fingers and hope for the best, so I’m glad. Who’s technically headlining this tour? Are you flip-flopping?
We swapped over. So he was special guest on my tour, I’m special guest on his. Or whatever people want to call it.
Congratulations on the album getting release here…finally…by the way!
Is that sort of a weird thing for it to come out here now? Because it’s existed for a long time and was written even longer ago. Does it mean something else now to have it out here versus when you release something on your own or you release something across-the-pond only?
Here’s the thing…it might feel like a long time, and sometimes it feels like a long time because so much has happened in that time. I’ve been lucky enough to go travel to so many different places and tour with so many awesome bands. But it was only released at the end of 2013, so not that long ago. It was released through my own label called Street Revolution Records. The inspiration from that came from Joan Jett, with how she released stuff on Blackheart Records, of course. She’s a great role model for female artists. Then there was interest from Pirates Press Records and they wanted to put it out.
Obviously, (doing things) at the DIY level, it’s great. The pros far outweigh the cons. But it certainly helps if somebody else wants to come on board and put their energy behind it. Ultimately, it’s all about getting the music and the message out to as many people as possible. Through Pirates Press and their amazing support, we’ve been able to take the record and put it out to people all over the world. People all over the world buy vinyl records, so it’s been an amazing experience to work with them. In my opinion, they’re one of the best labels going now. Very much so.
Absolutely. I agree, not just from knowing them casually from doing the Dying Scene thing for so long, but when you do this sort of thing basically as a volunteer or a hobby, you tend to want to align yourself with artists and labels that you’re actually interested in and that you think are doing it the right way, and they are up on top of the short list for me.
That’s always the best way, for things to happen organically. I’m a big believer in that things will happen the way that they’re meant to happen, and when things happen organically, people who come together under the same values and ethics and work together and plant the seed from there, amazing things can happen and grow.
Has it been a long-time goal to do a full US tour like this? And was the album coming out recently sort of the thing that made it seem like the perfect time to do this? Or have there been opportunities in the pas that maybe weren’t the right time?
I mean, there’s been interest from the States for a while. I’ve been lucky enough to receive some college radio play, there’s been a lot of radio play on the West Coast. I’ve only been doing this like three years, but there has been a lot of great interest since early on. When I released the first single, “The Hand You Hold,” there was a really positive response over here.
Well, because that’s a great song.
It really is a great song. My daughter was singing along to it a bit in the car this morning. I’m trying my darnedest to keep her away from pop music as much as possible. She’s seven, and obviously she’s a girl, and she’s with other seven-year-old girls at school and they inherently want to listen to that stuff. So anytime there’s someone that’s “my music” that I can get her to dig is a huge win, so I thought that was pretty awesome.
That’s really awesome to hear, because that’s why I wrote that song. I mean, there’s many different layers to that song, so a lot of different kinds of people will take something from it, but that was definitely one of the many things I had in mind when I was writing that song. It’s a response to mainstream music and mainstream media and the way that women are represented stereotypically. I think it’s very cool for young women and young girls have positive role models where sexuality and objectification aren’t at the forefront of the act.
That’s awesome. Because it’s horrifying. I guess you don’t really pay attention to it, or at least I didn’t pay attention to it, because it wasn’t my thing. I grew up in a family of basically all guys, between my brother and my cousins and stuff like that, so you don’t really think about things that way. And then you have a daughter and you have to reframe how you look at things. It really is horrifying, the early age at which girls especially get indoctrinated into shaking their booties and to wearing makeup and to dancing and being sassy. It’s mind boggling. As boys at that age, we grew up playing baseball and hitting each other with sticks, that was about it.
That’s two really good examples that you mentioned, of how early kids are indoctrinated. I think the official statistic is that girls and boys learn to define gender roles by the age of three. Even things as simple as going in to a toy star and knowing that the pink toys are for girls and the blue toys are for boys, and that the girls’ toys are centered around being a homemaker and a mom and the boys’ toys are about sports and destruction..
Yeah, blowing things up…
Right. And also, boys are being indoctrinated from an early age to define what it means to be a girl, and vice versa. It’s very worrying. Especially like the music videos, like you were talking about, the super, super, hyper-sexualized music videos where you may have a male artist who is literally decorated by women, or you get a female artist where sexuality is at the forefront of everything and the lyrics are written as very submissive. Kids are seeing these images flashing in front of their eyes 24 hours a day and it’s kinda strange. People say that it’s not a big deal, but would you let your four-year-old son go in to a strip club? Or your four-year-old daughter go in to a strip club? The answer is obviously ‘no,’ so why are these things allowed to be on TV and to be marketed to young people. It’s very worrying.
