Liz Longley‘s new self-titled album explores emotional byways both salty (“Skin and Bones”) and sweet (“Outta My Head”). CMT Edge spoke with the East Coast native and current Nashville resident about crowdfunding, songwriting influences and her elegant collection.
“A lot of these songs I wrote in one serious phase after I graduated from [Berklee College of Music] and was transitioning from Boston to Nashville,” Longley says. “At that point, I had gained followers in the area and I asked them for their support to make the record of my dreams with these songs.”
Read our exclusive Q&A with Longley below the CMT Edge live performance of “Bad Habit.”
CMT Edge: Did you use Kickstarter for this album?
Longley: Yeah, I launched a Kickstarter campaign and it went really, really well. We went to the studio and were able to make the record in Nashville with some of the most incredible players and an amazing studio and engineer.
So, you’d recommend using Kickstarter?
Oh yeah. It was almost like a bonding experience with these fans. We created something together and anyone who donated was able to live-stream the record. We set up a camera in the studio so they could watch the whole process. Some people stayed out of work the days we were in the studio just to watch it. It’s a really great way to connect with the people you’re making the music for.
Explain why you self-titled the record.
Well, this record finally felt like me. I mean, this is my fourth full-length — I made a lot of records in my teenage years — and it felt like, OK, I’m out of college. I’m on my own. It just felt like it was time. I want this to count as my first real record, I guess. Also I did that because there wasn’t an obvious title, a song title that was a great album title.
Describe the common lyrical theme on the album.
You know, there are definitely a lot of heartbreak songs. There are some themes of love lost.
How did “Outta My Head” come to you?
Oh yeah, so I had just broken up with my college sweetheart. We spent a lot of years together in Boston and were really good friends before we dated and there were lots of memories. When we broke up, he moved to Nashville. When I was moving out of my apartment in Boston and deciding to move — I moved to New York City first — I was pacing the floor and just finding all these things that reminded me of him. It felt like I just couldn’t get him out of my head no matter what I did.
Do you ever talk to him?
We just had kind of a full-circle moment, actually. We were recording a video of that song yesterday and he was playing guitar on it. He’s an incredible guitar player, very accomplished. We laugh at the fact that we still make music together and he has to listen to me sing all these songs about us.
Explain how these songs represent your evolution as a lyricist.
I studied songwriting in college and one of my favorite teachers was Pat Pattison, an incredible lyric-writing teacher. I wrote all of these songs after studying with him for four years. There’s definitely a lot more depth to them and smarter lyrics, more aware of where everything is and when it hits. You don’t want listeners to know how you wrote it. You want them to feel it more.
Tell the story behind writing “Skin and Bones.”
I was living in Boston at the time and I had a friend that could turn their back on a group of friends and I wrote that to get through it. It ended up being kind of bluegrassy. I thought, I shouldn’t really play that out. It’s not really in line with a lot of the music I write. I tried it out anyway and people really responded to it. It’s just a fun changer-upper.
Do you co-write much or are these all solo writes?
These are all solo writes except for “This Is Not the End.” I do go in and out of phases co-writing a lot these days in Nashville. It’s really fun, a great way to get inspired. I recently wrote with Sarah Jarosz and we had a great time. It just recharges you and gets you writing again.
People seem to have a love-hate relationship with co-writing.
Yeah! I’m glad I’m not the only one. I’m like, “I’m never co-writing again,” and then I have one good co-write and suddenly I’m hooked again.
What songwriters are you most drawn to?
Five years ago writing these songs, I was really into a ton of the Weepies and I’ve always been really into Joni Mitchell. Her lyric-writing is some of my all-time favorite. She’s a poet. I was listening to a lot of the local rootsy Boston songwriters. Obviously, time has passed and right now I’m really into Lucinda Williams. Her songwriting just blows my mind. She can pull off a chorus that says the same thing four times in a row and it still makes your stomach hurt because it resonates so deeply.
Tell the story behind writing “We Run.”
I’m from Pennsylvania and I have a very big family. My mom’s one of 10 children and I’ve got 30 first cousins on that side of my family. One of my cousins was a Marine and he was killed in 2007. He had signed on for the Marine Corps Marathon to run when he got back and when he didn’t come back, my uncle ran in his honor. The next year more people ran in his honor and for others who have given their lives. When I saw older family members crossing the finish line, it inspired me and I ran it the next year. Then I realized that we needed an anthem of sorts, so I wrote that about Travis and why we run.