When a musician says they’re returning to their roots, it’s rarely in reference to a teenage pop group that was signed by Madonna and released a music video starring peak period Lindsay Lohan. But this is the life of Vancouver’s Louise Burns.
“It sounds kinda cheesy. When most people say that they mean folk or punk or DIY, but for me it means corporate pop,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve been embracing all of the lessons I learned from when I started out as a kid in Lillix. I was like, ‘Fuck it. I’m just gonna write the most saccharine melodies I can and say some really emotional things.” Because I’ve never really been that open before with my lyrics.”
Since leaving Lillix, Burns has made music on her own terms. Her first three solo albums were all well received collections of synth-y indie pop, but when it came time to record number four, Burns felt a change needed to be made. She wanted to make unapologetic pop music again.
“It’s such a great moment for pop music,” Burns says. “I’m just really excited by all of the songwriting and production I’m hearing. I think I was getting a bit bored of myself. I think that happens to a lot of people. I definitely honour what I did in the past, it’s been very good to me. But a lot of these new sounds have come from me being more open to embracing my pop side, especially in the world of electronic music.”
Album number four, Portraits, feels like a giant creative leap forward for Burns in all respects. With its slinky rhythms, neon synths, raw lyrical admissions and breezy sax solos (Burns is a massive Roxy Music fan), she has entered that mature pop niche, alongside artists like Christine and the Queens, Shura and Carly Rae Jepsen that she always seemed destined for. A big part of this process was letting down her guard and exploring her emotions through lyrics.
“This record I did focus more on my lyrics, which I think is a huge part of pop music right now,” Burns admits. “As a non-emotional person, I found it to be a pretty crazy exercise to actually explore that side of my writing, rather than just hide behind a wall of reverb, lots of guitars or crazy drums. I was just trying to put myself into this position of, almost discomfort, so I could try and grow.”
One way in which she found the courage to do this was in returning to the city where it all started for her: Los Angeles, where she lived during the Lillix years.
“A lot of it was closure for me,” she explains. “There have been some weird wounds I’ve had since that time, which goes with being a teenager I think. Everyone has their shit that they hold on to throughout their adulthood. But for me a lot of the insecurities and neuroses were really put under a microscope in LA when I was a teenager and I still had the same perspective in a lot of ways ever since. So I figured I’d go back to that city where I began my career and make amends with it, to see if I could move forward and have a healthy relationship with my past instead of trying to hide it or be so self-deprecating.”
It was also there in Los Angeles where Burns connected with producer Damian Taylor (Arcade Fire, Björk), who previously worked on her 2017 album, Young Mopes. This time, however, Burns invited Taylor into her songwriting process, another first for her.
“Damian is amazing. I call him my guru,” she says avidly. “He knows how to push me and get the best work out of me. The way we talk about music, I just always learn from him. I’m so lucky that this was my first real collaborative experience because he paved the way for it to be a positive thing for me. This record wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for him. I feel like with him, I put more work into my songwriting, getting the sounds I wanted, and deciding what I want to do as an artist.”