And to a pop crowd. It’s startling. Maybe I didn’t realize it was always that way, or maybe it wasn’t that way when I was 7, twenty-eight years ago. But it sure is now.
From a lot of musicians that I’ve spoken to being on the road, we’ve talked about similar things and the guys have said to me things that are very similar to what you’re saying. That they never thought about it until they had daughters. A lot of time people don’t necessarily think about something until it directly effects them or somebody that they care about. This is one of the good things about music, like Bryan’s music and my music…it’s a very powerful way to plant seeds and spread these messages, in hope that from there, something’s going to grow and be positive.
When you started this whole thing, who did you look to as, not spiritual advisers so to speak, but you did you look to and draw inspiration from? Because at least here, across what I guess is the punk landscape, to use that term somewhat loosely, there’s not a heck of a lot out there, particularly of stronger, independent female artists like yourself. Who did you look to when you were deciding to even give it a go doing this?
If we go right back to the beginning of when I started to play guitar…when I was around 12 or 13, that’s when I was introduced to a bunch of American bands. The catalyst for me was hearing Bleach by Nirvana for the first time. It was the first time that I ever heard, as I describe it, that sounded the way that I felt. Growing up for me, my background is that I’m from a single-parent, working class family from a very, very poor background. My mum was working any and every job she could find to put food on the table and put clothes on our backs and everything. Wakefield, where I’m from, is a place that was completely destroyed in the ‘80s by the right-wing government. It’s very, very apathetic, not a lot of political conversation going on. There’s nothing to do for young people, there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of drinking. I was growing up in the aftermath of that happening because I was born in ’87.
So I was surrounded by a lot of toxic energy. I was bullied at school for being different, bullied at home, and I just felt really alienated all my life until then, up until hearing that record for the first time, and hearing for the first time that somebody else was feeling the same way as me. That’s the only way I can describe it. So hearing Nirvana inspired me to play guitar. Kurt Cobain is my biggest and greatest inspiration. From there I started learning to play guitar, and I got switched on to the idea of punk rock, but also the ethics and integrity of punk rock’s message. The fact that nobody could tell me how to look, how to think, how to feel, whether the way I express myself is valid or not, and just the fact that it was possible that I could create and express myself on my own terms. So from there, it was just a seed that was planted that just grew and grew and grew and grew and led me to where I am now.
In terms of looking to people for inspiration, I mean, Joan Jett’s attitude and approach, her strong, independent, DIY mentality was definitely inspiring when it came to setting up Street Revolution Records and selling my album. I actually found out recently that Dolly Parton took the same approach as well in the early stages of her career. She said something like even if she hadn’t received all of these amazing responses to her music, she would still be selling records out of her car because it’s just what she does. It’s just like breathing air to her. The same with Joan Jett and the same with me. Going back to what I said about growing up and feeling alienated, the thing I always craved the most was just the space to be myself without prejudice, which I think is a really important thing. A lot of people grew up that way and still are growing up feeling that way. So I never really had idols that I feel I could relate to, I guess, except Kurt Cobain. That was probably a long-winded answer…
No, no, not at all. Because it got me thinking, that it’s a fairly common thing, particularly in my generation, I turned 12 in 1991, when Nirvana blew up and Pearl Jam blew up and Soundgarden blew up and the whole thing…
(Editor’s note: At this point, we take a bit of a break in the action. The band that was getting ready to play that particular evening’s festivities at the Midway Cafe began soundchecking, meaning the bar got pretty loud pretty fast. We take the conversation outside and, eventually, to a neighboring pizza joint, where we begin a follow-up conversation about carrying the flag in the current generation of punk music.)
It was just more about, one of the reasons I like Tim Armstrong so much as well, is that not only is he super talented and that he makes amazing music that’s constantly pushing outside the box, always, into all different avenues; films, documentaries, art… But he’s also working with a lot of young artists as well. A lot of pissed-off young people from the new pissed-off generation of creative young people who have a lot to say about the state of the world that we live in. I think that’s a really, really important thing to happen. Who’s going to carry the torch for punk rock even five years from now, or ten or fifteen years from now? We’ve got all the amazing classic bands who’ve inspired us, like UK Subs and Cock Sparrer, even Dropkick Murphys have been going for around twenty years now.
