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Fighting the gamified system and reaffirming collective belonging, She Drew The Gun’s Behave Myself is a manifesto for perceiving – and changing – the world around us.
The incongruous weather outside Kitty’s Launderette, a community-run business and social space, pinches at a feeling I’ve had for the last few months. It’s autumn in August, a lightly shaded charcoal sky and condensation chill hangs in Anfield’s streets. I’m waiting for SHE DREW THE GUN’s Louisa Roach to arrive, thinking about this distorted sense of time and place; how everything now shimmers with a sense of surreality.
The pandemic exploded normality, shards of certainty and expectedness propelled and suspended in mid-air, suddenly visible and questioned. Once we hit pause, the system was exposed; the world revealed to be a game, a rigged game. On She Drew The Gun’s new album, Behave Myself, this game is analysed and exposed. As Roach asserts on the eponymous title track “now I see the bars of this cage”. There is no normal to return to. Through unflinching lyrical commentary and impelling sounds, the album focuses our attention on the constructed nature of the system we live within and asks us to step outside of it.
Ready, Player One
She Drew The Gun’s third album, Behave Myself, begins with a pulsating spaceship sound, an oscillating synth mimicking an extra-terrestrial take off. This introduction provides a direction for the whole album, which is laced with game-like, sci-fi sounds; a deliberate decision mirrored in the pixelated visuals for the sardonically melodic single, Class War (How Much), inspired by ZX Spectrum graphics. Roach frames the gaming imagery and sonic elements as a persistent reminder of the system under discussion: “[On Class War] we wanted to have coins in the beat, just to represent the money that’s being raked in by the elite ruling class,” she laughs.
These sounds were enabled and encouraged by the album’s producer, Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys, Working Men’s Club), whose synth skills gave Louisa the creative freedom to explore this more narrative, world creation element on the new album. “[Ross] is a really hands-on producer. He’s got all these amazing synths and he knows how to get loads of weird stuff out of them. So, once you see what someone can do, you’re like, ‘Ah, let’s get a bit of that’ and ‘Can you do that mad thing again?’” It’s the band’s first album produced outside of Liverpool – recorded in Sheffield’s McCall Sound Studio – and Orton’s inclusion reflects its diversity. “It’s got dancey stuff on it and it’s got guitar stuff on it, so we wanted someone who’s done both of those things,” Louisa adds.
The futuristic notes were a conceptual decision as well as a sonic one. “We wanted it to sound like a progression from where we were on the last album,” she explains, “but also to have a little bit of a sci-fi feeling.” The spoken word track, All Roads to Nowhere, is set in a dystopian, near-future society, part of a recurring theme across Roach’s politicised lyricism. “There’s a sci-fi protest song on each album,” Roach says. “Sci-fi makes you think about potential worlds, and what the potential is for this world. It kind of holds up a mirror to society.”
Considering this appreciation for sci-fi’s prescient insight into future worlds, I wonder how Roach perceives her own music: a reflection and condemnation of societal injustices, or as a portal for change? In 2016, She Drew The Gun played a series of rallies in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign, culminating in the one-day festival Labour Live. The under-attended event captured the often-tense relationship between music and politics, explaining how music can sit more comfortably in opposition to, rather than in support of, political movements.
I ask Roach about this, wondering how she positions her music within politics. She is delicate and deliberate with her wording, speaking with an almost lyrical undertone, whirring washing machines providing a hypnotic accompaniment. For Roach, music’s role is one of amplification rather than catalysation. “I see us as being an ally to social movements,” she tells me. “Everything about the world is trying to tell you that everything is OK, and we should just carry on doing what we’re doing. That’s a major problem for the left because the right controls all mass communication,” she asserts, “so that’s where I see us as being, just a little voice of dissent.”
