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Louise Distras – “Aileen” (Louise Distras)

Louise Distras - "Aileen"
1 February 2017

London’s provocative, powerfully-piped Distras is no punk rock pretender. Not only was she asked, six months after her first gig in May 2011, by New Model Army singer Justin Sullivan to accompany his band on a short UK tour, but she’s also shared stages with such punk prodigies as The Clash’s Mick Jones, Billy Bragg, Buzzcocks, The Damned, The Sex PistolsGlen Matlock, Descendents, Television, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Avengers. (As well, a conversation I had with her following her intense June 2015 acoustic set at Asbury Park, NJ music instrument store Russo proved what a passionate, perceptive fan she is of the genre!) So it was no surprise that her 2013 debut LP Dreams from the Factory Floor, which balanced propulsive, old-school punk anthems and assertive, socially-aware folk-punk, was so convincing. But on this hard-hitting new single – an appetite-whetter for her soon-to-be-recorded second LP – she breaks free from stringent punk structures. Driven by Distras’s hooky guitar melody and heated, hoarse-throated howl, a shuffling, soul/R&B-inspired backbeat, and some happy handclaps, “Aileen” blends a ‘60s British Invasion/Merseybeat and girl-group sound with more contemporary, crunchy power pop. (The CD also features an “unplugged demo” acoustic version of the song, which nicely highlights the natural timbres of Distras’s voice.)

Yet the song’s upbeat vibe belies its serious subject matter; “Aileen” is in fact about Aileen Wuornos, who shot seven men to death in 1989-90 and was executed in 2002 at age 46, getting dubbed by the media as “America’s first female serial killer.” (Charlize Theron won a Best Actress Oscar portraying her in 2003’s Monster). Inspired by Nick Broomfield’s 1992 documentary Selling of a Serial Killer and her own experiences with homelessness and sexual assault, Distras tells Wuornos’s story with a sympathetic eye, focusing on Wuornos’s violent and tragic upbringing. For example, when Distras sings, “Stolen forever from being young,” she’s referring to Wuornos’s execrable experiences as a child/early teen, including (per Wikipedia) the abandonment of her mother at age four; the suicide by hanging of her schizophrenic, child-abusing father just before she turned 13; the sexual abuse and beatings she received as a child from her alcoholic grandfather; and her rape at age 14 by her grandfather’s accomplice, which resulted in the birth of a baby boy that had to be put up for adoption. Following the latter, Wuornos dropped out of school and turned to a life of prostitution and crime, leading to a series of arrests and jail sentences as a young adult, to which “Aileen” also alludes. To be sure, it’s a thorny, troubling topic for a terse pop tune. So to delve deeper, Distras made a 33-minute film entitled Real Outlaw – A Commentary on Rape Culture and the Riot Grrrl Movement that “explores the lyrical content of the single,” via illuminating interviews with actress/singer Sidney Chase and filmmaker Vega Darling. On “Aileen,” Distras may have strayed from a punk style, but she hasn’t surrendered its spirit. (louisedistras.co.uk)

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Louise Distras at Asbury Park, NJ music instrument store Russo, 6/14/15 (photos: Mark Suppanz)

 

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