Elizabeth Moen performed at the stage in The Hotel Cafe on January 30th during her most recent concert in LA. Moen is a singer and song writer, and her songs are like “echoes of longing”. From recording her first song to touring, Moen spoke with NGLA about her journey as a singer/songwriter so far.
How did you start performing?
I started off with learning the guitar and it was almost like a shield for me. I am kind of an anxious person and the guitar helped me be less anxious when it comes to singing, and then singing helped me be less anxious when it came to writing and the writing help me be less in my head about being in stage. I think all of these layers of musicianship help each other. Then eventually- forming a band and having other people on stage and being part of songs help a lot too. When I started song writing, I was just thinking about what the voice and what the guitar would sound like and now when I write a song, I’m thinking like- what about the bass, what about the drums, what about the synthesizers.
When you’re creating music, do you usually let your melody guide you or do you song-write first and then let your music follow, from what I’m hearing you’re telling me you focus on the to the music that surrounds your lyrics.
I’d say 90% of time it starts with me just fiddling around on my guitar. Then I start humming and melody happens, thinking about stuff, I’ll think of a line and then I’ll sing it out loud and if it sounds right then “oh!, bam!” – after that, all it takes it one guitar take, the right rhythm and one good line to build off of it. I have this song, I didn’t sing it tonight, but I wrote the lyrics in the tour van. I had just gone through a breakup, and the tour was going to end at my hometown. The lyrics are like, almost like a poem… he is from my hometown, so, I was nervous to see him again but also low-key excited, kind of hoping to see him again. But, also, like, why do you hope to see them when you know you’ll be disappointed – anyway, these lyrics came so intensely. That was the first song I ever wrote without a guitar or melody. It was just the lyrics. That was really exciting to me, like, “Oh! Here’s a different way of writing”.
I know you’re touring right now, it must be difficult, is there any new project that you’re working on simultaneously?
I’m trying to.. I really love collaboration work, especially since so many of the musicians that play instruments on my tracks are also amazing song-writers themselves. I feel like that is what I’m ready for next, my songs are very personal and writing is such an intimate thing to do with someone else, that I think the next project for me would be collaborating. Also, I am so afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings and terrified of conflict so, writing a song with someone else is scary for me.
You mentioned how your songs are very personal, how do you feel about sharing that vulnerable side to the world?
Hm, ok, so the first song that I ever wrote definitely was really scary to share to the world. Mostly because whoever it was about, they knew it was about them. I’m not good at communicating how I really feel in the moment, which is why I figured I would write a song about it. I thought like “I can’t even get these words out now”, so it was more about expressing those feelings to this person and what he would think about it, rather than the world.
What is the name of the song and how did the person react to it?
The song is called “Song bird”. I had this crush, on a barista, in my town. He was so cool, he was in this punk band, and he was so smart. He was just dreamy and I was enamored. He was in such a different cool realm world, so I didn’t know how to communicate with him. Instead, I wrote him this song, and it’s about this bird sitting outside this window, looking in and seeing this person and being in love with this human but the bird can’t actually say “I love you” to them, cause she’s a bird! So at the end of the song, its like the only way I can say “I love you”, is with the ooohss and ahhhs.
Well, fast forward to 4 years later I was at this after party and it was right next to his place and I ran into him and we started talking a lot through the night. I thought we were flirting, and then I confessed about the song and he was like shell shocked! He’s like “Thank you….” and then he gave me this book. Anyway, I think he was flattered. Full circle – to write this romantic art, for someone I used to have a crush on and finally 4 years later, around the time when my career starting off, to finally have the guts to say the same thing to his face was really something, writing that song really got me out of my shell.
Did you always want to be a singer?
No, I was a French major! I wanted to work in foreign country, translating or teaching English. I used to work at this restaurant, and we’d all be rolling silverware and one of my co-worker asked if I was a singer since I was always humming or singing. Then she took me to Karaoke and all of my coworkers were there, and that’s how I realized I had a lot of fun singing on stage. Then I did open mics, and I wrote that first song, “Song Bird” and the thing is, once I wrote that first song, I wrote like seven songs ! That’s how I let go of anxiety, and I didn’t know the word for it back then- the more I let go of those fear, the better my songs got.
What inspired you to then start touring?
It started with just doing a lot of local shows, then other towns started inviting me for shows. Then I started singing in cities- Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia. I googled and emailed venues everywhere. I asked my friends and friends of friends for advice and help. That’s another thing, I was so afraid of asking for help. Like, I don’t want to be asking for too much from someone. I realized that people, they want to help!
Any parting words?
We’re all just trying to express something and people connect with it. Whenever I write a song or when I show the band a new a song, it’s not like “This is our country song, this is our blues song, this is our punk song” but Its more of whatever it is supposed to be, its just that. You know, never try and sound like someone else. You have your inspiration obviously, but be inspired by them. Think “What is my voice?”, cause at the end of the day it is your voice.
FEB 24 – Monday Monday @ Hotel Cafe, Los Angeles, CA
FEB 29 – Oskaloosa Arts Center – Oskaloosa, IA
MAR 14 – Rye Room @ Bourbon Theatre – Lincoln, NE
MAR 15 – Mercury Lounge – Tulsa, OK
MAR 16-22 – SXSW – Austin, TX
MAR 24 – The Hi-Tone Cafe – Memphis, TN
MAR 25 – Gaslight Studio – St. Louis, MO
APR 4 – Mission Creek Festival – Iowa City, IA
APR 15 – The Maintenance Shop – Ames, IA
APR 16 – Fitzgerald Theater – St Paul, MN*
APR 17 – Madrid Theatre – Kansas City, MO*
APR 18 – Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts, Salina, KS*
APR 19 – The Oriental Theater, Denver, CO*
APR 21 – Kimo Theatre – Albuquerque, NM*
APR 23 – Granada Theater – Dallas, TX*
APR 24 – One World Theatre – Austin, TX*
APR 25 – Dosey Doe – The Woodlands, TX*
APR 27 – City Winery – Atlanta, GA*
APR 28 – City Winery – Nashville, TN*
APR 29 – McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square – Charlotte, NC*
MAY 1 – City Winery – Washington, DC*
MAY 2 – City Winery – Philadelphia, PA*
MAY 3 – (Le) Poisson Rouge – New York, NY*
MAY 4 – City Winery – Boston, MA*
MAY 5 – Jonathan’s – Ogunquit, ME*
MAY 7 – Greenwich Odeum – East Greenwich, RI*
MAY 8 – Flying Key Performance Center – Plymouth, New Hampshire*
MAY 9 – The Stationery Factory – Dalton, MA*
MAY 10 – Daryl’s House Club – Pawling, NY
**supporting Crash Test Dummies