Touching Base: How Liza Anne Gave Up Expectations And Embraced the Stillness of 2020

WNXP asked Nashville artists who released material during the first year of the pandemic to reflect on how they’ve adapted, what’s helped them cope and how their perspectives have changed. 

Liza Anne is a Nashville-based indie rock artist who released her fourth studio album ‘Bad Vacation’ during the summer of 2020. Liza gave up all expectations for what her album rollout should look like and instead focused on the beauty of this period of pause and grief. She was able to take the time to slow down and focus on the more important things in her life, like her friends and partner. In the midst of this stillness, she learned about the importance of mental and physical health, topics ‘Bad Vacation’ explores. Liza Anne caught up with us from a camper van in the redwood forest of California with her partner and fellow Nashville artist Josh Gilligan.

How have your priorities changed in the last year?

Liza Anne: I feel like there was no way to get out of 2020 without some major priority shifts happening, even just on the internal level of realizing what it feels like to go through collective grief with the entire globe. I’ve never experienced something like that in my lifetime, also to go from one mode of living, which for me, for the last almost eight years, has been touring full-time and movement, and these very loud expressions of emotional catharsis and healing, and new cities every night, and meeting new people, and learning how to create health in movement. 

I almost think that I spent so much time creating health in movement that 2020 was a time for me to realize, “How do I create health in the stillness as well?” I think I was forgetting what it felt like to be uncomfortably present with myself, with my mind, with my body, with things that were coming up in my life. So as much as I would never want to have another pandemic happen and that sort of grief wash over the entire globe all at once—I never want that again—but I do hope that I keep close to me the lessons of presence and slowing down and that priority shift of really taking care of my mind and my body. I feel like I lived 10 years of life and one year, and I know I’m not alone in that.

How has the whole virtual thing gone for you?

LA: To be totally candid, I really never want to do another livestream again. As far as music and performance and just the like gut of what art means to me, I think that the virtual side of things really dilutes that in a way that if I think about forever, if all the live shows were just virtual, I don’t know if this is the career I would want to have. I know the virtual thing gave a lot of people a door into artists’ minds and brains and [allowed us] to see music while we were in the pandemic, but I don’t think that’s an emotionally sustainable way for me to do music. 

As far as meetings and hangs and songwriting and all of that behind-the-scenes real-life stuff, it was amazing to be able to constantly still connect with people. I think that humans are so adaptable, and we learn how to exist pretty quickly in new environments. So I think that it was something that was positive that we could still have this connecting force through the pandemic. But I do think that with performance, you can’t recreate what it feels like to be sweating and breathing and emoting and experiencing catharsis with a room full of people. It just doesn’t feel the same when you’re in your bedroom, and the Internet’s weird, and you don’t really know the sort of sound everyone’s hearing on the other side. That’s my hot take.

What’s been the most effective way for you to stay connected to fans?

LA: I think the most effective way of staying connected with fans has been the Internet, which is this double-edged sword, because I understand that’s what we had through the pandemic. It was really amazing to see all of us using it as this safe zone of emotional process and of relief and for sharing ideas and recipes and poems and books. But like I said, you just can’t recreate a living, breathing organism. You really can’t replace what it feels like to be in a physical space with someone experiencing the same thing. There’s this thing that happens once you get to make a record and then the record gets passed through the Internet to these people and then you show up to a room and then you all experience that in one tangible moment. 

It’s so exciting to see tours being announced and people starting to get to experience that again. There’s the shared thing we all lived through and to get to return back to life with a shared language and a shared emotional experience, I think is only going to make those real-life moments feel even more sacred and even more heightened and even more cathartic. 

For me, I write a lot about my mental health and my panic disorder and my major depressive disorder, and the biggest part about it was getting to be on tour and hear people say, “Me too.” Now we’re coming out of this experience that we all collectively, and individually, had these heightened experiences of loss and grief and growth and turning into ourselves in a way that we would have never chosen. But we did it. We got through it, and now we get to get in rooms again with each other and just experience life, actual life, which is, kind of mind blowing to me.

What music has spoken to you in this time?

LA: I have been listening to all the amazing records that have been coming out throughout the pandemic, and it’s been incredible to see people continue on despite things being different. It has been so inspiring to hear all of the new music that’s been written and released in this time, because it feels like you’re listening to history as it’s happening. 

But I’ve honestly been listening to so much old music. I have fallen back in love with things that have always been a part of something I go back to a lot, but I haven’t really listened to it without being distracted. I think that’s the thing about this last year is you aren’t distracted. You’re exactly where you are, sometimes to a fault. I’ve been listening to so much ABBA and so much Kate Bush and a lot of Joni Mitchell, obviously. I’ve been listening to a lot of things from the ‘80s, specifically because I’m working on a new record right now, and I’m really inspired by different sounds and tones and drum sounds and production techniques that were being used in that time, so I’m finding myself listening to things that I’ve heard hundreds of times with an entirely different perspective.

How are you approaching the return to live performances? 

LA: I can’t wait. I can’t wait to perform again. I can’t wait to tour again. I can’t wait to be in venues and meet new people and to feel that that exchange that happens when all of the sudden something that you lived in complete isolation becomes a shared experience. And I don’t even know what that’s going to feel like.

I mean, I have played one show since the pandemic. I played Record Store Day at the Groove and it was the first and maybe only time in this way that we got to play Bad Vacation from the first song to the very last song in complete sequence. It made it feel real that I put a record out during the pandemic, because there’s something really dissociative to just putting something out and only existing on the Internet. And the Internet is not my favorite part about doing this job. So to have this moment where we were playing Bad Vacation and hearing people sing these words back to me, it was like, “Oh, I really did that. I did put it out. It wasn’t fake. It wasn’t a dream.” The idea that I get to start sharing these things with people again in my favorite way of sharing it, which is the living, breathing, sweaty part of it, I just can’t wait to tour again. And now I’m just thinking about how good that’s going to feel.

I guess the plan for in-person touring is we’re going to start touring again in 2022 and until then, we have a couple of festival dates, and we’ll play Bad Vacation as it was made to be played. [The album] will never get its exact moment that I always dreamt up, but after how a Record Store Day felt, I know that it’s going to get exactly what it needs. That experience is so special. We’re playing a couple of festivals in the fall that I think will be super magical, and I think things happen as they’re supposed to happen.

I could sit here and be like, “I wish that I had all these different things happen around this record, or I wish that I could have traveled here, played this show or done this thing,” but to be completely honest, I don’t even know if I mean that, because there’s been so much good that’s come out of the slow down. And I’ve gotten to see each of my friends and band members have these soul-deepening experiences with themselves and with their own art and with their partners. I just don’t know if I would change any of the slow down. Obviously, I would change the pain and grief that comes with something like this pandemic that we all lived through, but I wouldn’t change the fact that we all got to have a year to dive into ourselves. So I think that’s just going to make touring ten times better because we’re healthier people. We’re more whole. We’re more ourselves. It just makes me excited to make another record and to tour that or to do whatever comes with that, you know?