The Journey Back Home to Georgia
“Salt” reached number two on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz chart in 2004. Her second album, “Dreaming Wide Awake” was released in June 2005 and reached number one on the Top Contemporary Jazz chart in 2005 and 2006. “The Orchard” was released in 2008 and has received positive reviews.
Lizz has said that “music is about the journey.” Her albums reflect different parts of her journey through life. “Salt” was very much reflective of her life before her record deal and growing up singing both gospel and choral music. It also expresses her excitement about a rather newly discovered interest in jazz music. “Dreaming Wide Awake” went a different route and was an album which reflected the type of music she was actually listening to on a regular basis at that time. “The Orchard” started out as an attempt to capture the feelings and memories of home. On a recent visit back, she had taken pictures of the land where she was born and raised, thinking that she would make a record about it. The album’s name was inspired by a huge orchard located near her grandmother’s with rows and rows of old trees. As it turned out, only a couple of songs on the album represented her trip back home. The rest really went in a different direction. But she was pleased to have written over half of the songs for the album.
Her latest album, “Fellowship,” continues her journey back home to her gospel roots, to childhood memories and to the fellowship shared with family, fellow artists and musicians and the many friends she has connected with along the way.
SJM: What inspired the album “Fellowship?”
Lizz: With “Fellowship,” I wanted to put some songs on a record that sounded like the gospel I grew up hearing and doing with my family. It’s been great. I felt like it was a good time to get that in. I’m really excited to get home and finally share it with the people who inspired it.
SJM: You’ve said that “music is about the journey.” Where do you find yourself at this point in your journey?
Lizz: At this point in my life, I don’t know if I can totally answer for where I’m at....
SJM: It’s always a moving target, isn’t it?
Lizz: Yes, it is honestly. I feel like music is taking me back home in a way, but because of everything else that I’ve done, I feel like I can pay attention better to where I came from and how we did it. For instance, I had a gig recently that I did at a small college in Minnesota and I only took two guitars and a drummer. I really wanted to try to go back to finding that front porch sound but have it still feel full and still be entertaining because that’s the scale of music that I hear and enjoy at home when I visit. I’m really pushing myself to learn what it is that makes a musical experience feel full and really entertaining. It’s not the amount of notes played or how complicated it is or the amount of musicians playing, and I just want to make sure I remember how to make it feel full and be a real ride even as a stripped down experience. I’ve been promoting “Fellowship” with that in mind by taking the band in smaller configurations.
SJM: I’ve heard you say in making this album there was a real sense of fellowship with your family, friends and fellow musicians. Tell us a little more about that....
Lizz: Yes, absolutely. My family loves the record. And also, I was really blessed that Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon wanted to be a part of it. She heard the gospel medley and knew what I was going after and she knew it from the roots, you know, and she wanted to sing on it. And it was really amazing to be in the studio with her and watch her take this recording that was already “done” and sing along with it and keep changing her voice a little bit and keep moving the way she was swinging just a little bit every take and she made the whole thing swing harder. It was really wild! Dr. Reagon has worked with the Smithsonian in curating and organizing a lot of music from the civil rights era, a lot of work songs and that kind of stuff. She’s done a lot of writing and presentations on that kind of thing. So she’s a historian and to watch a historian sing what she knows was really amazing.
SJM: How do you feel about collaborating with other people as opposed to a solo project?
Lizz: I’m very involved in all aspects of the music from singing and songwriting to choosing songs and moving through arrangements in the studio. But I also do choose to work with musicians and producers who are into collaboration and fellowship. And I don’t want to miss out on the chance to get the best offering from everybody who’s in the room. If I over-direct them, they’re going to give me what I ordered, but they probably have something really unique to contribute. I think that’s the way I like to lead. I like to invite people to do their own research so they understand what I’m going after and advise me as to what’s the best that they can bring. I like that trust and I like giving people the authority to be that engaged. When you play with great musicians, that kind of freedom is completely appropriate. I like to give direction, but with some air to give people room to respond.
SJM: Do you have any dream collaborations in mind? Is there someone you would really love to work with?
