- Nathan Yoder
A Chat with Lisa/Liza
We here at DC decided that in 2021 it might be nice to touch base with a few artists we featured last year. You know, to hear about creative projects, life updates, and whatever else comes up in conversation.
Liza Victoria (who records as Lisa/Liza) is a musician we've followed closely for a few years now. Something about her unique songcraft and delivery hits just right as days shorten from autumn into winter, and her most recent album, Shelter of a Song, was a 2020 gem. You can read what we thought about it here.
So we reached out to Liza, as we were curious to learn more about her life and artistic process, and she very graciously accepted our interview offer. But instead of DMs or a phone call, she opted to answer a handful of emailed questions. Read our correspondence below, with some media samples scattered throughout.
DC: Okay, so I gotta start with our Portland - Portland connection. I've never visited the city in which you're based, so describe it for me. What is Portland, Maine like? What do you enjoy about the area where you live? I hear that it's a truly beautiful corner of the country.
LL: Portland, Maine is a great city on the smaller side. You can basically walk from one end to the other in an hour, and the main downtown area is all sort of stretched out on one street, spanning the East and West End. I’ve heard folks say it’s similar to Portland out there. I think I agree? But it’s much smaller really. It’s known for having a highly dense amount of restaurants per capita. At some point it was the most restaurants per capita of the Eastern cities? I think my favorite aspect of Portland is that you are always a walk away from the ocean. Technically it’s a peninsula, but it feels like an island at times. It also has several (actual) island communities accessible through Portland.
I actually don’t live there right now! Lol. But I lived there for over ten years and it is home in a lot of ways. I live in rural Maine at the moment. I was raised in rural Maine, so it’s a little new to me and a little familiar and comfy as well. Maine is filled with a lot of beauty, and I feel lucky to call it home. There are a lot of lakes around where I live, and I hope to get to spend some time with those this summer.
Liza Victoria, photo provided by Orindal Records.
DC: What is your music community like in Portland? How has it evolved or stayed the same over the past year while so much has changed? Do you feel like the pandemic expanded the scope of your music circle, or narrowed it?
LL: It’s a great community and I miss it a lot. I think it’s growing, and is also vast for a city of our size, which I’m proud of. Like, there’s a lot going on that I don’t really know about. There are a lot of different types of genres and music scenes within Portland. I think there’s always room for growth and improvement too. It’s also just kind of scary with the pandemic, knowing what the venue situation will be when this is over, but I am hoping that new spaces will emerge, not necessarily because of the losses of some venues, but from re-navigating art and music after such a long time without it, and having no option but realize its value and meaning in our individual lives and communities.
Hmm. I think the pandemic definitely expanded the scope of my circle, and I love that question. I think it’s made me feel a lot more solidarity and connection to the music scene outside of mere geographical location. I love Bandcamp Friday, for example, because it enhances that sense of community. It’s really wonderful to watch the album sales scroll, and see a platform do something to improve the conditions that the pandemic has placed on musicians.
It’s also shown me that I’m not alone in a lot of my struggles of being a musician of a smaller scale. Like, there has been a lot more acknowledgement of mental health struggles, that specifically, musicians face. From being on the road, to...just being sensitive people to begin with. Also how capitalism fails us as a wider community has been more acknowledged, and sometimes impossible to escape. And there’s some sort of sigh of relief and also solidarity I’ve felt in having that connection acknowledged.
DC: And now to zoom in even more on location, as I understand it, you recorded Shelter of a Song in your kitchen, correct? What did you enjoy about that process, and what was challenging? Not that the two are necessarily opposites…
LL: I enjoyed it a lot. I’ve since moved, but it was a studio apartment kitchen with yellow walls. It wasn’t an ideal space, and you had to wait for the noise level to be just right, but it worked anyways. Mostly it felt nice to give a voice to those songs in the very space that I wrote them. It’s also just nice to revisit the fact that we really can do a lot with the resources we already have, and while it’s a gift to be recorded in a professional space, there’s also an intimacy and comfort to playing music in your own home. You don’t need a lot of money and bells and whistles to do it.
DC: I think that I touched on this a bit in DC's preview of Shelter of a Song we published last fall, but wanted to revisit it here while I have you. I'm not sure that I've ever heard another artist structure and deliver songs quite like you. Your melodies and vocals feel so meandering, like a long, unhurried walk. What does your songwriting process look like? Where do you begin and how do songs evolve?
