Louis Berry interview: Liverpool's finest talks his debut album, modern music and staying out of trouble

‘People are bored. We’re stuck in this programmed, brainwashed world. And you’ve got a massive wave of people who want new music’

Roisin O'Connor
Saturday 29 April 2017 13:18 BST
'It’s important for me to touch on real things, and the things I see as wrongs' - Louis Berry
'It’s important for me to touch on real things, and the things I see as wrongs' - Louis Berry

Chances are you've heard something by Louis Berry, even if you weren't aware it was him.

One of Liverpool’s finest – his song “Restless” blew up last year, while his debut track “.45” was named Radio 1’s Hottest Record in the World.

Since then a string of releases has seen him attract a rapidly growing fanbase and a headline show at Koko in London.

Sat outside a pub in London on a blissfully warm day, he says he's looking forward to showing fans what else he's capable of.

“I can’t wait to get into the other stuff that I’ve got banked,” he says. “The rock and roll stuff’s great, but for radio I want to get into the slower stuff as well, the stuff that’s deeper. But I’ve got to play the game, put the fun songs out first.

“Because I write in so many different styles, there’s been a bit of a fight in a car park type thing – we’ve got rock and roll, soul, stuff that’s almost got a folk touch to it. I think it’s important: I’ve never been a one-trick pony. And after that you can go where you want.”

Berry has a rockabilly sound to much of the material he's put out so far, but you can't miss that Scouse accent: on his music and in person, there's nothing fake about him.

“I do think it’s important to be who you are and where you’re from,” he nods, lighting a cigarette.

“I see a lot of artists pulling laptops out onstage, using all this electronic gear, and as much as we’re in a modern day and age where you can use that kind of stuff, I still feel like it’s cheating.

“The music is just as important, making sure that it’s actual music. You’re not an artist unless you’re creating, if you’re just pressing play, that’s not art to me.”

‘Music should be honest: it used to represent the times, but how are you going to do that when everything sounds the same?’ 

While some British artists adopt an Americanised accent in an attempt to make a transatlantic breakthrough more likely, Berry refuses to change his music to please other people.

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“I think you’ve got to strike a balance,” he says. “If you want to take your music to an American audience it’s got to be understandable, sure. But at the same time, authenticity is important.”

When he was a teenager his grandfather kept a guitar at the end of his bed. “I wasn't allowed to touch it,” Berry says, grinning at the memory.

“So obviously I went up and had a little go. I liked it. I liked the fact that I wasn’t allowed to do it. I’m like that: if someone says I’m not allowed to do something I want to do it. But that was it, four chords, and later on I got into music through other means.”

He discovered one of the sounds he would grow to love by visiting Belfast and trying to play traditional Irish music: “I’ve always loved that kind of thing. It’s not in the charts, it’s not something you hear all the time, but obviously Liverpool is a massively Irish city.”

“I tried to play it, couldn’t get it right. Brought it home, put it on an electric guitar. Then people said ‘that sounds like Johnny Cash’. So I then started listening to him. I love him now.”

Cash comparisons wouldn't bother him, then, but a few reviews and interviews that have placed him alongside another guitar-playing singer-songwriter do seem to set him on edge.

“So they're going to categorise a whole genre of music with Jake Bugg?” Berry asks with a scowl. “For a start, he doesn’t write his own songs, you know what I mean? Whatever, if that’s what he wants to do as an artist than fine. I prefer to write my own songs.

“It’s just cheating, though, it’s like comparing Justin Bieber and Charli XCX. You’s both do pop, use drum loops, same sounds. So you’re the same yeah?" He shakes his head: "We’re from completely different backgrounds."

Berry is fine with admitting that he was involved with some "heavy stuff" when he was younger: "Not small time, bunking off school kind of stuff – this was serious. And it opened my eyes to the world from a young age."

“I didn’t get in any trouble with the law though,” he adds, flashing a grin. “I was always good at getting away. I’m a good car driver. Motorbikes as well. I got in trouble within that world a lot of times, that’s the nature of it. But luckily enough I’m here unscathed."

Some of this is brought into his music, other songs, like the foot-stomping whirlwind “She Wants Me”, are brilliant, old-school snapshots of a man lusting after a woman and vice versa.

“I think it’s important for me to touch on real things, and the things I see as wrong,” Berry says. “I’ve got to play the game and do the fun things as well, but I’m definitely holding a lot back for the album. And I want to do it in a way that makes sense as well. There’s going to be an order – I want to take the listener on a journey.

“Music should be honest – it used to represent the times, but how are you gonna do that when everything sounds the same?”

“We live in an age where everything is very generic. There’s a divide, you see really young people, half of them haven’t even left school yet, saying these songs sound boring. People are bored. We’re stuck in this programmed, brainwashed world. And then you’ve got a massive wave of people who want new music. You see it on the radio, and with Spotify.”

Throughout the conversation Berry makes it clear that he's not in music to please people – if he doesn't like something you can bet he'll tell you about it.

"I see bands kissing each other’s arses and I just can’t do it," he shrugs. "Noel Gallagher turns round and says ‘that’s shite’ and it makes headline news. Everyone’s scared to offend people.

While he's proud of his heritage, he feels that his work "will play a part in Liverpool’s music history" – rather than the other way round – and listens to everything from pop (“I like Ariana Grande's voice – I've got some tunes I've written that could work for her”) to hip hop, rock and Ben Howard ("I'd say he's one of the best artists of the last decade").

“It's a cheap thing for media to use comparisons,” he says. “I do interviews – not like this, but some journalists ask you the same questions. ‘Who are your influences?’ Why do I need them? Why did someone influence me to write the track? Life influenced me to write the track. The girl I just broke up with influenced me to write it."

At the moment he's tried to slow down writing for his own music (he writes for other artists as well), since he already has plenty of material for the album.

Recording in Nashville with legendary producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Norah Jones, Kings of Leon), the album looks set to come out sometime in 2018. “Got a tune called ‘All My Love’. ‘Rumours of War’ is an interesting track. We’re hearing about all these wars going on, what are they really about – it’s a deeper track. That track picks up as well.

“It’s not about writing songs that are depressing and morbid, it’s about making things fun, and saying something at the same time,” he says. “That’s my favourite kind of song to write.”

Louis Berry is headlining Koko on 31 May – get tickets here

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