Liz Anne Hill is a singer, songwriter, and musician based in Nashville. She blends down-home country roots with a rock energy for a diverse and spellbinding. Songs penned by Hill have charted on Billboard, been featured in animated films and by major airlines
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SWR: Awesome. Today we’re with Liz Ann Hill, singer, songwriter and musician. So, let’s just get right into it. Can I call you Liz Ann or Liz?
Liz: Yeah, call me Liz. My friends call me Liz.
SWR: Fantastic. So, Liz, we usually start with an introduction, your story. How you got into songwriting and music so would you tell us?
Liz: Yeah, absolutely, so, I grew up in a family of musicians. My father’s an amazing guitar player and singer and songwriter and my mom’s a vocalist and a piano player. My older sister songwriters, plays piano. So, it was part of the whole family tradition literally. My parents met in high school in a band and they did professional music for a little while so, basically just didn’t have any other concept of how to be other than playing music.I started playing bass at 10. That was my first instrument and growing up in a church choir was really instrumental for me because basically we had a really strong music program at this church that we grew up in. Being one of the stronger singers I kept getting thrown in to all the different parts. So, I’d be learning all these really traditional harmonies, a lot of theory that I didn’t realize I was learning. S0 I joined my first band. It was a ska band actually and I think one of the coolest thing about growing up in a band with your friends is you’re all participating in the songwriting process and it feels really organic and it’s not force. Sometimes I think sitting alone can be kind of daunting. Staring at a paper or staring at a pen and not knowing where to start, what to do, instead you’re just playing with your friends making music. I had a high school band and then basically in college my next band was, I’ve done a lot of genres, which is funny and I think everybody nowadays just kind of appreciates, I feel like a good song transcends genre and that’s what I’ve been learning as I’ve been in my musical journey but I had a pop rock band. We started to get some radio play in the Christian world, which is awesome and took a little hiatus and I started playing bass for a couple different artists touring and doing that hired musician thing. I was still songwriting. Basically, I then got, probably a year later, I got signed to a pop recording deal as a songwriting artist and so far that was where most of my commercial success came from. I had a couple songs chart on Billboard in the Dance world, which was really, really cool. Although, growing up making organic music, that was a little, I love EDM but that was a not my forte. A couple of years into the deal I parted with my label and pretty much picked up and moved to Nashville. And I’ve been doing country and pop since I’ve been here. I say it like I’ve been here a long time. I’ve only been here a few months. I’ve been making writers trips back and forth for the past year. Pursuing the artist thing for myself as well as writing for other people. It’s been fun. I’ve had a couple songs in movies. Had songs on TV. It’s a hustle but this compared to sitting behind a desk I wouldn’t take any other way.
SWR: I love it. So, from what I’m hearing music was always part of your, being a child, growing up, you said your dad’s a musician and songwriter too, is that how you got into songwriting also? Or was he teaching you? Or is this something you decided okay, I actually want to write versus being a musician for hire?
Liz: I think it started, honestly, I can’t say what it would have been like to be in a different family scenario but I was such an active, slightly destructive child and so, let’s not say destructive, a very energetic child. So, to calm me down my parents would always give me pieces of paper and say, draw, write. I was always encouraged to put things to paper so it felt very natural as I started learning more about music, started learning more about theory. To take that creative process and pour it into music because it was just another medium to create with.
SWR: Okay, fantastic. How did you choose that country and pop was your thing versus, you said you’ve tried all of these genres.
