“Mermaid,” which dropped last week, sets a beautiful, bluesy tone for a new wave of Lizzie and the Makers’ music.
Since their (accidental) inception in the early 2010s, Lizzie and the Makers have worked diligently to bridge the gap between what a band within the New York City music scene is supposed to be and what a band within the New York City music scene could be. Their sound is dark without being overtly melancholy and psychedelic without being too out of the box. The deep, musical balance they’ve created is perfect, even if that meant Miss Lizzie Edwards herself had to shed some of her perfectionist tendencies to get there.
As a frontwoman, Edwards is filled with magic. Her soulful voice rips and roars above sonic and groovy instrumentation time and time again, filling a void many listeners and concert-goers didn’t even realize was empty. Clever lyrics and novel musicality only aid to the powerful, feminist wisdom that drips from Edward’s entire persona – both on and off the stage. With a new single out and a sophomore LP (Dear Onda Wahl) on the way, Lizzie and the Makers are gearing up for an all new era of lively rock music, immense talent, and Big Apple-style enthusiasm.
It’s clear that New York City has played a large role in your career, as both an artist and performer, but in your own eyes and through your own experiences, how has being a staple NYC act influenced your music and style?
Well, I guess I’d have to start with growing up. I was lucky to have a father that was also a musician and really loved live music, so at an early age – I would say like 11 – I was going to concerts with him. It was really a combination of rock concerts. He’s a big Allman Brothers fan and we grew up near the Beacon [Theatre]. We’d go to that every year, but also jazz clubs. My dad loved jazz, so I grew up really going to lots of jazz clubs. I’m really influenced by a lot of female vocalists. I’m a big Billie Holiday fan. Unfortunately, I never got to see her live, but people like George Russell and others like that are really where my roots are: jazz and blues. Then, right out of college, I worked for a place called The Jazz Foundation of America and got to work with Abbey Lincoln and Sweet Georgia Brown. That’s really heavily influenced me and my singing style and my writing style… just having this access to so many different kinds of music and the best of the best. I think being in the Northeast, being in the New York, New Jersey area, is being surrounded by all of that.
Of course. There’s just so much culture for people to immerse themselves in. Now, you brought up being a, and being a fan of, female vocalists. I wanted to know a little bit about your perspective on being this powerhouse in the rock genre. What is it like to be a female artist in that world?
I guess the simplest answer is challenging. I think people have certain ideas of what a strong female vocalist should be. I get compared a lot to Janis Joplin – and not that there’s anything wrong with that! I love Janis, but I think there aren’t a lot of examples that people can grasp immediately of strong female vocalists in rock music. You know, they’ll gravitate immediately towards Janis per se, but I look a lot at bands like Heart. I love the Wilson Sisters. I think they’re amazing. It’s incredible to me how hard they’ve had it being women in rock. They’re a little progressive to me sometimes, too, which is a very male dominated industry.
I think there’s a lot of focus on maybe the physicality or body image of women in music, too. I think if you’re not up there in a leotard or have this kind of perfect, sexy body, there’s almost a precursor to someone listening to you as opposed to just listening to the music. Then again, within bands when I was growing up and trying to sit in with bands and just meet people in music, it often feels like you have a lot more to prove as far as what you know and how experienced you are. I used to have problems all the time with bands where they wanted me to sing a song in a certain key and I’d have to say, “Well, that doesn’t really work for me,” and then I’m immediately labeled a diva or, you know, difficult. I’m like, “No, it’s not that. You wouldn’t ask an alto saxophone player to play the soprano sax part, right?” It just doesn’t work that way. I guess in general, though, it does feel hard and it feels like people want you to be a certain way. There were lots of bands that I auditioned for and I didn’t get the part because they wanted a male vocalist. Whether it’s like a Led Zeppelin cover band or just a rock band in general, I think, again, there’s just a certain idea like you’re Janis or you’re Taylor [Swift] or you’re one thing or the other.
Trying to find your individual voice as a female has been pretty challenging on it’s own, and it still is today, but I think it’s gotten better. I definitely battle with that sometimes and also weird things – I’ll struggle with what to wear to a show, because I just want to wear a t-shirt and jeans, but I think “Should I wear a dress and be more feminine or is that going to convey the wrong message if I’m too feminine and our music isn’t hard enough?” I don’t think these are things that male singers necessarily have to think about. They can really just be themselves and not worry about how that’s gonna affect their listenership or their popularity.
