Almost three years ago, I sat down for a beer in a dive bar with a 21-year-old female singer/songwriter named Liza Anne. Liza was in town for a gig supporting her debut full-length record The Colder Months, which ended up garnering critical acclaim and put her name on the folk music map. She wrote and recorded the entire album in Nashville while attending school full-time at Belmont University and working three part-time jobs. The three-month record-making process was full of long days and late nights, and as Liza admitted to me, most songs came from a realization that life itself is heavy. As we talked through the difficulties of working in a creative space and industry, I was blown away by what Liza had learned at 21. I knew she was a seriously powerful female, and couldn’t wait to see where the music took her.
Needless to say, Liza’s career has flourished. Her second record, Two, dropped in 2015, and in 2018, she will release her third full-length Fine But Dying (recorded in Paris—pretty much a dream). She has toured consistently over the past three years, hitting the road with artists like Margaret Glaspy, Bear’s Den, David Ramirez, and most recently, Joseph (three very talented ladies—check them out!). I caught up with Liza before her 2017 show with the trio in Chicago, where we talked shop about the music business, being a female in the industry, and what she has learned about herself through making music. Be prepared to girl crush—hard.
Tell The Everygirl readers about your journey into music.
Music started for me with the writing aspect of it when I was about 8-years-old. I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t have a journal or spent my day transcribing how things made me feel. I started learning how to play guitar at 14, and it was a pretty quick progression of realizing I could do both of those things together. It became a tool to make other people feel the way I was feeling—”manipulating” people into understanding where I was coming from. As a kid—especially as an angsty 14-year-old girl—I dealt a lot with feeling really misunderstood. I wanted to make people understand, and the way I knew how to do that was through writing. Whatever age you asked me, I would have always said I wanted to do music as a career. I grew up in St. Simons Island, Ga., and right when I turned 18, I moved to Nashville for school at Belmont [University]. While I knew school was important, I moved there more for a community and what I couldn’t find there musically that I couldn’t find in South Georgia. We only had one open mic night there when I was growing up. So I decided to study songwriting, and two years into it, all of my professors and advisors encouraged me to start building it as a small business. I think they realized how business-minded I was, in addition to being interested in the creative side of it. And I really haven’t done any other job in four-and-a-half years. I’ve really tried to think of my songwriting and music career as a small business. I’ve set business goals every year, and each year, I’ve surpassed where I thought I would be. I feel six years in when I’m actually only four. I put all my eggs in one basket—which could have gone so shitty—but it has worked out so far.
As an artist, how do you balance the business side with the creative side?
I understand why it’s hard for people to separate the two. Sometimes I feel very suspended between those thought processes, but at the same time, the business aspect can be just as fun if you think of it creatively. For example, I know how fun it is to make and put out a music video. But there’s the business strategy question, too: How can I get people to like and listen to a song that’s not necessarily pop music through a visual medium? There are so many ways to manipulate the system that’s in place, but you can only do that successfully if you know all of the rules. You have to know the rules to break them. But that’s why I’m thankful I went to songwriting school and learned the business side of it.
Also, I think sometimes you see people—and this goes for all industries—who know the rules so well that they fail to bring their own creativity and emotion to the table. They know the rules so well that they don’t break them. I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people and women who constantly push me and encourage me to express how I’m feeling, which results in fresh business ideas getting brought to the table.
As women artists, that’s what we have to do. There’s not always an open seat at a certain table, but if you make the cooler table two feet away, then other people will move to it.
Who are some female artists that inspire you?
Oh my gosh…so many. I garner more and more respect for Leslie Feist with every record she makes. She has always done everything as she imagined it to be, and because of it, she created a space for herself in the industry where normally there wasn’t. As women artists, that’s what we have to do. There’s not always an open seat at a certain table, but if you make the cooler table two feet away, then other people will move to it. For instance, you might say, “Okay, it’s only guys on indie rock radio. Well, let me see if I can manipulate it into something totally different. And then maybe everyone will be on my team next time.” I could go on for hours about women creatives, and at each moment in my life there has been a different female I’ve learned from.
You’ve recently done two back-to-back tours with female artists—Margaret Glaspy and Joseph—which is super inspiring. Talk to me about being on the road with women.
I think there’s something exceptionally powerful about female presence. Being around that energy in a tour setting acts almost like a mirror. You learn so much about yourself because you’re seeing bits of your current, past and future selves in all the women you’re surrounded by. Tour itself is such a mind fuck— you feel you’ve lived 10 lives in 10 days. Having some sort of sisterly bond out there is medicine. It’s necessary.
As far as what it’s like sharing the stage with other creative women—it’s the most cathartic, rewarding and emotional experience. When one of us succeeds, we all do. Sisterhood within the industry is flooring because it ruins all the stereotypes that women are competitive towards one another. If I’m competitive towards anyone, it is the patriarchy. And a women doing well is a direct middle finger to that system—whether it’s me or a friend or a stranger, we all win.
