Name: Louise Quinn
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Recent release: Gates of Light's eponymous debut album is out via Shimmy Disc.
If you enjoyed this interview with Louise Quinn and would like to find out more, visit her official website. Gates of Light, which further comprises of Bal Cooke, Scott Fraser, Kid Loco and film/art director Tim Saccenti, also has its own Facebook profile.
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?
The impulse to create something can come from everywhere and anywhere for me; one of my most recent songs was inspired by a broken toy, which I guess was symbolic of how I felt at the time. I’ve built the song around a sample of the toy.
I believe that songwriters are like mediums channelling thoughts and feelings from the ether; sometimes you catch one and other times it passes you by and finds someone else. A lot of my songs come in dreams but sometimes I am too tired to wake up to catch them!
“Walk On” from the Gates Of Light album was one such song; I had to get up and try not to disturb my sleeping one year old twins and now ex-husband to record the idea on my phone.
The Gates Of Light album was written during lockdown 2020; it was funded by Creative Scotland’s Open Fund to encourage creativity during the pandemic. There’s no doubt without the funding the album would not exist; it enabled us to collaborate with Scott Fraser in London, Kid Loco in Paris and Tim Saccenti in New York. Lockdown intensified memories, feelings of longing, regret and grief for me which fed into the songwriting for Gates Of Light.
My ex-husband said that when he listened to “Inevitable” on his car stereo he broke down crying; I think he realised how unhappy I was and that our marriage was over.
When I sent the song to Kid Loco to work on he phoned me; it was the first time I had spoken to him in over ten years; he asked me if I was okay. Clearly I wasn’t and it was evident in my song-writing.
“Next To Me” was inspired by my experience of motherhood; as a new mother to my boy/girl twins who are almost three now but also to their older sister who was very sadly born sleeping.
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?
Tracks come to me fully formed a lot of the time; I hear arrangements and everything.
I like to play with words like a lot of songwriters by singing nonsense words or sounds over the track initially and then tweaking them. I use the internet for inspiration; people’s conversations; literature; film; poetry; art to try and achieve what I’m looking for with words; but essentially I want it to feel real and convey something that feels real to me.
I don’t produce myself so the input of a producer can change things and this can be a good thing.
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'?
A rough version of a song will be me singing into my phone accompanied by a guitar, a uke or maybe even the sound of a machine that I’ve heard in the street and like. It might have a few words; a chorus and the odd word for verses but usually I’m just singing gibberish or just humming.
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?
I like coffee and chocolate, low lighting and being horizontal.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Usually the vocal melody comes first, or some words, usually together. It comes really easily to me; I just don’t have enough time to record all of my ideas.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Lyrics are usually there to begin with; songwriting is very cathartic for me and usually they emerge from how I am feeling at the time.
“Belleville Sun” from the Gates Of Light album is a co-write with Kid Loco; “Belleville Sun” was what he called the track when he sent it to me which inspired me to write a song about my memories of visiting Belleville to record on his records.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I think good lyrics are universal but cryptic and open to interpretation all at the same time; it’s a hard thing to achieve! I keep trying …
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
I got an A for my higher art and was planning on going to art school before life got in the way; I guess I’m quite painterly when it comes to songwriting and building up a track; building up layers and adding detail along the way; trying not to overwork it!
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?
Over the years I’ve learned to let go more. Co-writing has been amazing.
This track with Scott for the Gates Of Light album I think is very quirky because I was determined to bring some Nico/ Vashti Bunyan influences to it and write about nature:
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?
All the time; especially with this album.
My ex-husband started this track off and I had to just respond very instinctively without thinking; some people have compared the album to Young Marble Giants (huge compliment!); I think this track is most like them:
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?
Definitely. My upbringing was like Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit; attending charismatic renewal meetings at a very young age where I played guitar and sang christian folk songs.
But it didn’t put me off being spiritual; quite the opposite; I’ve always felt like artists are shamans and when I was writing Gates Of Light a lot of new age and occult writing influenced me.
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?
I guess when it is mastered that’s pretty final. And we have been very lucky to have the genius that is Kramer master this vinyl release; it sounds incredible.
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?
I’m always moving forward but sometimes I’ll come back to something.
“This Is How We Sound” was a song that I couldn’t decide wether I should bother writing or not but I’m glad I did! It kind of encapsulates a lot of people’s lockdown experiences:
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?
My ex-husband produced most of my songs for decades; he is an incredible producer and we would eat, sleep and drink the work together. But for this collaboration has been good to work with other producers.
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?
Yeah, I guess it’s the journey that counts and sometimes it can be hard to reach your final destination; there is a grief which comes with that.
But hey grief is something to make new work about …
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 believe that you can be creative with whatever you do and you can try and create beauty and truth with everything and anything you do; even making a cup of coffee.
People described the gig-theatre show I created Biding Time (remix) as being a visual poem; this is how I try to live my life; I try to find the beauty and truth in the situation and try to avoid hate and fear.