Lizz: There are a lot of people, but someone who comes to mind when you ask that question is a Panamanian pianist named Danilo Perez. He’s a very special musician. We’ve done a few things together over the years. I wrote a song for him years ago, and we’ve played together in some live performances, but I really want to do a project with him. He’s very percussive; he’s a musician who can play one instrument and make a lot of stuff happen. You really experience a sense of orchestration with what he’s doing. He has a very animated sense of music and it’s very beautiful. I love playing with him!
SJM: You’ve been honing your craft as a songwriter and composer. Is this something you see yourself doing more of in the future? Continuing to write songs for yourself and for others?
Lizz: Yes, I will always be writing. Part of being a good writer and good interpreter of song is also to introduce to the world the work of some great writers whose voice really is a pencil. It’s really good to go find great writing from people who aren’t pop stars. There’s some amazing stuff out there, and I feel it’s important to bring their work to life and to always be studying the craft.
SJM: Do you feel a pull in one direction over the other between singing and songwriting?
Lizz: I think you should feel lucky if you can do either or both. If you can interpret a song and tell someone’s story very well in a way that honors the person who wrote it but it’s also your moment... that’s fantastic! Songwriting is a very special craft and there aren’t enough people who are great at it. I want to continue to work to get better. I will be writing more in the future, but I honestly don’t pressure myself about it. I’m writing an arching story and finding material from wherever and if it doesn’t exist then I will make sure I write it.
SJM: You’ve been singing your whole life. Do you feel like this is really what you were born to do? Or is there much more?
Lizz: I see myself primarily as a singer because I just can’t do anything else quite as well. But I’m trying very hard to convince myself that I’m a good cook! I think it’s great to have more than one medium of creativity. I'm also interested in music as a form of therapy. It’s something that has always piqued my interest personally. I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything with it, but I do a lot of research on my own time trying to understand what people have discovered about using music as part of medical treatment and emotional therapy. But yeah, I can’t seem to do anything quite as well as I sing. And I’m thankful for that!
SJM: What do you find to be your greatest source of inspiration?
Lizz: I feel that living my life and making sure I have a grounded living experience is really important to me no matter what I come up with musically because I feel like a grounded life of connection is a source for all the other stuff. I really have to feel and hear ordinary stories in order to really feel something deeper or to really be inspired to write. So I try to have a good balance, a real life, real friends, real accountability and real engagement in life.
SJM: So you tend to draw inspiration for your songwriting more from real life experiences? You aren’t just daydreaming or making stuff up? You like to write about things you’ve actually experienced, felt and lived through?
Lizz: Absolutely! I feel that what we do as songwriters and as singers is we act as ambassadors of the human spirit through different places in time, different cultures and different people’s stories. I love the idea that someone can work a long, hard day and then come hear me sing and remember that this is all worth it. As complicated as it is, this is great. Just being here. That’s a wonderful thing to call a job being able to leave somebody with that at the end of the day and have a hold of it yourself.
SJM: I wanted to ask about your other musical talents. You play the piano and guitar. Have you picked up any other instruments along the way and will we be seeing you play more in the future?
Lizz: No, that time that I should be spending at a piano or with a guitar in my arms I’ve been spending in the kitchen. Like right now I’m making breakfast. I’m roasting poblano peppers that I’m going to stuff with a seven grain mix, leeks from the garden and mushrooms and tomatoes. I’m totally doing the wrong things.
SJM: I know how that goes though; just too many things you want to do and too little time huh?
Lizz: Well it’s all connected for me. In my brain it all works together.
SJM: I know that you love gardening and recently finished culinary school. What is it that you love about gardening, cooking, writing, singing... and sharing these gifts with others? How are all of these things interconnected for you?
Lizz: It’s all art. Cooking is all about practicing order and recognizing balance. It’s an art that nourishes directly. I’m moved by fellowship and by interaction and food is a wonderful language to share with people and a great way to connect with people. When you’re coming off the road and you don’t want to talk to your friends at home about the strangeness of road life because it just sounds all glorious to them and they can’t relate...just cook a big meal and sit down together and like reset. I just love the process of creating and how all of these things nourish and bring people together.
Lizz: I figure if I can manage to keep up with these things and get even better at them and manage not to spread myself too thin, I’ll probably be alright.
Lizz's Website HERE!
Click COVER for magazine
page layout views