In trendy East London, the 24-year-old singer and songwriter Liza Owen showcased some songs of her upcoming EP in in the former Platform Bar, NT’s. Just a stone’s throw away from London Fields, her stage was also covered in plants with a huge lit-up „Liza Owen“ sign in between. The trains were running in the background, behind the building, that even during her performance, the whole surrounding seemed to work with her. The bar being on the highest floor allowed the room to be filled with the light of the setting sun and the skyline in the background, along with Liza’s soulful voice, just created a mesmerizing atmosphere.
Starting off with the powerful song „Diamond in The Rough„, the selected guests, including „Friends„-Star David Schwimmer, all gathered quickly around the stage as Liza went on. She followed up with her song „Then it hit me„, then bringing out „Better with Me„, which is already available on iTunes. She introduced the lyrically-laden beat with: „I am sure this is a song many people can relate to. Not only women – it is about cheating.“ With the lyrics going „You’re right by my side, when she’s calling you back home„, one could look around and see people truly listening to every word she was singing. Able to resonate with that kind of story.
Lighting up the mood, the very charming Liza explains how she just started practicing her cover of the song „I Want to Dance with Somebody“ (Whitney Houston) a day before and that she might forget a line or two, but just maybe she will get through fine. And she did. She followed up with her own song „Nothin Nobody“ that was written in L.A. and then ending her set with „How Big a Your Love“. Liza was able to captivate the crowd that wasn’t only friends and family, but also music industry people and regular bar visitors.
We met her right after the gig and talked like old friends about, yes, her music, but also about fashion and her multi-nationality.
For someone, who doesn’t know your music, how would you describe it?
Liza: I would describe it as honest lyrics, fun and soulful.
Honest lyrics that stem from what kind of inspiration?
Liza: Life in general really. When I am writing a song, it’s gotta be based of something I’ve been through. An emotion. I find it really hard to write songs, when someone just goes like: „Okay, write something now about something you haven’t been through!“. „Better with me“ for example is really close to my heart, because it is a song, where I was able to be really honest about a fucked up relationship that I was in. Where I found out the guy had another girl. Obviously I broke it off, when I found out, but it was the feelings of: „Why?“, „What’s wrong with me?“, „Why did you pick me?“.
Really starting to compare yourself?
Liza: Yeah absolutely. So that was an honest moment and I try to convey my real story into all my music.
So when something happens, do you just get your phone out and write down notes?
Liza: Yes, I’ve got notes, tons and tons of them, where I just write lyrics, song ideas or someone might just say something and I go: „Wow that’s cool!“ or even Facebook statuses, where I think: „Oh that’s an interesting angle on that!“. Everything can inspire me.
Your phone is a collage of all your experiences then in a way?
Liza: Sure and I get inspired by other people’s music as well, so I might be listening to something on the radio, one lyrics in a verse and that could inspire a whole song for me.
Who inspired you musically?
Liza: I am definitely inspired by SIA, love her music. She writes from the heart, has an incredible voice. I also love a lot of Scandinavian artists. I spend a lot of time in Sweden, so I am quite into that whole Scandi pop sound. Anything Max Martin touched I love basically.
What do you do, when you get stuck though?
Liza: Some days you just get to the studio and there’s just no vibe. You’re not inspired and it happens and it’s the best to not force it then and bang your head against the wall. Go out and have a drink, go to parties – just get out. If you’re in there constantly, you’re not creating material to actually write about. Live life and if I am still stuck then, I just tune out and listen to my favorite music, like old stuff. Al Green, Nina Simone or Nina Cherry of Fiona Apple… just random old music that I love. Music that maybe has influenced me in some way.
And obviously whatever happens in life shapes you.
Liza: I feel like, you know, in my say, you can hear a lot about the journey of the relationships, the ups and downs.
Something that we all have experienced at one point or another.
Liza: Exactly!! I am young, so I’ve been stupid – but haven’t we all?
Happened to even the best of us! Talking about being young, when did you decide to pursue a music career?
Liza: I was 13, when I decided „Music is what I wanna do!“. Since I was 10 years old, I’ve been singing and we discovered then that there might be something „going on“; that there might be some talent.
We saw your mom in the crowd earlier. Cheering you on the loudest – it was quite easy to make her out.
Liza: Mom is here, yes. Like around Christmas time, I used to charge my family to come watch me put on a concert in the living room. So, it’s been a journey since then, but when somebody asked, even back in the day,: „Who are you?“, I would go: „I am an artist, I am a singer.“ And that was that.
