It’s fair to say that things are happening for She Drew The Gun right now. Recent appearances stretch from a showcase at SXSW festival in Austin Texas, to a sublime performance at Liverpool Library (REVIEW). Phil Greenhalgh catches up with frontwoman Louisa Roach ahead of their fourth appearance at Liverpool Sound City, this year on one of the main stages.
Your gig at the library a few weeks ago was a wonderful place for the poetic spoken word element side of your work to shine. Is this kind of delivery something you enjoy, mixing it up and making people pay attention to the words?
With ‘Poem’ for instance, as the name suggests, it was written as a spoken word poem and the music came later. It seemed natural to deliver it like that when I was originally performing on my own. It was only a lot later on that I turned it into a song, but as I kind of enjoyed the spoken word, and I noticed that if you are delivering that way, the audience shuts up and listens. And if you can get the audience to stop and actually listen to you, you’re kinda’ half way there. Depending on where you’re performing, starting a performance with a lot of noise can be quite off-putting, but actually starting a gig with poetry seems to grab and reset the audience.
In terms of your style, the poetic nature of your work often contains a very strong message, proving that it doesn’t always have to be belted at maximum volume to be powerful
Probably because it’s quite thoughtful … yes ‘thoughtful’ is the word because when I’m writing something like ‘Poem,’ its not a knee jerk reaction, I’m thinking it out as I’m going, working through things in my head, and what I feel are, and what the component parts. So it’s like the disgust about a situation pouring out of you, but using your mind to think about what the elements are and make sense of them. So maybe that’s why it not like an angry outburst, it’s not like I’m going into a studio and just smashing it out on a guitar, I’m sitting and thinking things through.
It worked wonderfully in a library setting, but does that translate to bigger stages like festivals? SXSW, or the upcoming appearance at Sound City for instance?
Because SXSW was a bit of a showcase, we just concentrated on the songs, but if we’d have done this tour where we’ve worked in more spoken word throughout before SXSW, and knew how it worked, then maybe I’d have put it in there. But in between actual tour dates, at the festivals, we’ve not been doing it. But it’s a process, It’s about what feels right for this gig, and finding out what works.
We just judge it by the set. As it stands, with the songs we have, then there always songs that will go in, but whether we do the spoken word will be decided, we might put a little bit in, but maybe it doesn’t have the same effect as a smaller focused venue. It’s good that it’s so flexible though. To be decided!
Are you getting any interest US side after SXSW?
Yeah, it seems to be there, but that seems a massive world away right now. But a couple of weeks ago we were sat in the middle of it in Austin, it was really cool and went well. But then again, you’re only playing in a room of a hundred odd people, and the rest of The US was outside somewhere! Hopefully, something will happen.
On the subject of Liverpool Sound City, the first time that I saw you, you were playing at the industry conference, on a small stage half way up the stairway, and there were only a handful of us watching. The next year you played on the tall ship stage to a packed audience, and this year on the bigger Baltic Stage with a potential audience of thousands… Is this a good measure of how things have come in the last 2 years or so?
I suppose it is, but even the year before that, I did Sound City fringe on my own, with a load of local bands, so it’s like every year its stepped up, but that’s a fair reflection. When you start getting recognition and a bit of mainstream play, it looks you’ve appeared from nowhere, but it’s been a gradual process. When you look back at appearances at Sound City, its sort of proof that’s this has taken a few years of hard work to earn that place.
It was really exciting to see that we were on this stage this year, but I don’t take anything for granted. It means a lot how much Sound City have got behind us, and it feels like there’s another person on your side, not a person maybe, another entity.
We’re all massively up for Sound City this year, it’s a bit of a milestone, a celebration homecoming gig for us, a huge thank you to those who’ve supported us so far. We want to reflect this in the performance and hopefully the crowd will be on board too, so yeah, we want it to be a pretty special gig.
As you’re gaining more attention now do you feeling in control of the situation right now?
