5 Questions With…Elizabeth South! (Interview)
Original post was at: http://christianmusiczine.com/5-questions-withelizabeth-south-interview/
Joshua Andre — February 25, 2013
Late last year, CMZ started up a new interview feature, called “5 Questions with…”, where we ask at least one of our favorite artists once a week, 5 simple questions about their music, videos, tours, and any other interesting facts. Here’s the next interview- with independent singer/songwriter Elizabeth South, who releases her fifth album I Love You to stores February 25th. The album was produced by Billy Smiley, and features Vince Gill (husband of Amy Grant) as a guest vocal on a track. So let’s see what Elizabeth has to say about the new album!
1. For someone who doesn’t know your style, can you describe your songs, and your sound? I think you remind me of Nichole Nordeman, Natalie Grant, Amy Grant and Jaci Velasquez musically.
Well, I have always had a tough time answering that question. I am flattered you say I remind you of those artists, because they are great! When I have to put in ‘famous artists I sound like’ on CDbaby submission, I can never think of what artist I sound like for sure. I sometimes compare myself to artists on major record labels since I am not one. But, I think I sound like myself with my own style and uniqueness. I wonder sometimes if that is a good or bad thing. I think it may be a good thing. It makes me stand out. So, it is tough to know exactly what artist I sound like. I think I sound like Elizabeth South and that is all. That may or may not be considered good, cool, or the best thing, but all I know is that I do enjoy listening to my own music. And if I like my own music, that can’t be a bad thing. I am just excited that there are people out there in the world who appreciate what I do and find encouragement and pleasure in listening! So for me, I am more interested in knowing what and who other people think I sound like. I just don’t know. But to hear what you think on this issue, Joshua, is interesting and flattering! Thank you!
2. You have worked with producer Billy Smiley for a few records now, what is the best thing about his production that keeps you constantly at your best? Given that this album was a striking divergence in genre, from slower ballads to dance predominately on this record; how did you go about this album? Generally, do you intentionally write lyrics to fit the music or is it sometimes the other way around?
Well, Billy Smiley is a musical genius. He knows exactly how to put a song together and I like that side of what he does. He doesn’t just leave me to record a song that is incomplete or not well done. If I have difficulty with a song, he knows exactly how to fix it or arrange it. And on top of that, he gathers some of the most talented musicians in Nashville to play on the music and create it. He knows what to tell the musicians to play and do. And then he is great at directing when I sing. He is amazing in prepping the music to give to Billy Whittington to mix. Overall, I know that he is going to help me develop what I want with my music. He is also very generous and helpful in the process.
The students I teach inspired me to record more pop, rock, and country styled music on this album. Also, I’ve had several fans tell me they think I sound a bit like Alanis Morissette vocally and that they would love to hear me rock out with my vocals more on some songs. But, I did not do this only because fans asked me to. I did it because I also love this kind of music and it frankly expresses who I am. I grew up loving Classic Rock music. I just love to rock and dance. It is one of my favourite things to do. So while I think I have a sweet vocal instrument, I like to rock too. So why not do what I want to do? I don’t only do what is expected of me. I do what I enjoy and what inspires me.
I do it both ways. Sometimes I write with lyrics first, and at other times with the music first. For “Kiss Hello” and “I Love You” I started purely with lyrics and then developed the melody. But with all the other songs on the album, I started with rhythm and melody since I was going for a particular style on this album. The lyrics came later for the other songs.
3. Tell us about the lead singles “Superstar” and “I Love You”, how was those track (and music videos) envisioned? Are there any songs that you found difficult to write and record? Which songs mean the most to you?
“Superstar” honestly came from teaching my kindergarten students Katy Perry’s “Firework” for their K Music program last year. The kids had a blast singing it. They encouraged me to write something of that similar style. So, I set out to write a song similar to Firework to dedicate to my kids. This was a hard song for me to write because of the fact that I wanted it to sound a specific way. Billy Smiley really helped me develop this one melody wise. I wanted the message of the song to be positive and teach my kids something important at the same time. I got the idea of Superstar from the fact that I choose a “star student” each week for each of my drama classes. By the end of the year, each of my students’ names will be written on a yellow star all over my classroom wall. But in my journey as a Singer/Songwriter, one of my students asked me, “Ms. South, why are you not famous yet? Why aren’t you a big star?” That got me thinking. I told her that I didn’t have to be a famous star to make a difference or create good music. And that is how “Superstar” came about. And then for the lyrics, I searched and searched famous quotes, sayings, etc. to gather my positive ideas for the song. And then I just put that in the melody in a way that fit. The Music Video for this song came when I met the kid named Evan Fielding. He was the son one of my musicians and at the time they had just released the video, “That’s Why I Pray” from Big & Rich that was playing on CMT. I loved it so much. He was so precious. I thought he would represent my “students” in the video well. So, he is gathering the stars and holding it up to his eye to demonstrate how special he is just the way he is. Now, I am teaching this song to my Kindergarten students just like I did “Firework” last year. And I am so touched because the students love it just as much! They request to sing it and when they do sing it, they get so happy. You can really tell they love singing “Superstar.” They jump up and down and sing it loud! I almost want to cry. I am happily overwhelmed by it to be honest.