Liz: Some people, they only listen to one genre and that’s what they love and I grew up, from my parents influences, they were so broad so it just felt natural. When we were kids they took us to see Prince. They took us to see Bonnie Raitt. They took us to see Reba McEntire. They took us to see Sting and the Police. There was no … they weren’t confined to one genre so I never necessarily felt that. I think I mentioned I grew up in Southern California but also back and forth between the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area and this teeny tiny town that’s nobody’s ever heard of in Southeastern Arizona, and of course there the radio station plays traditional country. So, growing up i had this exposure to rock, pop, top 40, and country and then as a high school kid I was really into ska and emo and all the sub genres. It’s funny because for me doing country music, which is my own personal artistry, I feel like up until a couple of years ago, it would be really frowned upon to have all these other influences but pop has shifted radically in the past couple, oh, excuse me, country has shifted radically in the past couple of years to be much more inclusive of pop, R&B, there’s of course a hip-hop influence. So, I’m the pop emo kid that does country and it seems to be working. There’s a, I don’t know how to explain it. There’s a buzz around the genre and before what I think would have been a detraction from my viability as now become an asset to have that track record in pop and EDM.
SWR: That’s fantastic. Yeah, it is changing. I can’t remember who it was, I’m trying to think, I was in South By Southwest a couple of years ago and they were talking about this distinction between Americana, which is an umbrella term for folk, and root music, versus country, which has now become pop country, versus hardcore people saying oh, that’s not Americana. That’s something else.
Liz: Well, there’s a lot of traditionalists. I feel like there’s a diversification in the genre of country itself. Just like you said, there’s some very strong traditionalists that they’re complaining basically, I apologize there’s a little bit of background noise, they’re basically complaining music row kicked us out because we were too country for country and now they’re getting their own voices heard. A really amazing songwriter, Jeffrey Steele, he’s got a band, Sons of the Palomino, and basically he’s written for literally everybody and with everybody, and these songs were too country for country so he put them out himself and now there’s all this buzz around town about how he’s doing something so original by doing traditional country. It’s awesome. I think that’s exciting. People can either complain about it or they can figure out their way and drive it and that’s for better or worse what I’m trying to do.
SWR: Yeah, I love it. So, what is your songwriting process? Are you solo or do you do a lot of co-writes? What does it look like? A bunch of people showing up with a piece of paper and pen saying okay, guys we’re going to write a song
Liz: For me right now I have, generally I have a pretty full schedule of co-writing and Nashville is a very collaborative town, so is L.A. interestingly enough, I think when I was back in Southern California, I was more focused on writing with myself, by myself and I had some feedback from different songwriters of when you come to town and really integrate and collaborate, it’s going to take your songwriting to another level. There are some people who write incredible solo, 100 percenters and am I capable of writing a song from start to finish by myself? Absolutely, but I’m finding probably 90 percent of the songs I’m writing right now are co writes and it’s such a fluid process when you’re in the room with the right people. You might be searching for one word and they’ve got … they’re already two steps ahead of you with the next idea that’s amazing that you would have never thought of. I’m really enjoying that.My personal strength is melody first, lyrics second. Being an instrumentalist I can help with the chords and the harmony but it’s neat because when you’re co writing you might be the melody person in one room and then my next co write, second co write of the day, I’m holding down the fort with lyrics and somebody else is killing it with melody and whoever’s on track, that’s just they’re job. It’s really nice how streamlined it can be and of course sometimes there’s writes where chemistry is not right, moods not right, somebody’s not in the right head space and that’s okay too. I feel like, for me, having the ability to do lyrics, having the ability to do the melody and having the ability to do the instrumentation, it’s fun to kind of, from write to write be a little bit different but it definitely doesn’t make for a streamlined process every time.
SWR: Yeah. So, when you say that you’re more of a melody person, you also said that you’re a bass player, do you start on bass or do you go to keys?
Liz: I play keys very rudimentary but enough to plunk out a song and enough to program. I have, we’re in my little studio but of course you can’t see it because all the stuffs over here but enough to program a track. I play enough guitar to hold down chords in a writers round. The coolest thing, I think, about growing up as a bass player is because it is both a harmonic and a rhythmic instrument and even though I think there’s beauty in its simplicity, it helped me to understand intervals of chord progressions. So, having melody beaten into me through choir and then having rhythm and harmony from the bass, it kind of put all of them together for writing.
SWR: That’s fantastic. So, you kind of started in L.A. and you’ve done Nashville, how would you contrast the two?