This is the best its been for ages, last year the album came out I was actually managing the whole thing myself, with a lot of help, especially from Jack (Turner, bass and guitar for SDTG), but I was just worried about where things were going, and had a lot on my mind, even though it was going well, it was really hard work managing the process.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s all enjoyable too, but as you go on there is a side to it where you are learning, and not exactly knowing what you are doing, or supposed to be doing.
You took the name ‘She Drew the Gun’ when it was just you, and the early press was always implicit that ‘SDTG was Louisa Roach’ has that changed now, with the band becoming more of a constant?
It’s a bit of both really, the band is now She Drew The Gun, but if it was just me on my own it would be She Drew The Gun as well. It started from me just having half an hours worth of songs, “shall I go out and see if people like them?” doing open mic’s and any gig in town and going bit by bit on my own.
But it has grown into more of a band now certainly.
Does this go beyond the live performance now and into the songwriting or are you still the sole songwriter?
Yeah its more of a collective now in performance definitely. I’m still the songwriter, but we’re starting to do demos on the next thing now, and I’m working more closely with Jack. Sian (Monaghan/drums percussion) still lives in London and Jenni (Kickhefer/Keyboards) is still at Uni, everyone’s got other things, but me and Jack are working on some stuff together just now, which is different from the first album.
On the first album, I just went into the studio with the songs I’d written and literally didn’t have anything else beforehand, no demo’s, just went in to see what happened. Obviously, this was with James Skelly (Skeleton Key) which was massive, he was able to say what worked and guide and shape things, and you realise what a good producer means to a songwriter without that experience in the studio.
But this time, it’s nice to have the luxury of a bit of time to work things through, work bit more intricately…. not to a really polished design, but to have a bit more of a sketch pad of what we want before we go in, and the benefit of having been there before.
So there is a lot of new material in the pipeline?
Yeah we have ‘some’, and I’m starting to write again, I haven’t been writing as much for quite a while, just because there’s been so much going on and being so busy. But you know I was saying about being in the best place in my head right now, that’s also because we’ve got a manager now, so I don’t have to worry about that stuff as much, I’ve always had James at Skeleton key to talk to for guidance, but it’s like a weight’s been lifted now, and it sounds a bit clichéd but it means we can concentrate on creativity.
We’ve got the ongoing deal with Skeleton key and the next album is already started, we’ve recorded the first song, and are writing more, but it’s just a case of getting everything and everyone together now.
I can’t say when its all going to happen right now, we’ll likely release some new material prior to it being released, but as for committing to the next release, not yet, just concentrating on the here and now, but it’s happening.
Content-wise, is the new material going to continue with the message of politicised ‘call to arms’ to get people to stand up and be counted?
I think it will be politicised in the way the first one is, but it’s shaping up to have loads of different subject matter, more about relationships maybe, but still politics, a bit of a melting pot of different subject matters; but hopefully the messages will have a bit more power. I want it to have a bit of bitching, a bit of reality and punch.
Anything with a social or political comment often has a bit of anger in the delivery, a bit of confrontational or defensive element. Is it fair to say you take a more inspirational stance? Specifically with regard to feminism and women in music?
As soon as you get on the internet talking about things like International Women’s Day, I thought there is a type of internet troll out there who are just after feminists, so I was preparing myself for a few comments, and there were a few negative ones and it’s a shame that people think you’re a valid target because you have a platform to voice your opinion.
For IWD I did tend to try and concentrate on celebrating what inspirational women are doing, but on the other hand I’m right behind women getting angry about oppressive attitudes. You listen to our lyrics and there is a lot of anger in there, a lot of frustration, not just about feminist issues, about a lot of fucked up aspects of society.
Things are changing for women on the backs of generations of fighting for equality. But the music industry is still massively skewed, not just for women performers, but the rest of the industry, tech, management, promotion, there’s a long way to go. For instance we have a female sound engineer on the tour, and in that kind of role, it’s still a noticeable exception. The important thing is that she’s there because she’s great at it; that’s the kind of thing that we should be setting examples with.
