I was recently fortunate to have a conversation with Elizabeth Anderson, a talented singer-songwriter whose debut CD, The Stars are Falling, was recently released. We chatted about her sound, her musical inspirations, and the art of songwriting.
How did you get started with playing – and creating – music?
I started playing the piano in the second grade, and began singing in church from the very start. However it was really one of my brother’s who was considered the musician and I was much more timid about my singing voice. When I got to college I decided to take a solo class from a very positive, upbeat professor who encouraged me greatly and told me I could do it professionally. This started me taking my poetry and short story writing to the next level, and writing songs that came from my soul and that I hoped others could relate to. I found a local producer and began exploring my music on a more professional level.
How would you describe your current sound?
Folk-rock/easy-listening/soul music. I’d compare the lyrics a little to Alanis Morrissette in their candor and self-reflectiveness, other aspects like Norah Jones, Allison Krauss or Mindy Smith!
Let’s talk a bit about your songwriting process. How does a song usually develop – do you first start with the lyrics, melody, chord progression, or something else?
My writing process usually takes place in the car in crazy traffic jams! Seriously, traffic must be my greatest muse. I carry a tape recorder, and most often it is my melodies that come first…a few “da-da-da’s” into my recorder for verses then choruses gets taken home and put to words. I use the melodies as a metronome that I wrap words around — sort of like pigs-in-a-blanket.
What do you find most inspires you to write a song?
I think my life and intrapsychic rollercoasters actually inspire me the most. I find writing both words and music to be very cathartic. I work things out by pulling out the emotions and issues that intrigue me most, laying them flat and sewing them to musical notes. I come out with the very personal yet fascinating tapestries you hear on my albums.
Do you have favorite places or times where you like to write?
Los Angeles traffic!!
How long does it usually take you to write a song?
The time varies a lot. It depends if I break it up into traffic-inspired melodies and home-inspired lyrics; or if I have a tune pop into my head that needs words right away. I’d say at most a couple of hours and at least, 20 minutes.
What do you think is the relationship between lyrics & poetry?
Oh, for me, lyrics are the poetry of my life! I actually started out wanting to be a writer as I was growing up. I loved writing stories and poems; in fact I wrote a novel length story when I was in the 6th grade. But when poetry turns into lyrics…or in other words, becomes attached to the musical notes themselves, they began to dance. The inflections, dimensions and iridescence of words being pulled along by a melody gives them a greater depth and brings them to life in a completely new way.
What instruments do you play, and which ones do you compose songs with?
I play the piano and I play my vocal chords. Although being that I don’t currently own a piano or keyboard, and that I’m inspired when I’m stuck in the car, I usually write with my vocal chords alone!
Got any favorite gear you’d like to tell us about?
Just my killer, $20 Walmart tape recorder. It rocks.
Do you find recording to be a challenge that you enjoy?
I love being in the studio. I’ve been afforded some amazing opportunities to record and explore my musical self with a great deal of autonomy, thus far.
The challenge is only trying to perfect which cannot truly be perfected, but coming as close as you possibly can. I find the mistakes and quirks in songs that make them sounds real, organic, and human, the best part of any recording. That said, having the right equipment, particularly the right kind of mic’s to capture the sounds just so, are extremely useful!
I’m interested in your musical roots – which musicians and songwriters have been the greatest influence? What are your favorite albums?
Oh, it seems like there have been so many! When I was a kid, I listened to a great deal of “the oldies”, meaning rock n roll from the 50′s and 60′s. Through my family, I was also exposed to old country gospel as well as John Denver, Peter, Paul and Mary and James Taylor. When I got older I started listening to Alanis Morrissette, Jewel, Fiona Apple, Ryan Adams, Norah Jones and Mindy Smith. Put these all in a pot, stir them up, and these are my greatest influences.
Who are your favorite current songwriters or musicians? Can you turn our readers on to someone they may not have heard of yet?
I’d say currently, my favorites are Ryan Adams and Mindy Smith. They are both intuitive and creative artists, who are not afraid of cutting their own paths and sticking to what they love. Their sounds are original, organic and rustic.
What do you think about the internet as a tool for promoting yourself & your music?
I think the internet is insanely useful for promoting things like me and my music. My album has been distributed through Tunecore for awhile now, and even with little promotion such as this thus far, it has been heard and noted by many! I have had a series of websites for many years now, and each one has been extremely successful in accomplishing my goals every time.
What are your plans & hopes for the future with regard to your music?
I’m just along for the ride! I would love to continue moving forward with my music…continuing to make albums and relating to a diverse set of people from all over the world. That’s one thing I like most about creating and sharing music: finding out we are all much more alike than we thought, despite our differences. I hope that my music can find people in bright and dark corners and bring them out. I’d love to touch the people who are on their own rollercoasters in life and feel like maybe I’ve been even the tiniest voice of help in the distance.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us here at Empty Mirror, Beth!