“I’ve been writing since I was 14 years old,” says Nashville recording artist Liz Longley. “I write really honest songs about my life and I’ve shared my stories and my songs for the past 13 or so years on the road. I just call myself a singer-songwriter because it’s broad enough. I started off writing folk music but I grew up with some jazz and country so there’s a lot of different influences in there.”
Longley — a native of Downingtown, Pa. — began playing piano at an early age and started writing her own music while in her early years of high school. According to her web bio, she performed the first song she’d ever written for her high school student body and received a standing ovation that caused her to say, “I was unprepared for that sort of reaction and it was a life-changing moment. That’s when I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life.”
From that moment, Longley has evolved into a prolific writer who attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and focused on songwriting. She explains her songwriting process and its role in her life this way:
“When I write, it’s pretty much right down the middle. It depends on the day but I write on both piano and guitar. I love that they offer different sounds and I love to play off both of those. When I started writing, I only wrote alone. That’s really where writing started for me. It was therapeutic. It still is a therapeutic process. That’s what I love about it: it’s free therapy.
“Since moving to Nashville, co-writing is a large part of what the Nashville music scene is based on. I have gone in and out of phases of co-writing here in Nashville but I am lucky to be in a phase where I’m writing almost every day, sometimes twice a day with different people in town, and it’s a lot of fun. Now most of the time, the songs that I’m writing with other people are for other artists, but every now and then one seeps through that I want to take to the stage or to a record and you just never know. I mostly write my material alone but I am lucky to collaborate a lot; you never know what the day will bring.”
Her drive has led to her being signed by a label and recording multiple CDs. But as in all things, a little luck helps as well.
“I moved to Nashville seven years ago and was randomly playing a board meeting for a beautiful theater here called Franklin Theatre, and someone was there in the audience from Sugar Hill Records and said, ‘We’d like to sign you.’ I had just made my fourth full-length record and it was made in Nashville, and it was fan-funded. So I was able to make a record that was just dream team musicians and engineers. The label heard it and signed me; I was really fortunate and I’ve been working with them ever since.
“So I have this great team of people in Nashville. I have five full-length discs and an EP. I put out a six-song EP of just songs that I’ve written with Nashville people so there was a theme to it but it’s a little bit more, too, and it has a different sound than my other stuff.”
Besides writing for herself and with collaborators, she also writes for others. When asked if it was difficult to write a song with feeling since it wasn’t something she was doing for herself, she responded: “No, when I’m writing for other people I still try to base it as much as I can on my own experiences and bring as much honesty into it because that’s what I think ultimately connects. That’s what makes a great song: honesty, as much as possible. So it’s really about working with the artist to help them speak their truth and tell their story and I just use what I’ve been through to help get them to that spot.
“Finding someone to collaborate here is not the hard part. There are so many talented people here. I’m really lucky that I write with someone, like I said, sometimes twice a day. I have a ton of people that I write with. It’s really about finding the people that you work the best with — that’s the trick. And then having a team of people that can get your song into the right hands — that’s the hard part.”
Currently Longley is getting ready to go out on the road, and will perform at Burlap and Bean in Newtown Square, Pa., April 18-19. She says she is always on the road and prefers it that way, and that this actually played a part in her decision to move to Nashville.
“I lived in Boston for five years to go to school and knew that I had to choose and move somewhere. I tried New York City out for three months and that was terrible. I tour out of my minivan so it was not an easy place to be based, so Nashville made sense. I have a ton of my friends from college who had moved down here and I knew there was a great community of musicians and it has proven to be everything that I hoped it would. And to be honest, I tour … well, it’s never-ending. This tour has no theme or name; it’s just a bunch of shows in April. I guess we can call it A Bunch of Shows in April (laughs).”
Longley sometimes tours with a band, but will be solo in April. “I love to feel like it’s just me and the audience and I can really connect with them and talk with them and it’s all about the stories and interacting with them. I love that part. I prefer to be ‘naked’ onstage, I guess you can say. There’s your headline! (laughs)”
Longley’s music has made it onto the small screen: “Oh yeah, yeah! I’ve written some songs here in Nashville that have ended up being in some really big television moments, which has been really cool. I wrote and sang a song that was on the Lifetime show, ‘Army Wives’ season finale; that was a really cool moment to be part of. And other shows like ABC’s ‘Switched at Birth’ and MTV’s ‘Scream: The TV Series.’ It’s been really exciting to see.”
Longley also has won multiple awards and songwriting competitions, including the BMI John Lennon Songwriting Scholarship Competition, the International Acoustic Music Awards and the Rocky Mountain Folk Fest Songwriting Competition.
“I feel really lucky to say that my only job has ever been making music, performing and recording, and I think the goal is to just keep evolving as an artist in a way that still connects with my fan base. I feel really, really lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I would love for it to keep growing organically and see where that is but what really keeps me in it is the connection that I feel with my audience. That’s what, on those long drives and those exhausting situations that occur on tour, that’s what keeps me through it. Knowing that I get to connect with people and meet them at the end of the show and hear their stories and how my stories relate to their stories and those kinds of things. That’s really what I live for.”
When asked where she sees herself in five years, she hesitated slightly and her reply was steeped in the reality of the industry. “Well, hopefully I’ll have another maybe two, maybe three records out. Gosh, that’s such a scary question. I’ll still be in Nashville, hopefully. I hope that I’m that lucky. You know that it is not an easy business to survive in but I’ve been really fortunate so far and I hope that it keeps going the way it’s going; it’s not a predictable business by any means.”
So what can we expect at a Liz Longley performance? “You can expect a wide range of songs from a lot of the records that I’ve made and some new ones that I’m going to try out on this tour. An intimate performance since it will just be me, an acoustic performance and lots of storytelling.”
For more about Liz Longley, visit lizlongley.com.
That’s it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week … ROCK ON!