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HillyTown Q&A: Lisa/Liza’s Liza Victoria

First of all, we just want to congratulate to both Lisa/Liza and Kaki King, as their show tomorrow at SPACE (Saturday, February 28, 8:30 p.m.) sold out yesterday.

We were lucky enough to sit down with Lisa/Liza’s Liza Victoria earlier in the week as she prepared for the show and talked about everything from the portrayal of women within the Portland music community to our age of perfected nostalgia via through the internet. And like every good music article in the last year, Beyoncé.

Lisa/Liza’s newest release The First Museum was released in November and is available on Bandcamp through Pretty Purgatory as both a physical and digital release.

Lisa/Liza photo by Kevin Steeves/Grace Hager

“This isn’t my favorite Stevie Wonder Record — it’s not ‘Songs In the Key Of Life’ but that’s a totally great cover,” Lisa/Liza on Stevie Wonder’s “Hotter Than July” at Moody Lords in downtown Portland. Liza will be playing a sold out show with Kaki King this Saturday at SPACE located at 538 Congress St. PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Steeves/Grace Hager


HillyTown: Tomorrow you’re going to be playing a show opening for Kaki King at SPACE. Is this the largest audience you’ve performed in front of, and what size to you, is ideal to perform at?

Lisa/Liza (Liza Victoria): I think this will probably be the most number of people at once that isn’t a situation like when I played at Northside Festival a few years ago, because that was a festival there were a lot of people coming and going. Right now at this moment I like playing in smaller venues because it’s a little easier to control the sound.

But I have found that there is a little more anxiety with less people in the audience. Like when I play at house shows it’s a lot more personal and intimate because you’re performing and talking to people who can at times be right in from you when you play. But the variables at house shows like sound, set-up and who you’re going to be playing with can just be so unexpected and resolved last minute.

I haven’t gotten to the point where I read the crowd before I go on. So for times that I’ve played after an experience like AFRAID, I just sort of go out and do my own thing. There was a show where it was a little difficult where the billing was Video Nasties, AFRAID and then me — because everyone has been dancing and is totally vibing or something; and then I go on and do my thing and it’s a little strange to be sure.

HT: For those who know you personally, you’re quite reserved and quiet. What spurred your decision to perform your own music live in front of people?

LV: It really started as kind of a personal challenge to myself, because of all the social anxiety that I naturally have, but I also really like music. So combining the two in part was a way to deal with my social anxieties and do what I love and find comfort it.

HT: Your latest release The First Museum was your first working with Peter McLaughlin’s Pretty Purgatory collective and label. You’ll be joining a roster with the likes of Jacob Augustine, Butcher Boy and, of course, The Milkman’s Union. What made you want to become involved with the project?

LV: I had worked with Peter and Butcher Boy lots of times before — Peter just explained the idea behind Pretty Purgatory to me and I just really liked the idea behind it. I love the Portland music scene and thought it needed something like this for a long time. While I do a lot of stuff on my own, but the more help you can get, I think, the better. We all help each other.

HT: What have the benefits of working with Pretty Purgatory been so far, even in its early stages?

LV: I’ve always really liked working with Butcher Boy — they have always been super supportive of me and it creates this sort of camaraderie. We have done some shows and a little music together, and I really like seeing our stuff together on the same label.

Pretty Purgatory also gives people a starting point for a lot of Portland music. In the past, the city seemed to be sort of divided musically, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me because it’s not like a lot of people live and perform music here. Everyone is pretty independent here, of course, but I like have something like Pretty Purgatory where we help each other out and can watch each other grow, develop, and learn along the way.

HT: I know most musicians usually say “my latest album” when they are asked what release they are the most proud of to have released. And I hope you’ll excuse me for doing the same thing.

LV: I’ve recorded a lot, and I think as a musician you’ve always got an idea in your head about what you want your music to ideally sound like — and I do think that The First Museum has come the closest to that ideal of what I want to sound like right now.

I had been writing this album across the span of two years, and then recorded it live in one take with Peter which was great. So, I think this album has been my favorite in that it captures what I want to do songwriting-wise.

HT: Each subsequent album you’ve released gets more and more press and likely listeners. Do you see yourself putting more pressure on yourself as this happens?

LV: Naturally, the more people that are interested in it — you want to please them in someway. But, it’s not like it’s a huge group still, so I still have a lot of fun and get enjoyment out of it.

HT: What were you listening to when you were writing The First Museum or do you avoid listening to music when you’re writing and recording? Do you ever see or hear what you’re listening to coming through and influencing what you’re writing at the time?

LV: I was actually listening to a lot of different music at the time I was recording than  — a lot of pop music though, more pop than I usually listen to on a regular basis. Listening to all that pop definitely influenced the album in some indirect way.

For example, for awhile I was listening to a lot of Freak Folk and stuff like that, and a lot of my earlier and less successful music definitely shows that.

