Louis Vause: “It would sound good in some unmanned satellite scudding through space” – Q&A

Louis Vause

Louis Vause

Louis Vause, bankrupt, single parent, ex-piano teacher and labelmate of Graham Coxon, has released his debut album, Pianophernalia.

musicOMH caught up with him to chat about his unlikely road to success…


musicOMH: What’s taken you so long to release your own record?
Louis Vause: Life, really. And a lack of self confidence. Jack Lemmon, the actor, speaking in an interview said that it wasn’t failure that was a problem – failure can be funny, mortifying, embarrassing… no, what was the real killer was the ‘fear of failure’.

If you don’t try and if you don’t walk that line between failure and success you will never achieve either. And either has to be preferable to a person who has never done anything but is busy trying to convince everyone in purgatory (which I envisage as a smoky bar with no alcohol) that he could have been the biggest thing since sliced bread.

It has taken me a while to learn this. All the people like (for instance) David Beckham, who have to bear the brunt of so much criticism week in week out and still perform… I take my hat off to that.

musicOMH: How did you come to work with Graham Coxon (and be signed to Transcopic)?
Louis Vause: We met at mid-day in the Mac Bar in Camden to rehearse some tunes to play there at what was called Louis’ Big Easy, in which I would play piano and then invite a guest to join me. We had seen each other around and about Camden prior to that but I was more au fait with Blur as a soundtrack than a visual thing so I had never realised who he was. We clicked both emotionally and musically very quickly I think. Things developed. He gave me his CD and I gave him a test pressing of mine. We liked what we heard. He asked me if I would play on his album. I was delighted to and it was then that we made the arrangements to release Pianophernalia on Transcopic. We gel musically I think.

musicOMH: On tracks like Locked Doors, was it all thrown together as a jam session or were specific parts written for you by Graham?
Louis Vause: No. Locked Doors is one mother of a groove and actually quite difficult to play. Graham sent me his bass, drums and guitar on a CD and I played along with that at home. Then I would ring him and say things like “Is this working” and he would helpfully reply “I don’t know”. On the day I recorded the piano I adjusted the left hand part by a semi-quaver and we did a take. What is lovely about that is that it sounds like a jam. And I suppose it was…we just weren’t doing it at the same time.

musicOMH: Who do you think will buy Pianophernalia? Where should the album be listened to?
Louis Vause: I hope it could offer something to everyone. I remember that when I released and promoted on Radio 4 my video, “A Beginners’ Guide to Boogie and Blues” the people who wrote and/or phoned in were mainly farmers doing the milking. I don’t know what this means apart from the fact that if you hear a piano player doing this type of bluesy thing the general response is ‘I wish I could play the piano’. I also think it would sound good in some unmanned satellite scudding through space to somewhere.

“Once politics was important. It is now regarded as on a par with Posh and Becks.” – Louis Vause

musicOMH: Did you ever play in Lancaster (where you grew up) now? How do you view the place now?
Louis Vause: Not really. I met some old friends from school when I returned for my father’s funeral in 1996 and they all said when hearing of my exploits “But you don”t even play the piano” No – I didn’t then. I also didn’t swim a length till I was 36. I am a late starter and I think it is probably a result of my dads illness and his anger at his illness in which I would be told on a daily basis that I would amount to nothing. At that age you believe it. Part of me still does. This isn’t unusual in a performer. Lancaster itself has lost much of its magic. The centre has been neglected because of out of town mega-stores. It is a mill town though…fantastic Victorian architecture, amidst a rolling, green landscape that shaped my childhood.

musicOMH: Are you still bankrupt?
Louis Vause: Yes… and will be until September 11 2003.

musicOMH: Do you think the legacies of the likes of Gershwin are being overlooked in favour of prefab pop tartlets?
Louis Vause: In some ways Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were “prefabricated pop tartlets”. No, in a word. Youth will always set its own agenda. I hear contemporary stuff that I don’t go for but I am also impressed by people in their teens now rifling through their parents record collection and coming to me and saying ‘I want to learn this Joni Mitchell song . Quality is enduring!

musicOMH: How did having a child, and then having to raise her singlehandedly, alter your relationship with music (if at all)?
Louis Vause: It made it more important to leave her something. To do (or try to do) something from which she would benefit. I am her Dad.

musicOMH: You said “I gave everything I had recording it” of Pianophernalia. Does that mean there won’t be another album?
Louis Vause: No… what that means is that I put all of what I am into those specific performances on those particular days. I would not allow release of tracks in which I felt I hadn’t done that. This isn’t a band …much of it is just me and a piano. Therefore you focus on that. In a band context I might make a mistake on keyboards whilst the drums and bass did the take of their life and I would put up with that (I’d probably have to).

musicOMH: You’ve approached a musical career from a roundabout way (via Sudan, teaching, canal boat….). Are you happy with what you see of the industry so far?
Louis Vause: Music isn’t an industry the way I see it. Of course it IS …but it isn’t. I don’t know. Much of it stinks and much of it is populated with wonderful, committed people. It’s far better than the Arms Industry.

musicOMH: What do you do to relax?
Louis Vause: Read, play the piano, draw, paint, go to the South Bank and catch a film, drink wine, make jam and piccallili, cook and do jigsaws.

musicOMH: What’s your favourite place and why?
Louis Vause: Edinburgh. I was born there and every time I return I feel happy.

musicOMH: Do you have a favourite London bar hangout?
Louis Vause: Many!

musicOMH: Which tunes do you whistle in the shower/bath?
Louis Vause: Nothing in particular. But I tend to sing to myself when I am going places.

musicOMH: Does politics matter?
Louis Vause: Only in as much as they are ruining the world. Labour or Tory – Blur or Oasis? Once politics was important. It is now regarded as on a par with Posh and Becks, I’m afraid.

musicOMH: What’s next for you musically?
Louis Vause: Butterfield 8 gig at the Festival Hall. Other than that I don’t know. The phone rings and your life suddenly changes.

Louis Vause’s album Pianophernalia is out now through Transcopic.

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More on Louis Vause
Louis Vause: “It would sound good in some unmanned satellite scudding through space” – Q&A
Louis Vause – Pianophernalia