Twenty years this year, yeah.
Yeah! It’s plain to see that these bands aren’t going to be around in ten years time or whatever, so who’s going to carry the torch and spread these messages to other people the same age as us, that are feeling the same way, like how Nirvana affected me and other disenfranchised people around the world. That’s kind of a gripe I have at the moment with how music is. For me, living in the UK as a young person, there’s only a bunch of old classic bands to listen to, which, obviously, are classic records and great songs. Or there’s mainstream music, like X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent, or whatever the US equivalent is…
America’s Got Talent.
America’s Got Talent…of course. But as a young woman growing up in the UK, I haven’t really come across anything that really speaks to me. In fact, the last record actually came from a hip-hop artist who’s also influenced by skinhead culture. We have an act called Plan B, who is a soul singer but is also a hip-hop artist. He’s very, very mainstream, but he made this album that was released in 2012. It was called Ill Manors and it is really, probably, the most reliable portrait of broken Britain that I’ve heard in years. Definitely the most controversial record to come out, and he really delivered it straight to the heart of young people. He also made a film and it was the soundtrack to the film as well. But then, he collaborated with, for example, John Cooper Clarke on a track. Are you familiar with John Cooper Clarke?
He was an amazing, pioneering punk poet who is from the north of England, where I’m from. Also, even though I’ve been talking about that thing about carrying the torch, but I also believe that what he did for example, the combination of young and, for lack of a better description, “old,” working together is also a very powerful combination. For example, in the UK, Billy Bragg has the Left Field stage at Glastonbury and he invited me and a few other younger artists to play on that. That exchange of old school ideas but with a new breath of fresh air and building upon what’s already been achieved is a really powerful thing. So like what Tim Armstrong’s doing with the Interrupters, Billy Bragg with the artists on the Left Field stage, et cetera, et cetera. There are people and other artists doing it, but I would like to see more artists coming through.
It’s funny that you bring that up, the last interview that I did was just Monday with someone who I’ve become friendly with named Sal from a local band called Rebuilder. They just put out an album on Panic State, and we were sort of talking about growing up listening to the same albums that everybody listened too, the whole generation listened to them, whether you stayed with punk or not, everybody had Green Day’s Dookie, everybody had Let’s Go or …And Out Come The Wolves, or everybody had The Offspring album Smash. Then the next tier down was like Stranger Than Fiction, the first few Pennywise albums, the first few Face To Face albums. And that doesn’t really exist anymore. Sal was saying, and I agree, that you can go into a Guitar Center here now and it used to be 12-, 13-, 14-year-old kids trying out a used Stratocaster, playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” trying to play a NOFX song, something like that. And now you can walk in to a Guitar Center and it’s empty, or it’s older guys playing “Stairway To Heaven,” or Deep Purple riffs, and the younger kids, if there are any there, are in the keyboard studio and making EDM music and stuff like that. There doesn’t seem to be that next generation. You look at the shows that sell out bigger places here, like the Fat Wreck Chords tour is basically all of the bands that we listened to for quite a while, and like a couple younger bands. And I think Fat Wreck Chords is sort of trying to bridge that gap, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot else out there in terms of people trying to get the younger generation to pick up that torch. Because let’s face it, it borders on embarrassing watching some of the older bands play nowadays. Maybe not embarrassing, but definitely a little weird to see people at 50, 55, 60 trying to do the same thing they did thirty years ago, trying to do bondage pants and liberty spikes.
I can totally understand what you’re saying completely. But I think age is just another division between people. I really don’t think age has anything to do with it personally. For example, in the UK, we’ve got UK Subs. Charlie Harper is seventy-one. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the godfather of punk, and he’s still as relevant as ever. T.V. Smith from The Adverts is in his late 50s and he’s still touring. I think that age isn’t an issue as long as the messages that you’re putting out are relevant and they relate to today. That’s a problem. One of the many things that punk means to me is that it’s inclusive of all people, regardless of age, race, gender, class, whatever. And if you’re not including people from all different backgrounds and all kinds of walks of life with all kinds of things to say, then it’s becoming one-dimensional, and that’s not what punk was about in the first place.
