Name: Louisa Pillot
Occupation: DJ, producer
Current Release: The deluxe edition of Louisahhh's formidable full-length debut The Practice of Freedom is out via HE.SHE.THEY. The track listing of the already expansive album has been further extended with remixes by Vitalic, La Fraicheur, and Rebekah, among others, turning this into a fully immersive and intense psycho-physical full-body-and-mind experience.
[Read our Vitalic interview about Production, Technology & Creativity]
If you enjoyed these insights from Louisahhh, visit her accounts on facebook, soundcloud or instagram for more sounds and updates.
You can also read our earlier Louisahhh interview, in which she speaks about an even wider range of topics.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Great place to start.
I guess a lot of my work is in gathering material; I’ll jot down lines from movies, quotes from artists, passages from books, overheard conversations. Those act as good starting points, little anchors of ideas that can eventually turn into songs. Most of my work, on reflection, is relational. It’s unspoken prayers or things I wish I had the guts to say. I am at a really happy place in my life, but my music isn’t happy (AS A RULE. Just kidding), so I’m now working more on ideas of characters or situations which are more fraught. It’s a new exercise, I’m enjoying it.
I’m trying to get braver about being more direct with my writing, not having to shroud reality in the guise of something that people will enjoy on a dancefloor. On some level, I actually want it to be unpalatable. The world has just been through an enormous trauma, it’s exciting to use this as an opportunity to get more authentic in our art.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Oh man, so much of the thing for me is just to try to be in service to what comes up, allowing songs to change shape in order to become the thing they’re supposed to be.
A good example is ‘Chimes (No Pressure Demo)’ and the album track ‘No Pressure’. This song transformed entirely in its journey to final form, and I was happy to take the opportunity of the Deluxe Version to showcase this part of the process.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Ha, my early versions are hectic.
Typically, I work in collaboration with (ridiculously talented) producers, so we’ll send ideas back and forth until completion. The first version that I send is usually clean vocal stems and a reference track where the placement and effects on the vocal are supposed to be - a map of how I hear it ultimately sounding. But I’m basically deaf to ear bleeding frequencies and have bad taste so everything is kind of nasty overdrive, noisy distorted gain.
These early versions are kind of a litmus test for the songwriting, if I want to listen to them over and over even at this semi-terrible stage of the process, it usually means the song itself has potential.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
My life is very regimented surrounding diet and exercise and caffeine intake, which I think helps me stay pretty consistent creatively and otherwise.
I’d say the one thing that has really directly benefited my songwriting is daily morning pages (a vestige of ‘The Artist’s Way’, check it out) that I could not recommend more. Allowing this space every single day, no matter what, for whatever needs to come pouring out has been a deep well of inspiration and reflection. Most of the album that I’m in the process of working on presently has come out of morning pages.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I have a note in my phone that has the aforementioned ‘anchors’, I think this was started around 2011, and it just keeps growing. Whenever I need a starting point, I go there and will loop whatever music I’m working with until something clicks lyrically and I build from there.
I also have a private tumblr where good song ideas from morning pages get transcribed, so that I often have entire songs written before the music exists.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I am presently trying to avoid the trap of creating a drinking game in which you can listen to the album and get wasted by taking a shot each time I say ‘surrender’, hah.
Thematically I think it has to feel true. The feelings behind the words are embodied, even if this situation that inspires the song is fictional or not necessarily something I’m dealing with in the moment. But it has to come from a real place. I want to feel it in my body when I’m singing it and when I listen back.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Usually the process is pretty fast, once I sit down to focus on it. I used to think that I had to work really hard on every song; now it’s more about knowing what I can work with, if the seed is there, not struggling to make something happen if it’s not.
As my main metier is really songwriting and top-lining, it’s meaningful that the producers I work with (namely Vice Cooler and Maelstrom) are really trustworthy in terms of being able to show them something and they will give me honest, constructive feedback.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
It doesn’t feel like I’m writing a lot of the time, just kind of staying present to channel whatever’s coming. Most of this stuff is waiting and keeping knives sharp.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I mean, even if something isn’t necessarily appropriate for the present project, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with having a very large ‘back pocket’ for ideas that can be switched out and rearranged and applied as necessary. Better to have a place to store them all so when it’s ‘go time’, you’re ready.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
It’s really a divine process. My prayer is to make me a channel of loving noise and to be of service in that way. So far, so good, I think.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Again, my work is collaborative in a lot of ways, and often I’m not the best judge of when something is done; I’ll call it before it’s ready because I would rather under-work something than overwork it and lose the magic.
Making ‘The Practice of Freedom’ was really an eye opening process as Dave Pensado mixed it and to be part of the mixing sessions was really powerful because there was definitely a moment when songs would feel different, like hit the body differently, and I hadn’t really experienced that before. He said something about wanting to ‘maintain the chaos’ of the tracks that came with the mix, and I think about this a lot; how do you preserve the chaos while making something be the best it can be?
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
This is a tough one. Most of the time I’m kind of rough and ready, deeply unprecious (to the point of error, perhaps); if something is done I’m ready to move on, get it out the door.
This album took about two years of waiting between mastering and release due to a series of disastrous events, and I think that that time of ‘rest’ for the tracks actually helped me have a better relationship with the songs themselves. It helped me trust that the work was sturdy and could be ‘timeless’ on some level, which feels like a good goal.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
For me, production is paramount as it’s such a big part of the collaboration that creates ‘my sound’ . Working with producers who share sensibilities, who are easy to communicate with and co-create something that feels like it fits into the universe in which my work exists is really important, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to get to work with insanely talented individuals who elevate my skills with their magic.
As I mentioned before, working with Dave Pensado gave me a whole new awe and respect for the mixing process (and appreciation for Maelstrom and Vice Cooler, with whom I frequently collaborate, who mixed the majority of my work prior to The Practice of Freedom).
For mastering, my go-to guy is Alex DeYoung, who is a radically talented sweetheart and makes everything sound massive and delicate simultaneously. It takes a fucking village.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Oh my god, I didn’t anticipate the post-album blues to hit so hard. I didn’t really experience it with EPs or single releases (as I mentioned, I like to keep it moving), but the fact that this record really changed my life, it made me fight for it, it taught me a lot about my own creative abilities and gave me a lot of beautiful relationships with the people that helped make it happen, it gave me the band, which is the FUCKING BEST, it kind of made me become who I want to be as an artist …
For a few weeks after it was released it felt like some weird grief. I remember doing the dishes and barf-sobbing because NPR called it ‘the missing link between NIN and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ and I was so happy, like that was literally the compliment I have been wanting to hear since I was like 17 years old and also felt so strange that the work wasn’t mine anymore, really. It was in the world. It was like releasing a fucking dove or something ridiculous. I mean, maybe a falcon. But still.
[Read our Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs interview]
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think a lot of my life I’m not present for. I am either pretty numb or overwhelmed by intensity.
Making (and especially performing) musical work allows me to arrive in the present in a way that I don’t regularly do in a conscious way, and to process the emotions that come along with that. I am grateful to have such a practice, an outlet, and to get paid to do it.