And then the publishing deal happened last year.
Liza: Yes and that’s when it all became real that I am actually doing music, being an artist for a living now. It’s not just that dream that I am chasing. Broke on my ass an all. It’s legit now.
Like getting the first paycheck for doing music.
Liza: It felt so good! And it was quite emotional. Like today, when I got in front of all these people as „Liza Owen – the new artist“, it’s like the 10 years of grafting and grinding finally coming together, finally working out. So when I signed that deal that was a big moment for me.
You’ve now even worked with Puff Daddy (Sean Combs) and Kanye West?
Liza: For Puff, it was a writing camp for his new album, so I just had the chance in L.A. to go and write on the day, in a session for his album. And you know, it was just amazing. There were a couple sessions going on at the same time and he was in and out during the day, listening to the music. It was just cool to meet him and to be around that.
That must be like stepping into a different world!
Liza: Yes, it’s like… he is just so talented and he’s done so much and it takes you back a little bit, when you meet people that you admire. For sure! It was just amazing to be invited. It was with a producer called Parker (annotation: Quinnes Parker). And the Kanye-thing was crazy, because…
We can only imagine, especially looking at his latest music video that have caused quite the turmoil.
Liza: Yeah… He is eccentric and amazing and that session happened, because I work with a producer called Jess Jackson in L.A. That was my first trip, first week there.
That’s a strong start!
Liza: Great start! I was just like: “Oh my god, what is happening?”. Needed to pinch myself. And I got invited down to the studio one night, because my producer Jess Jackson was also producing a lot of things for Tyga. So it was like: “Come down, meet everyone.” Because they were wrapping up some production and I was just on my own in L.A. , so he was like: “Yeah, come, come, come!”. And he absolutely knew what was happening, but I had no clue! I guess he wanted it to be that way… so I rock up to the studio, we’re chilling, going through the mixes and then in walks Tyga, followed by Kanye. And I was like… “Whaaaat?”. I’ve been in L.A. for a week and only in L.A. that would happen. And I was definitely taken back, because I just think he is… you know, people have a lot to say about Kanye and yeah he pisses people off and things like that.
It’s a love-hate kind of relationship.
Liza: Exactly! He is just so incredible and it was just amazing to see him in the studio. He came in, we met and then started vibing out to Tyga’s new record and there was one song that everyone was really feeling. Kanye was just like: “Can I jump into the booth and just freestyle on this?” and that was incredible! He just did a 20-minute freestyle and it was insane! Like “Wow – there is a reason why you are, where you are!”. He then came out again and everyone was just feeling the vibes, having a couple drinks, hanging out really and I was humming melodies, as I was writing in he back. Kanye turns around and and goes: “What was that? Do you wanna go in and put some stuff down?” and I was just stunned.
One week in L.A. and here you are in the studio, singing in front of Kanye.
Liza: I went: Liza, get your arse off the sofa, get in there! I just replied: “Yeah, I can do!”. I didn’t know what the protocol is and he was just like: “Yeah go on, go in there!”. And I thought to myself again: “Hey this is your moment, sing your arse off.On the other side of the glass, you got Kanye, Tyga, a whole crew of producers – about 10 people in the room.” And I just went for it.
How did it go?
Liza: They loved it. I was just singing different melodies, writing in the booth and just being creative. My vocals ended up staying on the tracks with Tyga and then off the back of that, Kanye just reached out to my people and we had a meeting the next day and then that was great. He then invited me up to the studio afterwards and I went that night. We were just playing some music and jamming some ideas – just incredible! So hope to go back, carry on and do more!
Sounds like it all really happened in a blink of an eye!
Liza: It was nuts and crazy, but he also gave me some amazing advice for the future as well.
Talking about advice, you seem very international with living in London, Sweden, L.A. and also being of Cambodian heritage, how does that work out for you? What are the differences between all these place? What kind of influence do they have on you?
Liza: Well, my mom’s Cambodian, my dad is English and French, therefore I got to experience different cultures from the very beginning. In Cambodia, I would say one major difference is freedom of expression, although it’s becoming more and more liberal and things like that, there is still a lot of respect in the culture with what you can wear and it’s best to cover up. Also the way you behave in public, like if you’re going out at night, it’s not really like London. There are bars, but when you’re on the strip, having drinks with your friends every night, it’s really frowned upon in Cambodia. “People from good families don’t do that”, so you just gotta be careful a little bit, whereas obviously here, you can go out and do whatever.