For example, in the UK at least, because I can’t draw comparisons to the US because I haven’t toured here yet, but, in the UK it’s very much dominated by white men. I think in 2014 in the UK, out of all the major festivals, there weer only two woman headliners. One was Paramore at Leeds and Reading festival, and one was Lily Allen, I think, at some other festival, but another band dropped out and she filled in for them. There’s also an interesting statistic here in the US with regards to Warped Tour. So baring in mind that you’ve got 50% or more of attending young audiences are women, but the lineup itself only consists of women as 6%. It’s making it one-dimensional, dominated by white men. But what kind of message is this sending out, going back to what we were originally talking about, about what it means to be a young man and what it means to be a young woman and how men see their roles and women’s roles… the stage is for the guys, the girls are groupies.
I guess that’s sort of what I meant when I asked who your role models were in getting in to this, because there’s a whole generation of people who, because of Kurt Cobain and because of Eddie Vedder and Green Day picked up a guitar, picked up a Les Paul, tried a fake Fender Jaguar to play left handed like Kurt, and that was just sort of the thing you did for a generation of guys here. But few and far between are the girls who did it. So I wonder, then, what it takes for you to be taken seriously as a woman who’s trying to do it. Like you said, punk is supposed to be an inclusive scene, but we all know that sometimes it’s not. We all know that sometimes it’s very polarizing and very insular and very protective of itself to a fault, particularly with some guys in the scene. Has it been an all-inclusive response for you in starting out?
Going back to what you originally said with regards to women in the punk scene, I think that female visibility is extremely low. However, there are a lot of incredible women musicians out there, definitely. My experiences…how can I word it in the right way…I have experienced a lot of discrimination and a lot of prejudice, I’ve been at the receiving end of a lot of terrible things, but I don’t really feel that there’s a point to give a huge list. However, I feel like, for me personally, I feel like if I viewed my gender as a problem, it would automatically be a defeatist attitude to have, and I would be entering what I’m doing with the wrong idea.
I feel like, for me, the way that I’ve got my head around it is that something is only a problem if I view it as a problem. I’m not saying it hasn’t been difficult; it has been difficult. But I feel like it would be an irresponsible thing to do to concentrate on the negative aspects. There’s been a lot of positive aspects to me being lucky enough to do what I do. Number 1, standing on stage on my own, personally, has given me the biggest confidence boost I could have ever hoped for. And also, when I first started playing solo shows three years ago, at first, there wouldn’t be many young women. But as time went on, young women started coming to the shows, but they’d stand at the back because that’s the safe place. Now, the women stand at the front of the shows and jump around…
Yeah. And I speak to women, young women that come to the shows, and we share our experiences and things like that. They say really positive things about my music, particularly “The Hand You Hold” or “Love Me The Way I Am,” and how they’ve connected with it and what they got from it which, form what they’ve said, is a lot of strength. That has to be the best feeling ever and the most positive thing. Definitely. There is no better feeling than being in a room full of people where you are all vibrating on the same frequency. It really is the best feeling and the most positive thing, so I would rather concentrate on talking about the positive aspects. And also, for example, I’ve had a lot of women at shows come up to me and tell me things that they’ve been told by people why they can’t do something. Particularly, one example that I always remember, was that a young woman’s dad had said to her “well, you can’t be taken seriously in music unless you’re going to lose some weight.”
Her father said that to her?
Yeah. What a ridiculous, disgusting, irresponsible, hate-fueled thing to say to your own daughter. What difference does it make how someone looks with regards to them expressing themselves. Everybody should be able to feel like they can express themselves freely without the fear of prejudice. Or live any aspect of their lives without fear of prejudice.
Right, of course.
From that, I can share my experiences and we just get talking and the outcome is always positive. I feel very inspired by young women especially who come to the shows and from what they say, I’m guessing that they feel inspired. It’s a really good feeling for there to be some kind of positive movement going.
Whether it’s hearing other people’s stories or being on particular stages, what’s been the biggest, most overwhelmingly positive moment where you have to take a minute to say to yourself “wow…I can’t believe this is happening”? Are there specific things that you can think of that are like that or particular moments where you had to catch yourself and ground yourself for a minute?
In terms of grounding myself, I don’t consider that to be an issue, because I always remain completely grateful for any opportunity. I recognize that I am living a completely privileged life where I am able to do what I love on my own terms as well. But, there have been some moments that have taken my breath away. There was one recently in Austria. I guess…it had more impact because the day before this particular show, we, myself, Bryan and our tour manager and our host, had been in a car crash.
Yeah, I saw that picture.
