Meet a frontwoman that can sing like Patsy Cline, whose songs crackle with the drama and fire of Cat Power and Radiohead, but whose grit is like that of her many female heroes, like PJ Harvey and Patti Smith. Then there’s her working-class background, which informs her songs’ persuasive politics, and her fascinating life story, which gives her songs heart and soul. Only three years ago, Louisa Roach start playing with the musicians who now stand together as She Drew The Gun, one of Liverpool’s most exciting new groups, who’ve already played 6Music sessions, and impressed Glastonbury’s organisers so much last year that they won the festival’s Emerging Talent contest hands-down.
This March, ‘Memories Of Another Future’ arrives, the extended version of their fabulous debut album, with new tracks and new artwork, full of passion and protest, love and war. For any frontwoman, this would be a glorious debut, a proud document of graft and glory hard-won and long fought for. For a mother of a young boy who turned her life around with education in her late 20s before turning her hand to writing songs seriously, it’s a particularly valedictory album – behind which stands an extraordinary tale.
Meet the velvet-voiced Louisa Roach, born and raised on the Wirral, Merseyside, during the 80s. Although her parents split when she was young, she had a happy childhood living with her mum, who was always juggling different jobs to provide for her family, and being looked after by her grandparents, who didn’t have much in the way of money, but who had lots in the way of love. “I always had a strong feeling of fairness and justice as a child,” Louisa says now. “That’s always stayed with me, and speaks a lot to me now especially.”
Louisa’s love of music began when she’d sing along to country and western songs with her Nan – that’s where those Patsy Cline vowels came from – and she’s always loved the way singing made her feel. Louisa’s dad was also around, and got her her first guitar at 10; she eventually taught herself to play at 13, and spent her teens playing Oasis songs for friends at parties. She enjoyed how those songs talked of bigger worlds, hopes and dreams, as well as how an audience for her performances brought her out of herself. Louisa also started reading voraciously, loving the writing of Irvine Welsh especially, and started to really dig in and immerse herself in the wonder of words.
As Louisa got older, though, she says life got more wayward, and the freedom of her teenage years led to dead-end jobs, low-self esteem, and disengagement. She didn’t feel she had any direction until her mid-20s, when she became a mother, and it was her son who gave her confidence to do something with her life: “I saw myself in him, and knew I needed to do something with my mind, and something that could make me, and him, proud.” She then aced a psychology degree as a mature student at a local university, finding that she loved working with words in her essays, which made her turn to songwriting. She loved the idea of filling “a particular space with something important”, she says, “to get an idea across in three minutes that speaks really loudly”. What’s more, she kept at it.
By the end of her degree Louisa was single, living in Liverpool with her son and enjoying their life together. She’d also been playing part-time in other bands, and was gradually getting the confidence to make music by herself, doing open mics and little gigs that she’d promote on Twitter and Facebook. Then she recorded a track and put it on SoundCloud, before uploading others onto the BBC uploader. From there, everything exploded.
BBC Introducing Merseyside DJ David Monks heard the tracks and adored them, booking Louisa for a live session. A friend of The Coral’s James Skelly was listening, and told him about a new talent he’d heard. Skelly loved Louisa’s music immediately, and signed her straightaway. “And there I was, pinching myself going, oh my God, I’m going round James from The Coral’s house!” Louisa laughs, of when they first met. “But he’s given me so much belief in myself, and how I write. He’s also reminded me how important it is to be down-to-earth and sound.”
Along the way Louisa fell in love with a woman who supported her music unconditionally. Her love of books stepped up a gear, too – now she was getting inspiration from writers like Kurt Vonnegut, and thinking wider in terms of her influences. Then one by one along came Louisa’s band – long-time friend Sian Monaghan on drums, Jack Turner on bass, and Jenni Kickhefer on keyboards – then came the songs that tell us so much about how Louisa feels about the world. Everything had fallen into place.
‘Memories Of Another Future’ stands as a document not of who Louisa is, but who we are in this unsettling second decade of the 21st century. Some songs are personal, Louisa smiles, and some aren’t. There’s the raw heartbreak so many of us have felt, or still feel, on songs like ‘Since You Were Not Mine’ (“My heart refused to beat/though blood ran to my cheeks/and to my lips too cold to speak/”of a love just out of reach”). There’s the pure, wonderful love that we all aspire to on more recently-written tracks like the beautiful ‘You’ (“I get butterflies at the very sight of you, of you, of you, of you“). Then there are sci-fi protest songs, the angry diatribes about the way the world is today. Take ‘If You Could See’s state-of-the-nation address (“choking headlines/struggling to breathe…I started praying to someone/Felt them praying back at me”), or fan favourite ‘Poem’, which puts these sentiments directly to institutions who clear streets of the homeless, and to political systems who consign ordinary people to poverty (“To be working 40 hours a week/We’re like a caged bird and they got us by the beak/Give us enough to eat, enough to sleep, enough to tweet/But there’s not enough space left between the ground and our feet”). Louisa is as inspired by spoken-word artists and rappers like Kate Tempest and 2Pac as she is by singer-songwriters, and it shows.
But then there are also brilliant celebrations on the album, like the wonderfully simple, gorgeous, minute-long ‘Thank You’, where a dashing guitar rhythm accompanies a rollicking roll-call of Louisa’s female musical inspirations (“Aretha, Joni, Nina, Alanis/Billie, Dolly, Annie, Janis…”). The song is a fabulous call-to-arms, and in the spirit of altruism, sisterhood and solidarity, it’s being released as a free download for International Women’s Day.
After that, the message of album closer, ‘No Hole In My Head’, a cover of the Malvina Reynolds’ folk song, also speaks volumes. It somehow magically tells us of the adventure Louisa began when her life started to change, an adventure that she is still on which is set to crest and swell further as her music takes her forward. “I have lived since early childhood/Figuring out what's going on/I know what hurts/ I know what's easy/When to stand and when to run…So please stop shouting in my ear/There's something I want to listen to/There's a kind of birdsong up somewhere/There's feet walking the way I mean to go.”
On Louisa and She Drew The Gun stride, breaking away, finding more and more things, making memories, now, and long into their, and our, futures.