The thing about being a front person is that you are going to get labeled. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man playing music, because I’m not a man playing music, but I do know that when you are a woman on stage, the good girl/bad girl dichotomy is a common one. When you get labeled, it’s solely based on your stage persona. So, if you stand on stage in lace, strumming your Fender Telecaster while you belt beautiful lyrics, you are going to get called a “good girl.” If you scream, rip at your hair, and roll around on the floor like a child, you get the opposite. Pop is good. “Punk” is bad. But the oppositions happen within genres too. Jessica Simpson defended her virginity, while Christina Aguilera proudly proclaimed herself as a vixen. You know the story. It’s always been the way. It’s annoying, but the opposition obsession isn’t going anywhere.
I’m not tough, but the stage would categorize me as bad (or more likely crazy or gross). My friend and singer-songwriter Louise Burns has the ultimate good girl persona. She’s more badass than me on any day, but this isn’t what an audience would believe.
Louise grew up on MTV playing bass in her band Lillix. My mom wishes I was Louise. In fact, when I was in high school she brought home a magazine with Louise on the cover and told me to “get inspired.” Louise spent her youth on a tour bus, playing early 2000’s girl pop, making music videos with Lindsay Lohan, all the while, developing into a very media-savvy musician. She quit Lillix, took a break, and then started a solo career. She is currently touring on her debut album Mellow Drama, as well as playing with another band, Gold & Youth.
I wanted to know what it’s like to play like Louise, the sweet, serious good girl. I wanted to talk about tour, sex appeal, clothing, stereotypes and everything. So, we decided to talk about it. It’s important to break down stereotypes, and I need the world to know what a pussy I am.
What’s the crowd like for you?
It’s hit and miss—I’m not a very outgoing person on stage. I don’t like stage banter and I don’t move that much as I prefer to concentrate on the song. On the last tour I did, I played a pretty heavy set. We were playing in churches and halls and all this elegant shit and some elder ladies in the audience covered their ears. I liked that!
How do you think your audience perceives you? Like, if I went up to some person at the end of your show and was like, “Describe Louise for me, now!”
I think it really depends on my mood. If I’m playing a venue that makes no sense with other bands that make no sense, I come across as nervous, shy and insecure. What about you? What do you get from people?
I think people think I’m tough and crazy because I yell, I hit myself in the head, and I act like I’m on steroids. I think they assume I’m going to be a lot tougher than I am. I can be tough, but I’m a Cancer, so beneath my shell, I’m all emotions. I’m just crumbling.
But that’s what makes a good front woman. You adopt a persona.
Do you hide yourself behind your stage persona?
I do a little bit. I think I’m way too self-aware in real life to bring that to the stage. It would be weird.
What do you mean by “too self-aware?” Is this from growing up as an MTV pop star?
Yes, totally from being a pop star and knowing too much about what is going on in both audience and stage. I’ve been through some pretty shitty live scenarios. Lillix playing the Warped Tour? Seriously? We had bottles thrown at us, got made fun of by both the bands and the audience, and the worst part is that if I wasn’t in that band, I would have been one of those people laughing at us! It’s just a silly thing I get from all this live show history. Sometimes self-awareness just means insecurity. I’ve always wanted to be in a punk band though. I’ve always been attracted to the abandonment of self-awareness.
Oh man, there is still self-awareness. I just drink a lot to not think about the crowd. I want to forget the audience is there and use them at the same time. Nothing is worse than playing to folded arms, but I know how to force them to unfold. I’m all liquid courage. Can we talk girly stuff for a minute? How do clothes affect your performance? It makes a difference to me. Does it for you?
Big time. If I’m wearing too much color or something flashy, I feel like an asshole. I like to look nice, because, why not?
Don’t you find it hard to do that on tour? Like, last summer tour I looked completely ugly. It was so hot and I had no make-up on, my hair was always in this greasy high ponytail. I wore my pajamas on stage because I was so uncomfortable with the heat and I thought it was fine. Then, I saw photos after and thought, “Oh my God, Mish, why?” I’m supposed to be a punk and “not give a fuck,” but that’s bullshit. Anyone who is on a stage gives a fuck.
Sometimes you got to learn the hard way. Did I ever tell you about my pink pinstriped pants?
Well, I was 17-years-old. It was my first “shopping trip” in New York. I had really bad taste. I bought pink pinstriped pants, wore them to a gig with a funky poor-boy hat and a peace sign necklace, then I saw a photo later. I lost 20 lbs and the pants.
Then—I have so many of these stories—I wore a corset with a spider on it and long black lace skirt over a pair of jeans with converse to the Juno Awards in 2004.
You were a teenager. Fashion was rough in early 2000’s. No one looked good.
The Cure saved my style.
It’s funny seeing press about yourself and having those photos affect you. Anyone who says they don’t look at that stuff is lying. Maybe if you are Beyonce, but other than that…
I feel this horrible sense of vanity has been installed into my psyche.
There is no use in suppressing your femininity to be taken seriously in the music world.
Do you get hit on at shows?
No, it’s a fucking tundra in the tour romance department. I play with all boys and the attention women give them is crazy. It makes me all protective.
In London a few weeks ago with Gold & Youth, we were all partying with the other bands after the show (10 or 12 other dudes) and it was, like, Groupie City.
Those guys in your band are hot little indie tarts and they have swagger.
I just get asked if I am dating any of them.
People ask [White Lung guitarist] Kenny if he has “fucked” any of us, which I find really funny. If you are the only man in a band of women, then it is assumed that you are just banging all of them, but with a woman in a band of men, it’s like, “Well, she MUST be dating one of these guys.”
It would be offensive if it weren’t such a dumb assumption.
Do you think it’s easier to be the crazy bitch or the sweet, serious musician? Is it better to be good or bad?
It’s more interesting to be the crazy bitch. The sweet serious types are a dime a dozen, including myself. [Laughs]
I don’t think so. The crazy bitch thing can work, but it’s hard. You've got to control your crazy and manipulate it in the right way. You run the risk of getting cheesy.
It also depends on how you define crazy bitch. It’s a pretty broad—almost comical—description because those "in the know" of pop culture history have an understanding that crazy bitch can just be a lazy way of describing someone outgoing, honest and original.
I just mean the dichotomy of extroverted versus introverted musicians, which ends up being “bitch” vs. “sweet” when you are a woman.
The battle continues.