The last few years of my life have been a swinging pendulum — from grief, to joy both coexisting on opposite shifts, one leaving just as the other shows up for her rounds. I felt that duality touring my last record, Fine But Dying, while living through the narrative of a love dying in real time. It was the future written in the past — pain written before felt, complete with details hand-tailored to my own depression. Some days I was relieved at the way my songs, though retrospective, were giving space for what I was feeling in that present but other days I felt tied to a cyclic echo chamber of my own making.
I guess I've always believed in the power of words — how certain phases of the moon, certain combinations of phrases and hope can posture us towards what tomorrow will hold. Songs have always been a bit of a premonitive act for me — writing before it happens. So, over a decade into the pattern of intuition turned writing turned life and its emotional experiences, I decided with this record, Bad Vacation, to intentionally intuit a version of myself that was what I needed most. It's a version of myself who is strong and empowered — who is brave enough to spend as much time in joy as grief. Who cares enough to cave into softness and growth.
This took going backwards — to childhood, almost — to reconnect with the emotions I got rid of because they were "too much." I realize as an adult, how calculated the shrink is to fit into whatever we feel makes others most comfortable. I wanted to expand, to give myself a childhood where I got to grow without the fear of eternal doom, without self-hatred and with some sense of internal belonging. I wanted freedom; I wanted the chance to be with myself again; I wanted the chance to move forward — so, I wrote it down.
This is the sound of my hometown. I grew up on an island, my mom took a beach walk and recorded the sound of it and sent it to me. Starting this record off with the sound of something so familiar to me was important.
Writing this song was a mental playground for me — turning pain into satire and imagining a hope-filled world with no ceilings. I wanted to bottle up that electricity that happens when you're free of something taxing. This is a song about freedom and liberation — a song I wish I could have given myself a few years ago. But, as most things do, it came just in time. I couldn't have arrived at this sort of feeling if I hadn't spent a while in the opposite emotion. This song sonically represents my musings for the whole record. I wanted to have fun — make a record that would create electric energy inside of whatever room it was played inside of or performed inside of. I wanted to make something that would be fun for me without losing the weight of the importance of emotional cataloguing. I would have loved to show this song to my kid self and be like, "Your brain, after a few years of a lot of really hard stuff, created this."
"I Shouldn’t Ghost My Therapist"
I love this song, it has been a standout for me since writing it. I love the simplicity of the lyrics and the directness of them. I love how it challenged me instrumentally — my guitar line, bouncing off the vocal in a way I had to practice to be able to do in tandem. I wrote this during a time of feeling like I was drowning and realizing that, in actuality, there's a short list always available to me of ways to "slow down." Obviously now, given the pandemic and the global slow down we're living inside of, this song has new meaning — as does nearly everything from before. I think there are lessons that are only held in the slow down, the solitude and then the let in of friends who really care about you.
I think another theme of the record is how we hurt people when we're not taking care of ourselves. Maybe it's less present in the songs as it was in my actual life I was living while writing them. "I Shouldn't Ghost My Therapist" features some of my closest friends on the outro — group vocaling "she can't keep going on like this," which is how it felt for a while. I was spiraling; anyone with a bit of care for me saw that and tried to say something, but I was walling myself off to any real advise — making an echo chamber of "you're not doing anything wrong." Nobody grows in an echo chamber.
A continuation of the theme of "all the ways I get in my own way." I've been known to say Paris is the everything cure; we all have a Paris — a place we cannot imagine feeling depressed, a place that seems to move paced to exactly the human we are, to all the needs we have. Well, I found out you can even be depressed in Paris. In most situations, a trip across the ocean might slow down the come-to that we are the problem, but we always catch up to ourselves. I think "Terrible Discovery" is a catalogue of my own Frances Ha weekend trip to Paris moment. (Frances Ha is such an amazing film — I highly recommend watching whether mid your own spiral or on the other side.)
This song started so much of this record for me. It gave me my power back. It gave me myself back. It made me unafraid to really chase down the healing I was singing about in all the other songs. It was a first step towards "yep, I've gotta get back to myself. Nothing is worth losing that connection over." A bit of a cold water splashed on my face kind of moment. I am thankful for this song.
