London-based horse-wrangling Swedish songstress Lisa Bouvier - or Lisa Westerlund as Ma and Pa W back near Malmo know her - has packed a lot of pop into her years: you’ve heard her solo material and maybe seen her at Indietracks and the NYC Popfest, but she is, or has been, a member of Sheeboes, Stars in Coma, The Pop Messengers, Lost Summer Kitten, The Medusa Snare, The What I Wanted To Do’s, and Satan and Megastar. And that’s not including her stint in a metal band. As far as recordings go, there’s a spontaneous and funny cassette single with Allt Ar Musik (on Fika Recordings, with obligatory free teabag and Scandicake recipe), and the self-released ‘Made in Hendon Cathedral’ single on which she channels her inner Joni Mitchell. She also released her full-length debut solo album Made in Lisa on Cath’n’Dad Records earlier this year (though she recorded it in Malmo two years ago). It’s highly recommended and you can find it on Bandcamp, where all proceeds from the record go to Popkollo, an organisation in Sweden running rock camps for teenage girls that Lisa feels strongly about. We spoke to Lisa – or rather, we listened to a torrent of excitable chatter about life, horses and indiepop - in Brixton in July 2012.
SXP: Where are you from?
Lisa: I’m from the South East corner of Sweden, quite close to Malmo - it’s about a one and a half hour train ride to Malmo. That’s where I started to go to…Debaser or something like that, trying to get into pubs when we were 17!
SXP: When did you first join a band?
Lisa: I was 17 – [it was] a proper girls’ band. We discovered it was only boys in all the bands so a girls’ band would be quite cool, and we just got together. We were really shit ‘cause we couldn’t play but we were really punk so it was good! And all of a sudden I got to do a documentary for the Swedish [TV channel] - like the BBC in Sweden – about this band, a 15 minute documentary, and it was live on national telly. This was when we’d actually played music for about 2 months, so it was quite a good start to the career!
SXP: What happened to that band?
Lisa: Two of the girls moved to London and left me and one other girl back in Sweden, and we started a band called Lost Summer Kitten. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them - they’re still going, as one of the girls that moved to London came back, and now she’s in Lost Summer Kitten and I’m in London, so it’s a good swap!
SXP: And when did you join Stars In Coma?
Lisa: That was 2009 or something. I think we’d just been friends for quite a long time and then, one New Year’s Eve, I had a massive band party in the house that I rented at the time. All the boys came over the night before and we were like: let’s just play some covers; and then it was: let's just play some non-covers as well; and then after that we kept playing together, just very randomly. Before he had a proper band Andre the singer – Mr Stars In Coma – just did little things with acoustic guitar and it was very mellow. And then we were just like: we might as well play together. Everyone that was in Stars In Coma was actually in the Lisa Bouvier Band, plus a few other people when we had our great Swedish time!
SXP: That’s when we first saw you at Indietracks.
Lisa: Yeah, first time. I love Indietracks - can’t wait to go there! Third year in a row and it’s amazing. If I couldn’t have that weekend off from work I’d be really sad. That’s the first thing I said at the beginning of the year: I’m having that weekend off. I can work Christmas but I’m having that weekend off!
SXP: I’ve seen you play guitar and bass and I’ve heard that you play drums, so are they all your instruments?
Lisa: And piano… apparently! I started with bass ‘cause it’s just four strings! I played some guitar at home before that but I played bass and sang in my first band Sheeboes!
SXP: And on your debut album what did you play?
Lisa: I play a bit of everything. I got some people in to do the advanced stuff but I basically play guitar and piano on the album, and bits and pieces. I’ve got some really good musicians but they couldn’t come in for all of the ten songs so some of it is me and some of it is the band.
SXP: You sound like a confident singer. Not the person who, when they were choosing singers, would do it only because no-one else volunteered.
Lisa: You obviously haven’t listened to Sheeboes! I have quite a lot of problems with my voice because I’ve never really practiced, I just sing and then I learn as I go along. People have told me that I have quite a “special” voice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “good”, and I know my limits, but I’m quite happy to do it. I like to sing most now; if people ask me if I could come and sing I always say yes, and I’m quite confident. I play and sing on the new Wednesday Club album and that’s where I feel most comfortable. If someone asked me “can you play a guitar solo?” I’d be like: no, are you insane?! But if someone said: “can you do some harmonies?”, I’d be like: yes, fine.
