Emily Robb of Louie Louie describes the allure of the unanswered mysteries of outer space, their scene in Philadelphia, and touring with Beach House.
How long have you all been recording and playing together?
Our first show was in the winter of 2015, almost a year after we started jamming together. Our first recordings were very simple. We tracked all the instruments at our practice space and vocals at my house. Our cat even got involved.
Friend of a Stranger was released this February and is one of the most fun records we've listened to this year. What was the vision for the record? How long has it been in the works?
Thanks! At the time, I wanted to write catchy tunes and I've always loved writing harmonies and arranging instruments. I wanted the album to be varied in tone, speed, texture, emotion, etc., much like my mood during the course of a day. That said, I wanted to keep it simple. I've never been a fan of "layering." I knew we would record to tape (we recorded on a 16-track tape machine so our songs are all 16 tracks or less). We had 6 days to record and we couldn't fret over things too much because the entire process was analogue. You can hear lots of "mistakes" which I think makes it more desirable to listen to more than once.
The new record features cover songs from Ray Davies and Phil Spector, et.al. What is most special about these songs for you?
"Keep On Dancing" was always a song I liked because it's so bratty and mean and insecure. I really love the Ronettes delivery and Phil Spector's arranging and it seamed easy to approach with Louie Louie. It was the furthest foray into "girl group" arrangement we went for the album, including the tambourine, backup vocals and even the strumming pattern of the guitar.
The Ray Davies cover wasn't premeditated. We had a show in Montreal the night before we planned to start recording with my friend Christian. Both Christian and I are Kinks fans and I was inspired last minute to cover "You Still Want Me" for the live show. It really just got stuck in our heads and we were doodling it so much in the recording studio that finally we realized it was calling to us.
In the past, you've mentioned outer space having a special connection for the band. Can you explain more on the impacts space has on your writing, sound, or mindset?
Outer space is infinitely(!) interesting and vastly(!) mysterious. It builds on it's own huge question mark. It's an escape from humanity but also makes one reflect on humanity. Everything's a mirror. What are the limits of ourselves? What are we? What is real? We have no control over anything. Do human emotions exist in outer space? Is love a beautiful thing? There are so many thoughts and questions to think about. Not necessarily to answer. Probably just to create more questions. But music is an amazing way of exploring and expressing these things because you don't have to use anything concrete, least not words. It's mostly emotional. I also have people like Joe Meek and Sun Ra to thank for continuing to be inspiring very directly in this way.
You're based in Philly, a city rich in great musicians and art. How does the city provide you a pallet in which to create your art?
Yeah, Philly is a cool place! There's a strong sense of community here. And at the same time there's a lot of traveling and working with artists from elsewhere. So the scene here is varied and individualized rather than cloistered. It doesn't feel too hectic or biz-y (as in "music biz"). It's still not overly expensive to live here so people are allowed time and space to make their art. There's still a healthy (tho often changing) scene of D.I.Y. spots as well as small bar venues and now lots of bigger ones, too. There are amazing big and small art museums and galleries. It's a city that has it all. (But not too much).
You're going on tour with Beach House for a string of their East Coast dates. How did you get involved with the band?
Our sister introduced us to Alex and Victoria a long time ago (probably around 2009) and we're friends with someone who played bass with them for a while. We didn't know each other super well but they came to a show Louie Louie was playing in Baltimore in the fall of 2016. I think we made some kind of impression(?!) because they subsequently asked us to open for them in Lancaster. We had the best time playing with them and all of us wanted to tour together after that...and now it's happening!
How has the opportunity to tour around with a pretty well-established group changed your band dynamic and live show?
Playing bigger shows in bigger venues means you have to be more professional, be on time, be organized, sign contracts ahead of time, etc. It's like having a real job but it's extremely fun and challenging. The performance has to speak to those in the way back and up on the balconies as well as those right in front of you. Ironically playing a big stage makes me play a more introverted show. You can't see anything-it's all dark and you only see flashes of a sea of heads. So it's just us (Louie Louie) and one giant audience rather than us and individuals watching us. I think I pay more attention to the nuances of our sound because I can actually hear it. I bring extra strings in case one of mine breaks. I should probably bring a backup guitar but I don't have a good one.