Lisa/Liza's House in the Clouds
Article: Sumner Bright/ Photos: Rachel Darke
Maybe it’s in an empty barn, and a pair of shears with a few strands of wool stuck in the blades, resting on a dusty shelf nearby. It could be in a burrow of old-growth forest, with a journal dirtied by pine needles and soil. Or maybe it’s just in a quiet, decorated bedroom, fit to unearth a voice and a passion to create. These are the places I imagine the Portland-based Liza Victoria within as she discovers herself as an artist for the very first time.
Raised on a sheep farm in Starks, she found her way through rural Maine, to New York, and back to settle for nearly a decade in Portland; her art and creations morphing along the way into the psych-folk project Lisa/Liza, a moniker of duality representing a body of honest, genuine, and entirely individualistic work.
It’s 5 p.m. on a Sunday at the Eastern Promenade, not too far of a walk from an apartment Liza recently moved into. We meet in that awkward way that most interviewers/interviewees do: that daunting, “hey, can you tell me about yourself for an hour or two?” kind of way that few people get excited to do. Her hands are pressing into the creases of her elbows when we first get to talking; an anxious habit that I seem to share, and noticed quickly. It’s a relief, to be honest - I feel as if I’m slated for a conversation with a friend.
“I used to live by a post office. It was so loud,” she says laughing, “thankfully it’s much quieter here.” Though there’s children screeching on a playground to the left of the bench we’re sitting on, and the constant buzz of Portland-ers on a sunny evening all around us, I believe it. Wherever her path as an artist and as a person had taken her, it seems that it taught her how to find comfort in (relative) quiet, and stillness in places anywhere but still.
It’s these same elements that anchor her music to you, acting as gifts of temporary calm. Those, and on her most recent record, 2018’s Momentary Glance, an elusive, unidentifiable sense of morose psychedelia, all floating in a way that feels both existentially aloof and authentically Appalachian.
All of what makes her brand so uniquely her’s, has led to about 8 releases on her Bandcamp that have received acclaim from listeners far and wide, garnering the attention of mainstream publications like Pitchfork and Stereogum.
In fact, in one of those lottery-type moments, Effrim Menuck of Godspeed You! Black Emperor stumbled upon her music with the help of Liza’s bandmate Jonathon, and offered to record her next album, Momentary Glance, at his own studio in Montreal.
“It was really inspiring to be in a studio for the first time,” she tells me, “we were making this album in my room, trying to figure out how we were going to record it. We’d never done a band recording before.”
I’m surprised to hear that Liza had never spent much time in a studio before Momentary Glance - her self-recorded projects (on minimal gear, she confesses later on) have levels of quality and integrity that are clear and effective, and become even more so when you learn that it was only at the hands of Liza and occasional friends.
When it comes to the DIY nature of her home recordings, Liza praises the minimalism in the process, mostly utilizing one microphone and a borrowed interface:
“It’s like only having duct tape to fix something.”
We’re walking the trail on the eastern prom trail now, and the air of a formal interview feels like it is gone, a feeling I think both of us are grateful for. Few enjoy talking about themselves for too long, even if they’re completely (and luckily) dialed into what they’re made of. Fortunately for me, I was speaking with someone whose life has been a winding and well-rewarded journey to this kind of knowledge.
“It’s an important quality of music, to express individualism. Folk music is really great for that reason, because it’s individual but it is also expressing the voice of, you know, folks. Everyone.”
This sentiment is especially prevalent in her music: it all exists in a space that anyone could latch onto and find comfort through relation, or hear and understand clearly the headspace of the artist. In other words, I view Liza’s creations as serving two sides: one to express and serve herself, and one to build a momentary house that her listeners can come inside and rest for a while, under her roof, and among her furnishings.
In the vein of home and roots, Liza’s time in Portland seems to have provided her with a strong base of listeners, friends, ideas, and lots of opportunities to work with. We both agree that it’s a special and inspiring place to be, with a forever-changing music scene.
“Those places like the Apohadion [Theater] and Sun Tiki [Studios] are definitely kind of where the Portland DIY scene is,” she tells me when I ask her opinion on the state of the local music community, “I hear people tell me it's not ‘like it was before,’ but I don’t think that matters.”
It’s true, a scene will shift and grow and shrink and grow again, but that’s not to say it’s less or more than anything it has been before. It’s just different, which certainly isn’t anything to mourn - especially when talking to someone who has taken a niche of quiet, minimal folk music, and tossed it up into space to marry powerful and ambient surrealism. It’s a brand that is rare, and speaking for itself entirely: by taking what gave Liza her roots and footing in Appalachian music, and then defining it in her own unique way, she has given Portland (and her more distant listeners) something authentically new to grasp onto, while never feeling too distant from what makes folk music effective.
If there’s one thing that I noticed most about Liza, it was how true she was to the aesthetic she labors to create. Nothing about her personality and her art is disconnected, or mismatched. As reflective, pensive, and moving her music is, she matches it with her presence. It shows, without words, the passion and humble devotion to her creativity - a bundle of qualities years in the making.
We stop to admire a graffiti mural along the trail. It’s covered in portraits and little stories and signatures; it’s a monument of change, and of finding stable ground to express and heal in those moments of shifting - a theme I’ve come to notice in Liza’s philosophies and creations.
“It’s cool to watch it evolve,” she says, as if she read my mind.