“I Love You” came from some poetic journaling words I had written down. They were not really intended to be a song. But it was really a prayer or wish I had about finding someone to love because this part of my life has been a frustration and disappointment to me. I was married once back in 2006. It ended in an annulment. It is a really long story. In short, the guy did not want to be married to me. And it frankly sent me into a depression for a few years, which led to my song writing as a form of therapy. “The Mysteries of Our Minds” album came out of that. This is not a story I have really shared much to fans before. I usually keep it very personal. Several years have past and I have found it harder and harder to find the right guy to love. So, this song is my hope and prayer. And then the whole Vince Gill idea came about after the song was written. It was just an idea to have him sing at first. Billy Smiley found a way to contact him and we couldn’t believe it when he actually responded and said yes! It was truly amazing! He loved the song and said he’d love to sing on it! And then when he came to the studio to sing, I asked him if I could videotape us singing it together. He did not come planning to be filmed, but he was gracious enough to say yes again! And he said I could use the clip in my music video. And then we of course knew we had to have a mysterious love storyline in this video about a guy I am dreaming of to make it really work. So we got an independent film actor named Casey. It was fun! We shot that video in a day because I was already taking time off from teaching and had to get back to NC to my job!
On this album, I found the hardest song to write to be “Never Too Late.” I know you said this might be your favourite one off the album and it is one of mine too, but the development of it was difficult for me. When I first started writing it, I had no problem with the lyrics at all. I knew what I wanted to say in the song. It deals with my frustration with the music business and being told I’m either too old or can’t do certain things because I’m not on a label. My circumstances are what they are. I’m not just going to drop my one of a kind teaching job to tour the world, jump through all their hoops, and then just be told I’m too old or something like that in the end. I would have to have something pretty solid to take this on full time. A label will have to come to me and sign me a very good contract for that to happen. It would be silly and unwise otherwise. But in this song I am saying that sometimes you just have to do it on your own without the label’s help. Imagine if I had waited for a label to record my music? I would have done nothing! And I am so glad I did! But I’m also stating that I’m not going to let anyone tell me it is too late to do something I love or want to do. It is not my fault that I discovered later in life that I could write music. I should not be penalized for that. Just because I started later doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I have a story to tell and messages to share. Having lived life and gone through some tough things qualifies me to do that way more than some of these inexperienced 18 year olds that they prefer. Not that I have a problem with young singers at all. But what I do have a problem with is the vanity of the labels in only wanting that. What I did have difficulty with on this song was the melody. I started with the tempo I wanted. I wanted it to be fast and to rock. But I have a harder time knowing what a melody will sound like at the end when it is fast like that. So, Billy and I came up with the melody it is now. Only I kept thinking it wasn’t pretty enough, lol! I kept trying to change the melody and make it better, but I just could not. This is where I really should have trusted Billy this time a little more. He knew it was going to be good. But I didn’t know it was good until after I sang it in the studio and it was mixed. Now it is one of my favourite songs on the album!
The most meaningful songs to me on this new album are “I Love You”, “Superstar”, “Kiss Hello”, “Never Too Late”, “Change”, “Waiting”, and “Let Love Shine” . . . haha, looks like they basically almost all are on some level. I can’t really choose one. Since I pay for everything myself, I wouldn’t record them if they didn’t all have important meaning to me.
4. Who were your favourite musicians and artists growing up, and who are you listening to right now that you would like to work and record with in the future?
My favourite musicians and artist growing up were vast. As I said before, I was into all kind of popular classic rock, pop, to even Broadway tunes. I loved listening to Julie Andrews sing and would often sing with her and try to sound like her. But I loved and still love Classic Rock bands like Yes, Led Zeppelin, Floyd, Journey, U2, Stones, Lenny Kravitz (my inspiration for Kiss Hello), Kansas, White Heart, etc. The list goes on. I just love all kind of music in general. My favourite musical was Les Miserables and I used to often sing “On My Own.” I also loved singing “Part of Your World” from the Little Mermaid when I was young.
5. What are your personal goals and goals as an artist in 2013? Is there anything you’d like to share with us that God has been teaching lately?
My personal goals are to keep going as far as this album will take me. It will either take me further or not. Either way, having recorded with Vince Gill and gotten on some important Radio Stations is an accomplishment of my musical goals in life. I would love to keep doing my music. And it if I ever did get signed by a label, I could. The only thing stopping me from continuing is not having the money to do it. If enough people who hear my music would download my single, I might have enough money to do more. But people mostly want to listen to the songs for free on YouTube, so this might not happen. So, I am prepared to retire myself from the music business if no money or further opportunities come. But I am glad I did it anyway. I am glad I took the attitude that it is Never Too Late. I wish someone who could help me financially go further would also catch that vision and help me. But I will try to be happy either way. I do have the most incredible teaching job a person could ask for with students who love me. I think God is teaching me to trust in Him with my future and my life. It is a hard lesson and one I am often very impatient and at times doubtful about. But He keeps surprising me, so you never know. Thanks for reviewing my albums and for these questions. I hope there will be many more to review in the future. But if this is the last one, I want you to know how grateful I am that you did this. God be with you always.
Elizabeth South’s new album I Love You releases on iTunes, Amazon mp3, and other digital media outlets on February 25th 2013. Make sure you pick this one up!