Liz Lawrence + guests
Liz Lawrence + Guests
7.30pm, Bedford Esquires, Monday 25th April
7.30pm, Bedford Esquires, Monday 25th April
Acclaimed singer songwriter Liz Lawrence returns to Bedford Esquires on Monday 25th April as part of her UK tour
Tickets on sale Friday 21st January 10am from Seetickets and physical tickets available from Slide Record Store, Bedford Esquires Bar, Vinyl Revelations (Luton)
“I started work on the new album in that completely ordinary month, March 2020,” says Liz Lawrence, dryly. The singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer was supposed to be on tour with her second album, Pity Party, and had been out on the road for most of the months after its October 2019 release, supporting Lucy Dacus, Bloc Party and Bombay Bicycle Club, among others. In February, she embarked on her own sold-out headline tour of the UK and was about to go to the SXSW festival. Then the world came to a stop. With no live music on the horizon, she holed up in the studio she had cobbled together in her spare room in London and started to write her third album.
The Avalanche came quickly. Lawrence wrote, arranged and played everything herself, and for the first time, she produced the entire album, too. It allowed her to distill the essence of her celebrated live shows on record. “I feel like there’s power and aggression in the way I perform live, and I wanted to capture that on The Avalanche,” she explains. “It was a complete pleasure to write. I’d had all that anxiety around releasing Pity Party after such a long period of not writing under my own name. But I was buzzing off the fact that people were receptive to it live, and it gave me so much confidence to make this.”
Lawrence has harnessed her on-stage exuberance into a muscular, extroverted record. “I like to dance, and I like to move, and I wanted to make a record that people would move to quite naturally,” she says, acknowledging that it marks a shift. “I wanted it to have motion. I think it’s quite silly, and it’s joyful, and I’m not always sure people expect that from me.” The songs are less personal this time, informed by the world as well as what was going on in her own life. “I think that was a conscious decision. I’m becoming really aware of my own narcissism, and in fact the narcissism all around us.” It’s a theme Lawrence explored on Pity Party, particularly on the droll single None Of My Friends, which was written pre-lockdown, but seemed to capture a certain lockdown mood. This time, she wanted to look beyond her own life. “I didn’t necessarily want to offer myself in that way again. I can be a real voyeur, and I was interested in what everyone else was doing. This is my Rear Window record.”
After releasing the Whoosh! EP, which saw single California Screaming on BBC Radio 1’s Introducing playlist and the track Whoosh get Radio 1 plays from Annie Mac and Nick Grimshaw, Lawrence went back to the studio to put the finishing touches on The Avalanche. It was partly inspired by the artist Tacita Dean’s huge, seven-metre drawing, The Montafon Letter, which refers to a disaster in the Montafon Valley in Austria during the 17th century, in which 300 people were buried. “And a priest went to the site to officiate the burial, and another avalanche buried him, and then finally another avalanche came and unburied the priest,” explains Lawrence. The morbid humour of it, and the idea that what destroys us may also save us, appealed to her.
That idea forms the backbone of the first single from the album, Where the Bodies Are Buried, a heavy, taut portrait of controlled chaos. Lawrence wrote it during a heatwave, when she was stuck indoors, and protests were breaking out all over the country. “The nation’s temper was boiling over,” Lawrence recalls. “It felt, for a moment, like the existing power structures might be coming down, and that was scary and exciting. All that horror and rage, but we were stuck inside, crashing against the domestic. It’s Carrie meets Corrie, basically,” she says.
At the start of summer 2020, Lawrence left London and moved back to her hometown in the West Midlands. She built a studio from scratch with her dad, who is a carpenter, on the site where her grandfather’s garden shed had stood unopened for 20 years. She christened it The Coffin. During that period of upheaval and change, she completed the album, finishing the writing process with one last song, which would end up opening the record. “Moving back brought up a lot of complicated feelings, and Down For Fun is about returning to a place I was desperate to leave for so long,” she says. It is a big, bold, louche song that vibrates with teenage energy. “It’s definitely the sort of music I would have listened to when I was last walking down these streets. But it isn’t nostalgic. It isn’t sentimental. All the subcultures and countercultures I was around were very male-dominated, and this is about feeling like there are other options. It’s the words I needed to hear.” Amongst its wry observations of life in a small town, Down For Fun builds to a powerful declaration, a promise of strength for all teenage girls who might be feeling sidelined: “You don’t need no correcting / Your body is a weapon you’ll need someday.”
