The first time I visited Manchester Academy, my best friend and I were 16-year-olds having a post-gig cigarette near Nothing But Thieves’ loading van – who managed to catch Conor Mason getting in, and off, and on with whatever he does when he’s finished a show. To be back with my name on the guest-list and my original gig-buddy as my plus-one, and with plans to meet headliner, She Drew The Gun’s Louisa Roach before doors; well it all felt a little bit special. It’s a feeling that I’m pretty sure Louisa could relate to:
“We’ve actually played in this venue, me and Jack. I think we had one single out and we didn’t even have a full band yet. We did a tour support with a band called Fink and we played here, she smiles, “but we’d only just started, and it was like, one of our first gigs. So it feels really good to come back and headline.”
The political psych-pop poetry of Louisa Roach’s She Drew The Gun first became known to me when they won the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition in 2016. Three years later, with an amplified, genre-bending second album and touring record to match – I want to know if her northern roots got her to the sonic and ideological position, she closes 2019 in:
“Liverpool bands [influenced me] in a big way. Going back, The Coral, The Las, you know, The Beatles. It’s very much part of the musical heritage. Yeah, it’s a boss musical place – especially the North West of England, considering what it is on the world map. It’s produced a lot of the best ever music. My favourite artist ever is John Lennon. I just think all my favourite artists have got that political side to them. Everything they do might not be about it but, they speak about the bigger picture sometimes.”
Released in September, She Drew The Gun’s latest single Trouble Every Day reinterprets Frank Zappa’s musical observation of the Los Angeles Watt’s riots of 1965; the lyrical references of the modified second half brings the protest song into a contemporary context:
“Jack from the band said, ‘I’ve heard this boss Zappa song’, and when he played it, I thought ‘Yeah this is really boss, we should cover this, I can’t believe the lyrics are so relevant.’ But then when we came to do it in the studio, I decided I wanted to change half of the song, because although it was so relevant, I thought, if I could change it so it’s actually about what’s going on right now, it would be cool to use a song that was 50 years old to say the same things still. It feels like now, there’s something in the air a bit more. And it’s all over the world as well. It feels like there are little pockets of protests happening – potential for change.”
I agree with Roach on this – the themes of protest that formed the musical zeitgeist of the sixties seems to be having a resurgence, with artists such as Idles and Slowthai making up the nominations list of this year’s Mercury Music Prize.
This element of social commentary that glows outward of She Drew The Gun’s discography began when Roach wrote Poem a song with the provocative and evocative lines: ‘What it’s not enough to just pretend that you don’t see him / You can’t stand the sight so you’ve got to disappear him’: “That was the first one that I did. saw a newspaper article about [how] they were moving homeless people off the street because they wanted to make way for tourists. I think there was a big event going on. That just started me off and it turned into a massive rant about like, everything.
“I performed that as a spoken word piece, and then I ended up thinking: ‘why don’t I just turn it into a song? I think it would give it more power. It doesn’t necessarily give it more power when you perform it because people often stop and really listen to a poet, whereas sometimes with music a lot of the lyrics get lost. But, as a thing to put out in the world, a song has got a bit more legs. A song’s got more chance of taking off in the public consciousness a bit more.”
Given her lyric-heavy style, it makes sense that Roach’s music originated as poetry and spoken word, and it still forms part of her methodology when she approaches songwriting: “Sometimes I’m really pissed off about this, or there’s a subject that I really need to write about’ so I’ll write a poem and sometimes that becomes a spoken word part that’s in the set, and then sometimes that becomes a song.”
She also finds herself inspired by the work being created around her:
“Sometimes I just hear someone say something, or on a film someone will say a line and I’ll like that, and I’ll just use that to start off with, and then see where that goes; see if that turns into a song. Do you know what I find sometimes as well? Going to a gig and watching a gig, sometimes I end up writing loads of notes on my phone. I don’t even go to enough gigs – that’s another thing that I need to do once we’ve finished this tour.”
As our interview was punctuated by a crash cymbal sound-check, I asked, finally, what else will be involved in She Drew The Gun’s post-tour plans:
“I think it’s probably going have to be writing another album. I’ve got a couple of little starting points but that’s the next thing – once we’ve done this tour, I think then it’s time to do a bit of writing.”
In this politically and socially turbulent time we seem to be wading through recently, I don’t think she will struggle.
The show itself was a celebration of the strength of female Liverpudlian musicianship. Solo vocalist/guitarist Natalie McCool opened – filling the venue with a sense of intimacy despite the relative vacancy of the space; being the first on always goes hand-in-hand with bravery, and McCool lived-up to her name in this respect. Someone to my right had their eyes closed during a song about what would happen if all women vanished from the earth. All I know is, if that did actually happen, we wouldn’t have nights like this. Second on were Peaness: an indie-pop trio whose relatable between-song witticisms made my best-friend give me the side-eye. Their last song had a heavier bass tone, as if to match the room as it filled up. It was my favourite of the set, and a man to my left agreed that, ‘That last one was good’.
It wassurreal to see the woman I just been speaking to walk on-stage with such intensity – underneath the cheers of what must have almost been a full house, and the projection of a huge gun. Roach’s vocal slipped from melody to spoken easily – the scouse inflection lending itself well to the latter. With each song, the crowds’ vocal enthusiasm rose and as we finished the evening surrounded by a rally of backing singers, I thought back to one of the first things Louisa had said when we met: how one of the first shows She Drew The Gun played was in this venue, and how good it felt to come back as the headliner. In the encore she played a song called Thank You where she expressed her gratitude to the female musicians whose shoulders she was standing on. In my opinion, Louisa Roach and indeed, She Drew the Gun are now not only headliners; but for artists like Natalie McCool, Peaness, and myself, providing shoulders of their own.