Liz Brasher is a relative newcomer to the Memphis music scene, but she embraces and embodies it like a lifer. Like the city she now calls home, her own sound is a mix of cultures and influences that she describes as “garage rock meets the Delta blues meets gospel meets soul.” Surrounding last year’s release of her EP Outcast and 2019’s full-length album Painted Image, both recorded in Memphis, Liz has been internationally hailed as a breakthrough artist, garnering touring slots with rock legends, blowing away festival audiences and landing a spot on Woodstock’s 50th Anniversary lineup. It’s only fitting that she’ll be making her first appearance at Beale Street Music Festival during Memphis’ bicentennial year celebrating the city as its featured location. Meet this week’s rockin’ FACE of Memphis, Liz Brasher!
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Matthews, North Carolina. My mom is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic; she and all her siblings pretty much raised me — she’s got nine of them. All of them sang in the church, including her, so I grew up in a Spanish-speaking Southern Baptist church singing all week long.
What was your first public performance?
The first big public performance for me, which was really weird because it wasn’t in front of an audience, was when we were on televangelist TV shows. I was just freaking out as a 4-year-old with all these lights on me.
What was your family’s response to your decision to pursue music as a career?
I feel like they always knew that it was going to happen, because I’ve always been obsessed with music and always tried to be a part of it, either sneaking out to go to shows or being really into whatever I was doing at the church. It was definitely negative when I picked up the guitar and started playing in night clubs and being out all night.
You’ve gone on a geographic journey from North Carolina to Chicago to Atlanta to Memphis studying your influences. How do you feel that physical place affects your art?
I can’t even describe how much it affects it, especially Memphis. Memphis is the first place that I’ve felt like my music actually belonged here and felt like it came from here as well. I wanted to be so authentic and so real and my songwriting has to come from a place where I am in that moment. To me, it’s everything.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Memphis music community?
First of all, it’s a huge honor, just because everybody that I look up to basically came through here. It’s also cool to be accepted by this city, because not every city will do that to new musicians coming in. I do feel like there’s this new energy coming through Memphis right now that seeks to put Memphis back on the map, without conforming to the rest of what the nation is doing.
What gave you confidence in your perspective when you began writing your own music?
I think part of that answer has to deal with my upbringing and the fact that the response was, “This isn’t what you’re supposed to do.” Having a lot of people when you’re starting off be counter to you, and saying things like, “You’re not going to make it, this industry’s going to eat you alive” — all these different things actually strengthened my voice even more and made me a little more resilient. I just have to push through and be confident in who it is that I am and what it is that I have to say.
How do you generate inspiration when it’s a mandatory part of your job?
To me, I take it out of the 9-to-5 equation just because I live it 24/7. Between being in record stores and collecting records and listening to them, studying different musicians or poets or just artists in general, or going out to shows or exhibits — to me inspiration is just in what I do and what I breathe.
You’ve had a whirlwind year. What are some of the highlights?
Definitely, a huge highlight is getting to go out to the West Coast. I had never been, and I went there three times. That was huge for me. Also, the legendary acts that I got to perform with and meet and just hang around with — between Blondie and The Psychedelic Furs and The Zombies. It’s still unreal for me to say that, for that to come out of my mouth.
How did the time with those artists who’ve spent decades in the industry influence you?
I’m side stage every night trying to take in everything I can. After every single experience, I would come home and my writing would be influenced by their sound, by their wording, phrasing, whatever it might be. But at the end of the day, what each of them taught me is that you just have to continue doing what you’re doing regardless of what’s going on around you. Whether your record is a hit or you have a song on the radio or not, just continue doing it and people who are drawn to what you do will be there for the rest of your life as you continue.
So is Debbie Harry the coolest?
Uh, yeah. She was the best. And then she wanted to hang out afterward for a little bit. She’s talking to me about my voice, she’s like, “You remind me of Pat Benatar a lot.” It’s wild, trying not to freak out around her.
What other BSMF artists are you excited to see?
I might get to see Gary Clark Jr. the following day, which I’m really excited about.
What would be your dream line-up for “LizFest”?
I would put a lot of legendary acts on that stage, of course, but if we’re talking newer generation — Lilly Hiatt, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Caine, Cactus Blossoms, Steelism, La Luz. Brandy Zdan, she’s a female rocker, a guitar badass. Shakey Graves, I’d also put on. I would bring Ann Peebles back out of retirement. And Mavis Staples, of course. If I could get on a stage with Mavis, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney, I’d be set for life.
What do you hope to see change for women in the music industry?
I would love to see more women in recording studios on the other side — engineering, producing. I feel like those people have a bigger say in who gets into certain circles. Just booking more women would be great, and also for us to be paid the same. We’re putting in the exact same amount of work, sometimes maybe more.
What is your best advice?
My best piece of advice is to not ever think, as an artist or a creator, that you’ve arrived — to just constantly see every day or every creative moment as a next stepping stone.
What are three frivolous things you can’t live without?
A record player, ChapStick, and sunglasses
Thanks for chatting with us, Liz! And thanks to Elizabeth Looney of Elizabeth Looney Photography for these fabulous images of Liz!
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