Liz: I keep expecting to like, come back down. I keep expecting to be brought back down the Earth but I found, from my personal experience, Nashville has been much more inclusive. It’s smaller. If you think about L.A., has 18 million people in the metropolitan area and Nashville has two million people in the metropolitan area so, I’ve been really fortunate to have a couple of songwriting friends who have been plugged in here for a long time. Nashville is traditionally a 10 year town. It takes a lot of time to get established because they are very protective of their own and very inclusive of their own. Already I’m running into the same people I ran into a couple weeks backs and having that face recognition, getting into rooms that I don’t think, quite frankly, I would of write in L.A. so, for me personally, it’s been better. I can’t say that for everybody and there’s some people who grew up here and can’t wait to go to L.A. and good luck to them. I find that the character of people I meet and how they receive strangers is a lot more welcoming here than L.A. is a little bit more suspicious.
Liz: That’s just my personal take.
SWR: No, I love it. I’ve talked to a few other songwriters and some people love L.A. and they think the busyness of it and the constant hustle. What I think you’re saying is its easier to be focused in Nashville and get stuff done.
Liz: I believe so and also I think my experience may not be characteristic because I feel like I stumbled into some awesome opportunities here that I just beat my head against the wall in L.A. and couldn’t get to happen. So, for me, Nashville’s been a lot more productive. I couldn’t say if that would characteristically be the case for everybody.
SWR: That’s interesting. You think it’s also very genre based because it’s sort of, country pop versus if you decided to stay with EDM, for example.
Liz: I think it’s 30 percent dumb luck on my part. I think it’s 30 percent genre based and then I think it’s probably 40 percent of, for me personally, having more connections here or just having the right gatekeepers here that I didn’t necessarily have in Los Angeles.
SWR: Cool. Let’s go back to the songwriting process, when do you know you’re done with a song?
Liz: That’s terrible. That’s one of the things that I’ve learned, and I feel L.A. might be the case as well, but I guess in my co- writes that I’ve had recently, it’s very, I don’t want to say expedient. It’s not like we’re rushing through the process but the thought is everybody’s going to write another song tomorrow so we want to write a great song, you want to write a single, you want it to be awesome, but knowing that it shouldn’t be this laborious process. If it’s not fun, why are we doing it? If the song isn’t coming together or it came together and maybe we’re not thrilled, knowing that tomorrow we’re probably going to write a better song and that’s been … I’ve noticed the mindset of a lot of my co writers, generally, how do I put this, when you read through a lyric and as long as there’s nothing, this is going to sound like a lazy answer and I don’t like myself for saying it but here we go. Nothing rubs you the wrong way. There’s not a line that sticks out and you’re like, eh, that could be better. Or, eh, that’s lazy. Or, eh, I’m not buying it. And generally, if you’ve got three to four people in the room and if all the minds agree these lyrics are solid and water tight, which, I will say, Nashville is so much more of a lyric town and that’s something I’ve had to up my game coming from L.A. where I’m like, yeah, sure it sort of makes sense. Kind of ambiguous, whatever. People will get it and here it’s very much what does that mean? Does this all make sense? Is it cohesive? Does it lead to the hook? Is the hook set up properly? I’m not going to say there’s more song math, it’s just different so to answer your question, when is the song done? When everybody says that they’re ready for it to be done and that doesn’t mean it can’t be rewritten or tweaked or earlier it might get changed to here and there because that happens all the time.
SWR: So, let’s say that you feel like you’re done with the song, do you go get critiques for it, or is it you’re happy with who you collaborated with and you guys are okay and you’re ready to start pitching the song?
Liz: For me, I’m not a member of NSAI yet but I do have a lot of co writers who are and they’ll take the song in and take it for critiques. One of my, I’m still very fortunate because one of my best friends and co writers is a song critiquer of NSAI and we’re always writing together so we’re already coming from the mindset of here’s somebody who gets to critique songs all the time. We kind of know the target that we’re shooting for. I’ll take it to other songwriter friends if I feel really good about a song and go, hey, what do you think about this? Kinda of get their feelers and at that point then deciding with the co writers if we want to do a demo on it. If we think the work tape is strong enough and what we want to do with it and who we want to send it to or get a game plan from there depending on the song.
