Liz Isenberg's Seeport Seaport Seeport deserves more than the usual huzzahs you read here. It's a fantastic album, especially for anyone who wished folks like Elliott Smith and Cat Power stuck to the sound of their early records, to transporting room noise and close-in confessionals. I use names like that not just because they and Liz share an aesthetic sensibility; Liz's voice, songwriting and creative arrangements are textured and distinctive, and set off all sorts of future-star alarms. Luckily for you, she agreed to an interview to fill you in further.
Seeport Seaport Seeport hit me as an immersive record - I have favorite songs, but I always listen to it as an album. Did you intend for these songs to go together when you wrote them?
The songs are related, but I never wrote a song with another in mind. I didn't even think I was going to release an album or anything based on them. I wrote these songs as they came to me. The amount of time that passed between the earliest recorded song and the last has to be at least two years, and the fact that it could appear as whole is flattering, like reading a diary from start to finish and realizing that all the entries were written by the same person – they definitely cover a specific and personal time in my life.
Your lyrics often have a dreamlike quality, full of specific details joined by seemingly loose associations. "People Who Die in the Desert", for example: "This is my mother's pen, and she's twenty again, kissing boys in the backyard". What's the process of writing lyrics like for you? Are they written before, after, or along with the music?
I'm writing lyrics constantly. Before and After. I steal lyrics too. I take lines from peoples conversations or street signs or advertisements and then use them to provoke my own ideas and connotations. A lot of times I'll write pages and pages at a time and then go back and circle the ones that stick. I don't think nor write linearly. I see circles. So there are gaps in my lyrics but there are gaps in my memory. Other times I'll write a guitar part, hum a melody over it, and scribble words down that match the syncopations of my singing.
What were some of your favorite records of 2006?
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar!! I fell in love.
Benoit Pioulard -- Precis
Sibylle Baier – The Colour Green.
Joanna Newsom – Y's (obviously)
I got really into Hank Williams this year. And R. Kelly. I honestly listened to a lot of hip hop and R&B during 2006. Ive been studying Sound Art for three years and needed to TAKE A BREAK.
Nina Nastasia – On Leaving
Chris Paddock – Pretzels (My favorite Providence local!)
A. Weather – "The Feather Test" (mp3)
SSS stands out for its stark intimacy. You say on your MySpace that "I recorded sloppy on lo-fi equipment but i think i like it better that way." How much of this recording style is an aesthetic choice and how much is out of necessity?
Aesthetics and necessity are probably the same for me – and for most people. I was given pro tools as a gift, but freaked the fuck out, because the options, and the potential for "perfection" was too much, there was no constraint. The aesthetic and function of using the iBook input mic was far better suited to my personality, as well as the urgency that these songs demanded to be recorded.
The Amherst music scene: discuss.
Ive always found the Northampton scene to be elitist and a little scary. Lots of Noise junkies. Its strange that a scene so new can have such a strong and concentrated history in one seemingly random town. You can go out to brunch and run into Thurston Moore or J Mascis, and that may lend a strange sense of purpose or imagined destiny to the whole Amherst music scene. Whether this is actually reflected in the talent of new bands is arguable. I'm living in this amazing Victorian house with a bunch of friends and we have started organizing music shows there. Friendly, unpretentious music shows. So maybe our purple house will create a little scene too.
You used to play in the band Sweater Weather (now called A. Weather). Do you have any plans to collaborate with the A. Weather folks in the future, or pursue other band projects?
I would love to play with Aaron Gerber and or/ A. Weather again! They're pretty lame for moving all the way out to Portland, Oregon, but Aaron promised that If school doesn't fit my fancy I can always move west and play the tambourine or something. I'm always excited to collaborate with other people, it's nice to play music as a social act opposed to just me in my room with the door locked.
Do you like performing live? What are your touring plans for '07?
I'm terrified of playing live and for awhile had to be pretty drunk to do it. It's been getting better though, and overall I find live performance to be enthralling. After about two songs into my set I sort of get over my stage fright and switch between trying to understand the environment I'm in and ignoring it altogether. I'm interested in how sound travels differently in each new space, how my songs feel different depending on the crowd or the lights or the acoustics and how I need to adjust to all those elements. Although when I'm especially scared, I pretend nobody is there and just play like I'm sitting on my bed. I'm pretty awkward.
I'm touring in April with Vio//Mire (Brendan Glasson) and Leisure Class Exec/navigator Ben Segal. We are going up and down the east coast and probably as far as Cleveland, Ohio.
Liz will be playing this coming Monday, January 15th, with The Curtains (feat. Chris Cohen from Deerhoof and Kill Rock Stars singer/songwriter Nedelle) and Chris Garneau (Absolutely Kosher) at Flywheel in Easthampton, MA.
Her album is available from Leisure Class Records.
MP3: Liz Isenberg - Hello Christmas
MP3: Liz Isenberg - Two Weeks Till the Midwest