Songstress releases her first album and tries a band on for size
René Stephens has booked shows for years. Naturally, she always keeps an ear out for great new acts. So it seems ironic, particularly in retrospect, that she shied away from a performer she now feels “probably has the best voice in Chico, one of the best I’ve heard in a long time.”
That gifted individual—whom she praises for songwriting, guitar playing and stage presence, too—is Erin Lizardo. And the fact that Stephens was one of the fans at a recent album-release concert shows how completely her impression has changed.
And how the artist has changed, too.
Lizardo came to Chico with intense Christian values, the product of a charismatic church in Yuba City that she’d only just eschewed. Her music remains spiritual—elegiac, hymnal at times, biblical in some of its imagery—but not gospel. It reflects the soul-searching of a 22-year-old student/musician/barista still processing all she’s experienced.
Along with the self-released album she unveiled this month, Lizardo joined three guys to form a band. A rock band. Petticoat has Lizardo on vocals and rhythm guitar, Rett Matthews (deerpen, Archipelago) on lead guitar, Ryan Maker (Squirrel vs. Bear) on bass and Michael Lee (Blue Score, Meletus) on drums.
So, as she finishes up at Chico State and prepares to take her music career—and life—to the next level next year, a key question lingers:
Who is the real Erin Lizardo?
“I think I make reference to my religious upbringing—I see how it’s affected my thought process, even in the secular world that I identify more with now,” she said. “And even though I think religion has been damaging to me and people around me, it really has been a boon to my art, because it taught me self-examination, self-analysis and being critical of your motives.
“I can’t really separate that from me now, so I think the real me is highly analytical and critical and a little bit cynical about life in general, and very much into the reasons why people do things.”
That’s not to say she’s distrustful. A few years ago, at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, she befriended an A&R executive from Hollywood Records. He’s helping her find direction (without any promises or plans regarding his own label). Part of the process is self-definition—picking a niche or genre. That comes back to self-examination … and Petticoat.
“I’m trying to stretch myself,” Lizardo said. “I’m challenging myself: ‘Can I do this? Can I be in a rock band?’ Because it’s so awkward for me—you have to play this part.
“Maybe it’s somebody who I think I might be. I’m trying it on.”
She plans to keep performing with Petticoat and see where it leads (perhaps to a summer tour). Meanwhile, she’s registered with music licenser BMI and is sending demos of her solo songs to labels as well as producers of commercials, TV shows and movies. If she breaks through as a solo artist, she hopes Petticoat comes along for the ride.
Who is the real Erin Lizardo? She and we will find out together.
GIVE A LISTEN TO:"God Fed the Raven"—sparse guitar lets the vocals come out to melt even the most hardened hearts.