Back Issue__ Louise Burns: A Pop Princess Reborn
By: Mish Way
Photos: Michelle Ford
While most girls spend their youth in science class, soccer practice and idolizing stars, Louise Burns spent hers as one of these pop stars.
At eleven years old singer songwriter Louise Burns co-founded the all-girl pop band Lillix as the group’s bassist and vocalist. At fifteen Lillix was signed to Maverick records, the band members were relocated from their tiny hometown of Cranbrook B.C. to Los Angeles CA, where they started making their debut album. Being an after-school self-taught basement band who had previously written all their own songs, the major label whirlwind was a shock. "In our naive little heads we thought we already had hit singles," laughs Louise.
Maverick execs brought on big talent for the young girls. They hired Avril Lavigne’s writing team to work on the Lillix album--Linda Perry (who wrote for Courtney Love, Christina Aguilera and Pink) and Glen Ballard (the genius behind Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pill). Essentially, they manufactured a “sellable” pop image for Lillix and even told the girls to lose weight before their debut album Falling Uphill was released in 2003. "What were we going to do? Go back to high school with our tails between our legs?"
Suddenly, Louise was on MTV seventeen times a day. She was recording at the famous Cherokee Studios on Sunset Boulevard where Motley Crue, David Bowie and Frank Sinatra all composed. She had Elliott Smith sit on her studio session, was hit on by Anthony Kiedis, became close with Madonna (Maverick’s mother hen), made a music video with Lindsay Lohan and jammed with Hole's legendary drummer Patti Schemel. She was turning into a big deal and she had barely passed puberty.
But when Louise turned twenty, she quit the band and dropped out of the mainstream music world—an attempt to find herself without Lillix. "Time changes. Culture changes," Louise says with a hint of sour self-reflection. "By the time you actually cultivate and create a star, people are onto the next thing."
She played bass for the all-female rock group The Blue Violets achieving small successes on tours through North America and China, worked odd jobs like assistant managing a practice space and delivering equipment to the sets of music videos for washed-up rockers like Lover Boy. She tried different musical styles from shoe gaze to punk. She felt like a wannabe.
"That was a dark time," Louise explains. "I was asking myself lots of questions while doing all these in between jobs and listening to, like, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I felt bad about myself."
After years of battling with her music identity Louise has completed her first solo album. Mellow Drama, which debuts on Light Organ Records on April 5th. “I just assumed because of my past experience with Lillix that people would judge me for writing pop music," Louise admits. "Maybe people will think that I'm just some mediocre person trying to get a hit on the radio? It took me a long time to get over this but I have come to terms with the fact that I am a pop writer. You have to have a true love for your art and belief in your craft or else no listener is going to believe you."
But after one listen to Mellow Drama, it's easy to believe Louise. Songs like “What Do You Wanna Do?” and “Paper Cup” force you to tap along while moodier ballads like “Clean” and “Teen Angst” flutter through the room with questionable lyrical weight. The unlikely stand-out track is “Island Vacation” which begins bare-bones showcasing Louise’s incredible vocal dexterity and wise approach to melody construction. More importantly and personally, Mellow Drama is a conquest of the lack of control Louise has experienced her whole career so far.
"[This record is] a reflection of my early twenties and my transition back into normal-hood," explains Louise in a voice that is both self-aware and slightly weary. "I had to really figure myself out and learn what kind of sound I wanted to represent to the world. I had to go through a lot of weird personal stuff before I could make this record."
Louise talks about sound men and promoters. How they assumed she didn’t know how to use her gear. That most of the time she would just watch them toil with the technical problem on her amp pre-show, unplugging and re-plugging chords while she just sat back and watched. When they gave up, she would simply fix it herself. "[Sexism] was a catch 22 back then because I was both young and female and therefore not even a legitimate musician or person for that matter."
“I had one promoter come up to me after a show and say, “Wow. You looked really good up there.” And I thought, ‘I can’t even respond to you. What does that mean? I didn’t play good but I looked good?’ I know I’m better than most male bass players because I have been playing longer so by default I am better. Don’t tell me that I look good when I know I am an excellent bass player.”
Louise chuckles a bit at her obvious confidence. "No one in my current friend circle has ever judge me for being a female musician," she says. "I'm very happy with my music now. I feel comfortable." She seems genuinely excited about her current position so far away from the mainstream pop world that raised her.