Music provides a cheat code to the game, circumnavigating traditional sources of information and power, distilling complex issues into accessible stories, narratives and lyrics. Louisa credits the inspiration for electro-punk track Cut Me Down to Las Tesis, the Chilean feminist performance collective who use song and symbolic dance to disseminate a message of global female resistance. “It’s a smoke signal,” Louisa says, indicating that other people feel the same – a persistent spotlight on the issues, a refusal to ignore or be pacified. “It’s just being a little voice of dissent and saying, ‘I can see what’s going on’ and hopefully other people can too.”
In person, Louisa is more unsure than what might be assumed from the directness of her lyrics. She speaks humbly, distancing herself from her opinions with laughs and mumbles. Negotiating a tightrope between integrity and cliché, it’s difficult to be sincere about politics in person. But I can sense how much this means to her. The way she talks about this dissenting role feels more like a duty or an obligation, rooted not in a choice but in an impulse. “Sometimes I do feel a bit like people don’t want to hear all that. It’s just too earnest,” she says. “People want to escape through music, but I also feel like we’re running out of time, and I haven’t got time to waste singing loads of songs about nothing.”
Roach is clearly someone who absorbs the world and its events, unable to sit in pleasant solitude. There is a sensitivity underlying this in the form of perceptivity or attentiveness. In this way, Louisa is intensely sensitive, and she is intense in general, in a focused kind of way. There is a seriousness to her, but it’s not unpleasant or intimidating; it’s more gravitational. “I feel like writing stuff down and making some kind of meaningful art out of what’s going on in the world around me is my way of therapy,” Louisa says. Often, in She Drew The Gun’s music, this therapeutic outlet transforms into something angry and urgent. For Roach, discussing these topics and using her music in this way has become more important with time: “I’m very interested in class consciousness and collective consciousness, and realising that we are all part of this constructed system […] that’s always been an underlying value that has come out through the music. But I feel like the further I go forward, especially with this album, the more it’s very openly about demanding freedom and class consciousness.”
This sensitivity and perceptivity to the world began at a young age, emerging from a sense of nonconformism. Roach describes herself as an outsider, tracing this feeling or identity back to her childhood, growing up as someone who didn’t adhere to traditional gender norms in a heteronormative society. “I think, growing up, if you’re not heterosexual, or if you don’t feel like you are, it creates an awareness of yourself. Feeling different and wondering where you fit in.” This acute form of self-perception inevitably morphs into an awareness of the surrounding system; becoming not only an observer of yourself, but of the society you exist within.
This feeling of outsiderdom has seeped into Roach’s music. Her musical inception coincided with a period in her life when she was teetering on the edge of another identity, one which might take her further into a sense of outsiderness. “When I first started making music, it was when I was asking myself a lot of questions about my sexuality and stuff like that. So, maybe that was a big impact on how I started,” Roach explains. It was meeting her first girlfriend that propelled Roach’s songwriting: “When I met my girlfriend, who’s almost going to be my wife,” she smiles with disbelief and visibly lightens, “I started writing more songs. I wrote songs to her […] and she encouraged me to get out and perform and go and play some of my own songs at open mics.” I can sense the effect this experience had on Roach – permission to be an outsider, but also the space to belong.
Perhaps this is what Roach is trying to achieve with her music, a place for people to belong. The new album’s second track, Next On The List, recites the marginalised groups attacked as threats to the status quo – feminists, environmentalists, the trans community. “I think a lot of the time, I’m trying to direct my songwriting to people who might feel on the outside of society, who might feel like they’ve been let down or forgotten, or just reaching out to people who might feel the same as me.”
This ability to perceive the system we operate within – to observe, analyse and critique it – is integral to being able to change it. She Drew The Gun maintain a sharp focus on this gamified system, aiming to erode complacency and obedience and embrace rebellion. On title track Behave Myself, Roach affirms “I’m the space for the rebel to revolt in and I will not behave myself”. Roach summarises She Drew The Gun’s mission: “I suppose in a lot of the lyrics I’m trying to get people to step outside and look at the kind of shit show that we’ve got going on. We all need to become outsiders.” Because once we all become outsiders, it’s game over.
Behave Myself is released on 8th October via Submarine Cat Records.