Lizzy Laurance is a musician born in Norwich, her work spans between the worlds of pop music and sonic arts. Apart from releasing albums and EPs she also does work with installation and performance and is quite interested in the dialogue that can exist between those two worlds.
Apart from making music she currently works two days a week in a Buddhist centre doing events organisation, and teaching music virtually in a private school. ︎ ︎
Interview date: 21.10.20
︎ Were you always interested in music?
My dad is an artist, so when I was growing up, he taught me how to draw, imparted his knowledge. I had a very happy childhood, going to the coast and going out drawing with my dad. I was always very into Visual Art when I was growing up but not so much music.
I think I became interested in [music] because my older brother's a musician, and I always thought he was really cool. But it really started when I was in my late teens. I had quite a long illness. I was bedridden for like, nine months or so. During that time, I decided to teach myself how to play the guitar and I started writing songs. It became an exciting project and there wasn't a lot else I could do. I think it helped me a lot. Before I'd been very invested in going to cool parties and, you know, wearing cool clothes. It gave me something more meaningful and more substantial to put my energies towards.
︎Did you always know you wanted to pursue a creative career?
When I was a child, I really wanted to be a person who worked on the checkout at the supermarket. I think I was really attracted to the sound that it made, like when you put the things through it's like ‘boop’. It was really satisfying to me. Then I guess later it emerged that I could make sound without the middleman of the supermarket.
I did English Literature [at uni]. I think I felt I also wanted something that was quite intellectually challenging. I really, really wanted to learn about theory and philosophy and sort of very meaty topics. I think I always felt a bit torn about not having done art. But I did find it really, really rich. And I think all of the novels that I read during that time still are kind of with me in my work, and it's definitely built a foundation for something.
︎What did you do when you graduted from uni?
Then I went to live in Spain where I taught English. But yeah, I still felt like A: I didn't know if or how I could do something creative with my life. And B: I didn't know what it was that I wanted to do. I was kind of torn between visual art, and also writing, and also music. So I made the decision when I was in Spain that I would spend one year doing each thing, and then see what it was that I wanted to do. I started doing painting, and then I was like, oh, no, I don't want to do this. And then I went onto writing and I started writing this novel and it wasn't really working. The thing that I just kept coming back to or couldn't help doing was always music.
I made the decision that I wanted to study music when I was in Spain and so I saved up money when I was there and then I came back and did a foundation course in music and then that was that. I just finished an MA at Goldsmith's. It was really exciting and also I think it gave me a lot of confidence. I always had this feeling that because I hadn't gone to a Conservatoire or studied music as my initial thing, I was always not quite confident of my skills or something like that. I think doing the MA... partly I just met loads of people from loads of different backgrounds whose practices I found really inspiring and not all of them were musically trained. And so I just felt like it's okay to come from different angles. And it's just good to have reflected back that your production skills are okay by people who you trust.
︎ Where do you work now and what kind of work do you do?
Now, I am making music. I work two days a week in a Buddhist centre doing events organisation-type stuff. Normally I would be teaching music – I teach music one to one in a private school – but we're not allowed to go in at the moment because of Coronavirus. I'm doing a little bit of online teaching but it's much less than usual.
︎ Your music feels very emotional, what’s your creative process like?
Most recently over the last couple of years I've been doing or making site specific work. So I go normally to a physical location and then I record the ambience, atmosphere and any objects that happened to be there and then my voice in the space. I'm quite interested in storytelling through music and thinking about my own experience being in this space and the way that it intersects with the other stories that are surrounding that space. It's quite immersive. And I guess the idea of working with different characters and different narratives also allows for quite a lot of dialogue and almost like inhabiting parts of myself that I wouldn’t normally.
I try to spend as much time [in the spaces] as possible. Last summer, I went to Copenhagen to stay on this dredging boat, and I was there for a month making my album. That was quite an immersive period. I feel like I became many different people. I was also alone which intensified the strangeness. It was quite scary, lots of strange sounds. The boat is like an Arts and Technology Institute, so it has loads of different workshops on all these different floors. And so there’d be men coming in and out to use power tools and things like that. So I never really knew who was around at a particular time and then I’d just bump into these people. It was really interesting.
What do you like the most about what you do?
Music. I feel like I get to inhabit this world that's mainly imaginative and emotional and that feels most like my natural habitat in a way. In my other roles I feel a bit like I'm kind of putting on a good act, but I'm not quite fully there or something.
