British Columbia’s Louise Burns was just 11 years old when her band Tigerlily was signed to Madonna’s Maverick Records in 2003. Renamed Lillix and meticulously repackaged, Burns found that she’d assumed a role that had little to do with her true love of rock, and eventually quit in 2006. Studying at university by day and playing in bands at night, she began the process of penning new material, slowly repairing her broken-down relationship with songwriting. The end result – her debut solo LP Mellow Drama – shows that Burns has come full circle, and returned to her strong songwriting roots.
What was recording of Mellow Drama like?
I was in university at the time and I was playing in like five bands – and working – so recording the album became an escape for me. I’d go at night to the studio and work with the producers and it was really fun and positive. I completely enjoyed myself in the studio… and that was new for me.
Was it scary to just be Louise Burns?
I was afraid to release this record because I thought people would brush it aside and that Lillix would come back to haunt me – which is so silly and ridiculous. I wasted a lot of time thinking like that.
Your single, What Do You Wanna Do reminds me of a kinder, gentler Detroit Cobras…
Thank you – I love that!
But the rest of the album doesn’t have that sound at all.
Yeah, it was really important to me not to release a kitschy, sixties-throwback record. I love that kind of music and I loved writing that song, but it’s not a reflection of everything I’m about.
What’s your attraction to that era?
The songs are just so good and they make you feel happy. Mr. Postman by The Marvelettes is really goofy: the lyrics, the way she sings it, the way it’s produced – but it’s so real and heartbreaking without even trying to be. It’s minimum effort and maximum impact.
I call it gutsy to cover The Gypsy’s Wife – would you agree?
It’s always risky when you cover a legend, but I just love Leonard Cohen so much. I saw him play two years ago and I’d actually never heard the song before – I’d always listened to his early, early records. This flamenco guitarist accompanied him and it was so beautiful. It really struck me. So, I started to cover it acoustically around town, and it got a really good reception, and I thought, ‘why not try it on the record?’
Which artists have had the most impact on you?
David Bowie, Patsy Cline, Sam Cooke, Neil Young… and girl groups of the fifties and sixties. I also really love The Pretenders, The Smiths and Roxy Music – and a lot of country music, too: Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn…
What’s the common thread?
I’m really a fan of songwriting and I love well-put-together songs that mean something without sounding precious or earnest.
As an artist, what would you say are the most significant changes to the music business in the past decade?
The most obvious one would be the loss of dependency on record sales. Sales are almost irrelevant now – it’s more about downloads and the whole record industry has nearly crumbled because of it. I definitely notice there’s a lot less money going around, which is a good thing because less people are able to waste it. But the Internet is the biggest thing: I really love that a kid can discover a band like Siouxsie and the Banshees while sitting in his basement in the most remote town in the universe. People have access to everything now and that’s just such a positive, cool thing.
What about as a female artist?
Right now there’s a lot of female empowerment in music – and it feels pretty real – but ultimately it hasn’t changed a whole lot. I still get frustrated when I play a show and a guitar tech tells me how to plug my amp in… like, f— you, I know how to do that. That never really ends. There are so many more female writers now who are doing their share of the work and not just the object sitting pretty in front of the camera, you know?
For all you’ve been through in your career and for all the tough lessons, what one are you the most grateful for?
Hmmm… probably that everything is temporary. Everything comes and goes and you have to make sure that you like what you’re doing because otherwise you’re wasting time, and opportunities to do the things you really care about can pass you by. You can’t hold onto anything too tightly.
*Originally published under ‘Interviews’ on MyTelus.com.