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Exclusive Interview with Singer-Songwriter Liz Longley

Passion is the first word I think of when I think about singer-songwriter Liz Longley. During our conversation, I could hear the passion in her voice as she talked about her new single, a cover of “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops and how much she loves doing what she does. Other topics of conversation included the moment when she realized music is something she wanted to pursue professionally, how her arrangement of “I Can’t Help Myself” came to be, her love of rollerblading and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!

Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.

I started playing piano when I was eight years old. My grandmother found this piano that she insist my family take in and that I learn how to start to play. But when I was eight years old, I wanted nothing to do with it, so I threw a temper tantrum. However, it soon became my favorite place to be in the house. I started writing music when I was about 14 years old and, gosh, I just got really lucky that I had music-loving parents; my dad used to play music professionally and mom used to want to be a singer, so from day 1 they were super supportive and never let me look back.

Was there a specific moment or person who made you realize music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?

I think the moment that I first played an original song on stage, that’s when it really clicked. I was in 9th grade and I was scheduled to perform some solo song and then my teacher said, “Play one of your songs.” And it scared me so much but it was so good that he pushed me into that. The first time I played a solo song out, the entire auditorium gave me a standing ovation. That’s the moment that it clicked. It was like, “Oh. I can be myself and people will help me be more myself through my music.”

I know you studied music at Berklee, right? 

Yeah.

What was your specialization there?

So at Berklee, you have a principal instrument, and mine was voice, and then my major was in songwriting. Believe it or not, I have a degree in songwriting. 

That’s so cool. What’s one of the biggest things you took away from your time at Berklee?

Oh my gosh, there was so much. Before I got to Berklee, I was performing out every weekend. It was something I loved and knew I wanted to do, but I knew my songwriting was lacking and I wanted to learn how to use words in a way that helped connect with people better and think about things and feel things on a deeper level. And I think that’s what Berklee helped me to do.

I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So if you had to describe your sound without using genre names, what kind of music do you produce?

Oh. Well, if I am using genre names, I’ve been saying Americana soul. That’s the sound I’m going for on my latest record. But I would like it to be soul food for people. I would like it to be songs that make you think about where you are in your life and how you treat other people and about how you love people in your life. [I want] to help people reflect on things in their life in a deeper way.

That’s a great way to put it, I’ve never heard anyone describe their music like that, but I love it. Let’s talk a little bit about your latest single, a cover of “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops. What went into your decision to cover that particular song?

I do monthly concerts online on Concert Window and I’ve been doing them now for 4 years. So to play to a lot of the same people every month requires a very large catalog of music if you want to keep it interesting. While I’ve written a lot of songs, I wanted to branch out and incorporate songs I love by other artists. So I started covering songs by Avril Lavigne and Cher and Amos Lee and some of my favorite musicians out there. Anyway, it led me to learning this Four Tops song and I just fell in love with it. I posted a clip of it on Instagram; I call my series on Instagram ‘Casual Covers.’ I just felt so much when I was singing it and I was seeing that people were feeling the same thing I was when they heard it. So I was moved to capture it in the studio and make a real version of it that people could have for good.

Walk me through your process of coming up with your arrangement for this song. Did it take a long time to arrange or did it unfold pretty quickly?

[laughs] Normally, with these covers, the second I pick up a guitar and go for a cover, I’m like, “Okay.” Before I even strum a note, I’m like, “Pick a vibe. What does this song feel like to you if you’re reading the lyrics?” And it was instant. I think I was in that feel. I never played it like the original, not ever, once. 

What was the recording process like once you actually got into the studio? Was it different than professionally recording your original music? Was this song recorded in one single session or over the course of a couple different sessions?

So I knew I wanted to record this song and called one of my dear friends Kai Welch who lives in Nashville. He’s been out on tour with Kacey Musgraves non-stop, but he happened to be home for a few days and I was like, “Do you happen to have a window where we can get into the studio for one day? I just want to record this song – me and an electric guitar.” And I don’t even have an electric guitar that I like playing, so I was hoping he would have one because he has a great collection. 

