‘Before, I ran my life around what everyone else was doing,’ Louis tells me. Louis Harrison is my friend from school, and the ‘before’ he’s referring to is life before the pandemic. He’s a man of many talents: musician-songwriter-producer-entrepreneur-videographer, and says he isn’t quite sure where he fits. ‘I’m a creative person, and my way of getting that across at the moment is music… in some weird kind of amalgamation.’ The latest track he’s been working on sounds something like ‘if Christopher Nolan met metalcore’. Louis and I are chatting while he’s in a pastel pink matching hoodie and joggers set, which I think is rather sweet until he zooms in and shows me the pentagrams.
I first met Louis in year 12, where he was known as ‘Louis with the low voice’, in comparison to another Louis with a different surname. On parents’ evening, Louis threw me his typical disarming wink from across the corridor, to which my dad asked, ‘Who’s that?’ I replied, ‘Oh, that’s Louis,’ and Dad said, in a tone ever too slightly full of candour for my liking, ‘he looks too cool to be your friend.’ I agreed, somewhat reluctantly.
Three years later, in some sense, things are much the same. Our conversations carry the same easiness in spite of being over video calls, Louis’ voice is still low, and he is, my dad would say, still cooler than me. We joke how on the surface, all that seems to be different is that while my hair used to be twice the length of his, his now firmly beats mine, and is fabulously curly, successfully hiding any semblance of a visage during particularly intense guitar riffs. However, like that of many musicians during the pandemic, Louis’ craft and lifestyle have undergone an immense shift. The pandemic, social distancing, and the banning of public events means that unlike before, when many musicians were playing regular gigs, they must now seek alternative ways to engage their audiences.
When we video call, Louis has an impressive set up in his student house in Brighton. The otherwise dark room is lit by purple LED lights, and he has a professional-looking microphone that he’s speaking into. I jokingly ask how his YouTuber podcast is going, and he laughs and agrees it really does look that way. He tells me he’s just finished livestreaming: ‘sometimes it’s nice to feel like I’m sitting with someone else while I’m making music.’ There’s more pressure to create something, be innovative, and keep it moving forward, and different people join each livestream.
Louis lives in a house of musicians, which he describes as both a blessing and curse. On the one hand, if he needs a second opinion – or third ear – he can simply shout outside his bedroom for help. But there are constant wisps of music floating out from under doors, and he feels the constant pressure to be working on something as he can hear all his friends creating their own music. Ordinarily, he would work in a studio, but now, almost all musicians are forced into the ‘bedroom’ part of bedroom pop. He’s grateful, though, for the space to create, and he’s made it as accessible and easy as he can for himself. He shows me, in an impressive matter of seconds, how he can reach behind him and grab his guitar, pull across his keyboard, and have his laptop set up, ready to leap into action whenever inspiration strikes. Besides, it’s a marked improvement from the summer lockdown spent at his parents’ house, where he found himself setting up a makeshift studio on the dining table, only to take it down again every time his family ate dinner.
Since being away from the traditional studio, often a collaborative space, Louis says he’s found more time to experiment. When he’s on his own, there’s nobody to stop him from making a ‘weird-sounding riff’, and as he can’t ask people to play an instrumental part for him, he learnt how to write drum parts from scratch, a skill he didn’t know he had. He now even has R&B musicians asking for his help. Louis has also had to learn how to film and edit studio-quality videos on his phone, and how to produce his own music properly, investing in professional microphones and preamps. He does things on his own terms, waking up early to enjoy a coffee in silence before he starts his day, and sleeping at a reasonable time without any gigs to play. There is some joy in being self-sufficient in terms of making music, although it does not come without its difficulties. He speaks, vulnerable for a moment, about how he has had to simultaneously support himself and be his own critic, producing all the parts himself without anyone looking over his shoulder. But with that comes a certain degree of freedom: ‘I’m focusing more on what I need, not what other people need from me,’ he says.
I ask him where he’s getting his inspiration from, now that he’s so often within the same four walls. He tells me about the walks he has been enjoying by the Brighton seafront, and how his best form of inspiration at the moment is from reading books and watching films. Reflecting on a passage he’s read and applying it to his own life can lead to a song. ‘It’s difficult,’ he admits. ‘Creativity doesn’t exist in a void.’
It’s not all solo work; Louis is involved in multiple interesting projects, including two bands, and setting up his own business. Before lockdown, he tells me, many musicians may have done what he was doing: play gigs, play more gigs, and hope people show up to the right gigs. But now, he’s joined two new bands, both of whom are making high quality music on the internet, hoping that when they are able to play at gigs and shows, people will already know them. He asks if I’d like to meet his housemate, to which I give an emphatic yes, and I hear him knocking on his friend’s door. I catch what they’re saying; Louis says I’m an angel, and would he like to meet me – and I say, ‘Louis! I heard that! That’s so nice,’ and Bear Phillips-Pearce comes in, similarly charming in his demeanour. Bear, Louis confides in me, is his business partner, as of a few weeks ago. Drawing on their Brighton-based network, they’ve created ‘an independent record label with a focus on the ‘independent’ bit’ to pave a route for artists and freelancers to work together. You can check them out on Instagram, @concrete.treetops – give your local musicians some support.
The pandemic has forced Louis, and many other musicians, to come at things from a different angle. Louis’ experience shouldn’t be taken as representative of that of all, or even most, musicians, he tells me, especially as he works in so many different areas. To end our conversation, I ask Louis if he has any advice for musicians reading this who may be struggling with creating, in light of the pandemic. What he says rings true: 2020 and 2021 thus far has been hard for everyone, and it’s easy for people in the creative industries to get caught up in hustle culture. He has a ‘toxic relationship with productivity’, but emphasises the importance of rest.
‘It’s ok, your story looks totally different to anyone’s, just keep plodding along, without putting pressure on yourself to make each day better than the last. We’re all just out here doing our thing,’ he says. ‘Order that takeaway, life doesn’t have meaning, be kind to yourself and to others.’ I laugh, and stop typing before the conversation turns too existential. It’s a tough time, and I think Louis’ words carry a lot of truth. We’re all just out here doing our thing, and I really hope you’re being kind to yourself as you’re doing yours. With promises of music venues opening up soon, who knows, for better or worse, we may see a return to conventional methods of making and sharing music.
Check out Louis’ music on Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/louisxharrison?fbclid=IwAR3AYUzIeLeCIFY_XmCbLnRyO5bm1upZueJL6vn5NhpNltR3R81Z6dOF4U8