By Ann Driscoll
Liz Longley is a singer-songwriter from Downingtown, PA. Her earnest, folk-pop songs and soaring, vulnerable vocals won her the Grand Prize at the 2009 Rocky Mountain Folk Festival’s Songwriters Showcase. She was also a co-winner of the 2009 Mountain Stage New Song Contest, and an Emerging Artist at the 2009 Falcon Ridge Folk Fest. Longley has shared the stage with Shawn Colvin, Livingston Taylor, and Colin Hay. She has topped several Garageband.com charts in the Acoustic, Lyrics, and Melody categories, and recently represented Berklee at the annual Kennedy Center Conservatory Project in Washington, DC.
Ann Driscoll: You graduate this spring. What are your plans for after college?
Liz Longley: I am hoping to move to Nashville, and use it as my home base to write and meet other writers and challenge my writing, and use it as my launch-pad to tour from there. That’s what I want to be doing– touring. My big, big goal is to get signed to a label down there. I want to tour solo.
AD: How would you identify yourself as an overall artist?
LL: My favorite thing to do, above all else, is perform. But I want to be performing songs that resonate with me and then with other people. So I guess a performing singer-songwriter.
AD: Can you see yourself writing for other people?
LL: I’ve been trying to do that. I think that would be cool if I was in Nashville, trying to write for other people, and that would, in turn, help my own writing.
AD: What kind of market are you interested in tapping into?
LL: I see myself as an adult contemporary artist, same kind of thing that Sarah McLachlan fits into, or Norah Jones, Patty Griffin.
AD: Tell me about some of the artists you’ve opened for?
LL: I opened for Shawn Colvin. I’m opening for Patty Larkin. I’ve opened for Colin Hay. I tour sometimes with Livingston [Taylor]. I’ve opened for Nanci Griffith. I think I’m going to be opening for Paula Cole in February, so I’m psyched about that. She is someone who I absolutely love.
AD: How do you handle the business side of your career?
LL: I do all of my own booking.
AD: Does Sonicbids help you out?
LL: Oh yeah. Last year, I played three main folk festival competitions all because of Sonicbids. The only way you can get into that is through Sonicbids. I won the Rocky Mountain Folk Fest and they gave me a guitar and a slot on the main stage next year. It’s very rewarding. It’s worth submitting, even though it can be expensive sometimes.
AD: Do you ever wish that you had gone straight from high school to performing?
LL: Hell, no. I said to Roger Brown, ‘If I could repeat Berklee, I would.’ It’s such a great support system. I did singers’ night four times and that gave me great exposure. I’ll just be walking around the school or even at the gym, and people will say, ‘I’ve heard your music’ and that’s only because of Berklee. I feel like it’s a great home here. As far as songwriting goes, I wouldn’t have learned what I learned here on my own.
AD: Who are your favorite Berklee professors?
LL: Pat Pattison is my god. He is a lyric god.
AD: You made a music video, “Naked Trees.” What was that like?
LL: Oh my gosh, ew. We did that when I was like sixteen. Ha. I guess I like it but I just don’t identify with it anymore. I did it with my neighbor who’s a videographer. That was fun. I would love to make a music video again. I’m just waiting for a song that I want to do.
AD: Where do you record?
LL: There’s a studio in Pennsylvania where I’ve done two CD’s. It’s called Morningstar studios.
AD: Do you have a band that you use or is there a producer that you use?
LL: The first CD was all studio musicians that the producer, Glenn Barratt, picked out. On the second album, we did half studio musicians.
AD: Tell me about the songs that you’re playing at the show on February 10?
LL: I’m performing “When You’ve Got Trouble” which is about loving someone so much that you can feel their pain. You can empathize with them. The second one, “Freer than the 4th of July” is about this character that I made up in my head, and pretended I was her, in the song. She’s kind of a free spirit. I really like her, so I’ll pretend I’m her.
AD: And then what’s on the CD?
LL: “Annabelle” is about my college roommate for all eight semesters. It’s a character outline of her. “When I See Your Face” is a poppy tune, and was actually an assignment from [Berklee professor] Scarlet Keys. It’s just a fun, upbeat love song.
AD: What do you think about Heavy Rotation having so many female artists this year?
LL: Girl power. That’s awesome.
AD: What’s your relationship like with your fans?
LL: I like knowing that my music touches people. I was literally working out the other day, and someone was like, ‘Hey, I saw you at singers’ night. I love your music.’ I was disgusting and sweaty and was like ‘thank you.’ I feel really lucky to have such a great support system. I’m definitely spoiled.
AD: You sell a lot of CDs at shows. Do you go out and mingle afterwards?
LL: I strive to always be comfortable on stage and show that I’m a real person. I tell stories about all my songs. I tell stories about all the things that I’m going through. Funny things. Serious things. People come up to me and say, ‘That song was my life.” Just being a real person, even making mistakes, I think that people can tell I’m real, and they want to identify with me, and they want something to take home. They find similarities in themselves in me. I just stand there, and they line up. I sold like 60 CDs when I opened for Shawn Colvin and there were 250 people there. The ratio was insane. Livingston Taylor’s class has helped me out so much. It’s all about making them feel comfortable.
AD: Dream gig?
LL: Opening for Patty Griffin, and then touring with her.
AD: Favorite gig?
LL: Probably opening for Shawn Colin at Tupelo Music Hall in New Hampshire. My favorite gigs are opening for people. I always say that opening for someone is like going on a first date with 300 people. It’s a new crowd. They don’t know anything about me. I can just be myself, let it all happen. There’s no expectations. It’s easier to let go.
AD: Are they any songwriters at Berklee that you particularly admired?
LL: I have never been that obsessed with a band, but when I heard Tin Soldier, I said, I will follow you around, whatever you do. What they do is just so fresh, and so amazing. I’m so excited for them.
AD: What was high school like for you in high school?
LL: I played clarinet. I was always the band nerd. I was quiet in class, and I still am. I still feel so much more comfortable on stage than in a classroom. Quiet, dorky. I was the drum major, which was horribly embarrassing. It always surprises people when I perform because I’m so quiet.