I first experienced Liza Anne’s haunting music shortly after she walked onstage as an opener for Bear’s Den last fall. I remember being instantly captivated by her raw and honest yet never fragile voice. There was something so compelling in the way she quietly controlled the room. She was, hands down, the best opener I’d ever seen.
Liza Anne’s style is reminiscent of Daughter and Laura Marling, but like any good songwriter, she brings her own unique angle. It was a blast to chat with Liza and learn a little more about why and how she creates her tragic, mesmerizing music.
No more writing to blame
Emily Cardé: You recently finished recording a new album in Paris. How was that experience?
Liza Anne: I don’t even know how to answer that. It was the most insane thing I think I’ve ever done—and probably one of my favorite things that I’ll ever do.
The studio where we recorded had been my dream since I was 15. It’s where Feist recorded The Reminder in 2007, and I’ve just been listening to it on repeat since then. Following that, a documentary came out that showed them recording in the space and it completely changed the way I experienced making music—even before we went to Paris. So in my head I was like, “Okay, someday when I’m in my 40s I’m going to go do that.” And then it ended up working out to do it—and I’m 22! So it’s crazy how things just happen. But it was amazing.
Ethan Weitz: Do you feel like you approached this new album differently than your previous albums?
Liza: Of course. This record was dealing with so much more than my other ones were, and I think that just comes from being older and having this strange increasing understanding of yourself and other people. I had never set aside such an exact amount of time to work on something, so just mentally that was already different, and then the things I was writing about were just completely worlds away from the things I was writing about before. The entire experience was just the most emotionally draining thing I’ve ever done in my entire life, but in a good way.
Emily: Which songs are you most excited about and why?
Liza: All of them. Literally all of them. I’ve never been more proud of something in my entire life. I’ve never felt more represented or completely transparent and naked in the best way possible.
I’ve spent so much time blaming all of my problems away. I would be like, “This boy doesn’t love me back,” or whatever, which was not the root of the issue—I was just writing to blame it on something else.
And so writing a record where I’m completely claiming all of my chaos and just being like, “Nope, I did this; I did all of it to myself,” made me feel more empowered and in control.
From poetry to music
Ethan: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started playing and writing music?
Liza: I think it started with writing, for me. I wrote a lot of poetry when I was a kid, to get myself out of my head. I’ve always been very observant and a sensory-overload type of person. And a lot of things overwhelmed me in a very isolating way. Like, “No one else feels this way. Why is everyone else so happy all the time? Everything is so sad.” And so I just started writing from a very young age in a very aware sort of way.
When I was about 14 my uncle encouraged me to start playing guitar as well. I used to go to an all-girls camp for like five weeks every summer. One summer I took a guitar with me and they had a songwriting class, so I just learned how to play over the course of that month and a half and have been playing and writing continually ever since.
That’s a succinct version of my entire life.
“Writing a record where I’m completely claiming all of my chaos and just being like, ‘Nope, I did this; I did all of it to myself,’ made me feel more empowered and in control.”
Emily: What are some experiences that have had the most profound impact on the way that you approach what it means to make music?
Liza: I’m constantly collecting experiences like that. I think one of the first moments was watching that live documentary. And then outside of that, reading different journals and letters of different writers that I really respect. So reading through Sylvia Plath’s journal or Simone De Beauvoir’s letters to Sarte or something—I’m constantly obsessed with figuring out these intellectual or inspired beings and how they presented themselves in their own personal space. For example, Sylvia Plath is incredible and we all know that, but I want to know what she was like when she was by herself. So I kind of collect my inspiration from those things that people never thought other people would read, and I try to present myself like that—which is also terrifying, you know? Those people died and their journals are now published—that’s terrifying. But it’s great for someone like me because I enjoy snooping.
Ethan: So when you have inspiration like that, what does the songwriting process look like for you—when you take something like that and turn it into a song?
Liza: It’s really so different every time. Sometimes it will start just from writing a few times everyday in a journal, and other times I’ll have a guitar lick in my head for months and I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, this has to be somewhere in a song,” and then a song will just build itself. So every time is a completely different experience.
And I think one way that I set myself up to write better is making myself sit down daily to write. I keep my journal in my bag and I write random things throughout the day. Even if I don’t have a song at the end of that day, I might revisit it a month later and find something I hadn’t noticed before.
Turning demons into songs
Emily: Of all the songs that you’ve written which one is the most meaningful to you?