So that was quite the shocking experience. The day after, we had a really great show in Austria, and I remember the crowd singing all the words, but there was one in particular where they wanted me to play more. And the song that they wanted to hear was one called “Love Me The Way I Am.” All the songs on Dreams From the Factory Floor are obviously extremely personal , but that one in particular was one that was a very, very sensitive subject. For people to request that and for them to be singing every single word so loud, I definitely felt overwhelmed by that, because it’s one of the hardest songs that I ever wrote.
Maybe that’s why people are so drawn to it. Because you can tell. I mean, you don’t phone it in when you sing. You don’t phone it in when you perform. So I think people can tell, and that’s why they’re drawn to it.
Perhaps. I mean, I think one thing that never goes out of fashion is having good songs and meaning what you say. If you don’t mean what it is that you’re saying, then why do it? I don’t understand.
Because you can probably make more money the other way. I don’t know that Katy Perry necessarily believes that ‘baby, you’re a firework.’ But it’s going to sell a shit-ton of records.
In a way, it’s two completely different worlds, though, you know? For example, Pink. She’s a punk rocker.
She comes from the streets and grew up hanging around with skaters and sniffing glue and stuff. She has incredible songs that are incredibly uplifting and empowering. She’s sold a shit-ton of records, and she never phones it in. I think she’s a fantastic role model for young people, absolutely.
As do I. I think I just have a personal bias against Katy Perry, because she played the Warped Tour for god’s sake.
Yeah, in 2009 or something (editor’s note: it was 2008). So it’s not like it was all that long ago. She played a Les Paul on stage at the Warped Tour all summer long. That should have been where this went, not the videos that my daughter wants to watch now. Well, who am I to judge where it should have gone…
Well, ultimately, some of the best advice I’ve ever been given was that if someone, whether an artist or a performer or someone who creates something or even runs their own business, if this person ever came up and said to you “I don’t want my music to reach as many people as possible and I don’t want to play on bigger stages,” they’re basically a liar. As an artist, of course, that’s what you want to do. You want your music to go as far as possible. That’s art, and it affects people and it shapes the world we live in. It, in turn, has shaped my world and the lens with which I view the world, and yours as well. Of course, if you have a positive message in your music, of course you want your music to reach as many people as possible. I certainly do, that’s why I’m in America!
You know who I heard say a similar thing, and I loathe the man, but Kid Rock.
Yeah, he was on a radio program, Howard Stern I think, a bunch of years ago, and talked about the guys I think from the Seattle scene in particular…the Eddie Vedders and the Chris Cornells, who talk about wanting to do it for the art, and that it’s not about girls and making money and selling as many records as possible…and Kid Rock said basically that you’re full of shit if you believe that. Not that the art isn’t a part of it, but you want it to sell as many copies as you can. You want to play to as many people as you can. You want to get your word out there as best you can. So he was saying that it’s not really genuine when you say that it’s just about the art and that they’d be happy playing in front of clubs with two people. No, they wouldn’t. They’re Pearl Jam, they want to sell out 17,000 seat arenas and have all of the people there singing along with you. That’s the whole point. And as much as I loathe him, I think he’s on to something.
Now, I don’t think that it should change the way that you write music. I don’t think that you should just write for those people specifically, so that you’re writing for the 20,000 people in front of you…
I mean, in terms of the whole selling out thing, I think you’re selling out if you’re doing something that you don’t want to do. But, I can’t really comment on the money thing because, it’s like…I have none, and I’ve never had any all my life. From being a kid growing up in a single parent family, we had nothing. Well, not literally nothing, but we didn’t have much. So I learned from a very early age how to make the best out of nothing to create something out of very, very little, and that was a good DIY skill I learned from being a kid, like many other people. It always means much more, as well, I think, when you’ve created something special for yourself and so many people can connect with that. It’s definitely a very powerful thing, for sure.
Now that you’re here, on the month-long tour that you guys are doing, do you have spots that you’re really particularly looking forward to playing? I’m sure touring in general is something you look forward too, but are there dates in particular that you’ve circled as particularly cool shows?
Yeah, I’m excited to be everywhere. This is going to sound cliché, but I’m really excited to play the Midway because one of the first tours I did of Europe was with Street Dogs. That’s how I know Lenny. It was when we were on…which song was it, they released a 7-inch through Pirates Press…
Yeah, “Crooked Drunken Sons” I think. Or was it the other one?
That was the EP, right? “Crooked Drunken Sons”? Then there was the single. Anyway, they were over in Europe promoting that in 2013, just before Dreams From The Factory Floor came out. I was on tour with them for three weeks throughout Europe.
