Wearing the Inside Out:
Liza Anne is Just Beside Herself
Liza Anne is the stage name of St. Simons Island-born Elizabeth Anne Odachowski. Nominally a folk musician, on her debut album – 2014’s The Colder Months – she crafted a gentle, heartfelt sound with soothing vocal harmonies and alluring melodies. On her 2015 album Two, the acoustic Americana flavor of her songs was layered with more atmospheric production. But with Fine But Dying (released March 9), Liza Anne’s acoustic aesthetic has been wholly set aside in favor of a harder-edged electric approach, coupled with a more direct and honest lyrical focus. Her 22-date North American tour in support of Fine But Dying brings Liza Anne to The EARL on April 21.
On Fine But Dying, you deal directly with themes of depression, panic disorder, and so forth. What was the impetus for tackling these subjects head-on now, as opposed to before?
“At the beginning, when I started writing stuff, I kind of felt I was being straightforward with those issues. But then I realized I wasn’t, in some ways. So, I think for my own sanity, I just wanted to sit with my panic disorder kind of mental disarray, and just really sort through those things. Because [before] when I was writing about reasons that I was sad, it wasn’t the same thing as talking about the underlying issue.”
I’m sure that a segment of your fan base identifies with what are, after all, fairly common and widespread issues. A lot of people deal with those things. What kind of things have people communicated to you about the way that the new songs resonate with them?
“That’s still kind of very fresh, people experiencing the new songs. So, I don’t really know full-on the answer to that question yet. But so far what I’ve kind of seen – especially with songs like ‘Panic Attack’ – is that people are just thankful that things are being put in such an explicit form of communication. Rather than people just enjoying sad songs, it seems like there’s something on this record that feels really straightforward. And I think people are glad that it’s straightforward.”
You post your lyrics on your website. Tell me about why it’s important to you to share them in a way that allows them to be processed separate from the music.
“The lyrics are the most important part to me. Growing up, I would always get frustrated when I would listen to albums and I wouldn’t be able to find the lyrics mapped out. Or maybe they’re online, but sometimes they feel wrong or disconnected to the way the artist intended them to be experienced. And so in putting them on my website, I just wanted people to have a very specific form of experiencing the lyrics, rather than just finding them accidentally on a website that wasn’t from me.
“Also, with my lyrics, I normally put well-hidden messages in them, to give people even more of a look into what the song is about and where it came from. Because if there’s no message behind [a lyric], I don’t know … it feels kind of pointless.”
So it’s important to you that your lyrics stand up on their own?
“Oh, absolutely. If my songs could be made into poetry books, I would be super happy. Even without a musical quality to it, I think what I’ve always wanted to do with my art is create a message that feels cohesive, even if you don’t hear it sung.”
When you’re writing songs, do you write the words or the music first?
“It depends. I keep a Notes folder on my phone, and I have a little journal in my bag for writing lyrics and stuff all the time. But a lot of songs on this record, lyrics and music came simultaneously. Which is crazy.
“Though for newer stuff I’ve been writing, I’ve spent a lot of time just with guitar riffs in my head. Or a lot of times I’ll have, like, three lines that I know will eventually end up in the song. It’s kind of different every time, but I wish I was more intentional about it. I wish I sat down every day and wrote for three hours, but I’m a little bit more just ‘waiting on the muse.’”
Do you write with the idea of an album in mind, or do you say, “Well, let me see what I’ve got,” and pick from among those?
“I’m definitely always writing toward the next project that I want to do. But I don’t necessarily have a very specific idea of what that project will end up looking like until I have 12 or 13 songs done. And then I’ll realize, ‘Oh, okay. I just finished an album.’ But I won’t end up writing 50 songs and picking twelve of them.”
As you were coming up in music, what artists informed your musical sensibility?
“As far as performance aspects and just like creative control, Feist was my first real picture into what I wanted my career to look like and how I wanted to be experienced as an artist. I grew up listening to a lot of Cranberries and Joni Mitchell. There were a lot of female voices that I just felt understood by; it was really reassuring to see women claiming their space unapologetically. I think even without knowing that’s what I was drawn to, now that I look back, I realize that was definitely where I felt most at home.”
What has been your most fulfilling experience as a performing and recording musician?
“I think my recording of Fine But Dying has been the dreamiest experience so far. Because recording something like that was something I didn’t plan on doing until I was way older. That was really the absolute goal, and so the fact that we got to do that now feels really important.”