Liza: I think probably it’s one from the new record, called ‘Closest to Me.’ It came out of the most insane experience as I thought about how much I had hurt people that I loved my entire life because of my panic disorder. I would blame all of my issues on having this panic disorder—but then I realized that sometimes when my emotions shut down like that, I physically do not know how to not turn off to everyone around me. And facing that gave me this very forgiving mindset towards myself that I really hadn’t had before. Because I would just get so mad at myself. But the first step in moving forward is forgiving myself rather than getting super angry at myself.
Actually, a lot of the songs on the new record, that I wrote with my friend Trent Dabbs, are very dear to me. Co-writing has always been very terrifying to me because music was my space to be completely insane and completely emotionally unstable, and it was always very scary to me to invite anyone else into that. But with Trent Dabbs—I am not even kidding—it was like sitting down with a therapist; it was the most insane experience. He helped me piece together a lot of this record. Because a lot of it is deals with stuff that I’m in therapy for and was having trouble putting in words.
Ethan: If you had to choose a song that has been the toughest to write, which would it be?
Liza: There are two. One of them is a song called ‘Ocean’ that is on my record Two, which came out in 2015. ‘Ocean’ was a poem that I ended up putting it music. I literally couldn’t sing it more than the one time in the studio, because it was so excruciating to live through that. It was a very painful song and I was just so close to it.
And then there’s one on the new record called ‘Panic Attack.’ It was kind of the first time that I just described really intimately and explicitly what having panic disorder feels like in the social settings that I’m in—like being surrounded by strangers in small bars, which is terrifying for someone with panic disorder. And so I think that was one of the hardest to start writing and finish writing because I was finally just calling out this thing that essentially runs my life.
“[Writing] with Trent Dabbs—I am not even kidding—it was like sitting down with a therapist. . . . He helped me piece together a lot of this record.”
A feeling of adventure
Emily: We saw you in concert a while back, and from our observations you seem to gain a lot of energy from touring and visiting places and meeting people. What are some of your favorite memories from touring?
Liza: Oh my gosh, that’s just the best question! It took me a while to become used to being away and sleeping in hotels or sleeping on a bus or sleeping in Airbnb rooms. There was something kind of terrifying at first, but I got over that like four years ago. It is the most exciting thing to wake up in a city where you don’t know anyone and you can go to a coffee shop and just sit. It’s everything. It’s the tiny little mundane things, like doing laundry in the laundromat or using the wi-fi in the venue or calling my parents at home, being like, “I’m in this city today!” and them being like, “Oh my gosh, we had no idea.” It’s just exciting.
The entire thing is constantly moving forward and constantly presenting something new and it’s impossible to be bored. When I’m home I get so bored, unless I’m writing or working on a record. Traveling just gives me a feeling of adventure that I don’t always have.
I think one of my favorite memories of touring was one day when I was on tour with Joseph in Europe. We played a show in Berlin and went to this really cool bar beforehand. And getting to sing in Germany with friends was just an absolute gift. It was perfect. I look back and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, how is this a job?” I love it so much!
“After a long run of doing full band shows, my favorite thing to do is just do a couple of weeks with just solo ones, because it just reminds me that my songs speak for themselves.”
Ethan: Do you ever tour with a full band, or is it usually just you?
Liza: I usually do full band. I just finished the second full band tour I’ve done in a while and it was so good. It’s exciting to have a band and really demand the attention of the room. And it’s fun traveling with people—they are my best friends.
Ethan: I have to say, when we saw you play, there was a rawness and power to your songs that I noticed particularly because it was just you on stage.
Liza: I do enjoy both—I couldn’t just do one or the other. I think there’s something so rewarding in each of those experiences. After a long run of doing full band shows, my favorite thing to do is just do a couple of weeks with just solo ones, because it just reminds me that my songs speak for themselves. And it’s empowering to know that.
Ethan: What do you hope to accomplish through your music?
Liza: So much! I hope to continue to feel purposeful and kind of peer into humanity as a whole and articulate certain things that we for some reason don’t feel comfortable talking about. I hope that my art will consistently be a place of being very unapologetic and a place where it’s okay to be emotional. I think art does this thing where it doesn’t force you through or make you sit for too long. Art lets you feel something for 7 months if you want to just keep listening to a song, or you can listen to it whenever you want and then get up and keep living life. And I think I want my music to be a place for doing that.
Photo by David O’Donohue, taken from Liza Anne’s Facebook page.