It’s definitely frustrating, but I think that you are pushing forward in such an amazing and commendable way because your voice is just so electric. It’s so soul-stirring, so you and this band evoke so much emotion.
Thank you so much.
When did you realize that you had this power and talent within you and that you wanted to do something with it?
It’s strange. When I was younger, growing up, I studied classical piano, so I had to take a lot of different music classes like singing in a chorus. I just sang because I had to, but it just came really naturally to me. I think at a young age I knew I wanted to be a singer, but as a girl growing up in New York City, it just seems like a pipe dream, you know? “Oh, I’m going to grow up and be a singer!” That’s not a realistic thing. But then throughout high school and college, I kept gravitating towards it. Once I was back in New York after college, I decided this is really what I want to do. This is the thing I get up for early in the morning. This is the thing that drives me. I think I was around, 21/22, where I was like, “This is my vocation. This is the thing I can do really well,” but also, there’s a cathartic aspect to it and a therapeutic aspect to sharing your music and singing your emotions. I love sharing that with the audience and having that emotional connection. So, anyway, I would say like my early twenties is when I really started to pursue this seriously and say “Screw you!” to the haters to do it anyway.
That’s the perfect time to do that and I am so glad you did! Right now, your band and musical inner circle seem to be so spot-on for the music you are creating. To you, what is the importance of having a stellar, like-minded creative team to work with?
I think the most important part of that is it just makes the process so organic and not contrived in any way. There’s some music I hear today where it just feels like people have a vision – or maybe not a vision, but they want to sound like something specific and they kind of go backwards from that. Whereas in our situation with the band, we work with the creative team you feel good working with. I feel like there’s just a natural process like Greg, the guitarist, and I will start out with a song and then you bring it to the rhythm section – and we don’t even have to tell them what to play! Like we don’t chart out their parts or have any specific guidelines, they just know. We’re on the same wavelength. Then after that we bring in our keyboard player and he adds all of this cool layering and texture and weird spacey sounds. It works and it’s very rare that that doesn’t happen. I’ll bring an idea and they don’t get it, but that doesn’t occur very often. I think that’s kind of how we ended up with a sound that’s really ours. We’re not trying to sound like anybody else and we don’t have this goal to be rock and roll versus blues versus soul. It’s really just our voice. I feel really lucky to have found these guys and that we just all get along so well and musically just seem to be each other’s match. We really, really support each other that way. I believe that really contributes just to the sound we’ve ended up with on this particular album, too, after being together for a while.
You just touched on this, but there really are so many layers to your music that makes it so mesmerizing to listen to. Despite that, it feels so natural. All of that skill and talent that is hidden within every song is just like you said, organic. How magical.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool! I have to pinch myself sometimes to be like, “How is this so easy?” I mean, it’s a lot of hard work and it’s not easy, but it does seem like we just really flow together. I hope they never leave me.
That is so special. Speaking of fellow artists and collaborators, this forthcoming record of yours features two very prominent and successful people behind-the-scenes. Can you tell us a bit about how working with Reeves Gabrels from The Cure and acclaimed producer Mario McNulty [David Bowie, Prince] came about?
I don’t know if I want to say it was fate or just good timing, but timing really can be everything. Greg, our guitarist, had met Reeves a while ago – like 30 years ago when they both lived in LA – and kept in touch over the years. Reeves, who plays in The Cure right now, was on this break in between tours in about Fall 2019 and reached out to Greg and said you know, “Hey, I see you guys have some shows. Can I come in and play with you guys?” – which is just amazing even that head said that – so I’m just like, “Yes, of course!” I think it was cool that he had even listened to our music and thought that was something he wanted to be a part of, even just for fun at first. He was really a mentor to Greg as far as their tone and their playing style. Then Reeves had worked with Mario on some David Bowie records. They hadn’t seen each other in a while, so Reeves invited him to one of our shows. Mario came to our show (I think it was at Rockwood Music Hall) and it was just really natural. They had been looking for a project to do together – because they hadn’t worked together in a minute – and they were like this, “This would be a great project for us.” Luckily, we just happened to have a bunch of songs we were getting ready to record, but hadn’t planned anything yet. That was the way it happened. I mean, trust me, I was nervous the whole time. I was just like, “These people are amazing. Why do they want to work with me?” You know? Just the way it happened, I can’t believe it, but I do think keeping in touch is important, and that the network between musicians is really just a community that spans just beyond your band. The people you’ve worked with in the past and the collaborations you do are really important.
