Louis Dunford is no overnight success. The London-born singer-songwriter has honed his craft with years of open-mics and live performances, taking the journey that so few do nowadays, by learning the hard way about entertaining and winning over difficult crowds whilst consistently writing new and improved material.
This year saw the release of his debut EP The Morland EP, a well-received body of work that featured a mixture of both new as well as tried and tested older material that Louis had been performing throughout the open-mic circuit. His honest and vulnerable lyricism and story-telling styled songs, inspired from experiences of family and friends, has connected his growing fanbase uniting those of all walks of life. Perfectly timed with this year’s Christmas festive season, Louis has recently released his cover of East 17’s hit single Stay Another Day featuring a rather humorous music video that sees Louis, hands-on keys, wearing the now infamous white puffy parka. Despite the road taking longer than some contemporaries, Louis’s found success and recent record deal with major label Sony Music is a testament to not only his dedication and ambition to keeping the dream alive but his love for songwriting and poetry.
Set to hit the road in the new year, supporting Jake Bugg and later on for his own headline UK tour, in this interview Louis Dunford opens up about navigating his way through the music industry, the challenges overcome to be where he is now and the art of songwriting and live performance all while keeping his mental health and anxiety in check.
First off congratulations! You recently announced that your headline show at Union Chapel has sold-out. What was your reaction like when you found out the news?
Yes, it was f****ing mental. I was sort of terrified about even doing the show. This year I’ve gone from playing two shows at St. Pancras Old Church and then Lafayette gig and they’ve been some of the best shows I’ve ever done, but the Union Chapel is a real step up in terms of the amount of people that are coming. You know the first ever time I played live was in this little pub on Upper Street called The Library and they used to do open mics in the room above the pub. I played there for the first time ever to about five people including my old man, who used to take me for moral support because I was so nervous about getting up. And it’s directly opposite the Union Chapel and I once said to him “oh maybe one day I’ll play there”, literally as a laugh. And then when I met my manager, he asked what’s your favourite venue and for me that’s pretty much the most iconic venue in my area, so it’s always been top of the list. So, to even contemplate playing it was terrifying but then to sell it out was…I mean it’s amazing.
Talking of sold-out shows, you recently performed a sold-out gig at Lafayette, London. It looked incredible! Standing on the side of the stage about to step out, hearing a packed-out crowd, what’s going through your mind? Do you have any pre-show routines to calm any nerves?
It was absolute terror. I’m really not built to perform, like when I’m on stage I’m normally having a good time. When I come off afterwards, I’m like higher than any drug has ever made [laughs]. But what it takes for me to get on stage is err… is quite traumatizing. It doesn’t matter what size gig it is either, even at those smaller open mics. The Lafayette show was the biggest gig I’ve ever done. It was like 600 people and just the love in the room was just pretty overwhelming. When you walk out onto the stage and there’s people coming out to see you. It’s bizarre because the stories that I’m telling in these songs I performed are so specific to me so when I get people who are from Ireland, Scotland, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham come down it kind of blows my mind when these people from maybe different walks of life that the tunes are resonating with them. They sing it back to me with a sort of aggressive passion that makes me almost emotional. And that’s real. The nerves can then kind of disappear.
Along with your own upcoming shows, you’ll be heading out on tour supporting Jake Bugg in April of next year. How did that come about?
It was just my manager. He said a few dates have come up for this Jake Bugg tour next year and would I be interested. I was like really? Jake Bugg? And he said yeah Jake Bugg. I’m not sure how these things work. I’m pretty new to the whole music business but I was like yeah fucking sign me up man. I’m a big fan of his. I’ve seen him at the Union Chapel and that’s now fucking weird isn’t it [smiles]. Also, I’ve never supported someone before so it’s a pretty good one to start with [laughs]. I’m excited because I get to watch a gig every night as well. I’ve only got to play for like 25 minutes with my band. Then we’ll be able to have a beer and watch him play for like an hour and a half. That’ll be nice [laughs]. It’s kind of the perfect set-up.