When you finish a recording session, do you feel like you’re able to say that it’s done, or are you the sort of person who wants to go back and tinker with it?
“It’s definitely a process. It’s different every time. Zach Dyke produces my stuff, and when we finished the week recording the skeletal version of the songs, there was definitely a lot that we ended up going back to, adding things in and moving arrangements around. But mostly, [finishing a session] feels like a huge accomplishment. And there was definitely a part of me that felt very relieved after we were done with the main part of recording Fine But Dying.”
For someone who is a songwriter first, fronting a band instead of playing solo is a conscious choice. What is it about the character of an electric rock band that suits your songs better than, say, just your voice and an acoustic guitar?
“Something about it just brings a whole other aspect, in a creative sense, to it. It’s just really fun. I really enjoy the way people experience touring alone and just doing things solo; it’s very intimate, and it’s very vulnerable in a certain way. But adding a band, it’s loud. And it takes up the space that I want to take up as a person. And it takes up the space that I want people to feel like they can take up. When people walk into the room, I want the entire room to feel as though it changed. Not just, ‘Okay, we’re watching this girl with a guitar.’ I want it feel like the record. I want people to feel like they’re in the record for 45 minutes or an hour or whatever.”
Beyond the lyrical themes, how did you approach to making Fine But Dying differently than your previous albums?
“When we were [recording the new album], I approached it thinking of playing it live. For the first time I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. This is a show I would really wanna go to. This is energetic, and it’s interesting.’ I felt like I was creating something that I would get to live in, in a way that I didn’t necessarily think I could before.”
Do your songs grow and change, or do you pretty much develop a style and arrangement for each one and then run with it?
“They totally grow. I would get bored if we were playing the exact same thing every time. We’ll go a few months touring something, and then I listen back to the recording of the song, and it’s just wild how much it has grown [in live performance]. And I don’t even think it’s a conscious thing, like, ‘Let’s change things to make it live.’ The songs just naturally seem to grow and evolve when you’re experiencing them every night.”
Some artists say that they feel a responsibility to reveal their innermost thoughts, or to be entertaining onstage. Does anything like that inform your relationship with your fan base?
“It’s important for me to really own this thing that I’m doing, so that people can realize that they can also do their thing. So, me being fully present in my body and in the art I’m creating ends up being my responsibility to other people.”
With regard to music, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“‘Don’t perform for anyone except for yourself.’ Just do your absolute best thing, and don’t think about trying to outdo anyone. I learned really early that competition is incredibly toxic, and I think I’ve never really made any room – in anything I’m doing professionally – for that spirit of competition. I just don’t like that; I’m not a competitive person. It’s about owning my side of things. Owning the thing I’m doing and really championing everyone around me, because if one of us succeeds, we all do. There’s no point in being territorial over space, because we all deserve space.
“There wasn’t someone specifically who told me that, but just over the course of growing up and being in a music community, that was just the thing that I took away from all the conversations I would have among people. I was like, ‘This is the key to remaining sane, and good, and remaining kind to people and kind to yourself.’”
What motivates you?
“Everything, you know? I couldn’t imagine not doing it. [Making music] feels like the best way I could be utilizing my body, and my voice, and my space. I was doing anything else, I don’t know if I would be here. So it’s kind of saved my life, in a sense.”
You have tour dates through early May, plus two summer festivals. Right now the dates are all in support of the new album. What’s next for you after that?
“I hope that we keep touring this record for a while. I’ve really enjoyed how it’s felt to live inside of this album live. I think we’ll be doing some support dates in the fall, and we’ll definitely be going over to the UK and Europe and doing Fine But Dying gigs over there.
“But I’ve already started writing the next record. I have to keep writing. I have to keep pulling myself out of my head into my life.”
To the extent that you can tell this early on, do those songs have a character similar to the material on the current album, or are they going in yet a different direction?
“Yes to both of those things. Fine But Dying gave me a certain permission to exist in a certain way that was really freeing. So naturally, and compared to my older stuff, the songs that are coming out are a lot freer. I want to figure out what other space I can take up that I, right now, maybe think I can’t. It’s definitely been an experiment of sonic ability, and lyric ability, and of just figuring out the ways that I can grow and be strong in this new space.”
Photo by Brett Warren.