Louis Abbott on Vox Liminis' Distant Voices project

We speak to Admiral Fallow's Louis Abbott about new collaborative project Distant Voices which looks at creativity in music to help overcome issues that surround the criminal justice system in Scotland

Feature by Lewis Wade | 21 May 2018

Led by Admiral Fallow's Louis Abbotttt, Not Known at this Address is a wide-ranging collaborative album that aims to shed light on a frequently misrepresented and forgotten area of society: the criminal justice system. It's the first release from the Distant Voices collective, created by working with those who have first-hand experience of the system, including former and current prisoners, prison guards and other staff. The collaboration between professionals, first-time songwriters and everyone in between has been able to bring a sense of individuality and nuance to a group that is usually dismissed in plainly black and white terms. The project is being released on 25 May by Vox Liminis, a Glasgow-based arts organisation that uses a variety of media to help people understand, work through and overcome issues that surround the criminal justice system in Scotland.

The project began as a means to engender a sense of community amongst those who might not feel that they have very much in common. Abbotttt explains: “Those who are excluded from society because of criminal behavior have to make an incredibly difficult transition at the end of their punishment. Whatever your views on crime and punishment, it serves no-one if people can’t come back and positively contribute to society after their time has been served.” With this in mind, he began to use music as a means of connection. What initially began as simply writing songs with those who had committed crimes evolved into 'Vox Sessions': three-day songwriting workshops involving musicians, prisoners, prison officers and other connected people. Abbotttt believes that these sessions help to build “a wee creative community, and we all come to find more similarities than differences between us.”

Over the course of almost two years the Vox Sessions have yielded over 300 songs, so whittling it down to only ten for this first record was no easy task. “The [chosen] songs themselves feel almost like ten singles as opposed to a ‘various artists’ compilation; each one has its own personality and story from original demo through to finished track," Abbotttt tells us. "But there’s certainly a commonality which binds them together.” Adding to this, Alison Urie (Director of Vox Liminis) states that the idea of “coming home” was frequently explored in the sessions, something that provides a common point of reference throughout the album.

As well as Abbotttt and Admiral Fallow, the Distant Voices project also features contributions from Emma Pollock, Kris Drever, C Duncan, BDY_PRTS, Fiskur, Rachel Sermanni, Donna Maciocia and Pronto Mama. The subject matter is as diverse as all of the personalities involved, with topics ranging from learning an instrument for the first time (Frank's Song), coping with death (Dining Room Hospital) and lovers navigating stormy weather (Weather You) all being covered. But through it all common threads emerged, particularly the notion of finding your way back home, an experience that many of the co-writers involved had forced upon them due to their criminal behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, the project was logistically challenging, with writing sessions sometimes having to be spread across prison visits, or finding times/recording sessions to suit all parties; Abbotttt remembers having to be “in HMP Shotts a few days after Christmas to record a guitar part for one of the songs.” And aside from the musicians involved, he also gives a special shout out to Jamie Savage who engineered and mixed the record as he understood how “every intricate part had its own space to fill,” something which hints at the very nature of collaboration and helps to explain how the album retains a sense of cohesion.

Apart from the literal changes that can occur during incarceration (spatial, physical), there are also the emotional and perceptual differences that come after a period of time in prison. The stigma that follows a criminal conviction, difficulties in finding employment or reconnecting with friends and family can all take its toll on a former prisoner. A successful return to society is not wholly reliant on just the individual (though they, of course, must make the biggest changes), but also on society as a whole to try and aid the reintegration process through empathy and open-mindedness, something that this record manages to channel into fantastic music.

But before change, there must be awareness; “A huge part of the reason Vox Liminis (and the Distant Voices project) exists is the hope that the work we create gets people talking about what justice looks like in Scotland in 2018.” Abbotttt goes on: “It’s not an issue I had wrestled with much before working with Vox but doing so has opened my eyes to the challenges people face upon their return to the rest of society following a sentence. Starting to understand some of these complexities has focused my views on how hard it can be for a lot of the people involved – for those making the journey home, and for those who support them to do so. As the producer of the album, I really hope listeners can find the commonality and beauty within each song and simply appreciate them for what they are.”

Not Known at this Address: Stream the album in full

The new album from Distant Voices is out this Friday, but we're thrilled to offer you a first chance to listen to the record in full here. Listen to each of the ten tracks from Not Known at this Address in the Soundcloud player above.

Not Known at this Address is released on 25 May via Vox Liminis
The album launch will take place at Saint Luke's, Glasgow, 25 May with an additional performance at Hidden Door Festival, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, 29 May