Yes, London is known for being very open and up to anything really.
Liza: Yes and with the expression, here you can wear what you want, if you want to be a bit revealing, you can. Like, if I wore these fishnets in Cambodia, the looks I would get… I would probably be disowned. But that’s really just the older generation. The young generation, people my age, they love it! They look to Western music for inspiration and celebrities. It is changing, it is just a slow process.
And nowadays, with the internet, you can request any information you want within seconds.
Liza: Right! And with the whole holocaust, the purpose of that was to destroy the art, to destroy the culture, so they really were back to square one. But they’re getting back there in Cambodia and it’s amazing to see that, every time I go there.
Where do you spend most of your time?
Liza: I live here in London. We try to go to Cambodia every year to see the family and everything. And I feel really connected with my roots, when I go there. This year especially, I’ve spent a lot of time in L.A., doing the deal out there, starting to work with some amazing producers and there’s been some great opportunities and I’ll be in California for two months over the summer. To finish the EP.
Having lived in California myself, we have to talk about In-N-Out!
Liza: Haha yeah, they’re gonna be the death of me. I just love California in general. The palm trees for example. I just love waking up, looking out of the window and there’s just sunshine and palm trees. It makes me feel happy. Summer in the summer for a change (laughs). I kinda like driving and I know a lot of people hate it, but roof down and just driving around – that is my place to think, switch off and be alone. Like when drive to a writing session… No phone, I just zone in and get ready and get in writing mode. I really like that!
And with public transport not really being there in L.A. …
Liza: Yeah, you just have to drive everywhere. And it’s nice, for me it’s a little time-out that you get from your phone and the noise.
Is it a good counter balance to London?
Liza: I think so. It’s just a chilled vibe in L.A.. It’s a little less stressful, less hustle and bustle. Great place to be for music.
Home then is?
Liza: Home is London. I am a London girl now. I am originally from Hampshire, a tiny village, where I lived until I was 18. Then I moved to London. Cambodia is my second home. My love, my culture, my roots. And then L.A. is probably the new home. My third home.
That’s a good mix! On Instagram, you also have a good mix between photos of you in the studio versus cool outfit shots. What makes great style?
Liza: Confidence! If you’ve got confidence with what you wear. And being daring, I think, just experimenting. What you wear is just a way of expressing your personality. Basically: Just go for whatever you like!
And for you personally?
Liza: I like to mix it up. Some days, I might wear this boyish suit with fishnets and then there are days, where I’ll be in a bright pink jacket, a little bit girly. But I never go for overly girly clothes. There will always be a little bit of black. Like leather or combat boots.
Staple in your closet?
Liza: I have this vintage leather biker jacket and we had the name of my first song “Better with me” painted on the back. This amazing artist did it and that’s of course my absolute favorite!
It’s really unique, too!
Liza: Yeah, people ask all the time about it and I just go: “Buy my single and I’ll tell you more about it!” (laughs)
You should add a QR code to it or something.
Liza: (laughs) Good idea! Just paint it on in the jacket. But yeah, I am gonna get extra bits painted on it, every time there’s a new journey, new release, new video – so it’s gonna be covered in memories.
A not so permanent reminder then, compared to getting a tattoo.
Liza: I mean, I do have some tattoos, just got a couple new ones, but I am gonna chill out on those a little bit. But that jacket is probably my favourite thing in my wardrobe.
Finally, what’s next?
Liza: Finishing the EP and putting that out. We are hoping to get that done by the end of September.
Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Liza: Some of the songs you already heard tonight and they will be on there for sure. I will be working with some awesome producers out in L.A.. Like Robopop, he did Lana Del Rey “Videogames” and “Payphone” by Maroon5. It’s just amazing to get to work with such talented people! Generally, just expect to hear a lot more heartfelt songs. It’s all about the lyrics at this point for me. I’ll be telling my story. But there’s also gonna be happy and feel good bangers.
It’s about finding a good mix for you then?
Liza: Yeah and really, we are focusing on creating some more songs that are telling the story. It’ll be lyrically heavy, but that’s what I am about.
A lyrical heaven!
Liza: Absolutely. I can’t wait for what’s to come!
And we can’t either. Thank you for this interview, Liza.
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