︎ How do you stay inspired?
Listening to new music. Books. Films. I’m very into Tarkowski at the moment. Also, pop music; I’m very interested in the figure of the pop icon, what these different pop stars mean to us. It's like they kind of crystallise something like the desires or dreams of a society that’s almost kind of transcendent and I'm very interested in what stories different pop stars are telling. I think there's often one figure that's kind of lurking throughout a particular body of work. My last EP was really about Beyonce in a particular way. And then this last album has been about Lana Del Rey and partly the way she creates this character for herself that's kind of her but not her. I find her relationship to feminism really interesting.
How would you explain Lana Del Rey’s relationship to feminism?
I was reading this book called Resilience and Melancholy by Robin James and she contrasts Beyonce and Rihanna as artists. She talks about how Beyonce has this kind of marketable form of feminism where she's very empowered but she's also still very sexy and very palatable, and how we like to see women who are empowered because then we don't have to face the discomfort of inequality in society. It's like the problem is solved and we get to feel good. Rihanna on the contrary embraces melancholy much more in her work. Like everything isn't resolved, she isn't completely okay, there's still the damage inflicted partly by her relationship with Chris Brown and partly by, you know, system systemic inequality.
I feel like Lana Del Rey also has something of that melancholy. This is very core to her work, as well as it also being about these toxic relationships with bad men. I feel like she doesn't try and take on a feminist agenda, which I find quite interesting. I guess with Lana Del Rey, I was interested because her work is still very glamorised in a particular way. I was like, okay, what happens if you do that but you push it, and push it more so it's really uncomfortable? I guess that's what I'm trying to do.
Just by looking at your instagram, you seem to have a very nostalgic visual identity, is this something you planned?
I think because I was working with not just my own story but the story of the people around me, some of the events that kind of became interwoven with the work are quite recent and quite sensitive and potentially quite distressing. I wanted to find a way of getting some distance from that. I think by visually setting the work in a kind of nonspecific nostalgia, it's somehow like when fairy tales are often set in once upon a time. Vague historical olden days. Something about allowing it to have a bit more distance from the specificity of it and reflecting something back. Also just being a bit more abstract or archetypal as opposed to specific people or specific events.
I guess it also came out of the process of doing a few different performances of this work and realising that it's just really difficult to make work about sensitive subject matter. So I think aesthetically that’s had to evolve.
How do you deal with the subject of money?
I do find it really difficult particularly as a freelancer, you often have to invoice for your work and I can find that really uncomfortable. Especially if I feel like what I'm asking is too high even though in a kind of objective sense I know it's not. So I think I kind of really struggle with the idea that it's okay to earn money [laughs].
︎ How do you feel as a woman in the music industry?
I think at the moment, it feels quite mixed. In my immediate network and in the people that I see around me, I feel very well supported. There are lots of platforms that are supporting female musicians, and a general sense that equality is something to strive for and is an important agenda. But when I stray out of that bubble, I’m met with possibly how things are in a wider world. I’ve been contacting lots of blogs recently because I’ve got a single coming out and I just realised how many of the replies I'm getting are from men. I haven't felt for a long time that sense of being a bit on the backfoot because I'm a woman, and particularly being a woman making experimental music with a feminist agenda and that kind of falling on deaf ears. I think it's really strengthened my sense that these platforms that make female and non-binary artists visible are really necessary and are really important.
What is your biggest fear as a woman or woman creative?
My biggest fear is some kind of terrible dystopian patriarchal dictatorship like in The Handmaid's Tale. I think within this current realm I often fear being misunderstood. I’m often working with, like we were talking about earlier, this sense of melancholy and invoking things like objectification or violence against women or oppression. My fear is that people won't understand that there's an agenda to that. I'm trying to reflect something back and not like glamorising gendered violence. Or using things that are very sensitive in a way that's sensationalised.
Is there anything specific that you struggle with/want to improve in your practice?
It's been a very long journey for me with singing and there’s also been some kind of parallel, metaphorical journey of finding my voice as an artist. This last album has been the kind of body of work where my voice and songwriting has been most present. I want to do more of it but it's very scary because it's, in a way, the thing that's most personal and most exposing.
︎We live in a society that’s obsessed with numbers and results. So much so that we don’t value emotions, feelings and creativity as much. How do you think we can implement more of what’s normally known as our ‘feminine side’ (emotions, feelings, experiences) into our practice and our daily life?
