Interview: Liza Anne On Her New Album, Anxiety & Timothée Chalamet

“Maybe I’m fine, maybe I’m dying,” Liza Anne wonders in “Small Talks,” a song off her newly released third record, the aptly titled Fine But Dying. It’s a mix of sweet, '60s sounds, like on “Closest To Me” and “Small Talks,” and heavy, frenzied guitars on tracks like “Paranoia” and “I Love You, But I Need Another Year.”  In another sense, it’s whatever it wants to be. The record is a mental health narrative, its title being a lighter take on the subject matter, but Liza doesn’t shy away from the darker side of it, or as she describes it, “being nose-to-nose with my brain.” I got to speak with Liza recently, and we talked about everything from the album’s creation, to panic attacks, to the Kavanaugh hearings (she screamed, “Fuck you, Kavanaugh” onstage—an icon!) to what it’s like to be a Woman In Music™. Read our Q&A below.  

Her Campus: You played Radio City the other night. What was that like?

Liza Anne: I don’t even know how to explain it, it felt like complete electricity but complete home at the same time; it was just really, really beautiful. It was one of those spaces where you just felt the energy of everything that’s been done there before.

HC: I saw your tweet though, and I’m sorry Timothée Chalamet didn’t show up.  

Liza: [laughs] Oh my god, I know right? One day he’ll understand!

HC: Well I’d love to talk about Timothée Chalamet the whole interview but I’d also really love to talk about your album! It’s pretty different from the first two records, both musically and aesthetically, so what inspired you to make that change?

Liza: I think the change in some senses was conscious, but in another sense I started making records with my friend Zach [Dyke] when I was 18 so there’s just a natural progression with art from 18 to now when I’m 24 that just moved with me growing as a person. And I think as well that from touring the last two records, there were moments from those shows that I wanted to dive into more, like the loud, more aggressive points, and I wanted to give myself even more of an escape through writing and performing. When I started writing “Fine But Dying” I was thinking: how can I create the most visceral experience for myself? How can I have the most fun with this?

HC: I love that title, Fine But Dying, which is a lighter take on the subject of mental health that’s a serious focus on the album. How did you decide how you wanted that to be the theme?  

Liza: The album title came out of someone asking me to describe myself in three words, and I was like, “I don’t know—fine, but dying.” I kind of always tend to be existing in two extremes; I have a really hard time being a stable, middle ground person.  So as much as my mental illness is really heavy and sucks up my life, I also am living, and I can find light in those things. So with this album I wanted to not take myself too seriously, but also give myself the space to experience the darkness that I can feel really swallowed in, and performing it is this escape and healing art.

HC: I really love the song “Panic Attack.” That lyric, “Hot summer night in a turtleneck,” is such a great way to describe a sensation that I, as someone who also experiences panic attacks, find really hard to describe.  How did you manage to put it into words?

Liza: I think that what was so frustrating to me about my panic disorder was that the moment a panic attack was over, I felt so estranged from the experience that I had a really hard time understanding myself but also trying to explain what had happened to other people. ... I would so quickly shift into this panicked, out-of-body, stressed state but then 30 minutes later, it was like I was completely fine again, which was really dissociative because people would be like, "Well, I don’t understand because you were just like this and now you seem like you feel fine."

I don’t remember the scenario but it was probably one of the worst ones I had had up until that point and in the moment I decided I want to, as explicitly as I actually can, put into words what it’s like so that the next time I’m going through it I can just have this patience towards myself and my body. You can’t control what’s going on once it starts happening, but if you have more of an understanding for it, you can know it’s going to be fine eventually. And that’s the end of the song. The mantra, “Think slowly, try to remember I’m alive": that describes the terror of it but also gives me a door back into my body.    

HC: Another song on the record about mental health is “Paranoia.” I was wondering why you chose that as the first single and the intro to the album.

