- February 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH LIZA ANNE
Liza Anne’s musical kindling is finally catching fire. At just 21-years-old, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter has recorded with Daytrotter twice, performed the first in-person gig at SoundCloud’s Berlin office, toured throughout the UK and formed a collective known as KINDRED, a group of touring Nashville musicians.
Her 2014 debut album, The Colder Months — recorded with producer/engineer Zachary Dyke (COIN) — took shape in the uncertainty and weightiness of a new city, having recently moved to Nashville from Georgia to attend Belmont University. The stripped-down album highlights Liza’s raw vocal talent (fans of Daughter will not be disappointed), and underscores her earnest, unapologetic songwriting.
Liza’s single “Room,” available on Nashville Indie Spotlight, is a hint at her forthcoming record, which she previewed in early February on Daytrotter’s Moeller Monday’s series. We had a beer with Liza at Schubas before her show with John Mark Nelson and discussed her 21st birthday, memories from touring the UK and the recording process of her debut record.
The Gig: Liza Anne and Sam Pinkerton with John Mark Nelson at Schubas Tavern // Feb. 6, 2015
Drinks of Choice: Whiskey / IPAs
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: Important things first: You recently turned 21.
Liza Anne: Yeah, literally early this week. It was one of those things that could have swung other way, because who turns 21 with strangers in Rock Island, Illinois? I was with four of my best friends who were playing music with me for Daytrotter’s Moeller Mondays, but I hadn’t yet met Sean [founder of Daytrotter], any of his friends or the band we were playing after. It could have ended up with all of us hanging out and being like, “Well, I guess I’m 21 now,” but Rock Island literally made me feel like I'd been living there since I was four.
Kristen: What about the town made you feel that way?
Liza: It was unbelievable. For the set, we played brand new songs, so it was kind of ceremonial — my last show as a 20-year-old and here I am playing all new songs. After we finished, the guy who owns the venue’s mom had made me a homemade cake. And it was a good cake. The icing was homemade, everything was homemade. It had nutmeg. It was unbelievable. Sean DJ’d for three hours, so we all dance-partied until it was midnight, when I had my first beer with all these new best friends. Sean didn’t even realize it, but he ended up playing all of my new favorite songs. Do you listen to BØRNS?
Kristen: Yes, I love them.
Liza: I’m obsessed with them. Sean didn’t know that, but he turned one of their songs on and I thought, “This is the best night of my life!” Another person bought me a random handle of whiskey, which is my favorite. I felt like I was dreaming.
Kristen: It’s cool to have a timestamp with that set and those songs, too. To be able to say: “I remember everything about that day when I hear those songs.”
Liza: Yeah, I hadn’t played any of those songs live before. Being able to play them on one of the coolest, most humbling nights of my life was really awesome.
Kristen: I’m guessing this is your first time playing Chicago as a 21-year-old then. When did you get into the city?
Liza: I’ve been here since Tuesday. My dad came in town to take me out to dinner for my birthday, which got him the “Dad Award.” It was so sweet. My best friend Sam [Pinkerton]— she and I back each other up — is on the road singing with me this week, so we’ve just been adventuring. We’re pretty much sisters. We were probably conjoined at birth.
Kristen: Where did you guys meet?
Liza: We met at school. She was a songwriting major and so was I. It was one of those things where we met and I thought, “We had to be separated at birth.” It was crazy. She’ll be here singing with me tonight, which I'm excited about. I also love Chicago.
Kristen: When was the last time you played here?
Liza: I was in an artist collective, which is still kind of going on. Four of us toured together and backed each other up. Sam and I organized it. It was the two of us, Aliza Carter Band and Corey Kilgannon on tour. We played really intimate venues or living rooms, and we played a really cool living room in Chicago. It was probably my favorite show. We had a very chill set and then spent the rest of the night having a huge dance party.
Kristen: Was it through Sofar Sounds?
Liza: No, but I love Sofar. I played a Sofar show in London this summer. Have you been to the ones here?
Kristen: Yeah, they're awesome.
Liza: I love them. It’s such a sweet idea, which is why I did a whole living room tour in the spring and this past fall. It’s so different. You can’t ruin it. It’s a very special feeling: whoever is there gets to experience something really special.
Kristen: Do you feel like your music caters more to a living room crowd?
Liza: I think it goes both ways. When I play the newer stuff with a fuller band, it’s definitely something fun to play at a club — like here at Schubas — but when it comes to me and my guitar…I love very small or living room settings. Everyone is intentionally there. No one is falling into a show.
Kristen: They’re active listeners. You’re not originally from Tennessee, right?
Liza: No, I grew up on an island in Georgia near Savannah. It’s called St. Simons Island.
Kristen: I’ve been to Sea Island in Georgia. Have you ever been there?
