Despite appearing in the new Beaches remake as a nightclub pianist playing behind Frozen-favourite Idina Menzel, Louise Burns isn't racking up any credit for her acting skills on IMDB. That's even more tragic once you factor in another current onscreen role, fending off flying ghost sharks and snipping off her own five-foot tongue in a music video for "Storms," the first single from her Young Mopes LP. The song is a haunted pleasure of digital dulcimer and 1980s pop-rock arranging; the phantasmagoric clip, directed by fellow Vancouverites Ben Jacques and Justin Gradin, arguably has more in common with 1960s New Wave cinema.
"I just studied Repulsion really carefully before we filmed," Burns tells ION from a downtown coffee shop, noting how channeling Catherine Deneuve's panic-stricken performance helped her "not look like a hot mess" while acting terrified. Soon to be premiered is a spooky clip for second single "Who's the Madman," which finds a fanged, vampiric Burns being whisked off to a supernatural beauty pageant. "It's ridiculous, I don't even know how to explain it," she says with a laugh.
This is all to say that Burns is having a hell of a lot of fun promoting her latest album, something that may surprise past critics. The title of this third full-length is a coy reference to a Globe & Mail review for 2013's The Midnight Mass, wherein the writer said Burns' penchant for melancholic hooks made her a "young mope". While reclaiming the intended slight like a badge of honour, Burns doesn't necessarily disagree with the assumption, either.
"I thought that was so funny and so accurate, because that's totally a part of my identity," she reveals. "I really grasped for that when I was younger: you listen to Morrissey, and everything sucks, and you wear all black. That was who I was as a twenty-something. I thought it was hilarious. It was kind of a reality check-- 'Oh, shit, I totally am!'"
A blue mood still permeates the hypno-groove of the record's title track, while Burns concedes that the spectre a narrator feverishly chases on "Who's the Madman" acts as an allegory for "the confusion, the fear, and the insecurity that comes with choosing to do something with your life, and not knowing if you'll ever achieve that." Stepping outside of herself, pedal steel-assisted country shuffler "Strange Weather" has the musician reflecting on a horrifying highway collision near her parents' place in North Saanich that left a motorcyclist dead.
"A semi-truck was turning up a road and he slammed into him; he died instantly," Burns says, adding that her mother was the first person to arrive on the scene, the family dog comforting the driver who survived. "I just imagined what [the motorcyclist's] final moments were like, what he was doing that day, that crazy loss of everything in a single moment."
Following Young Mopes' mix of pop, goth, country, and "Gun Club punk," the album concludes with a serene cover of the Blue Nile's 1989 single, "Downtown Lights." It's a faithful revisiting, with Burns' full but gentle vibrato arcing above a swell of sophisticated pop synths. "I thought it would be an unusual song to cover, maybe a bit unexpected, and then I found out Annie Lennox covered it. I didn't know that, but it's kind of awesome, because I love her too. It's fine."
Three years in the making, the lead-up to Young Mopes had Burns reflecting deeply on the direction of her long music career. Pushing forward with her most diverse collection yet, she's putting her worries to rest.
"To me, success is to be at peace with what you're doing, and to be able to do music the majority of your time," Burns theorizes. "I don't write the music that will ever get me to a level of success that I once thought of when I was a child. It just means a sustainable lifestyle within music, making records that make a few people happy. That's what I'm going for."
Photos: Jennilee Marigomen