The wild, vibrant Babies is on the less autobiographical side. Initially inspired by “videos of babies laughing on the internet, which is a panacea for all ills”, the song sees Lawrence inhabiting a character desperately trying to drag themselves out of drudgery. “I thought of a man who’s driving to work every morning and saying goodbye to his wife, kissing her on the cheek and then going to sit in his car, even though he lost his job months ago.” It’s a joyful ride that parodies self-help tutorials and sees Lawrence flexing her voice in brand new ways. “I’ve been singing pretty for a long time, and I wanted to try new things. So I’ve machoed it up. Babies is one of my favourite tracks on the record. I felt like I was exorcising some demons with it, just for fun.”
That same playful approach to vocals appears again on Drive. “I was really keen to push that, and feel the discomfort of doing something new,” says Lawrence. Drive looks at the sometimes romantic, often fractious connection between people and their devices: “wake up early, holding your phone in your hand like love.” It conjures up a hazy, dream-like confusion in a culture driven by black and white opinions. “Sometimes I don’t know enough to have an opinion,” she explains. “A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and I don’t think human beings are dealing with it very well.”
If there is fatalism on the record, and a sense of decline, then there is optimism, too, and it comes out clearly in the bright future-disco of Saturated. “It’s the only love song on the record, but even then, the person is superhuman, she’s planetary, it has an avatar vibe,” says Lawrence. There is joy and purity in its riffs and in its rhythm, as it marvels at the limits of perception. “Everything is intensified by love. Love expands everything.”
The flipside to “all the colours in the universe”, as exalted in Saturated, is the deceptively cheerful I’ll Go On, which, despite its bass-driven bounce, offers a more greyscale take on the world. “It’s about the limitations of the body and mind when everything has lost its appeal,” says Lawrence, who borrowed a quote from Samuel Beckett for its chorus: “I can’t go on / I’ll go on”. She recruited two friends, Bombay Bicycle Club’s Ed Nash and Circa Waves’ Joe Falcovici, on backing vocals. “I really wanted my own indie boy back-up band,” she jokes.
Though the record often pushes against some invisible prison or confinement, the soft, sad swing of Violent Speed is one of the only tracks to directly reflect on and reference the pandemic. “There was such a tremendous amount of grief occurring across the planet, and it’s an acknowledgement of that pain, in a way.” Both the vocals and drums are double-tracked and were recorded at double-speed and then slowed, giving it an eerie, elastic air. “I wanted it to feel like the push and pull of time.”
Time speeds up on Simple Pleasures, a road trip fantasy that pays homage to Thelma and Louise, with an Alan Bennett twist: instead of a convertible, they’re driving an old Peugeot 106. “I think that was my hero complex coming out too,” Lawrence explains. “The character is saying, I’m coming to get you and I’m going to take you out, and I’m going to find you a way to be better and be happy, even though we don’t have a lot.” Outside of its escapist narrative, there is a theme of financial scarcity. “I’m not poor by global standards, but I felt poor by London standards, and there was some shame in that. I’ve been a musician for 10 years, I’ve signed major record label deals, and I’m still largely broke,” she laughs. “So I was thinking about that. This idea of getting by with enough, of building something with skills and living on simple pleasures.” This idea recurs on Heart of Gold, a synth-pop ode to stripping it all back to basics. “This is the oldest song on the record by far, but I didn’t feel I could give it the production it needed until now,” Lawrence says, having turned an old demo into a glossy pop celebration of making do with what you have.
The gorgeous, yearning Birds showcases Lawrence’s remarkable voice to its fullest. “Last spring, in the city, we were hearing the dawn chorus with such clarity, and I thought it was so beautiful,” she recalls. She has now become a connoisseur of bird facts. “In urban areas, birds have learned to sing the dawn chorus at a higher pitch, so it can be heard over human noise,” she says.
The Avalanche is a record that was made in lockdown, but it rejects looking inwards in favour of casting a wider view over the world. It ends with that propulsive, urgent title track. “It rises to the question of the whole record, whatever that may be,” Lawrence says. “With the line, ‘hold me like the lonely’, I was thinking of the bodies that were appearing on the sides of mountains, as global temperatures are rising. Some of the corpses are clinging to each other. It feels like the melting ice is exposing us.” Even in that image, there is a hint of redemption. “Will we be forgiven for our sins?” says Lawrence.
“Will the avalanche forgive us? Who knows?”