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It Takes Two: An Interview With Louie

It is hard not to notice the fact that tonight’s headliners, Louie, have as many members as both of their support bands — combined. The Lancashire-via-London group is a six-headed rock’n'roll machine, here tonight on their first headline tour to promote new single “Dead Man”, with the supplementary goal of ripping Peterborough a new one. It’s an intention that can’t be faulted, and hopes are high for the few in the crowd who have already encountered Louie’s riotous punk-tinged sound.

However, before those twelve legs stride the stage, hometown boys The Ultrasonics get to peddle their underwhelming wares. Musically they owe a great debt to Nirvana, with perhaps a hint of Placebo about the plaintive vocals. The band are mostly static throughout their brief set, seeming to think that gratuitous feedback is a better crowd-pleaser than actual movement. With one final squall from a guitar rubbed on a monitor, the frontman announces that this is their first gig. Suddenly, things don’t seem that bad after all. The songs need work, but the hooks are there. If they could just oust that faint whiff of teen spirit that pervades all they play tonight, The Ultrasonics could be a decent enough band in a few months’ time.

This Interview bring more of the crowd onto the dancefloor; a portion of whom seem to be their own local fans, but even the uninitiated seem to be appreciating their tuneful, driving guitar pop. Bassist Steve is an affable host, and provides the crowd with a fair sight more humour than the angsty openers. He bemoans their lack of MySpace friends, and exhorts us to visit their smartly-designed website: “You can see pictures of him, and read about the drummer. It’s great.” He also looks like a moonlighting history teacher, but startles the crowd with some backing “Hey!’s” on their uplifting set-closer. Frontman Lorenz has a pleasant quiver in his relatively high-pitched vocal delivery, and a warm, bright guitar tone as he scrubs away on the lower strings. After tonight their inbox should be buzzing with life.

By rights, the audience appreciation should be increasing throughout the night, peaking when Louie arrive in a blaze of sweaty glory. Surprisingly though, the response of the ‘Boro’s denizens is half-hearted at best. Lead singer Jordan is visibly irked. His performance is passionate and kinetic, as is that of co-vocalist Gaz once he dispenses of the microphone stand, but the crowd tonight seemingly forgot to put on their dancing shoes. It’s not the fault of the music: Jordan and Gaz scream into each other’s faces, bounce off each other vocally and physically with a raw, raucous energy, and occasionally deliver the lyrics into a few lucky faces who have crossed no man’s land to lean on the front barriers. “Fuck you, come on!” he mutters to the sullen punters loitering by the walls. The bravura is admirable — singers have been punched here for less — but Louie can do nothing more than keep on playing, to the standard they have set for themselves.

Except for their back-seat bassist, who stands rigidly on the drum rostrum like he’d like nothing more than to be teleported right back to Madchester (but still carves out a healthy groove), Louie‘s show is fast and powerful. Jordan dances around the stage, his curly mop bobbing, his face wet with perspiration, while Gaz cuts across him with fervently howled refrains. The choruses are instantly memorable, providing most of the set’s raw thrills. Take for example, “The Curves And The Bends”, with its wry cry of “Smoking kills… I take pills!”, or “Trees”, with its nagging blitz-riff, insanely catchy, bratty la-la-las and ambiguous screamed lyrics about… well, trees. Half an hour later, the faithful are grinning like idiots while the rest remain unimpressed.

Oddly, although greatly dynamic to watch, Louie sound less intense live than on record. The vocals are occasionally out of time, which doesn’t matter, but both sets are a little too low in the mix tonight, sometimes dulling the power of Gaz’s voice. The highlight of tonight’s proceedings is the bittersweet up-tempo anthem “Locked Up” — a melancholic chorus of “When you’re locked up, and you’re screaming, you don’t know what you’re believing” offset by frantic screams of “I’m alive!”. It’s a potent combination, and one that grabs you by the ears and forces you to pay attention. Tonight Louie leaves town without a revolution — next time, hopefully, a few more will be ready to lose their heads.

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As Jordan makes his way out to a backstage stairwell, I catch up with the frontman and ask him a few key questions about where Louie come from, and where they are going. He tells me that five of them met at a London drama school called East 15, but quit the course after collectively deciding that they “wanted to do something different”. I put it to him that their theatrical skills have not been entirely latent; Jordan describes the band as “confident”, and agrees that their rowdy gigs stem from their natural flair for intense performance. When onstage, he and Gaz release their tensions in an explosion of energy. He claims that tonight’s crowd response wasn’t disappointing, saying “I suppose if you get a lot of bands through here…” I point out that we don’t. But despite his apparent annoyance onstage, Jordan is happy to admit that this was part of his act: he was deliberately “pissing people off”, and is actually much friendlier than his snipes at the crowd could lead you to believe. While he would be entirely justified to feel a little put out, “as long as people are enjoying themselves”, the singer is happy with the show.

So what is the essence of the Louie live experience?

Jordan: “A full-on, high energy punk rock’n'roll show.” His stated mission is to “make music people can drink and dance to”, and Louie’s speed-freak sound fulfils both criteria. Mikey’s drumming is influenced by classic punk, giving them their trademark snot and pace: they release one-minute singles, in which they barely pause for breath. This is not, however, the bludgeoningly fast fury of hardcore — Louie are dab hands at perky indie melody, with Jordan taking cues from The Strokes and Graham Coxon. Their first single, the double power-pop punch of “Trees/One Big Repeat”, appeared on indie label Captains of Industry after they won over boss Ben Myers in a set of approximately 15 minutes in length. Its grit/glam strut soon won wider audiences however, and they have since been snapped up by Island Records, recording a 14-track album with Blur and Paddingtons producer Stephen Street, due to be released later in the year. Jordan thinks it “sounds great”, and while this is to be expected, he’s probably not wrong. At least a couple of Louie tracks sound like songs the Padds forgot to write, and Street may be just the man to release their barbed hooks upon an unsuspecting world.

Like The Libertines before them, Louie have nailed down the spiritual essence of rock’n'roll. It’s there in their leather jackets, in their punk attitude, and in the sheer nervous-energy exuberance of their vocal interplay. Why have they got two singers, anyway?

“It’s always been like that, from the start, we didn’t decide to do it like that but it had to be that way — neither of us can do anything else, we can’t play guitar or anything.” And they both write the lyrics together, so they’ve got to do something. What you can make out from keeping up with their cracked vocals as they race through each song is another key element of their sound: the sleazy trash and grime of city life. Important lines include such gems as “where do you get your kicks? BITCH!”; “we’re so working-class, we’re so hard to beat” and the payoff of sneering stand-out “One Big Repeat” — “listening to God’s words — well what the fuck does he know?”
On that ubiquitous staple of modern communication, the MySpace bulletin, Louie recently requested suggestions for a song to cover for an XFM session. Out of the many diverse and disturbing responses, David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” emerged as the band’s unanimous choice. Jordan said “the band are all big Bowie fans; we’re attracted to the sleaziness of it.”

Is that why they chose it — does sleaze form a large part of the band’s inspiration?

“Well,” considers Jordan, having to think about it briefly, before wryly confirming: “You write about what you know.”

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Louie, with This Interview and The Ultrasonics, Peterborough Met Lounge, 26/05/06

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Richard O’Brien was born in Peterborough in 1990, and has been trying to escape ever since. He is currently still trying to get an education, and resides in a Lincolnshire village with his parents and his labradors with nautical names. He likes to act, listen to music, and write songs that will never be sung.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 5th, 2006.