From backing bassist to solo songstress, Louise Burns navigates feminine identity in the music industry
(Feature photo by Leigh Righton)
By Marissa Del Mistro
For nearly two decades, Louise Burns has navigated the music industry with her bass guitar as her guide.
The now-solo songstress earned her chops in the late ‘90s playing bass for Lillix (formerly called Tiger Lily), before performing in the Blue Violets, and joining rock troupe Gold & Youth. She kicked off her solo career in 2011, releasing her debut Mellow Drama on the Vancouver-based Light Organ Records. Now, the singer’s third album is in the works for a 2016 release.
The realities of being a musician on the road has led Burns to become an avid traveller and lover of eccentric concert venues.
“I am inspired by the feeling that being in spaces give me — really open and airy — and I like that to translate into music,” she tells Loose Lips Mag.
Currently surrounded by the mountains, ocean, and forestry of Vancouver, she admits the landscape affects her creativity. Burns writes whenever, wherever — believing in divine intervention when a song reaches her.
“I write everything down on paper and pen and I have to let it come out right away or else it goes away,” she reveals.
Lately, she’s focused on writing her latest solo album, anticipated to come out in summer 2016. This upcoming record is going to be different than her previous melancholic, folksy-shoegaze ventures.
“I like to call it lone wolf rock,” she says, decidedly.
Revealing her previous albums were used as therapy to get through a dark time, the new release promises to be less synth-y, with more optimistic lyrics and a three-dimensional sound.
“This time around, there have been incidents in my life that have made me see things differently, more positively,” Burns says.
“A person who enjoys my music wrote me a touching letter about getting through a hard time in his life. It was a scary letter to read but it triggered me into a different mind frame and how I approach music in my life.”
Though a self-described lone wolf, Burns enlists the help of stellar musicians Darcy Hancock and Ryan Peters, both members of Ladyhawk, with Jody Glenham singing backup vocals.
“In the studio, it’s great, I like the control,” Burns says of her solo career.
“On stage, it took me a while to figure it out. I don’t like people looking at me for too long. I have never been a ham on stage.”
One might wonder where her resolutely “non-ham” stage presence began. Let’s go back to 1998: a medley of nerves and excitement, Burns recalls her first live performance at a talent show. Her group took the stage dressed like The Beatles (or so they thought).
“I had a broken arm, so it’s hard to forget. I was so nervous, I forgot to turn my bass down during an acapella song and it started to resonate sound, which was super embarrassing,” she admits.
As someone who prefers extra instruments and ambience, Burns considers acoustic and intimate sets amongst her most courageous moments as a musician.
To help with nerves, she used to carry good-luck rocks and gems. Realizing that “didn’t do shit,” the singer now needs alone time pre- and post-shows. And sometimes tequila shots. Most times, actually.
Regarding young artists such as Lorde, Burns admits she wishes there had been more accessible female role models like her in the media to admire growing up.
Instead, she was told to lose weight, smile more, and to dress differently. Now the 30-year-old singer believes empowerment of women — especially in media — is a necessary discourse. Feminism is a tool in order to grab society’s attention while highlighting the struggles and inconsistencies experienced by only one gender, she asserts.
“The only way you can deal with [sexism] in any industry is to surround yourself with smart people. Remember everyone has their own opinion but always do your own thing and lead by example,” she advises.
One such example is Burns’ idol, Patti Smith: a talent who of hasn’t been defined by gender, neither overtly feminine nor masculine – just herself. A talent who has mastered various art forms and, simply, demands respect.
“She’s a woman, it doesn’t matter though, because she’s Patti Smith!” Burns’ exclaims.
Being a lone wolf woman in music, the singer is still navigating the map of the music industry and she hasn’t tired of it yet. She’ll be howling out tunes wherever and whenever the mood strikes, whether in big, open spaces or the eccentric concert venues she’s come to adore.
Marissa is guacamole’s #1 fan. She is a wannabe skateboarder, aspiring children’s book author, and the future wife of Matt Corby.