Liz Green truly brings something different to the realm of folk music; a fact that was clear enough when we caught up with her to gain a little knowledge into what the Manchester-based artist gets up to when she's not on tour and where some of the inspiration lies in her music.
Liz Green has a uniqueness that can be admired on all music spectrums and she welcomes everybody to form their own messages from her new album 'Haul Away' due out April 14th 2014 through [PIAS] records.
Contactmusic: Hi Liz, you have a new album out in April, what can you tell us about it?
Liz Green: It came about because the label asked me to write another album, which was really nice because I wasn't expecting the first one to do well enough to make another. I wasn't consciously writing an album; it wasn't like the first one where I already had a title and a track order and a cover about five years before the actual release. I'd been playing some of the songs from the second album whilst playing the first album so if people have been to see me live, some of the songs will sound really familiar; some of them I have been playing for about three years. The songs really came together just by playing together before we went into the studio. We would practice together, and then in between sessions it would hit me and I'd think, "That song works with that one", it was like I had thought about them together when actually I hadn't at all. There were lots of themes about travel, but most people are more than welcome to choose their own themes in my songs.
CM: I have heard people talk about nautical/escapism themes in the album as well as communication; were there any other themes you felt came through on the album?
LG: Whilst recording there was definitely a sea theme, actually. There's quite a lot of water in music, whether it's watery because it's a bit sad or because I missed my home. I also spent about three years travelling with the first album, under water and over water using various ships and planes and I think that element kind of fell into it sub-consciously. I've been working solely as a musician since 2008 which is really good. I have two best friends who play cello and saxophone and we have done around four tours of Germany and we also played in America. We were really grabbing all the opportunities we could and it's a long time to be away. I guess the themes of friendship and family and being away were an undercurrent in the album too, which sounds really naff but all the themes of communication are true.
CM: What were you thinking about whilst in the process of writing the songs?
LG: I don't tend to think very much whilst writing songs, which makes me sound quite stupid. I might scribble down some words and then come back to them later and think they are s*** and put them in a drawer - if I like them then I'll use them. I was thinking about where I grew up. I've lived in Manchester for twelve years but when I was younger I lived by the sea; pretty much a minute away on the edge of the world. I lived on The Wirral, West Kirby - it's not too far from Liverpool, but it's quite isolated. It's the little things I think about now and I kind of think, "Wow, we were allowed to do that", because people would never let their kids do that now. We were quite feral, running around the sand dunes on the beach where we would have parties and get drunk. There was something very beautiful about it; especially the beautiful sunsets you can just run out to. You could literally run to the edge of land, and that's a really nice thought; as well as knowing there's hell of a lot of stuff out there. I have a lot of friends, who still live there and they enjoy it, but for me it is a little stagnant.
CM: Are there any songs on the album that have particular story behind them?
LG: One of the songs is a story that I read in a newspaper and it's called 'Bikya'. It's about the language being lost. In the article it said that it was dead, however it wasn't; there were about four other people still speaking the language. Certain forms of language burn out every day, and in the article a language professor claimed that the lady was the last speaker of her particular form of Bikya. I took that element and thought about what it's like to be the last person on earth. Cheery!
CM: How long did it take to write the album?
LG: Well, I wrote the last song for the album on the way to the studio in the van whilst everyone else was listening to Black Sabbath, which is quite an interesting way to write. I quite like the pressure of having to write and making decisions with it on the spur of the moment. So we had some of the songs floating around there, and then to complete it probably took around a year.
CM: Where do you feel more comfortable writing?
LG: I very rarely write on tour, mainly because I am too hungover and there's always a lot of other stuff going on. My band write whilst on tour, I concentrate on playing. and drinking. The downtime of touring is usually interviews. Writing in a van is not conducive; you end up getting shook up like an etch-a-sketch and your insides just feel really weird. I do write most stuff at home. In fact, I have just been playing my new guitar and complaining because it's not as good as my other guitar. My old guitar is one that is being held together with gaffer tape. It doesn't stay in tune which makes it very hard for the band and it's pretty much on its last legs. It cost my dad £20 and it's the only guitar I've ever had. The new one is a Martin and I didn't want one when I walked into the shop because everyone gets a bloody Martin; but it was the nicest guitar in the shop. I feel guilty putting it next to my old battered guitar.
CM: There were a lot of instruments such as saxophones and cellos etc. on the album; was it a complex recording process?
