Louisa Murray is the face of one of our favorite local bands, The Bear. She shares the stage with her husband, Nathan Pitts, each of them writing and performing their own respective songs, and the two are backed by a talented band. Their newest album, Overseas Then Under was produced by local indie label, Single Lock Records, co-founded by Ben Tanner, who plays keyboards for The Bear, as well as for Alabama Shakes.
With a sweetness and slight exaggeration on carefully executed syllables, evident on tracks like the very sexy, “I Want,” Louisa couples lighthearted, sculpted vocals with Southern Gothic-inspired lyrics. She’s also a visual artist with a studio art degree from the University of Alabama Huntsville, a self-taught musician, songwriter, and avid reader.
Our community knows her as Amber – Louisa’s middle name – but she answers to both, and even to Lou, as her close friends call her.
On a recent photo shoot for this journal post, we stole a few moments for an impromptu interview with Louisa, or Amber, or Lou, as the mood strikes you.
Naturally, we went straight for the how and why of her approach to music. Louisa says of singing, “I don’t even remember not singing.” She and Nathan began The Bear as a duo six years ago. The band has now grown to six members, including Ben Stedman, Kyle Minckler, and Daniel Stoddard. Their albums have featured a few additional local talents, including singer/songwriter Dillon Hodges, Browan Lollar of St. Paul and The Broken Bones, Christine Fink, and James Noblitt Thigpen.
Louisa recalls learning to read shape notes, a system designed for congregational singing. A page of music might have triangles, squares, and circles to represent the notes. Beyond that, she says, she had no formal musical training. These days, she plays the banjo, keyboards, guitar, flute, or fills in wherever she is needed. She confesses she’s not a great musician, but her voice is clearly a gift, and after listening closely to the lyrics on the tracks, “He’s Not Mine” and “The Track,” her talent for songwriting and storytelling are evident and entertaining.
Asked how she got into songwriting, Louisa pauses, and says she’s always written songs. The lyrics to the song, “Pockets” on Overseas Then Under, she found in an old journal, written when she was about 11 years old. “I changed one line,” she says, “because I couldn’t read it.” Perhaps it’s a result of Louisa being an early reader, but “Pockets” has a decidedly adult feel.
“I can’t seem to tie my shoes without you…I try to be a good little hen, but you stay gone so long the milk turned good again. I’m without you…I don’t need you, but I miss you so. Why did you go?”
The story sounds like an independent woman struggling with the inherent interdependence that love demands, and the loss when a relationship ends. “All songs are in some way personal,” she says, though she admits to preferring stories told from fictional perspectives. “It’s never one way. Sometimes there’s a melody first; sometimes I just listen in on other people’s conversations and hear a turn of phrase I really like.”
Louisa’s love of fiction explains the character-driven songwriting style. Flannery O’Connor is a favorite, alongside Hemingway, Salinger, and Sylvia Plath. “I read The Bell Jar every month.”
As far as musical influences go, Louisa says, “I don’t listen to music a lot. It’s not an active pursuit right now because we’ve been recording a lot and I want a fresh, clean mind. I don’t want anything to sink in and influence the music.”
If you haven’t heard The Bear’s newest album, Overseas Then Under, make sure to download it or pick up a copy as soon as possible. You’ll be glad you did.
Above video of The Bear performing “I Want.”