"Change My Mind"
This song feels like an emotional workout. I think, from all the therapy I've been in and finally being in a relationship that holds more love than pain (hi, Josh), I've started to realize the toxicity that old patterns can hold even when you're in a safe space. We have a responsibility to know ourselves and take personal inventory of where we need to grow. We have the responsibility to know the places where we hit walls — the places where our ego keeps us from connecting with someone and for me, conflict makes my walls fly up. This song is a bit of a hilarious map of the sporadic nature of my mishandling of conflict. I wrote it with Josh Gilligan and Kyle Ryan. It's the first time I've ever played bass on a record. Oh, and cowbell. God, I love cowbell.
I wrote this when I was visiting my home town in August 2018. When I'm really starting to come nose to nose with where I need to push myself — I make stupid jokes about it. It happens in therapy all the time for me — the moment something feels real, I make some self-deprecating comment that's put to some comic light and shove the opportunity for real growth and feeling down. This song feels like that same exercise — dousing a place where real growth needs to happen in comic relief. I think, since writing it, I really have been learning how to "get out of my own way," and the more honest I can be with myself, the more honest I can be with people. I'm growing and that is clumsy more than it is graceful. This whole album is a catalogue of growth.
"This Chaos, That Feeling"
I wanted this song to feel like my life felt when I wrote it. Droned in anxiety and tension, hope of things being better than they were, distancing me from my instinct and gut. Your gut is never wrong. This song grew from such a stream of consciousness. I hardly, if at all, touched it from its beginning form. Even when we were recording, I was encouraged to take out a word or two to make it more concise, but I wanted it to mimic the unbelievable amount of word and thought you feel flooded with when you're being made to feel "crazy." There were times when my mind would bloat with such anxiety, it would just flood out onto random interactions. I don't know someone I knew in that time that didn't know far too much about my personal situation. That's what happens when you're in pain and your closest place is depriving you of emotional safety — everywhere, everyone becomes home to your intimate paranoia.
I can't even remember writing this song. I was stoned, in my friend Thad's basement, holding a nylon guitar and just bummed over the carelessness of connection we sometimes fall into with people we actually really care about. I had been listening to a lot of strange music at the time — chord shapes the I wasn't used to, key changes throughout verses of songs — and I think the strange combination of sadness, weed and that particular afternoon in that particular basement just turned into this. From there, I showed it to the band and they did what they do. The song only got louder, but didn't change at all from its original hazy rendition.
A catalogue of the mistakes that accompany seasons of "anything goes." I think I was just on an emotional bender. Post-breakup, I didn't really take the time to slow down enough to take stock of my own self. I just sort of looked around, saw spaces of emotional safety that seems trusted and dove in. I don't even have to go deep into it, it's just never worth it to give up that window of space you get to yourself after a big and painful situation. Everything happened as it did and everyone ends up where they are supposed to be, but I think I could have done a more thoughtful job caring for myself, caring for my friends and communicating.
"I Wanna Be There"
Sitting close to someone in pain sometimes makes me a sponge to that feeling, past the point of me being helpful at all. I think sometimes when I want to be there for someone I just start to wear their grief as if it's my own. Becoming that pain isn't helpful, it just makes things darker — turning my own brain too foggy to have anything to give. I think, as I grow older, I want to be better at holding space for people without becoming swallowed in the narrative. This song walks through the pain of close proximity to someone else's heaviness.
After the tailspin of terrible connections, something real — and good, emotionally, spiritually, relationally — feels hardly real or even deserved. There was a connectivity to the beginning of Josh and I's relationship that felt so outside of and set aside from what I had experienced with love before that it just felt like a dream — that type of dream that you can't remember, but you wake up flooded with a light nostalgic emotion that sort of hints in your sleep you went somewhere that made you feel safe enough to remember something from childhood you hadn't remembered for a while. The recording of this song really felt like a breakthrough for us as a band. We tracked most of it live in the summer of 2019 and revisited it after playing it on tour that fall. It felt like hearing us, collectively with shared consciousness creating something new out of nothing. It felt like meeting us sonically. Also, it feels like such a pure extension of a place in me I sometimes have a hard time articulating and the feature of Josh's voice singing in tandem makes me cry. I am really proud of this song.
Stream Liza Anne's Bad Vacation, below.
Photos courtesy of Liza Anne