So I went to his studio for a few hours and I put this song down maybe 7 or 8 times. It was really fun to be in the studio with this song because it isn’t my song, basically, it was like, “Okay how far do we want to take this? How intense do we want this build to be?” And that was what was great about working with Kai was when I was re-working this song, it was super mellow the whole time and he kind of challenged me and was like, “There’s angst in here. You need to let it out.” So then you get to the part of the song where it builds up like crazy, that was due in large part to his encouragement. 

Did it change at all once you got into the studio?

Yeah. Cause it was just mellow the whole way through before I got into the studio. Then he started talking to me and was like, “Dig into that guitar. Hit the guitar. Wide open strums. Just go for it.” And I never play electric guitar, so it was fun to have that texture under my voice to add that extra bit of emotion going into the song. So yeah, I feel like it grew in the studio. It was such a fun day.

You also released a performance music video for your cover of the song. What was that filming process like? 

We were recording and filming it all at the same time. But what’s so funny was we were just like, “Let’s do one more take.” And the videographer, Patryk Larney, was like, “I’m just gonna get footage of your guitar since this is just a throwaway last take.” And as the take was happening, he said he realized halfway through that it was going to be the take. So halfway through the song, he moved up to my face because before that he had none of my face; it was just the guitar. So he ended up having to take pieces from other takes and put them at the front of the video. The video is spliced together, but the song is all live in one take. 

Did you know going into the studio that day that you were going to record a music video and that whatever you shot that day was going to be it?

Yeah. I knew I wanted to get it all done in that day and just run with that wave of inspiration. So we did it all in a few hours. It was awesome because it all started when I was feeling anxious to record something because it’s been so long since I’ve been in the studio, and I was just feeling a need to be creative. I mean, I’m creative every day. I write every day and I love that that’s my job, but getting to put something out into the world is a whole different feeling and I was just dying to do that. It was only a few days before that I called those two guys and said, “Hey, are you available? I need to get into the studio and I need you to be there.” And they made it happen. 

I know you’ve mentioned a few times about possibly working on something. So in terms of your original music, are you working on anything currently, whether it be just writing sessions or in the studio?

Yeah, I just got out of the studio today. We’re doing pre-production for my sixth record and we start making it next week and it’s with Paul Moak at Smoak Stack Studios. I’ve been wanting to work with him for a long time, so the fact that its happening, I couldn’t be more excited to work with him. He’s very inspiring and he’s made some of my favorite records in Nashville. I always thought it was a far off dream that I’d get to work with him. It’s kind of funny, so that day at the studio for “I Can’t Help Myself,”  the videographer, Patryk, said, “What are you doing for your next record?” And I said, “Well, there’s this producer that I really want to work with but I’m way too scared to email him.” And he was like, “You need to email him right now.” So I emailed him that night and now we’re making a record together. So it kind of happened because of the making of this video, which is crazy.

That’s so cool. It’s always great when things like that just work out because they were clearly meant to be. So I’ll end with one last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something you nerd out about?

[laughs] I nerd out about roller blades. I started this thing in town called Blade N Brunch (@bladenbrunch on Instagram) and when it’s not so cold, we go rollerblading and have brunch together. I’m a terrible rollerblader, but I think it’s just so much fun to go out on the pavement and let out some steam and that’s one of my favorite things to do when I’m not out on the road.

That’s so awesome. And anyone can come and do it?

Anyone. The less skilled at rollerblading the better. 

So you’re not looking for any roller derby champs to join you?

No. But we have had roller derby people and we’re sponsored by Asphalt Beach in Nashville and some of those guys have come out before and they just skate circles around us. But it’s so much fun. 

For more information, make sure you check out Liz’s website or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. 

Written by Bryna Kramer

I could have followed in my father's footsteps and become a doctor. But there was just too much good television on.

Contact: [email protected]

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