Liza: Yes! My first drink was on Sea Island when I was 17. Honestly, the island of St. Simons is so small…People often say, “Wait, there’s an island off of Georgia?” It’s crazy. I moved to Nashville three years ago, but I lived on the island my whole life.
Kristen: Are you still in school in Nashville?
Liza: No, I peaced out. I only had two semesters left. I’m planning on finishing my classes online. I have all of my music business courses done and all of my songwriting courses done. Songwriting was my major. Since all I had left to take were GenEd classes, I figured I could take a break to do this. It would kill me to be on the road and have to take a science test. I would lose my mind.
Kristen: Yeah, it would be insane trying to balance it all.
Liza: When I recorded the first album — The Colder Months — I was in school full-time. I had three jobs and my best friend Zach and I — who produced it — we literally recorded every night from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. I didn’t have any other time to do it. Because of how gruesome and crazy it was, the music that came out of it was really special. This last project, we worked on during the day and it just felt so much better.
Kristen: What do you think the late-night grind of recording did for your music and creative process?
Liza: It was good for the time being, but I was also 18 and I was exhausted and melodramatic. With my upcoming project, we had seven days and recorded during the day at my friend's Zach house in Nashville. It was so much more intentional. With the first album, I didn’t know what I sounded like yet. I knew what music I was influenced by…But it was very much a three-month-long, stay up all night, every night process. I’m so glad we did it, but now I say, “I feel like people should make records during the day!”
Kristen: It’s interesting to me that you see your first record as melodramatic. I didn’t feel that way at all. There’s such a fine line between art and melodrama. The record was definitely not overly sentimental.
Liza: That means so much. Thank you. I think it’s a whole coping mechanism of making light out of something.
Kristen: Yeah, and I think being 18, it's hard not to look back and see it as melodramatic. It’s such a definitive point in your life.
Liza: And that’s why I’m so proud of it still. That’s my baby. It was the first time I ever knew that this was what I wanted to do. But I’m also like, “Oh my gosh! I was so sad!” I’m still so sad, of course, I’m an artist…But it’s just funny and crazy to think I was 18 dealing with God knows what. Looking back is interesting.
Kristen: How do you feel like the newer songs have grown? Or are you still driven by the same sort of inspiration?
Liza: I think so. When I was in high school I wrote all the time, too, but it wasn’t that good. It was very much whatever I was going through at the time. I had never been hurt, I had never really loved anybody. It was very surface level. When I moved to Nashville, I swooped into this very low — but very creative — place. And my first album was very much the first swoop of that. I don’t think that many people have a way to look back at that first huge, “What is life?” moment. But I get to. And I think with this next project, it’s the third sort of swoop. It’s probably lower, but definitely more thought out. I think I’m more self-aware. People say that about my first album, but I feel it more with this project. It’s like, “These are things I went through and this is how I dealt with it” instead of feeling like, “What am I doing?”
Kristen: It’s less of a whirlwind.
Liza: Yeah, less of a whirlwind and more of a statement: “This is what happened to me.”
Kristen: Were there any major life events that shaped your initial swoop?
Liza: No, and that’s why I say it might be melodramatic. It was just strange: all of the sudden I realized that life is heavy for the first time. It more came from watching people love and fall out of love…and for myself, feeling someone fall in love with me and not feeling it and trying to figure out why I didn’t have those feelings. I always thought you were just supposed to love someone back. It was just realizing life for the first time, which was very strange. This next project is about calling myself out: these are things I do wrong. Which is funny, but I guess I feel like I need to call myself out. That’s what I use music for. Since I was young I’ve been very self-aware, and I need music to figure it out.
Kristen: I think creative people are very self-aware because they’re naturally observant. And that affects the way you look at other people, at your art, at yourself…I’m curious to know what a songwriting major at Belmont entailed. What was that process like? Did you workshop a lot?
Liza: Not really. You have to write a certain number of songs per semester, and they give you certain guidelines, like create a song in this structure. But they give you complete freedom to write whatever you want. Except for one assignment I had to write opposite genre. I had to write a rap song and it was unbelievable. I had my friend make a beat. My face was purple; I was so embarrassed during the whole thing. I was like, “I could never be that cool rapper girl up on stage! I just couldn’t do it." Being a songwriting major helped me and all that I was going through. I had to write five songs a semester, which was good, and it was never a stressful thing of, “You have to go write.”
Kristen: How do you keep yourself writing and going without someone telling you to?
Liza: I can’t help but write. I don’t think my purpose for creating has ever been to finish something or to show somebody or make money off of it. Creating is just something I have to do. I have to write, I have to sing, I have to write songs. School was awesome because what I was getting graded on, I was naturally doing anyways. And since being out of school, I haven’t had any trouble. I just love writing so much. I'd do it every day, all day if I could.