HT: What are you listening to now, a few months after the release of that album, and do you see it creeping into anything?

LV: I kind of have been listening to a lot more pop still, like I mentioned before. Honestly, I’ve been listening to a lot of Beyoncé recently, I just think it’s so interesting. But, there isn’t really any influence that I’m noticing — it’s still way too far of a jump for me, even as she grows as an artist. But the video aspect that she did for all of her songs was really intriguing on her last album. And that album is more than just a pop album now — it’s a piece of art in a way.

Something I have noticed though in pop is that more mainstream artists are making albums that are purposefully nostalgic, sound-wise. I’ve been listening to a lot of Blood Orange, for example, and he’s very much contemporary pop, but he plays around with early 90’s sounds and just a little Prince. But, it’s this nostalgia that doesn’t really exist — everyone is so obsessed with the 90s right now, but I wasn’t even a teenager in the 90s but I have this weird, filtered nostalgia for it. So, in a way, I sort of think it’s kind of inauthentic.

HT: It’s sort of the same way with bands like Of Montreal and Foxygen.

LV: Right, a lot of these musicians weren’t even alive during the original psychedelic rock phase, but they have this attachment to it. Like that “Oh that was the time” it’s sort of neat though because it’s a retrospective and perfected nostalgia. You feel like you’ve heard it before even if you haven’t — I’m a little torn though with the 80’s sounding stuff because it can all sound the same but I like it.

Personally, I like it because culturally it’s really reflective of where we are today as a culture. You have the internet and all these different time frames instantly at your disposal now. It’s a unique thing that we haven’t had before, and for the most part it is done really well combining newer and older sounds.

HT: Many reviews and articles about your music pushes the soft and delicate nature of your music, how do you react to something like that? It can definitely be seen as positive or negative depending on the musician.

LV: I like it being received as something that’s not in your face, immediate or abrasive. To me, it’s always surprising because when I’m working on music, I sometimes worry that it might be too weird for people.

But it’s a little frustrating when people say that they can’t hear me, especially when I perform live. Because a lot of people think it’s not on purpose, that I’m not singing loudly because I can’t, but it’s a conscious choice — to not belt it live. When I was younger, I was in a folk punk band and did scream a little more and try to be more abrasive. But I’m trying to work on my vocal range and abilities so it’s very conscious.

HT: How does it make you feel when people discuss your music and say it’s basic, wispy, amateur and stripped down?

LV: It doesn’t really bother me all that much until they use the term “amateur” like that I don’t consciously know what I’m doing. But, I like the stripped down sound.  Like I said before, I’m not accidentally making these choices — it’s very much what I am consciously going for.

HT: The adjectives that a lot of people use when discussing your music are, as mentioned before delicate, wispy — they all seem to be inherently feminine. Instead of talking about your music on an equal level they talk about it as a gendered entity. Do you see your music as gendered?

LV: I don’t think of my music as being gendered, but it’s more about how you’re treated when you’re performing that bothers me. The gendered stuff — like if people make a big deal out of me being female when I perform. Or when other bands I don’t really know or promoters offering unwanted and unsolicited advice because of my gender.

I’ve had issues in the past, sometimes I feel like a lot of bills are male-centric and then there is me. So, it’s a little too much at times when everyone is trying to be overly helpful thinking I don’t know what I’m doing. Or if you tell them you perform music it’s very often like “Let me guess, you’re a woman with an acoustic guitar and you sing solo?”

HT: I wrote a review of your last album and even caught myself using inherently feminine terms and comparisons. It wasn’t intentional — but it unfortunately happened and I compared you directly (and somewhat lazily) to Joanna Newsom. What are your thoughts on musical journalism when they directly compare women to women, men to men, but rarely the two meet in comparisons?

LV: I think it makes sense sometimes, like if it’s an appropriate comparison to draw.

I’m not mad at all men, it doesn’t bother me that much that everyone thinks that my music is thought of as inherently feminine. There was an article awhile ago about women in the Portland music scene and I was so happy to know that someone thought to write about that, but I felt that I was being portrayed as whiny.

In the interview they talked to a lot of female musicians in Portland and their opinion about the community and most of them said that they felt a lot of support. I think a lot of people thought my take was that I was whining but that wasn’t my point. My point was that I was trying to encourage more of my peers to consider listening to women’s musicians and including them in the scene more.

I know so many women who write and sing that actually don’t perform live and put themselves out there and participate. I think they might feel a little dissuaded because they don’t want to go to a show with a bunch of bros.

My main intention was to say that there would be shows that I would play with like 20 acts, and I’d be the only lady on the bill and I would think “That can’t be right, I know there are more women out there that could be on the bill.” I just thought that something had to be going on here — I just want equality more than anything.

(Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been edited due to length, clarity and content)

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