'Big Heart, Big Hopes, Big Dreams'
Liz Carlisle is a poster child for a new generation of country music, a true renaissance woman who quotes George Jones as effortlessly as George Washington and George Orwell. Born and raised in Missoula, Montana, the 23-year-old singer/songwriter recently graduated from Harvard University, where she became an award-winning undergraduate scholar in ethnomusicology. Far from leaving her roots behind, however, Liz chose to study American music. And she brought her boots, hat, and guitar with her. She’s a young woman with Big Dreams, an apt title for her first release on Wildground Records.
Just released this past May, less than a year after Liz gave the undergraduate address at her commencement, the compelling, multi-faceted recording was co-written and produced by Carlisle’s longtime collaborator, Russell Wolff.
Liz has already scheduled nearly 20 tour dates this summer, including several large music festivals (including the Moondance Country Jam in Walker, Minnesota and the Bethlehem Musikfest in Pennsylvania) and opening spots for well-known country acts like Josh Turner, Billy Currington, Jack Ingram, The Wreckers, Heartland and Lonestar. The line-up of dates will be announced shortly.
Both Liz’s music and the way in which her career developed say much about the modern audience for country music. The young singer/songwriter began as a darling of the acoustic music scene in Cambridge, a storied hotbed of sixties folk music that has since launched the careers of artists like Tracy Chapman and Jewel. As her career developed, however, she was equally comfortable opening large stage shows for major country artists in both rural and urban communities across the United States.
Taking it from the top and what were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? "James Taylor via my father. Dad played guitar and sang and did excellent versions of "Something in the Way She Moves" and "Close Your Eyes." He also did some Tom Paxton, Joni MItchell - other great songwriters of the late 60s and early 70s. Dad later taught me to play the guitar - fingerstyle - and that rhythm is still very much with me."
""Upstream" and "Rest for a While" off the new record are straight out of that vibe from my childhood. Then there was country radio - another source for great songwriting that I started tapping into as a teenager (when I could drive and listen to the radio). In college, I would look up chords online, so I could play through my favorite country songs between classes. That led to a lot more writing - and I finally got to the point where I could play through 1-5-4 without having to look it up online."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your new CD, how would you yourself describe your sound? "Story songs with a little twang. Pop, country, and acoustic music are all in there."
Your album title 'Big Dreams' is an interesting choice, but perhaps it has more of a personal meaning to you?! "It's a lyric from "Where Do We Go,' which is track 7. But it didn't just show up in my lyrics out of nowhere. I think "Big Dreams" are what songs tap into. Many times we are able to sing what we can't speak. Music gets at deep parts of us that we might otherwise neglect. As a girl from Montana who went to Harvard, I want to encourage people to pay attention to their Big Dreams - and I hope my music can help."
The front cover shot of you with a rich blue sky behind you is rather invigorating ... where was it shot and what were you thinking at the time? "That was shot in Scottsdale, Arizona, along with most of the other photos from the CD art. I actually thought about all those things from the last question during that shoot - I wanted to say with my expression and my body what I was getting at in that title. Most of my school photos were terrible, but there was this one from second grade where I'm looking up and I look so hopeful - in a sort of strong and yet innocent way. My eyes are all sparkly. That's the feel I was going for with the Big Dreams shoot."
It's been said that you are the poster child for a new generation of country music ... how does that sit with you?! Feeling any pressure at this early stage perhaps? "I studied ethnomusicology in college, so I enjoy thinking about my place in a larger musical culture or movement. I don't think I am the definitive representative of this new generation or anything, but I think there are many people who are surprised to see a young person choose to both 1)study at Harvard and 2)go into country music."
"And I think we're talking about something bigger than just my own little biography here. Country music has become a huge force outside it's original regional and socioeconomic base. I think it's one of America's great art forms. So it's not weird for a kid from Montana to go to Harvard and then become a country singer. Other Harvard people don't look down their noses at me at all."
How easy (or hard) is it to constantly create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderment's/accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "That sounds very hard indeed. If I got up every morning and thought about that, I'd probably quit. Too daunting! I think all we can do as artists is just do our level best to be ourselves and create something authentic - meaning something that is actually expression and not a mechanical combination of musical and lyrical elements. My producer often reminds me not to try to hard - either with singing or with writing, and I think he's got a point. More often than not, my brain just gets in the way."
Please tell us more (in a quick fashion!) about what was going on in your life when these songs were being written and recorded:
'Let Me Be The One' - "Fresh out of college, starving artist idealism."
'Maybe In The Next Life' - "Written after six consecutive hours of small talk. I am terrible at long parties. I desperately needed to say something direct, so I wrote the song."
'Upstream' - "I was in college, and I had just watched the movie Friday Night Lights. I had planned on going to sleep hours ago, but I felt inspired, so I went downstairs to a practice room in my pajamas. I had to beg the security guard to let me stay there past midnight and finish writing the song."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today ... and why?! ""Holiday" - my all time favorite Madonna track. This is the song I always turn on when I have a lot of miserable housework to do. It gives me that boost of energy."
Lastly, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "Yes! In fact, funny you should ask. The mascot for my house (dorm) at Harvard was the penguin. Go Quincy penguins."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win a SIGNED copy of Liz's new CD, just answer this easy question: Although Big Dreams is destined for even more national attention, Liz's first full album, also produced by Wolff, garnered much praise – particularly for an independent debut. Released in 2005 what was the name of that album?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these wonderful new SIGNED CDs. Just send us an e:mail here with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: LIZ CARLISLE SIGNED CDS to:
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