SWR: So, you’re lucky because you have people you work with that are doing this professionally.
SWR: So, you trust them. That’s the … I guess that’s what I was looking for. Who do you trust? To tell you, to be brutally honest say, hey, Liz, I don’t know about this. Or, dude, this is fantastic.
Liz: I can even tell out of this. Even the people that I trust sometimes don’t want to hurt my feelings but I can tell if someone’s like, oh, that’s great, I like that song versus oh my gosh. That’s when I know. Especially my best friend in particular who does this for a living. If I run something past her and she’s like good job versus, there’s been a couple times where she’s omg I’m freaking out! This is awesome! Then I know we’re on to something. And also, this sounds really silly, I feel like, go to your audience. There’s a couple … my boyfriends little sister, she’s in high school, she has friends who love music and if I can … I also grew up working with horses and there’s lot of kids that I know back from the barn, they’re all in middle school or high school and I know they’re all hanging out together, I’m like, hey, what do you think about this? Again, I will know, you can gauge a reaction of, oh, I like it versus omg, I can’t wait to show my friends. And you’re like, okay, we’re on to something here. I don’t know if that works for everybody but it’s what I do.
SWR: That’s fantastic. You actually have a little captive audience, a test audience.
SWR: How long to do you spend each day? What’s your day look like? Do you spend a lot of time writing? Or, some performing?
Liz: As of right now, I feel super fortunate because like I said, I have a little home studio. It’s set up mostly just for vocals and voice over. So, I’m a voice over artist too and basically I get up in my day and I see what voice over clients need work and usually I’ll have … I’ll co write a day. Sometimes it’s two. Sometimes it’s more. Sometimes it’s less. I’m also a demo vocalist so pretty much I’ll either work remotely or I’ll go into other producer’s studios, sing for them. I teach voice lessons so for me it’s a little bit hodge podge but generally speaking, I’m either in my studio or in somebody else’s studio or in somebody else’s writing room. I’m grateful because for me it’s created a flow of as soon as I finish my whatever, voice over job or whatever I have to do to pay the bills, then I’m already standing here with Pro Tools open, I’m like, oh, I can go to this session or oh, I can work on that song or someone’s coming over in a few minutes. Come on in to the studio, there’s the piano. There’s this or that. I feel fortunate because it’s a very streamlined process. About a year and a half before my move, we were planning for my move, I was working full time at a desk job. Crossing my T’s, dotting my I’s, making sure that I had the financial means to get here and going from working on somebody else’s schedule back to my own creative schedule is just amazing.
SWR: Yeah, so, tell me about that because this is something I’m really curious about. How do musicians make ends meat because I look here in the bay area and it’s pretty tough. You made a decision. You were doing a day job, you were sitting at a desk, and did you start saying, hey, this month, this year, I’m definitely going to Nashville, I need to start saving up. What was that whole process like?
Liz: That’s exactly what happen. So, basically, I got out of my record deal and I’d had an advance and I’d had some savings from that and I was working for my families small business, we make trophies. Basically, I was there, I was only there a month and I listen to a lot of podcast and different songwriters and I can definitely recommend some if you or the audience would like to know. I was listening to one with an artist Kelleigh Bannen here and she’s a country artist and it was just so apparent. What did she say? Must be present to win was a phrase that was repeated a couple of times in this one podcast and for country it’s really true. Obviously, working remotely is so much easier with technology but to be working in this town you must be present to win. I thought to myself, done. I’ve to do it. Got to move. And worked at the business and saved and planned and meanwhile I’d work a full day and then go home and be working on demos or be working on my own music or recording demos for other people so I was pretty much working between a full time job and then a part-time job singing for other people and then a part-time job creating for myself to get … basically I recorded a full album last year in prepping to move so that I would have songs to show, case my own work and my own songwriting. It was crazy but it worked out and you’re in the bay area, obviously there’s a cost of living difference between California and Nashville so once I did all the math and logistics and had been coming out here making trips it pretty much took me a year to plan it and do it. Would not trade it for a second. Couldn’t pay me to go back.