Something that I do a lot in various contexts in my life is check ins. It's kind of like, say you've got a group of people, you each take it in terms for a couple of minutes just to say how you are. I feel partly it just helps you to be more aware of the people around you and what kind of state they might be in, but I think also – I've been doing it for like seven or eight years now – it's really also taught me much more vocabulary to talk about my emotions or my internal world, because I and other people start to understand myself much more in that way. I'm Buddhist and Buddhists have lots of meetings, and at the beginning of every meeting we check in. I've also been doing it with an artist collective who I work with. We've been co-working on Zoom during the lockdown and we've started to do little check ins as well and that's been really good.
Is there a specific thing you do just for the experience, the feeling, rather than the result?
I feel like I'm trying to find more of those things. Since lockdown particularly, I've been spending quite a lot of time in cemeteries. There's three really big cemeteries near where I live in London. I just find them really interesting and atmospheric to spend time in, in the sense that there's all these different lives and all these different stories existing. It still feels quite peaceful at the same time, like the dead are quite good company.
︎ Are there any women/non-binary creatives you look up to?
Anohni has been a really big inspiration. She used to be in Antony and the Johnsons and then she recently had a solo project. She's got this incredible voice that's kind of like Nina Simone doing opera. I think I actually prefer the stuff with Antony and the Johnsons, but her recent work has been a lot around climate change and the way that patriarchy or patriarchal attitudes towards the environment is causing climate change.
︎ What’s your dream situation in terms of your work?
Not in a Coronavirus lockdown [laughs]. I would like to have a sense that my work exists in a wider network of friends and other artists and that I'm in conversation with more people and I'm also enriched by those conversations. I’d also like to go on tour.
︎ What would you tell your younger self?
So many things. I wrote something down in response to this question, “Don't be afraid to admit what it is you truly want and following that, you'll never make the wrong decision.”
︎ What's your community like?
I have my artists’ collective that I’ve been working with for quite a few years now. It's taken us a really long time to find a way of supporting each other that works. For ages, we were doing these really ambitious events and trying to set up an art school and writing all these funding applications. We went on holiday together a couple of years ago and we were just like ‘I hate this’ [laughs]. It was some kind of administrative nightmare. We just had to stop and now we do a work share once a month where one person presents work, and then we give feedback.
︎ How has it been to be in the music industry through COVID?
I'm really lucky in that not that much has changed for me. I was working from home anyway mostly, apart from teaching. And I still have my job, which is really good. It's given me a break from life performance, which is mixed. I do enjoy performing live but I also get really bad stage fright so part of me is relieved. I think it's just really made me focus on actually releasing work. There’s different opportunities, different performances, but much less going on, which has been helpful in a particular way.
︎ What do you think about what Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said about creatives getting other non creative jobs?
It makes me sad. Because it's, again, iterating how little the arts are valued in our society. I think people in power see the arts as like a nice little rainbow sprinkle on a cake as opposed to like some kind of integral thing that helps us to understand our life and our experience. And also just frustrating that there's this kind of myth that there's like a wealth of jobs existing in the realm of cyber. It just feels frustrating. I feel like it would be possible through universal basic income to support everyone adequately and for ideological reasons that's not happening.
︎ Do you think we can learn something from this whole situation?
Probably lots of things, whether we will or not [laughs]. I think it's just a wake up call that we can't continue with our current economic system, like this myth of exponential economic growth is just no longer viable. We need to rethink value in a particular way. We often talk of people earning a living like it's something that you don't automatically deserve, that you don't deserve to have access to food or shelter or health care or education, that you need to work to get those things. But in the past we used to dream of this kind of technological future where we wouldn't have to work because robots would do everything for us. And in a way, we're kind of there, like a lot of what is needed in our society is and can be automated. But instead of enjoying the leisure time that that could potentially give us, we're working harder than ever in these jobs that are almost like made up so that someone can have a job. It just feels pretty mad.
︎ You have a new album coming out. When? And how do you feel about that?
I think my album is gonna come out hopefully early next year. I’m releasing the first single on the 31st of October, Halloween, and it’s called Famous. I’m excited and scared and I think this is the first time that I've really put energy into putting it out there, so I also feel a bit kind of exposed in some way. Like you want people to look but then then it’s like ahhh.
Thank you so much Lizzy! I loved hearing about you and your process. Can’t wait to to hear your full album!
More of Lizzy: @lizzy_laurance
Interview by Luthiem Escalona
Edited by Annabelle Mayor