You recently released your cover of East 17’s track ‘Stay Another Day’ along with a satirical music video of you dressed in the infamous white fluffy coat playing piano. What was the decision behind choosing to record and release that track?
To be honest I thought it was a terrible idea and just said it as a joke. But then my manager was like yeah that’s great and I was like I was kind of joking [laughs]. Initially I thought he meant every now and again for me to jump on Instagram and I just do a little acoustic cover on my page or something. But he was like no if you’re in the studio anyway why don’t you just record something as a little Christmas treat for the fans. I was thinking like every tune has just been done to death. Like do people really need to hear another Fairytale of New York cover. Stay Another Day is kind of a family tune for me as well because it was randomly No.1 when my cousin was born. So, whenever we have Christmas or family parties, they’ll always put it on. I mean it’s got nothing to really do with Christmas. Before I knew it it was recorded and then he said we should probably do a music video for it. Then before I knew it, I was dressed in the white puffer coat. Just sweating underneath [laughs]. I’m really bad at filming videos. I try to weasel out of all my music videos or appear in them as little as possible. I like videos. But just not when I’m in them [laughs]. And they always trick you. They say it’ll only take a few hours but I think I was in that pub in that parka for maybe 6 hours. I was absolutely cooking by the end of it. But it is what it is. People seemed to really enjoy the cover. It was also on MTV the other day which was mental. My uncle rang me and said you’re on MTV for this Christmas countdown. I can’t really work out why it was there. Honestly, I think that they meant to put the East 17 version on and got it mixed up [laughs].
The visuals for ‘Stay Another Day’ have a very Christmassy feel to it as well. What does a Louis Dunford Christmas look like?
Obviously last year was a bit more chilled out than it normally is. But it’s normally just me, my two sisters, my nieces, brothers-in-law and parents all at home. It’s definitely my favourite day of the year. I’m not a huge fan of the Christmas period, like the lead up is quite stressful but the day is normally a treat because it’s literally eat and drink all day long and do absolutely fuck all. Watch some films. Have dinner about three o’clock and then get shit-faced and play board games. It’s just one of those days when you eat and drink yourself into a coma [laughs]. But I do love it, you know. It’s just a family day.
A lot of your true fans will know that your newly found success hasn’t come overnight with the success being a testament to years of open-mic performances around London and featured performances on the likes of SBTV. Looking back so far, what have been some of the toughest challenges you faced and what’s a key lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
I think the toughest challenges for me and I don’t know if this makes me sound dramatic but I genuinely believe that I’m not the kind of person that probably should be doing this. I find it quite terrifying and stressful. Even just starting to perform live on a regular basis and with the gigs getting bigger and now performing with a band, which was quite terrifying for me because I’ve never played with other players before so it was kind of like playing from scratch again. So, I think the biggest challenge for me is sort of navigating the naturally anxious person I am because people that ain’t as anxious as me are stressed out and get nervous doing this job because it is anxiety-inducing [laughs]. It’s weird actually because I sort of forget how long I’ve been doing this for, like it’s been well over 10 years. I kind of think that’s something I’ve learnt about myself that this is now my job. I sometimes feel a little embarrassed to say it [laughs]. I’ve learnt that I don’t see myself as an ambitious person or even a person that dedicates themselves to anything but it almost crept up on me like oh this is the thing, I’m ambitious and decided about. Because it’s a passion and you do it for so long and coming up, I hardly earned a penny it wasn’t until it became a job that I was like oh now this is the payment for all those years of playing in every shit-hole in London that would have me, for no money and for two people in the crowd. And there were times when I was going to fuck it off. I mean this makes it seem like I’ve won a Grammy [laughs] but doing music as a job was always my dream and so anything that comes after this is just a bonus.
This year you released The Morland EP, which featured both new and older songs -some of which are almost 10 years old. What was the decision behind holding back from releasing some of those older tracks on the EP?