Sisterhood within the industry is flooring because it ruins all the stereotypes that women are competitive towards one another. If I’m competitive towards anyone, it is the patriarchy. And a women doing well is a direct middle finger to that system—whether it’s me or a friend or a stranger, we all win.
Your new record, Fine But Dying, has a fire or a bite that wasn’t necessarily present on your previous albums. Talk to me about where that came from.
I think that fire has always been there, but it was mostly repressed. Growing up as a southern woman had a huge effect on my perception of womanhood—and more importantly, who I was as a woman. Going to Cotillion classes as a kid and being told I shouldn’t approach boys first, for example; They should approach me. Or being told that I should be quiet and polite. My parents weren’t that way at all; They were very empowering, but the environment was that way. Also, I grew up in the church and learned that from the beginning of time, women created sin. This taught me that something about my entire existence was inherently “bad.” I think it all boiled up to this point where I could no longer act like I wasn’t mad and angry and pissed about it all.
I definitely talked about my depression and my discomfort as a result of this oppression [on previous records], but I wasn’t looking it in the face. During the creative process of this record, it felt scary to sit at a table with my oppressor more or less and be like, “Well, you fucked my life up.” And also, “I fucked my life up” because I believed these things about myself for so long. Making this record felt really crazy because it was like I was slowly inhabiting my body over two years. I remember listening back to the songs in my car and it was like exposure therapy. Since making that record and finishing it, I have become years and years past where I was emotionally and spiritually before writing it. It has become such a tool in self-discovery for me. It will be interesting to see what happens when I release that to the rest of the world.
What would you say was the biggest lesson you learned about yourself through making Fine But Dying?
Sometimes I don’t even know how to talk about what making this record felt like. The process of recording in Paris was one of those experiences that was so good that putting it into words somehow feels like I’m discrediting it. It was the best experience of my whole life. Something about this record feels so tangibly different than anything I’ve ever created. And I think that comes from knowing myself in an intimate way that I’d never experienced. What I was communicating with myself was coming out in this fully fleshed out being. I really spent time with the songs and was careful with them. The album is like a child and the record-making process was kind of like labor. I wanted to make sure the moment I birthed this piece of work into the world that it had a space I’d taken time to think about and create. I’ve never felt this way about something before. It’s my favorite child—100%.
The record also gave me permission to take up space, forced me to carve my own way and gave me a playing field to command how people experienced me. I realized that nobody could take up the space I was supposed to take up, and I can’t take up anyone else’s. It was this inner realization that I am more than enough. There’s no one I have to rely on outside of myself who can make me feel capable. I want every woman to have the opportunity to experience that.
You mentioned Paris as the birthplace of the record. More specifically, you recorded at La Frette, an iconic studio. How did you decide to make the record there?
Anytime I tour Europe I try to take a week or two of personal time in Paris or in London, depending on which one makes more sense. Exactly a year ago, I was in Paris and I looked up the studio [La Frette]. Feist, who I mentioned earlier, recorded “Reminder” there years ago, and I had watched a documentary on it. It totally changed the way I thought about making music. So while in Paris I decided to Google the studio to see how close it was to the flat I was staying in, and found out it was only a 20-minute train ride! I emailed the studio and asked if I could swing by to take some photos. I showed up and they knew who I was. They said, “We’re huge fans of your music. Whatever you were planning on spending on your next record, we will figure out a way to make it work with you.” Before that visit, I was trying to piece things together. I knew the record was going to be called Fine But Dying, and I kind of knew how it was going to feeI, but I wasn’t positive what space it was supposed to be made in. But after I got home, I was going through photos from the trip and I knew it was supposed to happen there. AND on top that, later that week, Norwegian airlines announced a $300 round trip deal from New York to Paris and it was a total sign. I thought to myself, “Okay, I can’t act irrationally, but this is the universe giving me this opportunity.” I spent a few weeks meditating over the intention of it and eventually booked the flight. Me and my bandmates caved into La Frette for six days and made Fine But Dying. And ironically, I have never felt more alive than I have on this record.
Liza Anne is The Everygirl…
Biggest challenge you face as a woman in the music industry?
Oh my god, there are so many. Wait for my memoir. It will all be there when I’m 40 and not being mistaken for a wife of a band member.
What’s your dream way to spend a day off in Nashville?
I just moved into my own flat. It’s so typical, but I would start my day off with an hour-and-a-half of hot yoga, go on a walk, and end my day at Bastion, which is the best bar ever. Dream day essentially would be a really healthy dose of being surrounded by people but also being alone. My days have to have that balance or else I feel out of equilibrium.
Guitar hero. I played for about seven hours the other day. It was the best. And also, Hilary Duff. But that goes without saying. I think I know everything about her. I’m her TMZ.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
ONLY ONE!? Okay, Simone de Beauvoir probably. A close second would be Leslie Feist. I feel like SImone would be a juice girl. I’d be super intimidated to have lunch with her because I feel like she knows everything about everything I’m passionate about. I’m sure it would be the most educating thing.