LL: That means a lot to me! Thanks so much for saying that and bringing it to my attention too! I feel really honored by that. My songwriting process for the most part is that I sit with my guitar and kind of wait and see what happens haha. I usually have to feel a certain way in order to get into a mode where I can write. Sometimes I’ll write whole songs in my head and then scrap them immediately because the feeling is off, or it was something too close to me, or an emotion that I just needed to get through. I’ve started to feel like those times are equally important to the process of songwriting. Sometimes there’s a lot of, like, “snapshots'' in my head from walks or things that I thought might be nice moods in a song that I try to start a song with. More or less, it’s what a friend called “lightning bolt” writing style. On occasion, I might try to get it in a couple sessions with my guitar or change one part. Sometimes I just want things to sound a certain way or mood, and I’ll try to hum something out, and work on that a bit. The hardest part is starting, and not getting discouraged if the feeling isn’t meeting you that day.
DC: Healing is a theme that you explore often in your music, and it feels very central on Shelter of a Song. Is there a stage in your musical process that feels the most personally healing for you? Is it the guitar work? Drafting lyrics? Recording or mixing? Or something else further along in the process such as releasing or performing?
LL: Oh I'm not sure which part feels the most healing. I think maybe when I have finished a song and there’s the quantifiable acknowledgement that I made a thing, it is very healing. Sometimes it does help to record it before I can appreciate that, but mostly I think it's the writing process that I feel the most attached too. I think because I get lost and don’t see what’s happening in front of me. Like if you’re working on a puzzle. Performing is healing in a social way that I can’t put into words easily, and that’s a nice thing too.
DC: Now to some questions that may have simpler answers! What is your favorite song that you wrote? Maybe that isn't so simple, on second thought. And while we are on the topic of favorites, do you have, like, an all-time favorite song (or album) by another artist? Is there a song you just love to belt out at karaoke?
LL: Favorites are pretty hard for me to pick! I think it’s always changing. It’s sort of hard to pick one that I wrote as a favorite because each song holds different places for me, sort of like a timeline. They remind me of different emotions and events often that I’ve experienced, and it would feel strange to pick a favorite point in time? Something like that. I also can’t say that I have a favorite song, honestly. I just love too many songs to boil it down like that haha. Hope that this isn't a disappointing answer haha. But I think maybe a chef choosing their favorite meal would have a similarly hard time.
DC: I asked this next question of a few other artists last year, and am curious to hear your answer as well. Currently, what art (music or other), topics, ideas, or movements do you feel drawn to?
LL: I guess I can say currently that I’ve been listening to a lot of country music and felt drawn by that. The history is really interesting. I’m probably not alone in recently discovering Blaze Foley, for instance. I guess there was a movie about him made, and I just watched that. It's incredible. I love John Prine too, and Lucinda Williams. I think there’s a beautiful minimalism to some country music, and I guess that’s been on my mind. I am reading a lot more than I used to and that has been because of the pandemic. I am reading biographies of musicians at the moment, and like many of us are, I've also been reading books about Social Justice. I just finished a beautiful book called Sacred Instructions by Sherri Mitchell that really inspired and taught me a lot. It shares an Indigenous perspective of the current world problems in light of trauma, and the spiritual wounds that everyone carries. It talks about the damage that colonization has done to the world, and how it relates to our current circumstances. And it offers insight about how we can confront past traumas in order to heal. It’s encouraged me to learn more, and to reflect on certain problems of the world in a new way, and I would recommend it to anyone.
DC: I almost ended this by asking you about future projects, but then realized that you JUST released an album like three months ago, and an awesome one at that. Sometimes I think that we put too much emphasis on production (I am very much guilty of this too), so if you want to share what you are working on I would be glad to hear it, but we could instead end this with a different prompt. Like, what is something that you are looking forward to in the future, musical or otherwise? Or what is something you would like to experience after these pandemic days are over?
LL: Hahaha, aw, thanks for saying that! You’re right. It can be a lot of pressure, in a way, to be thinking of the next thing right after an album release. I am looking forward to a lot more people being safely vaccinated, including myself, and spending time with friends again, and family. I think that's the most on my mind right now above anything else. I guess I can’t wait to go to the movies. I’m starting a garden, and a few of the seeds just sprouted. It’s really magical and I’m so excited to see where that project takes me.
You can hear + purchase Lisa/Liza's Shelter of a Storm via Bandcamp by clicking here, but know that all of her albums are so good - be sure to check each of them out. A huge thanks to the artist for her time and energy, and for providing such thoughtful, earnest responses.
Liza, you're the best.