LOUIS BERRY is ready. Match fit, sharp, prepared. He knows where he’s heading, and how he’s going to get there – he just doesn’t necessarily want to tell the rest of us yet. It’s his road to walk and he’s got plenty of time for the journey.
Signed after a single gig, and with a fanbase that’s built slowly and surely, Berry has been a star-in-waiting seemingly from the very start. His debut, home-recorded single .45 lit the touch paper, leading to him signing to one of the biggest labels in the world. Add a slew of live dates at prestigious UK and European festivals alongside a debut album on Sony, and you’ll see that Louis Berry has a lot of future ahead of him; and, for such a young artist, a hell of a lot of past.
As he sits in The Brink, reflecting on where he’s come from and where he sees himself in all of this, what is evident is the confidence that oozes from him. It’s a sense of contentment and surety that comes from living through the struggles he’s faced along the way. Growing up in Kirkby, Berry’s beginnings weren’t easy. He’s talked in the past of his father’s battles with heroin, and the isolation that brought him. That could be where the tangible sense of drive comes from, the need to break out, to work out how to stand up for himself and move forwards. It started, as it does for so many, with a cheap guitar and three chords.
“My Grandad was more of a father figure for me than my own father was, and one day he went the car booty and came home with a guitar and stood it at the end of the bed. One day, I snuck upstairs to his room and picked the guitar up. I found this chord book, and had a go. From then, I was in. It just seemed so natural for me, somehow.”
From there he moved around, trying to get a gig, wanting and waiting to be heard. You’d think that, in a city such as Liverpool with such an active music scene, he’d have been welcomed with open arms and ears. Not so – scenes can be healthy, but they can often be insular and unwelcoming of those perceived as outsiders, as Berry found.
“When I started playing, I went to bars in Liverpool, loads of them, to open mic nights, and I’d ask if I could put my name down to get up, and I’d always get ‘sorry mate, we’re full, we’ve got our regulars, come back next week’. I’ve got a strong accent, and I had a skinhead at the time, and it was like ‘he’s not a musician, what does his music look like?’ Well, I listen to music, I don’t fuckin’ watch it. Since then, I always thought, ‘fuck you, then’, and now, now people are asking me if they can support me at my gigs. Well, sorry mate… I’ve got me regulars,” he laughs.
A conversation with Louis Berry bears many of the same characteristics as watching him in the live setting. There’s an enthusiastic energy, a sense of drive and an urgency in the way he speaks. He connects with you, eye to eye, holding your attention, and it’s clear that he means every single word. He’s edgy, determined and definite. He carries himself and his words with uncompromising honesty and an easy wit, and there’s no room in his thoughts for self-doubt or hesitancy. In a world where the word truth is redefined on an almost daily basis, his honesty is refreshing and engaging. This manifests itself in his lyrics, real tales of real characters facing all too real struggles. It’s burned into his voice, the growl and the howl of those struggles, the lives lived in those songs and the stories told.
This honesty spills over into the writing process, which, for Berry, is everything. For it to work for him, it has to come from him.
“I wanna write about real things that are true to me, so I won’t let anyone else write for me, cos you’re not an artist then, you’re a performer… I couldn’t stand there, like a fraud, and sing songs that haven’t come from me. I don’t wanna lose that authenticity. It’s about truth.”
The marker of this will be Berry’s debut full-length, which is due later in 2017. Off the back of huge singles Restless and She Wants Me, there’s a growing anticipation for this as-yet untitled album, which was recorded in 2016 in Nashville. Whether or not it’s finished or not, only Louis knows. “I keep saying it’s finished, but then… it isn’t. I keep going back to it and changing a couple of things.” As with everything in his career, he’s taking his time, drip-feeding his eager fanbase, teasing them with brief tastes of what’s to come. A broad smile dances across his face as he thinks about this; the caution of the journey and the care he’s taken so far are always close to mind.
“The thing is, a lot of the stuff I’ve got coming is far deeper than what I’ve got out at the moment, cos you’ve got to play the game,” he admits. “There’s a bit of push and pull over what songs we release first, and how we get there. I could so easily release my most pop track, make a big pop video in America in the sunshine with a load of Cadillacs in it or whatever, sit back and say ‘there you go’. Go straight at it that way. That’s fuckin’ easy. But, if you get that wrong, then where d’you go? You’re fucked. You went right to the top from the beginning, and now you’re fucked. I want longevity in my career, and I need to make sure that every step I take is on solid foundations. I have to move forward like that.”
We could be forgiven for thinking that this single-minded and dogged determination might not go down well with Sony, his record company; major labels such as them aren’t always known for their patience, or readiness to relinquish control.
“Yeh, I suppose you could think about the record company in terms of this big entity, and then you as a separate piece of that entity – or you could just look at them as individuals in the room. When I walk in that room, I’m not having conversations with Sony, I’m dealing with people. I’m talking to John, Paul, Sarah and Jane. And all the people I’m working with there are great, they’re sound people. They don’t try and control me. We’ve got a mutual respect for each other. I understand the game they wanna play; they’re patient, and the route they wanna take is towards that longevity too. They have reasons for the way they do things, and you have to trust them in it, but at the same time they have to trust you when you say ‘no, this is the way I’m doing it’. A bit of give and take.”
Seeing Louis Berry live is an experience of high-octane impact: the connection he has with the crowd is a solid and unswerving two-way conversation, and, for Berry, the performance of these songs is the fulfilment of his intense vision and focus. The stage is where these songs live, where they belong, as a part of that connection with his crowd, and with each performance he seems to breathe new life into them.
“I see it like this. You know when you go to a fight, and you’re terrified before it and you come out after it, and you won? And you walk away like you’re the dog’s bollocks?” he laughs. “That’s the feeling I feel at a gig. Like I’ve had a scrap and won.” Watching him, you’d certainly get the feeling he’s won a good few scraps in his time. Again, that vision comes to him, the certainty of purpose he feels…
“For me, writing is the most important thing – but the live performance is the fulfilment of the writing. That’s the climax. When I write, I envision: I see the crowd. So, when I’m standing there, I’ve already seen what’s going on in the room. The room could be empty, but in my head, I’ve already seen their reaction, I’ve seen them singing them songs back to me. When I write, I do it with optimism, not pessimism, and I see that in my mind. Everything I’m achieving now, I’ve already seen.”
There’s no doubt he’ll see a lot more on his journey. That path he’s treading is well-worn, fraught with the danger of far too many distractions. It’s claimed its victims before, and it will again; those who thought too big, and those who thought too small. Those who didn’t think at all. Louis Berry’s different. He doesn’t just think he’ll reach his destination, he knows. !
She Wants Me is released on 10th March via Sony Music.