Kristen: What’s your best writing space? Is it when you’re moving? When you’re stationary?
Liza: It’s different every time. When I was in Europe this summer, I loved being on trains: being able to sit still while everything else around me was moving. I wrote all the time. In the States when I’m in more of a routine, I can write in any space where I find a little corner to nestle into: coffee shops, my room — I write in my room a lot. I spend a lot of time making it feel good to be in my room.
Kristen: I do that, too.
Liza: I’m always in my room. I reorganize it all the time. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. I always move furniture. Hang new posters. I change what’s on my wall all the time. Everything has to be exactly the way I see it. Right now I have all my stuff from Europe on the walls. I sit there and I’m reminded of tour and being there and shows. It’s just good.
Kristen: What’s your favorite memory of being overseas?
Liza: I was on a train from Sweden to Norway, and I was with one of my good friends. It was a really hazy day and the train went for 30 minutes over water. Because the sky was really white and because of all the haze in the clouds, it reflected on the water, and you couldn’t tell where either one started or ended. Then, all these wind mills started appearing, and there was one man on a tiny rowboat. I was listening to Feist’s “Honey Honey,” watching the windmills and I was totally mesmerized. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Kristen: Did you write about it?
Liza: Yeah, but more so poetry. Anytime I’m inspired, I remind myself of that one time on the train. I haven’t written about it in a song yet, but it will totally come out. People ask about Europe, and I’m like, “Let me tell you about this 30-second thing that happened that changed my life!”
Kristen: It’s crazy though. Thirty seconds or a moment can define an entire experience.
Liza: Yeah, and when we were driving up to Rock Island, it was really snowy and there were windmills. I thought to myself, “This is just like Sweden.”
Kristen: I’m fascinated by windmills.
Liza: I’m blown away. People ask why because they’re so simple. It’s so lulling. And it’s crazy, because during my time in Sweden, I met so many people who changed my life and I went to so many amazing places, but for some reason, the moment on the train is engrained in my mind.
Kristen: I won’t ask the typical meaning-behind-the-album-title question, but I will ask: colder months or warmer months?
Liza: It depends. I grew up on the beach and love the warm months, but I am so much more of a fan of middle ground weather — where you have your sweater on and you’re not too cold or too hot. I love fall, the tail end of fall where it’s almost too cold and the leaves on all the trees are just about dead and it’s not snowing yet, but it’s going to soon…I love that.
Kristen: What’s your favorite thing about Nashville?
Liza: Right now, my favorite thing is that I live near and with some of my favorite people in the entire world. Growing up, you’re automatically "in" your family. You know who you’re going to live with for the next 18 years. But when you get to the point where you get to choose who you spend your time with, it’s so great. Nashville is so sweet. I live with a girl who is one of my best friends and challenges me every day, and I get to make music with my best friend Sam, and record with my good friend Zach and go to coffee shops where I know I’ll run into 10 people. It’s very much a home base for people who are traveling a lot, so you know you’ll run into people wherever you go.
Kristen: Do you feel like it’s a small-town vibe?
Liza: Yes, and sometimes it drives me crazy. But on a good day, it’s awesome. I live in West Nashville, which is kind of up-and-coming in a way. I want it to stay low key because it’s really nice right now.
Kristen: What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Liza: I tripped so hard at the Daytrotter party. I hadn’t had a single drink. I was drinking water. So sober. I was sitting with my friends, got up because one of my favorite songs came on. It actually wasn’t even a trip — both of my legs were completely off the ground and I fell so hard that the building literally shook. Everyone was running to my rescue. I was red, but trying to play it cool and act like I wasn't embarrassed.
Kristen: No recovering from that one. There’s a certain trip where you can go into a fast walk to cover it up…Not with that one.
Liza: I made eye contact with someone, and I can only imagine what my face looked like. I could tell you 10 things today I did that were un-rock-‘n’-roll. We’re in Chicago, and Sam and I literally stayed in bed all day and watched T.V. We couldn’t order room service because we’re way too broke for that. We’re not rock-star like that. We ate hummus instead. Always hummus. It’s easy, cheap and you can live on it.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Liza: I think this has been a constant thing in my life — whether it’s been my parents or my friends — since I was a kid, they've always said there is nothing that can throw off the course I’m supposed to have in this life. With a creative goal, you’re always asking yourself, “What if someone else gets it before I do? What if they get that gig and I don’t?” But it’s not about that. If those things don’t happen, they’re not supposed to, and I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing because I want to keep going. No one can steal what you’re supposed to do. And that mentality frees you up. Because I’m creative, there’s a natural sense of, “Let me do this because I want to and I know I need to.” And my parents really instilled that idea in me: There is nobody in this world who can do the job you’re supposed to do, and you can’t do anybody else’s. So care but don’t care. Be where you are, do what you do and live.