I think I remember Mike and Lenny posting stuff about you, that’s how I got turned on to your music at first. ..
Yeah! And throughout that tour I remember hearing them talk about Boston and talk about the Midway, and I remember saying to Lenny actually that “I really hope I can come play the Midway some day, it sounds awesome.” And he just went “yeah, you will!” And I was thinking, “Really? You really thing so?” And now we’ve just been in the Midway and I’m playing here on Friday. It just goes to show what a lot of positive thinking can do, you know? I’m really excited about playing here.
I heard a lot of good stuff about Oakland and San Francisco. I’m looking forward to the Oakland show because while I’m here, I partnered with the human rights organization called Justice Now. They are working with inmates in women’s prisons in California. Their key things are fighting for reproductive justice within women’s prisons in California, and they were fighting against the forced sterilization of female inmates in prisons. They work with communities that are effected by family members in prison, through music, art and things like that. Through Justice Now, I’ve been learning a lot about prison operations as well, and still learning of course, because it’s a really, really big, expansive subject. And all the elements to it, such as racism and class war, et cetera. Throughout the whole tour, I’m going to do my best to spread the message of Justice Now, and then in Oakland, there’s going to be an event where they’re going to come to the show at the Night Light and there’s going to be information available.
Yeah, totally. There’s going to be representatives from Justice Now to give information and answer any questions, et cetera. Also, with the test pressings from Dreams From The Factory Floor, they are being auctioned to raise money for Justice Now. We’ve just auctioned the fourth one, I think, out of ten, and so far we’ve raised around $300 I think for them. I’m really, really excited about it and I’m happy to be able to create something positive with the test pressings and have the money go to something that I feel very passionate about.
How’d you hook up with them? Just through researching online, or did they reach out to you?
I had the pleasure of meeting Hannah, who is one of the coordinators, at Rebellion Festival in I think 2012. We just got chatting about women’s right issues and our own experiences and what it feels like to be a woman. We found that we had a lot in common, so we just kind of came together. So myself and Pirates Press Records and Justice Now are all working together. One thing I’m particularly excited about as well is that Justice Now have taken two sets of lyrics from two songs from the record, “The Hand You Hold” and “Love Me The Way I Am,” which I just spoke about, and people on the inside are basically taking the lyrics and creating these amazing pieces of art and their expressions and their feelings of what the lyrics mean to them.
That’s really cool.
Yeah, and apparently they have one of the Justice Now representatives on the inside and saying that people are really, really excited about this and being able to take the lyrics and pick them apart and create something together. I think it just shows how powerful music is really, that you can have music from one side of the ocean to the other, but then from outside to the inside as well, and for it to affect people in such a way. People have said that music can’t change the world, but I really do believe that it has already and will continue to do so. It certainly changed our worlds and led us down this journey that we’re on now. Even something as simple as having a bad day and hearing a song on the radio that makes you feel better is an amazing force.
Is it too soon to think about what comes next? Because, I can imagine as a songwriter, that you’ve already got stuff ready to go. Too early to think about that? Are you going to sort of ride the US release through and go from there?
I’m always plotting ahead. For the immediate future, I just put together a backing band in the UK, and it’s a power trio. I’m not playing acoustic guitar, I’m playing the classic Gibson SG and Marshall stack combination. I’ve got a great rhythm section. The drummer is the drummer that played on the album, Jamie Oliver from the UK Subs. My bass player, Chema (Zurita) was in the Subs for a while. They both played in a lot of bands together, so together they’re a very, very powerful rhythm section. We just did some shows in the UK with New Model Army and then we did our first UK band tour off the back of the UK solo tour. So when I get back to the UK after this tour, there’s a bunch of festivals with the band. I’m doing two solo shows with Buzzcocks.
Oh, I saw that. That’s awesome!
Thank you, yeah, I’m excited for those. We’ve got a band tour of September and October, but in the interim, as soon as I get back from the States, I’m going back into the studio to work with the Dreams From The Factory Floor producer, Steve Whale from The Business. We’re going to be recording two, three, maybe four new tracks in the studio that’ve already been demoed. We’re going to be recording some new band tracks, hopefully releasing something before the full band UK tour in September and October. There’s a lot going on for next year. Gonna be touring more with the band, definitely. The great thing about touring solo is that you can obviously jump on a plane and come to America, or jump on a plane and go to Germany, or even play in the streets. That’s where punk rock comes from anyway!