SWR: That’s great. So, what’s the … actually, I’ll take that back. You talked about resources, what are some of the resources you use? You talked about listening to podcasts, what books do you read? Magazines?
Liz: I’m a huge fan of the BobbyCast. Bobby Bones is like the country Ryan Seacrest, I guess. He’s got a great podcast that he does from his house and he primarily focuses on interviewing songwriters. He interviews artists as well and there’s a lot of artists who are amazing songwriters. A larger audience outside of country may not understand, or may not fully be exposed to how collaborative it really is. Some of the hugest pop artists like Sam Hunt for example has wrote Cop Car for … who sang Cop Car? Was that … Oh, f’ing b. Okay, whatever. It’s very inter meshed in the songwriting world. So, the BobbyCast is great. This Nashville Life, there’s not a ton of episodes but that’s the one with Kelleigh Bannen. I really like that one. And the Writer Is, who does that one? Let me check. I should know his name. Why does it … Ross Golan, there we go. And the Writer is, is more pop. I found it’s more L.A./New York but they do interview country as well and between those three, there’s exposure to pretty much any genre that you’re in. For vocalists, I don’t know if that’s something but for anybody’s who’s a songwriter as well as a vocalist, The intelligent Vocalist with John Henny, is amazing. And that one I’ll just put on. I’m always learning something from that one as a singer. Those four are my go tos.
SWR: Great. So, what is some of the mistakes that you think you’ve made along the way that you maybe would … people listening to this podcast should not do?
Liz: That is a great question. I feel like, first of all, I have to tell this to myself, any time I make a mistake I realize that people who don’t try don’t make mistakes. So, even if I’m making a mistake, I’m trying and always trying to fall forward. If I’m going to fall down at least fall in the direction that I’m heading, it’s still forward movement. I feel like I’ve been fortunate to not end up in too many icky situations. Having that being said, I think it’s pretty common to have some sort of legal trouble when you’re in the creative business, especially when your collaborating so having clear boundaries of who what wrote, keeping everything clear and defined when you go in to write. Nashville’s very much like if four people are in the room it’s a four way split. L.A. is not that way. Understand when dues need to be paid versus when you’ve paid those dues and now it’s time to make sure that you’re getting compensated fairly. I’ve spend a lot of time demo singing and top lining without being compensated and I was so young I was paying my dues. I didn’t realize that I was providing a very valuable service and also, collaborating and part of the writing process and it wasn’t until, this was when i was first getting started, and it wasn’t until I finally realize hey, these songs are getting pitched and possible could get cut and here I am offering lyric and melody or contributing and not … there’s been a couple situations where I know I’ve been taken advantage of but also recognized now I get hired by producers because those first producers took a chance on me and let me cut my teeth. I’m trying to think of any huge mistakes. Other than yeah, just try to stay out of legal troubles by having things defined at the onset of a write or the onset of a project. And just knowing that the music world is an incredibly small community even in Los Angeles. Especially in Nashville. And they are even more intermixed now that communication like this is so much easier and knowing that your reputation does precede you and will follow you, just being a good human, which I feel like shouldn’t have to be said but you’d be surprised. Some people do act in ways that don’t benefit their career.
SWR: It’s so true right? There’s always talk about trying to be genuine and authentic. Why isn’t that something that’s just natural? You don’t have to take a class for it, right?
Liz: Don’t be dick. Don’t harass people. Don’t be annoying. Don’t be creepy. Just have manners, lord.
SWR: Yeah. Alright, so, what does Liz do that outside of her song writing to sustain songwriting?
