Scotland and Barcelona; two places that are not only both fighting for their sovereignty but also two places that support each other. Louis Rive is a singer-songwriter that now has a relationship with both of these places and they have become, in part, what he writes music about.
Louis tells stories (with beautifully strong Scottish R’s), with the aid of his guitar and proudly keeps alive a path that artists before him lay down. He writes on his Bandcamp page that he has met “every type of person there is to meet” in the past decade or so because of his work. I contacted Louis from my temporary home on the other side of Spain and asked him about his music, his own story and his mysterious work that allowed him to meet such fascinating people worthy of being put into song.
Halldór Kristínarson: First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Louis Rive?
Louis Rive: I am a singer-songwriter currently in Barcelona but soon to be in Glasgow. If we are going down the nationality route, I am Scottish. My music is rooted in a folk tradition, but not about goblins and faeries or anything like that. Don’t get me wrong, I love traditional folk music, but my songs are there to narrate modern life; identity, political ineptitude, modern imperialism and the world of work.
HK: You mention in the text about your album The Cheap Part of Town that you have met a lot of interesting people, some of whom become part of your stories. What is this work you have partaken in?
LR: I’ve worked many jobs. Here are a few. Bell boy, cleaner, filleting chicken in an industrial kitchen, pot wash, bookie, Georgian-themed human statue, ghost in a haunted house, primary school teacher, translator, Christmas tree salesman.
There are more if I think about it, but these are probably a good start.
HK: You just released a new single ‘Where Do We Go From Here’. Can you tell us a bit about the song and its content?
LR: The song was inspired by events taking place in Scotland at the moment. Scotland has a dark past, one which clashes a bit with the stereotypical, tartan-tinged image of an indefatigable small nation. I have no doubt that we can become that nation, but to get there we have to acknowledge where we came from; it’s the basis for everything. Recent events in George Square, Glasgow, showed a face off between right–wing groups defending statues and left-wing ones advocating said statues’ removal. All the while the police maintained an uneasy presence in the middle. It was like Scotland in miniature; people focused on the past while others sought to define an alternative future, all the while the state maintaining a status quo that no-one benefits from. Past, present and future, ‘Where Do We Go from Here?’
HK: Has your music always been political or made in protest?
LR: Political no, not always. It started as a way to highlight the absurdity of modern life; this conveyor belt of work, consumption, kids, mortgage and death that I always felt was the elephant in the room when it came to modern living. The political aspect was an extension of this. Nina Simone, and I paraphrase, said that it is the duty of musicians to give voice to those faced with injustice. There is no shortage of injustice at the moment, especially in the UK, so the combination of Brexit, institutional racism towards BAME communities, police brutality, inept government and the financial impossibility facing young people at the moment brought out these particularly political protest songs.
HK: How did it happen that you moved to Barcelona, Spain? How is the music scene there, especially protest music, different from your home country the UK?
LR: I’d like to be honest about it. I ended up in Barcelona as a stop on the Caledonian lager train around Europe, it was coincidence. I was living a life of fairly meaningless nihilism and Barcelona catered to that. When I arrived I knew very little of either the music scene or the political situation. I don’t pass comment on things I don’t know well enough, but I will say this. Social change needs a soundtrack, whatever that may be. The Catalan language lends itself well to this, and pre-covid there were many cultural events that supported the independence cause; the two were inseparable. Music’s power should not be underrated with regards to social change, and I hope I can play a part in this idea of social change through culture when I return to Scotland.
HK: What is your take on music and activism and whether the two should be intertwined or separated?
LR: Well, it’s up to the musician really. I completely abhor the idea of people’s music being used to support causes that don’t represent the artist’ views, something very evident by the use of music at Trump rallies, and closer to home the Brexit campaign. On a personal level, I write my music with the idea of narrating the injustices of life and attempting to spark constructive debate, so I would say that my music IS my activism. However, it is each to their own, art is personal and it is up to each artist to use their art as they see fit.
HK: What’s your take on the socially conscious music scene in Barcelona? Do you feel there is a rich environment of artists using their voices responsibly or not enough?
LR: The issue with socially conscious music as you put it, or at least the issue that I find, is that it is very polarising: people either love it or hate it. Music, for a lot of people, is escapism and many people don’t want to hear about the drudgery of modern life when it is something that they live day in, day out. That’s their choice as the listener, and I respect that. In terms of musicians it is the same. There are plenty of artists here in Spain who use their voice to highlight social issues, especially in the world of hip-hop and rap, but the lines of free speech in the country are becoming draconian in their clarity, as can be seen by the exile of rapper Valtònyc and the jailing of Pablo Hásel.
HK: What is on the horizon for you?
LR: I am taking my music to Scotland in July. The current situation isn’t amazingly hopeful, both musically and politically, but I feel I can become part of a scene that lends its voice to positive social change. I would like to record a new album this winter, restrictions permitting.
HK: Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
LR: Sure. It is a really tough time for musicians, many of whom are basically facing artistic extinction. If you like the music that I do, or it speaks to you, then I ask you to share it. Writing what is in effect protest music, is a grassroots game. Building momentum and listenership is crucial, not just for my music, but for thousands of other musicians whose words may go unheard. For this reason sharing is crucial.
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