SXP: Having heard the album and the singles, it doesn’t always sound like lo-fi indiepop. You have a more classic sound.
Lisa: That’s really how I want to work. I do like indiepop but I also like sitting at home with my piano singing ‘Songbird’ over and over! Every time I go to Sweden I always play a pub gig or something; my parents are there and a couple of old men, and I play Eva Cassidy and Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, things like that. It’s not fun to do just one thing, you have to branch out! And I did backing vocals in a metal band and that’s very far away from what I normally do. I don’t want to get stuck but Lisa Bouvier is closest to my heart and that’s where I can do what I want rather than do things that other people ask me, if that makes sense.
SXP: Tell us about Popfest in New York.
Lisa: What can I tell you? It was almost as much fun as Indietracks. I went there with my brother and we just played Williamsburg. It’s such a good festival and I hope to save up money so I can go next year.
SXP: Did you only play Popfest or other gigs too?
Lisa: No, we weren’t very organised so we just went there for a holiday/indiepop gig and it was quite nice - you got your stage fix and then we got to hang around with all these amazing people and amazing bands.
SXP: The name Lisa Bouvier – is that taken from the Simpsons?
Lisa: I always get that. It’s that or someone in Blink 182 or Green Day or something is called Bouvier and I’m like [emphatically]: be sure it’s not because of that! I was a bit tired of being in bands because I always have to compromise. What if I do my own thing? Some night, I watched An American In Paris with Gene Kelly, and his lady in the film is called Lisa Bouvier. I was like: I’m taking that! “Lisa Westerlund” might sound cool in English but in Swedish it would be like “John Smith”. It wouldn’t make sense at all.
SXP: Why come to London?
Lisa: I don’t want to trash-talk Sweden because there’s a lot of good music and there’s a good music history but when I lived there I felt that most people were really into music because it was cool. They liked bands because “this is the new cool band” and it was all about Stockholm and mainstream indie. And when I got here, I discovered this amazing scene where everyone cared about the music and they didn’t care – obviously, some people care about looking good and looking cool and being cool – but it’s just such an allowing environment, when you can actually do whatever you want. And if I started something, people would say “oh that’s really interesting, I’ll have a listen to that”. Rather than saying “who the fuck do you think you are?” It gave me a sense of belonging and everyone’s so nice and supportive. [When they say] “I love this band” it’s because they fucking love this band, it’s not because this band is the new coolest thing to like, it’s actually about the music. I missed that in Sweden. I don’t know what it’s like now.
SXP: Tell us about your involvement in Popkollo – the rock’n’roll camp for girls in Sweden? You’re donating proceeds from your Bandcamp album to them.
Lisa: I think it’s exists here as well - there’s a worldwide society of rock’n’roll camps for girls.
SXP: Did you attend a rock’n’roll camp for girls?
Lisa: No I didn’t. I ran my own one and I worked in very different camps since I moved away. It’s almost like a religious experience to be involved in one of the camps. Because it’s 20-25 girls and they’ve never seen an instrument in their lives, they just turn up with the feeling that they want to do something.
SXP: How old are they?
Lisa: They’re between 12 and 16. They turn up and you teach them really basic things, then they pick an instrument that they like and we form bands with them, they write songs and they practice and in the end they have a big concert for their friends and families. And just to see those girls go from sitting in a corner like “I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t want to play” and then they rock out on stage, proper rock out…look, this is how it affects me, I get goosebumps when I talk about it! I don’t think there’s been any concert that I haven’t cried like a proud mum, and it’s just amazing to be a part of it! Even if it’s just 20 girls, that’s 20 girls that will go out in life and feel more confident, with a feeling like: I could do anything! That’s what it’s all about. It’s a bit about getting more girls into music but mostly it’s about making those girls believe in themselves. I can talk forever about this! This is how it started with Sheeboes, 'cause there was a little music club for girls in my hometown and they said: do you want to play? I was like: I’m going to get to get on this stage and my mum will come and watch me. It really filled us with confidence. And now that I can’t be directly involved, I’m just trying to give something back to them.