In her own words
Musician Erin Lizardo talks about the elements that infuse her art
Singer-songwriter Erin Lizardo is becoming a presence in the local music scene with her expressive contralto voice, finely crafted personal lyrics and melodic acoustic guitar-based arrangements. She recently sat down at the keyboard and answered a few questions for the CN&R via e-mail. For a sample of her music visit www.myspace.com/erinlizardomusic.
Do you come from a musical family, and, if so, how did that influence your development as a musician?
Interestingly enough, I grew up an hour away from Chico in Yuba City. When I tell people this, I usually get some version of, “Really? Oh gawd … “ But it wasn’t so bad. My father plays bass, acoustic and electric guitar. He was in a rock band with his brothers called the Interns. They covered all the great ‘60s British rock, plus The Doors, Hendrix, etc. They entertained locally, mostly at proms and weddings, and wore white lab coats during their performances.
My mother plays piano, accordion and guitar. She’s classically trained and sight reads. When she was a teenager, she picked peaches for an entire summer to buy a folk guitar. The first song she taught me was “If I Had a Hammer.”
How old were you when you knew you wanted to become a musician?
I never really thought at a young age that I wanted to be a musician. I started playing the guitar because it was there in our home. My parents showed me a few things. A Beatles song here and there from my father, and maybe a few Vietnam War protest songs from my mother, but largely I’m self-taught. I remember going on home study in eighth grade. I would finish my school work in a couple hours and then play guitar for the rest of the day.
I started leading worship at church when I was 15. Learning church songs increased my chord vocabulary, and having to sing in front of people at that young age forced me to grapple with stage fright. My religious views have taken on a great deal of ambiguity as I’ve gotten older, but I wouldn’t change my experience in the Christian church. I developed a great deal of intimacy with music as I sang to God. It’s a pretty complicated concept as I think of it now, but back then it was so simple. It was an important expression of love and gratitude, and I felt it deep inside. My pensive nature stems directly from that.
For your own music, what would you consider the ideal representation? Rock band? Solo acoustic? Pop ensemble, a la Belle & Sebastian?
I would love more instrumentation. I’ve played here and there with other musicians. It’s a tricky thing, finding musicians that you: a) consider legitimate because they are actively pursuing a greater level of musicianship both creatively and technically, b) that are easy going but at the same time not altogether flakes, c) can somehow fit in with your creative process and/or let you in on theirs. With that said, I think only recently, maybe within the last year, I have fulfilled my own criteria personally.
How many instruments do you play?
I play guitar and very mediocre piano. I write little riffs and melodies on piano, but I always compose on guitar. I can’t seem to sing and play piano at the same time. It’s a strange phenomenon, but it reminds me of when I first began guitar. I’ve come a long way on guitar and I hope to wrangle through until I can compose and perform my songs on piano. I love playing Bach’s minuets and Chopin’s waltzes, but no one wants to hear me do that.
From reading an Orion story [Dec. 6, 2006], I gather that your Chico Idol performance had a fun, theatrical element ("Entering the stage wearing a white sweater, arms tied like a straitjacket, with crazed eyes and hair, Erin Lizardo sang the Gnarls Barkley song ‘Crazy.’ Her sultry voice stood out from her competition."). Can you tell us a bit about preparing for that performance?
Honestly, I entered Chico Idol to win the prize money. What’s funny is that I learned so much from that experience. It’s invaluable. It was a struggle singing other people’s music karaoke style. We had to purchase our songs on iTunes, and it was so frustrating listening to countless cheesy multi-MIDI tracked versions of the same song. But that was not the greatest humiliation. For the first time it was just me on stage—no instruments or other musicians. I had to show off my voice and somehow entertain the crowd. I had to move back and forth on the stage.
I was so nervous. It was so unnatural for me. For the final competition I did incorporate some theatrics, which helped me tremendously. I didn’t have to play myself on the stage in the BMU; I was acting like someone else. So that thwarted any harsh judgments that people thought of me to this character I played. It was a lot of fun. I got to mess my hair up, smear my mascara, and have a glazed over my eyes. People were terrified when I came out. I’m sure they thought I was a real weirdo.
What would you say you aspire to when giving a live performance?
I’ll probably project a video on a screen behind me at this next show. It’s something I’ve been doing lately to add more interest and incorporate more mediums for expression. People seem to really dig it. I aspire to be honest and relevant when performing. If people can believe every word coming out of my mouth then I think I do just fine.