This week I am really pleased to interview Lizzie Nunnery, a singer/songwriter and playwright. Lizzie’s debut album Company of Ghosts was, for me, one of the best albums of 2010. She managed to capture slices of life with honesty and a simplicity in her lyrics that was laced with an underlying humour. It was a beguiling debut. Her appearance at Purbeck Folk Festival that year was a high point. She is a fantastic performer, if you get the chance to see her live, take it, you will not be disappointed.
But not only does Lizzie write excellent songs she is also an accomplished playwright; Intemperance was given five stars by The Guardian, and has had plays broadcast by radio 4 and a short film on Channel Four.
She is in the process of releasing her second album, and at the moment, she is promoting her new single Poverty Knocks – all the proceeds from which go to the charity for homeless people Crisis (http://www.crisis.org.uk/ ). On the single she is joined by the Liverpool Socialist Singers, it is a great single and could be yours for one pound (http://lizzienunnery.co.uk/ ).
Anyway, let’s here from Lizzie.
Where do the ideas come from?
I'm always wary of getting too self conscious about that, in case it means the ideas stop. A lot of my song ideas come from things I've read and seen, or they're exaggerated versions of things that have happened to me or people close to me. I write a lot about my family in my songs and lately I'm increasingly inspired by politics. The best things come when you're not really trying- when I'm out running or in the shower. The enemy of a good idea is a blank piece of paper.
Who influences you?
If I'm honest it's a pretty strange list... Neil Young, Patti Smith, Graham Coxon, Jonathan Swift, Brian Friel, Henrik Ibsen, Leonard Cohen, Adrian Henri, Gill Scott Heron, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Arthur Miller, John Steinbeck, The National, Wes Anderson, Sufjan Stevens, Belle and Sebastian, Peggy Seeger....
I don't think you can necessarily hear any of those people in my music or my plays either- but in the big swamp of ideas they're all in there somewhere.
Which comes first, lyrics or music?
Usually a lyric and a melody line come at once and I work from there but occasionally I'll just have a load of words and I'll have to hunt out the tune. It always starts with something I want to say.
How does being a Liverpudlian affect your work?
Liverpool's a great city to make stuff in. It's busy without being overcrowded, vibrant and inspiring without being expensive. There's a village-like inclusiveness to the music scene which isn't overly defined by genre, and lots of talented musicians and songwriters open to collaborating. I think there's something great about living somewhere you feel real ownership over- everything becomes so familiar you can dream on top of it, think around it, rather than being bombarded by new information all the time. There's plenty of innovative stuff going on creatively but the attitude of the place is nicely laid back and friendly. It's a perfect little big city.
As a playwright is your vision changed by interacting with the actors?
Definitely. I've been lucky enough to work with some incredible actors and their energy and understanding can really shift perspective on the words in brilliant ways. When you're rehearsing a play it's always a balancing act between keeping hold of the clarity of your intention and knowing when to let it go. On one hand a writer knows the thing they've written better than anyone, but on the other hand you can be so close to the script it's like snow blindness. The same goes for songs within the recording process- sometimes there's nothing better than an outside eye.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I wish I'd started to play the guitar at a younger age. And I wish I'd stuck with piano lessons when I was seven, even though the teacher made me cry. I regret that I'm not a more technical musician. Sometimes instinct is all you need, but sometimes it isn't.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Be creative as much as you like or want, but don't try and live by being creative unless you love it so much you have no choice- unless it's bursting out of you and nothing else can make you happy. It's not likely to make you rich and it's very likely to make you tired, but if you love it, it will be all you need.
What's in the pipeline?
Loads. The new download single, Poverty Knocks was released via my website yesterday. It features the Liverpool Socialist Singers and all profits go to Crisis, the national UK charity for single homeless people. It's the most directly political song I've ever written but it feels like the right time for it.
I've also been working on a co-written play called Life for Beginners which is on at Theatre503 in London throughout September. The other writers are Alice Birch, Rex Obano, Matt Hartley and Ben Ellis. (http://theatre503.com/whats-on/life-for-beginners). It's a tangled comedy about birth, love, death and everything in between, and it's been brilliant working on something cheerful for a change.
With the new album coming out soon I've got lots of great gigs to look forward to. I'm so excited about being part ofThe Irish Sea Sessions 2012 in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and Belfast Waterfront Hall in October. I get to perform as part of a super group of Irish and Liverpool musicians... can't wait. http://irishseasessions.com/
When is the new album out?
September 17th! It's called Black Hound Howling and it's a collaboration with Norwegian producer and multi-instrumentalist, Vidar Norheim. There's are strings, there's a brass section, there's a choir on one track, there are quiet little moments between me and a piano... It's much more ambitious lyrically and sonically than anything I've ever worked on before and I'm really proud of it. All the info about where to buy it will be up on my site: www.lizzienunnery.co.uk
If you were a colour what colour would you be and why?
I love blue because it's a calm colour. I aspire to be blue but sometime I'm probably more of an angry orange.
I am looking forward to seeing her at The Festival of Jim (http://www.dirtyoldtown.moonfruit.com/#/festival-of-jim/4543799029 ) September 1 & 2. I’ll be reviewing her new album when it’s out.