NHC MUSIC's intrepid writer/reviewer/interviewer/Jack Of All Trades Thomas Neil has a chat with the utterly fantastic Lou McLean, check it out folks;
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Kirkcudbright, which is a little fishing town in Galloway. But I moved to Edinburgh ten years ago and I’m pretty settled in Leith.
How long have you been playing your respective instrument(s)?
I’ve been singing since I could talk. I started playing the guitar about 4 years ago, and I took it up in order to write songs.
What genre of music do you consider your work to be?
Riot grrl – pop. Someone said it was folk but I think that’s just because I sing in my accent & tell stories. It’s really hard to define yourself.
What are your influences?
I listen to hip hop, punk, pop, indie, rock, folk, disco, soul, reggae, funk. I think hip hop & punk have influenced my lyrics quite strongly, the rhythm of the rhymes and the content.
Amy Winehouse is a big influence on me lyrically.
As a writer I’m influenced by my surroundings, Scotland, my relationships, my friends.
I have on my instagram ‘everything is my favourite thing’ and it’s true! I can stand looking at seagull eating out of a bin then go and try to write a song about it, same for a sunset. I’m just interested in everything, and you can find inspiration everywhere.
What is one song you remember from your childhood?
I can’t pick just one! My mum used to sing ‘Summertime’ by Ella Fitzgerald to me when I was really wee, which I can remember very clearly. She used to let me listen to all her old Elton John & Beatles LPs on this massive record player and I’d sit for hours reading the lyrics and looking at the artwork.
Do you do covers and if so what’s your go to?
I don’t play covers at gigs, but I learn them to practice & improve. Sometimes I’ll take a fan request on Facebook and send it over after I’ve learned it. I’ve been working on ‘It’s raining men’ for someone and it’s been really fun!
Do you have a process for writing your songs?
Usually I come up with an idea from writing in my diary, or when I’m out walking or on the bus. I jot it down in my notebook and then when I have time I sit in my bedroom with a cup of tea and work out chords or lyrics, depending on what I have. Then it’s a case of working on it until I’m happy with it.
I’ve just started an all-girl song-writing circle with Lorraine McCauley (Lorraine & the Borderlands) so we are all currently learning the importance of the individual process!
What has been your biggest challenge as a performer? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so then how?
My biggest challenge was my confidence. I had horrible stage fright for years, which is why I didn’t start gigging until later on. I’d been writing for a couple of months then I went to Girl’s Rock School Edinburgh. That improved my confidence so much that I played my first gig at their showcase in December 2015 and then I just spent 2016 taking any gig I could to improve my performance.
I learned to use my nerves as ammunition, just as I learned how to use other people’s negativity as a sort of fuel to improve my work rather than being discouraged by it.
I found it quite surprising at first that a lot of people have commented on my fragility or vulnerability in my writing. But in reality I couldn’t sing or write those emotionally vulnerable songs if I wasn’t 100% comfortable putting it all out there.
The best part of that is that people relate to that honesty. They can hear that I wrote through a broken heart, or that I understand abuse within relationships, or sexism, or wanting to stay in with a good book even! I love it when people come up and tell me about their lives, explaining that they went a bit crazy over something. Then I can be like: “Join the club! Have you ever thought about playing the guitar?!” That’s the point of all of this to me. Writing, learning and listening and singing.
How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a demo CD?
You can buy my new EP “ Good Morning Easter Road” from June 9th 2017. It’s available via Bandcamp along with my first EP ‘September to December’ via download.
You can also get Good Morning Easter Road via iTunes and Spotify & Amazon & Deezer and all those places but if you buy a CD from me I’ll send you surprise in the post.
You can also listen to demos, live performances and very rarely covers on soundcloud & youtube .
Have you released anything yet/if they have how has it gone down and are you planning anything for the near future?
“September to December” was my debut EP and was released in May 2016. The first EP was recorded in my friend’s sitting room andsounds really warm but emotionally raw. It showed people what I could do in terms of writing & I was really proud of it. It had been my dream all my life to make music and to hold that CD in my hands was something else!
‘Good Morning Easter Road’ has been really well received and it’s had a lot of great feedback from reviewers and people in the industry. All the songs have been going down really well live too.
Recording in the studio (The Depot in Granton) was new for me but I really enjoyed it and was blown away by the result compared to doing it DIY.
I’m writing more at the moment and jamming with a full band so realistically the next recording will be a full album with a band: loner no more!
Where have you performed? What are your favourite and least favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?
I went on a UK tour earlier this year and it was amazing to see how different crowds reacted to my stuff. I thought they maybe wouldn’t get the accent in Manchester for example, but they were probably the most buzzing crowd on the tour. Amazing bunch of people down there.
I love Leith Depot in Edinburgh as they are doing so much for the scene and the venue is just the right vibe for me! I encourage you all to go to gigs there as there is something weird & wonderful on every night.
I would never name names but I once did get booked to play in a venue and the sound engineer was a complete dick to me! He was partly the inspiration for my song ‘Poets & Flat Caps’, which is about sexism in the Scottish scene.
GRRRL Crush! 17th JuneEdinburgh Pride Party @ The Mousetrap
Sat 24th June La Belle Angele Supporting The Twistettes
Kelburn Garden Party June 30th
Saturday 22nd July – Grassmarket Stage
What do you think about downloading music online?
I used to think it was great but now I’ve recorded & released stuff myself I always buy a CD at a gig if I like the artist, rather than online. It costs a lot for independent artists to get their music distributed, let alone the shabby percentage they take home from the company selling their songs for them. So the best way to put the cash in the artist’s hands is by going to their gigs & buying something from them directly.
What's your outlook on the record industry today?
As a musician, I make music because I love it and it’s super fun. The industry is making about 20% what it did ten years ago so it’s kinda dying off. It would be nice to have someone come along and say “Here’s £30,000 go and make a record”. I would be over the moon. But then I enjoy the freedom I have now. I think there’s a lot of packaged artists out there who are designed to sell, and losing creative control would be pointless to me. I’m a writer & vocalist above all else, so to sing modified versions of my songs or have to change my accent would be a deal breaker for me.
I’d say rather than moaning about the tripe that’s on the radio, people should come out to see shows and support local music. They would find so much that they enjoyed and it’s a lot more exciting than watching X factor. Every so often there will be an amazing pop song on the radio and then I’m like “YAS it’s not so bad!” But 1 banger every year isn’t quite good enough, especially when there are bars throughout Edinburgh alone filled with amazing bands like Fistymuffs, The Micro Band & Teen Canteen.
And a fun little question to finish it off…. If you could have dinner with any famous person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
It would have to be Amy Winehouse, as she is such a massive inspiration & influence on me lyrically. People don’t realise that she was an amazing jazz guitarist too. I’d ask her round for tea at my flat and have a wee jam afterwards.