Adult contemporary artist Liz Graham is a powerhouse of sound. The guitar-driven music propels the audience into a world of interpersonal connections and struggle as well as hope and healing; once Graham’s vocals kick in, we are at the center of it all, exploring with her.
Not only did Talk Nerdy With Us have the pleasure of listening to and writing an exclusive pre-release album review of her upcoming sophomore release, Damaged, but we also got a chance to chat with Graham about her journey, the album and its themes, and what’s next for her and the band.
I’ve read a little about you & I feel like from what I’ve read I can make the conjecture that your personal struggles and drive to help others is what propelled you to begin writing songs; what moment or combination of moments do you think changed it from “writing songs” to “being a musician?” in your own words what was it that propelled the success?
I started writing songs when I was about 8 or 9 so I’d always been doing it and I always had girl bands. We went from just banging on instruments to actually being a band and playing at high school parties and stuff. After that I went to college but I was still doing music and that was really my focus. It worked into being a musician that was just playing out, but it was really accidental. I wasn’t thinking I was going to be a musician; I actually wanted to be a spy.
(chuckling) Oh, wow.
It made me do it; it picked me, I think. So there I go.
It makes it more natural that way. You weren’t trying to pursue an end goal, it was just a path you were on.
Yeah, I didn’t want to be on stage or the focus of attention. I was going around to the publishing companies with my songs and they’re like “You need to be the artist” and I said “No, no, please put my songs with other people,” but they said “No, it needs to be you.” So if anyone was going to hear these songs, I needed to go out and push it myself. So, I did what I had to do.
I’ve listened to the new album, Damaged. Thanks so much for sharing it with me; it was a pleasure to listen. I noticed that the album dabbled in a lot of different styles. I hear some country twang, some alternative rock, some folk, and even moments where I hear some grunge. What sparked this kind of songwriting ebb and flow?
I think it really started when I was a kid. It was like battle of the bands in my house. In the living room my dad was listening to country music, Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash and that gang. And upstairs my brother was blasting Led Zeppelin. So it sort of makes sense that that sort of thing jives with me, it was a blend. I enjoy all different styles of music. I had a rock bank and we morphed into alternative rock. Really, I was doing alternative rock when I got my first deal and it was for a singer-songwriter label and they took the songs and tamed them down a bit.
Yeah, and when you say country, I’m guessing you’re referring to “Waiting on a Train”?
It ends with that. And it’s kind of a joke. A sort of “Hey, don’t take anything too seriously.”
Exactly. I can see that. The whole album is about healing, self-care, and getting over grief, and interpersonal relationships. The last song really hit me because it made me feel that there’s hope, life, laughter, and love and not to take life too seriously.
You’re absolutely correct. I’m glad you caught that and said that. Thank you.
Did you worry people would say that the album is inconsistent because of the stylistic leaps?
It’s like life. Life is a blend of everything. All emotions, all feeling and all sound. We all go through different periods in our life where we are all of those sounds and emotions. That’s why the record sounds like that. One song might be a “hey I’m over you” and another might be about a wounded person wondering how they’re going to get over you. It just blends together, like our minds. At least mine. It runs around and I just kind of chase after it and do what I feel. That’s exactly how I felt when I did the record and so I did it. And I listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell when I was growing up and she would do anything from funny songs to really sad songs. Instrumentation always varied. Those are the musicians I listened to and they just followed their hearts.
Right. Connect what’s in your heart to what’s in other people’s hearts.
That’s all I wish for. Hopefully it connects. I’m not expecting it to connect with everyone. It may resonate with some and that’s why I did it. Someone else did it for me and basically saved my life and that was Joni Mitchell. I’m hoping to return the favor.
Could you tell me where the ideas for the video for Charcoal on Canvas came from?
I collaborated on the video with my partner, Shari Cartun, and she had a very active imagination. So we sat down and talked about the song for quite a while…many, many weeks. We took what her interpretation of the song is. It’s like a fantasy in your mind. You know how you may fixate on somebody and think they are someone who they aren’t and then you build it up? Well, I’m met with resistance in this particular song. I wanted to just draw this person on my canvas and have them pose for me. I wanted to find out about all the shadows that I couldn’t get through to just by talking. The video is just the visual of that. It takes place in Italy. It’s very playful.
Seeing the visual come out with the sound must be really satisfying, to have two mediums come together.
It is and it appeals to different mindsets. Some people are visual, some are auditory. So there it is for people to see and have their perspective on it – what they see, what they get out of it.
I was very sad to learn about the abuse from your past and about the death of your brother; one quote from you, in particular, stayed with me from an interview I had read with you was “What do you do when your role model and hero kills himself?” As much as I don’t want it to be, it’s a question I’m sure many have asked themselves in many variations. Over the course of time have you found the answer? What could you tell someone else who is struggling with this kind of grief?
I would suggest (since you can’t tell someone what to do) that they might try to turn it into a positive somehow. For example, if someone is suffering from a certain disease, get involved in a charity. For myself, I just wanted to save everybody (chuckling); I couldn’t save my brother. I knew that it could go either way. I could become a hopeless drug addict because he was my role model or I could pursue music, which he loved also, and find comfort and solace in that I was helping other people and, of course, ultimately myself.
I think much of that can be inferred from your music. Changing your perspective and having a positive outlook is an important way to heal and move forward.
Yes, and so many people, I believe, have grown up in adversarial households and they do, hopefully, make a conscious decision to do something positive about it. For instance, if someone’s parents are hopeless alcoholics, they never touch a drink because they know that there’s a family history. They try to make something of their lives and being there for people. That’s what it’s all about, all of us taking each other’s hand and pulling each other up.
True. Instead of pushing each other down.
Which gravity is bound to. It’s easier to go down than it is to go up, but it’s more rewarding.
What kind of stuff do you have planned for the release of Damaged? Can we expect any more videos, perhaps a tour, a launch party or showcase? What’s the official release info for your fans?
I have some shows coming up in the Northeast and then we’re going to release the CD and we’ll be planning a tour. Probably some more video if we see which song the audience relates to most. It’s an exciting time.
That sounds like it’s going to be busy, that’s great.
I’m open to everything. I write music for film so I’m hoping to get some songs on TV shows. I think that they lend themselves to a lot of the shows that are out there now so hopefully that will happen too.