Liza: I think that it felt like such a door into the whole record without losing anyone too quickly. The song, in simplest terms, presents itself in a way that people immediately are like, “Whoa.” It’s a good first impression but also me being nose-to-nose with my brain in a really uncomfortable way. Originally, we were toying with the idea of putting out “Socks” or “Closest to Me” as the first single because they’re a little bit sweeter, but I wanted to kind of jar the audience that had been listening because "Paranoia" was such a departure from Two and The Colder Months that people would not question at all where the world was heading. It’s also one of my favorite songs to perform, so I wanted to get it out quickly and start performing it right away.  

HC: What song is your favorite to play live right now?

Liza: On the tour with Ray [LaMontagne] right now it’s a solo show, so I’m toying with a lot of songs that I actually haven’t played in years. Probably my favorite song to play solo is “Oceans,” which is on Two, because that one started as a poem so it always feels really meditative to sing that. As far as a playing with a full band, I really like “I Love You, But I Need Another Year” because it just kind of loses its mind at the end and feels really cathartic.

HC: Speaking of catharsis, I saw your tweet the other day that said you screamed, “Fuck you, Kavanaugh,” while playing.

Liza: Yeah, I did!

HC: I wish I could do that right now.

Liza: You should! We all should! We were in Europe the whole time that Supreme Court stuff was going on and I felt like it would’ve been really easy for me to be an ostrich and put my head in the sand, but everything boiled up that day. It was the day of Dr. Ford’s testimony, and I was just so angry. We played in Glasgow at a music festival and the sound was really strange and it wasn’t the best possible show, so when we played “Kid Gloves” I just fucking yelled at the end because I just needed that door into complete fury.

HC: This series is about women in music. Who are the women you grew up listening to, and who are you listening to right now?

Liza: I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell and The Cranberries, and I found Feist when I was like 14, so those were my initial doors into strong, female feelings. I’ve been listening to Broadcast a lot for the last six months, and also Kate Bush; she’s huge for me right now, she’s really changed my life.

HC: You mentioned The Cranberries—you just put out an EP with a cover of “Dreams,” what made you decide to do that cover?

Liza: I don’t really ever like doing covers and stepping on sacred ground like that; I would rather just listen to the song, but when Dolores passed this last year I really wanted some sort of meditative space within the set we were playing to pay mind to the thing that initially gave me a door into feeling and expression. But just getting onstage and singing "Dreams" would have in some senses felt like shitting on a really beautiful thing in my life so when we started to toy with that cover it just felt like such a sacred and calm spot in the set that we decided we should put it out. It’s just such a beautiful song.

HC: Last question: I feel like it’s sort of arbitrary to ask, “What’s it like being a woman in music?”

Liza: [laughs] I know, the quintessential question.

HC: The one guys are never asked: “What’s it like being a man in music?”

Liza: Oh my god, I wish that question was asked because there’s just no way to answer it!

HC: So I’m trying not to ask, “What’s it like being a woman in music,” but what’s it like being a woman in music right now?

Liza: No, it’s okay because as much as it’s asked, [in this interview] it’s being asked by someone who is sensitive to that space so it doesn’t feel like that same question being asked. As far as right this moment, I feel like there’s this incredible sense to the space that’s being taken up by all different types of women, and it feels like because that question is always being asked and it is such a topic of conversation, there’s a very intense sense of community and sisterhood within music right now and all forms of art. But especially for me in the music world, I just feel so empowered and so healed that I get to take up space like this every night and it feels like political activism to have a voice in front of rooms of people and kind of create a space for people to be really present to what’s going on.  And the fact that people are showing up to see a woman do that is important to me and the fact that there’s so many women really taking up that space in such a fierce way is something that makes me feel really proud to be a part of [the music industry]. Does that make sense?

HC: Of course, and thanks for answering that question that can feel kind of ridiculous in such a great way.

Liza: It’s because I’m talking to you, though. I feel like I’ve had radio interviews where some men have asked that question and I’ve felt like, "I just don’t think you can ask that question." But when you’re asking that question, you’re asking because you’re a woman and we’re all alive right now and it hurts, so let’s talk about it.  

Fine But Dying is out now via Arts & Crafts.