Quick Q and A with Liv Greene

Liv Greene is yet another musician introduced to me through Club Passim and its annual Campfire Festival. She’s been a club favorite and it’s easy to see why. Liv’s natural talent comes through on stage as a solo artist and as a part of any ensemble.

Liv grew up in Washington, D.C. but soon found herself headed north to attend Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, Miles of Music Camp in New Hampshire and New England Conservatory in Boston. She has been a student of songwriting since she was very young and continues to impress listeners with her astute lyrics and emotive instrumentation.

To learn more about Liv, visit her website.

Here’s a video of Liv playing “Take Me to the Station.”

First of all, congratulations on the release of your album, Every Bright Penny!  Is there a special meaning behind the title?

“Every Bright Penny” is a line stolen from the 2nd track on the record, “Wishing Well,” and more specifically from the line: “I could never tell you but I’m in debt to the wishing well, because I see your face on every bright penny.” In the context of the song, the image kind of stands for the way we often mask denial as hope, in order to keep holding onto something when we ought to let go. And as moving on, and coping with change, is a central theme on the record, I felt it fit well for that. However, there are definitely positive implications to it that I think also represent the record well- one being that the record was crowdfunded via a Kickstarter campaign around the time of recording in August 2019, and it was made possible due to a lot of small donations coming together to make a whole.  I am extremely grateful for the community/ fan support I received and continue to receive. 

Your bio talks a bit about your songwriting origins. It’s interesting that at an early age you realized that you did not have enough life experience to write about your own life and you chose to tell some fictional stories in song.  Can you remember what triggered your imagination in order for you to write those story songs?

I think from an early age I was always attracted to storytelling in writing, but it wasn’t really until I got serious about writing that I started writing fiction. Around 14/15 years old is when I really buckled down and I remember sitting for countless hours listening to Shawn Colvin, Emmylou and Patty Griffin and thinking to myself “what makes this so great? how can I write more like this?” and found that the songs that made me tick the most were the obvious works of fiction- the stories with vivid detail, like Patty’s “Making Pies” and Emmylou’s “Red Dirt Girl.” I think realizing that story songs were the most compelling to me was what really made things click for me as a young writer- I knew that while my life at that time probably wouldn’t yield anything I’d be proud of, I could write fiction and have it resonate more. 

Tell us about the production of Every Bright Penny.  Isa Burke from the amazing Lula Wiles produced the album for you!  Tell us about who played on it with you and where did you record it?  Was it an exhilarating and exciting experience?

Yes, it totally was exciting and exhilarating- I was super privileged to work with an incredible team of musicians! As you mentioned, Isa Burke produced it and played electric guitar and fiddle on it, which was such a great decision. She had not produced anyone else’s record before, but given how much I love her work in Lula Wiles, and given how well she knew my music and me from years of festivals and fiddle camps we had both attended, I had no doubt that she would crush it and we would make a great team. It was also super important to me to hire mainly women, on principal, because people ought to hire women (!!) but also because it was my first experience in the studio, a space that can be intimidating and involve many many mind games,  I wanted the vibe in the studio to be really supportive and safe for me and more importantly, inspiring, and it totally was! The rest of the band consisted of Maddie Witler on the mandolin, Grace Ward on upright bass and Sean Trischka on drums. I grew up going to festivals and fiddle camps throughout high school and Maddie’s band, Lonely Heartstring Band, and Isa’s, Lula Wiles (which Sean frequently plays in), were big inspirations to me as I came up, so it was really incredible to work with them. Grace is a frequent collaborator of mine whom I met in my program at NEC, killer bassist, singer, guitarist, arranger, so I was thrilled to work with her again. We recorded it at Dimension Sound Studios in Jamaica Plain, MA with Dan Cardinal mixing, mastering and engineering the sessions, a studio Isa and Sean had lots of experience with, so the vibe really felt natural and comfortable.

Did you and Isa have many long conversations about the sound of the record?  If you had to describe the vibe of the recording in three adjectives, what would they be?

Isa and I had lots of awesome talks, yes(!), but probably not as many as a producer and artist might have, and I think this is because there was a kind of mutual understanding given that we have a lot of the same influences and aesthetic tendencies. This was something I was truly grateful for given that I wasn’t sure at times exactly how to describe what I was hearing in my head- it was so great to be able to describe something using whatever adjectives I could muster up and to trust she would understand and she did. Some of those adjectives included: blanket-y, bright, and shuffle-y (for many fun fiddle parts!).

I was interested in reading about your early musical influences like Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, and Emmy Lou Harris. I’m thinking about Colvin and the record you have cited as being a pivotal one, A Few Small Repairs.  That’s a recording that is pretty dark; it’s about divorce and very adult feelings..yet you gravitated to it as an early teen.  What intrigued you about that record and ones by Patty and Emmy Lou.  

I remember the summer I really began taking writing seriously: it was 2013, and I was 15 years old, and as I mentioned above, it was really only when I got serious about studying and sitting with recordings from my favorite writers that things started to click. I am really lucky in that some of the most formative records for me, from that summer, were ones I had grown up listening to: Patty’s Living With Ghosts, Emmylou’s Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl, and Shawn’s A Few Small Repairs and These Four Walls. I’m really lucky in that, while I didn’t grow up in a musical family or in a family band like many of my folk-peers, my parents exposed me to some really incredible songwriters, and so these recordings already sort of felt like home to me.  

Okay, let’s get a little nostalgic here … did you also have a liking for any boy bands or typical pre-teen / teen musicians?  

As the youngest of three sisters, coming up in the early 2000s, I definitely had a Jonas Brothers phase that I am very embarrassed to admit, but I also had a big Taylor Swift phase-something that I think influenced me, and a whole generation of female writers my age, more than I realize. I remember going to a Taylor Swift concert in 2009 or 2010 with my two older sisters (I was 11), and being wide-eyed and inspired to no end. Seeing a young girl play guitar and sing songs that she wrote about her life was really inspiring to me, and I think that’s what caused me to pick up the guitar at 12. It also meant my early songs were pretty terrible as I tried at 12 to emulate her and write break-up songs, but I’m super grateful for her influence and what she has done to inspire young girls and advocate for women in the music industry.

Do you have any advice for any young musicians who may find themselves listening to your music and want to follow in your footsteps?

I think I would tell them to go to as many live shows as possible. There are plenty of small venues in DC that I would frequent that had with cheaper tickets and really intimate shows- and I’d often have to go with my mom because none of my peers had my taste or because some shows were 18 or 21+ (we would email the clubs a lot asking for exceptions, ha!). For my birthday, for Christmas, etc. I would just ask for concert tickets and CDs. Just be a sponge! Live shows can teach and inspire you more than anything else, and if you have the ability to go to them, absolutely do! I recognize that attending shows is a privilege, so if that’s a bit harder for your situation, I think just generally sitting with recordings you really love and actively listening is so important. Learning cover songs, too. Most of what I know about songwriting is experientially learned–from writing lots of bad songs that never see the light of day, but also from learning other people’s songs. There is so much on the internet to help with this, and you can teach yourself a lot with just a guitar and YouTube videos.

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