LG: Everyone on the album is a very good friend of mine, I am very lucky that I have great friends that are really good at playing their instruments. It's the same people who did my first album, except I have my best friend Hannah on there and another friend who plays in a small band from Manchester called Honey Feet. We've been playing for so long, it really wasn't much different for us recording. When we play live we like to have a good time and it doesn't really matter if you miss a chord or whatever; I generally think that's OK. Most of the album is recorded live, everyone was all in the same room looking at each other and saying, "That sounded f***ing terrible" and the sound room guys were in there saying, "Guys that sounded great, do you want to have a listen?", but then when we listened back it sounded cool and like a band.
CM: You've previously said that you find studios quite a sterile place.?
LG: I have been into a few professional recording studios and I have found them quite sterile. I do understand why people build them like that but I don't understand why they need to have such little personality. I ended up recording with a guy called Liam Watson who runs one of the fully analogue studios in the UK. It's based in London and it's called Toe Rag Studios, it's like recording in a little cave. He has built it himself and some of the mic stands are actually old lamp stands from the fifties. He has a sound desk that he is building himself, but the one we used was the old one from Abbey Road or the BBC I think, I know it's a very old one. It has such character; it's small, it's wonky and the floor is clearly not level. He has painted it all himself and he was telling me all about the old tape machines. He is really enthusiastic about his work so I let him talk even though I have no idea what he's saying.
CM: I believe you are very interested in the aspect of story-telling; do you get any inspiration from poets or authors?
LG: Yeah, I get loads. 'Haul Away' is a mixture of tied up bits brought together in a little box really. Going back to the inspiration, some of it is based around a story that I read a long time ago when I worked in a book shop and got lots of free books. I found a book by an Israeli author called Etgar Keret, who doesn't write about the beef with Palestine etc. Instead, he writes very short stories and I link that to songwriting and trying to get lots of ideas into something that is smaller. One of his stories is called 'Pipes', and it's about people finding their way to a place away from where they are originally stuck or if they don't fit in in their own lives. The guy in it is a pipe builder, and this one has twists and turns. So he puts a marble into it and it doesn't come out. So he builds a man-sized replica of the pipes and he enters and he doesn't come out of the other end, and comes out into a special land.
CM: You have some rather colourful stories about your ancestry such as having relatives who were executioners, what was the impact on you to finding out that information?
LG: I have more that have come out now too, it's brilliant. I was wondering why it took so long for things to come to light as it is absolute gold dust. The executioner is a story that we are not entirely sure of because it must have gone through generations of the family but there is speculation. Another story I heard of was about my granddad who served in the Navy and he dove into the sea surrounding Russia to save one of his friends whose ship had been attacked. One of his friends was on fire and he fell in and he jumped in after him as well. Everybody's granddad's were heroes and they usually sit there with their cardigans and looking smart.
CM: What do you like to do when you are not making music?
LG: In my spare time I like to make music because I found that a lot of music is administration work. Probably about 95% of it is that and 5% is playing which can get quite frustrating. I think that if it wasn't so necessary to have social media then it would be out of my life. Facebook and things are very easy to communicate with fans and people who want to know what you are up to. I really like to draw, go bike riding and drinking wine!
CM: Do you know which profession you would have taken up had music not been the road you went down?
LG: I used to work at a secondary school for kids with special needs or, as I think they are, geniuses who needed help controlling their genius. They were kids who needed extra help, whether that is physical or just some extra tuition. It's so strange being around kids and realising how old you seem to them. Children would shout, "Hey Mrs Green" and I would just laugh and say, "What do you mean Mrs Green? I'm twenty-three and about seven years older than you".
CM: You have a few dates lined up for gigs this year, are there any festivals you would like to play?
LG: I would like to play at Glastonbury, mainly so I can go to Glastonbury! Festivals are the hard part of gigging. They can get quite crazy, especially with a band that likes to party. I remember running around last year asking if anybody had seen my band, and this was half an hour before we were going on. A few of them I found asleep so I poured cold water on them, and then we got on stage and the sound guy asked me who was meant to have the saxophone, I just laughed and said, "I have no idea where his is!".
CM: Obviously you have the new album out soon, but what else does 2014 hold for Liz Green?
LG: My diary is quite full right now, so it looks like a lot of touring. I have set this year apart from others as the 'touring' year. There's other interesting stuff like my brother is getting married which is exciting. I haven't really thought too far past that point.
CM: Thanks for the interview, Liz.
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