Working with them on this, also, I think really sharpened our sound. I think we had a voice before, but having some outside ears that weren’t so ‘inside’ the songs were able to process them differently and be able to hear things and say, “Oh, well you should add this or maybe tweak this a little bit.” It really was the missing link, I think, for us as far as our creative endeavors…. And they’re great. I call Mario almost every day to annoy him with my personal problems and now we’re all good friends. They’re cool guys, but very intimidating. I feel so lucky. I mean, again, the timing, you know? I think, “What if we didn’t have shows while Reeves was on break? What if? What if?” I mean, anything could have happened to keep this kind of meeting of minds from taking place, so I feel very lucky and grateful it did happen. I can’t wait to do the next one, too!
Wow. What a spectacular coincidence that is! And the lead single for this new record is out. That is so thrilling. What was the writing and recording process like for this specific track, “Mermaid?” Did you know right away that you wanted it to kind of help set up this forthcoming record and new era?
It started out the way a lot of our songs start out where I’ll just have some ideas. Usually I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, I record it, and then I bring it to Greg. It was just this slow blues song. I felt like I wanted to do something bluesy, because we had been doing a lot of rock, a lot of ambient stuff, but I wanted something more like rootsy. So I brought it to Greg – and we love like Sharon Jones and the DAP Kings, and I loved Sharon Johnson – and when I brought it to him, just the chord progression, Greg decided to maybe make it a little groovier and a little more adapting. I didn’t know what the song was going to be or if we were going to throw it away or if we were going to love it. I can be an insecure artist at times and think, “Oh, I came up with this chord progression. It’s going to be too simple and boring and blah, blah, blah,” you know, all this imposter syndrome stuff that artists go through. We did that, though, and Greg came up with a groove for it. Then I had a night where I was just battling a relationship that was ending and dwindling, so I was walking around and listening to the instrumental track he had created. I just started writing alongside it. I just started writing what I was feeling and looking at my surroundings. It was like a rainy night in Brooklyn. I went over to Pete’s Candy Store, which plays a big role in the history of the band, and it was just talking to people and listening to conversations and writing. It kind of came out naturally. I didn’t think it was going to be a single or anything, but then when we sent some of our demos to Reeves and Mario and they immediately were like, “This is the single, this has got to be the single.” I think that really speaks to the advantages of working with them. If you’re an artist trying to pick which of your songs people are going to like, it’s kind of difficult to judge your songs. They’re very personal, it’s very personal. So, I had no idea, but that seemed to be the track that when we got in the studio everyone was saying it had a catchy riff and a great hook. I just ended up doing what Mario and Reeves told me and we made it the single, so that’s kind of the process. It worked out great.
I’m glad they gravitated towards it, as well, because it’s really a phenomenal song. Like you said, it’s exactly who you guys are, but still more in line with who you guys are going to be.
Right. I love that. Thank you.
It’s been about six years since your debut album, Fire from the Heart of Man, dropped. Your style has always been rooted in this amazing amalgamation of dreamy soundscapes and savvy lyrics with a rock edge. How have you, as a musician and artist, evolved since the early days of this band? To me, you have this notable, original sound, but you know better than anyone how you’ve changed over time – if at all.
I’m definitely less self-conscious than I was about my ideas. I think I trust my instincts more just in general and I think when I first started singing, going back to being a powerful vocalist, people always labeled me as a rock singer. I was always singing Zeppelin or Black Sabbath or AC/DC, of whom I love, but it was a little one note for me. It was like every song was just kind of blowing it out, blowing it out, blowing it out. Since then, I feel like I’ve found more of a balance within melodies and also within embracing the buildup of a song and the emotional highs and lows. Not just coming out of the gate blasting and being more vulnerable as a vocalist, even while not being perfect is something big that I’ve learned. I’m kind of a perfectionist, so at first I wanted every note to be perfect. I was really focused on pitch more than showing any weaknesses. Whereas I think now, if there’s a crack in my voice or if I’m not singing full blast, it’s still emotionally great. I also think it is more accessible to people listening as it kind of draws people in more. I think that’s how I’ve definitely evolved dynamically as a vocalist. Then also just letting go of the idea of perfection and getting lost in the song and the performance as opposed to focusing so much and being correct. Authenticity is just as much, if not more, of a draw.