It’s weird talking about my first open mic at the Library. There are songs like London’s Requiem, that’s on the first EP, that I would perform at these open mics and songs like that which I wrote over 10 years ago. Some of the older songs I left on the shelf as the years go past. I was trying to crack it as a musician mostly through performing live. I wasn’t really recording stuff and releasing it. After I did the SBTV video with Jamal Edwards I got a lot of interest from producers and did a load of studio sessions with some really talented producers but weirdly I just didn’t feel like it was a good time because I don’t think I was in the right headspace to be releasing music and to try and be a recording artist. I could do the live thing as I’ve been doing it for a while but it’s weird. I quite like the mix of new and older songs. Even my next EP has new tunes as well as some songs that are like 8 years old. I can tell the difference between my writing style and my opinions have changed a little but I quite like how it documents the sort of different periods of my life. I’m glad that I hung on to some of the older material and that I didn’t just throw them away. It’s cool to see people react to certain songs that I’ve had for so long and it’s quite nice to see that they’ve not aged terribly [laughs]. You fall in and out of love with all of your songs. I go through phases of being willing to be open and then maybe 2 years down the line wishing I wasn’t quite that honest. Especially when you have people singing the lyrics back to you [laughs]. But I think they’re just temporary regrets. I mean I wrote something last week that I was sure was the best thing I’d ever written and now I can’t bear to listen to [laughs]. It’s also a sigh of relief releasing it all. I don’t have to worry about it anymore or think about re-doing the vocals for the hundredth time. It’s a line in the sand. Let’s get on with the next thing, which is quite nice.
The first thing that instantly connected me to your music was both your storytelling writing style as well as the honesty in your lyrics. What or who influenced you to write in that style and are there any particular musical influences that have played a vital role in your songwriting?
The people who inspire me, as cliche as it may sound, are my friends and family. That’s where the songs come from. It’s their stories that I feel like I’m taking and turning them into songs and then telling it back to them. They’re the only audience I think about. I started music by writing sort of little almost punky tunes about my mates and the things we’d get up to on the weekend. They loved it so much that I just kept at it. I only felt capable of doing it with a guitar or piano. I had to go through a few evolutions. It wasn’t till I started writing serious songs that I felt mortified that I would have to show them these serious tunes now, as I felt that they’ll think I’m taking myself too seriously and be like wtf are you doing [laughs]. But it weirdly hasn’t really changed. They still are the people that I’m still writing about now. I’ve not drained that well of stories and experiences that I’ve had with my family and friends. And they’re still the people that I look for approval from over anyone really.
You’ve certainly achieved a lot in this year from sold-out shows to a record deal with Sony Music. What’s your most memorable moment and what are you most proud of this year?
I mean having the first EP out was pretty amazing. I thought to myself oh I could die now, not to sound too grim [laughs]. Now there was this sort of demonstration as to what I could do out there because for so long there were just little phone recordings of me on YouTube. Also, all the shows I’ve done this year, some being the biggest shows I’ve ever done. Selling out the Union Chapel is a big moment and now having my first ever real tour. It may sound cheesy but I’d often struggle having to find something I was really proud of at the end of the year but having to pick one thing out of this last year it’s…you know there’s a few things. I’m not used to having a choice [laughs].
Are there any up-and-coming artists or bands that you’re enjoying at the moment who you’d maybe want to support you at future gigs or tours?
It’s funny I’ve got mates who’ll like one or two songs of a thousand different artists that have released an album in the last two years. Whereas I’ll find one album by this one artist that’ll play to death till I just can’t bear to listen to it anymore [laughs]. I was a bit like that when I first found Phoebe Bridgers. I was like who the fuck is that. It sort of just blew me away.
Lastly, what can fans expect from you in the new year?
I’ve got a new EP coming out early next year. That’s some of the best stuff that I’ve recorded so far, I think. I’m really excited for that, especially having a full band recording on some of those tunes. Obviously, we’ve got the tour and the dates with Jake Bugg. And just keep writing really.
Louis’s cover of East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’ is out now and check out the video below. Follow Louis via @louisdunford
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