You seem to be opening up your stylistic range in musical approach right now, from the wistful understated thoughtful folk style, to quite pop rock? How’s the new material shaping up, and what’s influencing the current stylistic approach?
Well, I’m always trying to keep listening to new music and keep and ongoing conversation about new music with Jack and James for instance. I wouldn’t say there will be a massive change, its organic, but I’m not expecting for a sudden change in direction or anything, its gradual.
Is the Malvina Reynolds cover a good example? Did someone just say ‘you’ve got to listen to this?
Yeah, someone said ‘you’ll like this’ so I gave it a go and then wow… love it… and had to search out and listen to everything she’d done.
When you look at the time and social context her music was so powerful, did that strike a chord with you?
There was more of a movement then though, she didn’t actually record an album until she was in her 50’s, it was like a complete life change for her, but she was like “this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to write protest songs and become part of the protest movement”, and it’s just what she did. So she was recording into her 60’s and is just a great example that age, gender, background aren’t things to hold you back, if you got something to say you can still say it. That’s why I love her so much, and that’s why it was a good idea to do her song, bring that message to people who’ve never heard her before.
We said if we were going to do a cover we were going to have to do something different with it, so it’s a lot more contemporary, more upbeat, and if it brings with it that meaning then all good.
So what’s next apart, from Sound city?
Well we’ve got quite a festival schedule, but not a mad busy one, not like were doing 2 every weekend or anything. Also having that time off between festivals to sit and write, and be a mum and everything, which is a lot more difficult with a full tour.
Starting a career in music at any time can be difficult, is making this commitment with responsibilities of being a mum any more difficult.
My son doesn’t normally come to gigs, but as you know he was at the library gig and he loved it, I said to him at the end of the library gig, “so is it worth mum being away all the time?” and he just had a smile on his face all the way through and said “I thought it was worth it anyway.” He’s involved in it, and is 100% behind it and that means everything. But you have to make sacrifices sometimes, and if you do something and feel it wasn’t worth it …. As an artist you sometimes have to fight against these demons that are saying “what are you doing? Why are you doing this? It’s never going to go anywhere?” there is that little thing inside your head that says this isn’t worth doing…. When you’ve got this responsibility then those feelings can become amplified. Moments of indecision or when something isn’t going right, and I’m thinking “why am I here? I should be home with my son”.
But you know, everyone has those responsibilities, everyone needs to make decisions, it’s not just because it’s music. You’ve got to follow what you want to do with your life, and that in itself sets a good example to your kids, a happy parent makes a happy kid.
In a way this helps to give a lot of the meaning of what I do, like the Malvina Reynolds thing, is that nothing should hold you back, gender, age, whether you’re a parent, it makes no difference, you don’t let it become a problem and hold you back.
But right now, it’s coming together, it’s good, it’s worth it. This is maybe what I mean about being in a better place right now. Less demons, less doubt.
And right now it is coming together, you are getting a fair amount of ‘mainstream’ play, are you pleased with the reception and where you are falling into ‘pop’ culture?
There’s a lot of filler out there, I miss the old charts, its all become a bit homogenised now, there’s always been poppy stuff in there but the variation in different sounds and genres in the charts now has all but disappeared.
6 Music is behind us, but they’re a bit different and a lot more supportive of new music and not really part of that mainstream pop thing. I’m really grateful to the support because they’ve really helped us, especially Steve Lamacq getting behind us from early on, so I’m massively grateful for that. He’s been really good and great ally for the band. From really early plays, to the support at SXSW recently. It’s massively appreciated and we don’t take it for granted.
But I’m still at the stage when I’m listening to the radio getting excited when we come on live… more so than when you know something’s been played, but hearing it live and people commenting on it is like ‘yeah, were on the radio!’ still getting excited by it!
To wrap up… who else are most looking forward to seeing at Sound City?
Easy one that! The Cribs! Absolutely loved them from the start, and you may find me jumping around at the front. Can’t wait to see them.
She Drew The Gun Play the Baltic stage at Liverpool Sound city on Sunday 28 May – Tickets HERE