Liz: Like I said, I do voice overs, which is so much fun. Literally, I like to talk but I’ll get these scripts in that are hilarious. It’s almost like the weirder they are … and I can just change my voice so it doesn’t sound like me in case anyone’s like, were you that voice for…, No! That helps pay the bills. Demo singing for other people helps pay the bills. I feel like as I’m adjusting it’s been pretty seamless, which I’m grateful for. I guess, outside of songwriting, I use to work with horses so I have my horse, he’s here in Nashville and taking an hour or two out everyday to go ride is absolutely necessary. For me, it’s necessary to have a passion completely outside of music to cleanse and focus on and horseback riding is very ritualistic. You have all the steps just kind of like there’s steps in music but you get the horse out. You brush him. You put the saddle on. There’s a whole ritual to it but I feel like a typically musician. I’m still obsessed with music so when I ride that’s when I listen to my podcasts. That for me is like, you pour out all day, I’m pouring out on the mic, I’m pouring out on the paper, I’m pouring out on the piano or the bass or whatever and I need that hour to just do something physical with my body and take in mentally. So far, it works out great.
SWR: So, riding your horse, that whole ritual, before riding, kind of puts you in a good space?
Liz: Yeah. I’m a bitch when I don’t ride. I will say that honestly. For a lot of people that’s yoga and I do the horseback riding thing and they’ll go to their Pilates or their weightlifting or whatever. I think it is important as a writer, especially for me as a singer and a writer, my body and my mind have to be prepared to pour out into this process. You’ve got to have your meditation or whatever you need to kind of be right so that you can go out and be social and again, not be a dick.
SWR: I love it. Okay, so, kind of getting close to the end but let’s say today someone’s trying to get into songwriting. What would you tell them? Hey, this is how you’re going to start. Or maybe this is what you should try first.
Liz: Learn an instrument. 100 percent, learn an instrument. Get a DAW. Get a recording software. If you are able. Most computers come with .. if you get a Mac, comes with Garage Band. Play it it. Learn theory. It is not detrimental to be incapable of understanding theory but my god it makes it so much harder and you have so many other colors to play with if you have an understanding of theory or it’s not just one, four, five, which for pop music is all …. But still, to have that understand. Record yourself. If you do have aspirations of being a vocalist as well, again, get Garage Band, get whatever. Practice, learn. I think diving into as much music as possible and something that I’ve started to do recently because I’m preparing to go back into the studio again for my own music, is anytime I hear a song that really kicks me in the gut and I don’t know why or I want to replay it, I write it down and I write down why. It’s interesting because you’ll start to notice a pattern. I like that vibe. I like that mood. I like that beat. I like that lyric. I like that vocal. And again, if you’re starting, this is more i guess for an artist but if you’re starting to see what attracts you to music, you’ll find it starting to pour out in your own creativity and just for songwriters, even still, I’d say of your favorite songs print out the lyrics or actually, I’m such a nerd, hand write them out. Hand write them out and there is a brain body connection. You’ll start to internalize and process and see why you like it and it’ll come back out in your own writing. And just read a ton. That’s my best advice.
SWR: Awesome. Alright, one of the last questions, what would you have asked you if you were me that i didn’t ask today?
Liz: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t know, you ask so many good questions.
SWR: Okay, maybe we’ll change it. If you were interviewing a song writer, what would you have asked?
Liz: I think I would ask, oh gosh, that’s wonderful question and I’m struggling so hard. What’s your favorite song that you’ve written.
Liz: There’s a joke around town in Nashville, the one I wrote today. You always think the song you wrote is awesome and then you’ll step back and that’s my test. I’ll step back, I’ll wait a few days, and I’ll play the work tape and be like, do I still love it? Truthfully, I think that songs that come from your own experience and are most personal to you, even if it’s not the best song in the world, still is going to mean more. The last song that I wrote actually, I read it with my sister and I’ve struggled, everybody’s had their struggles but I’ve struggled openly and am now recovered from eating disorders and I feel like every songwriter has their, a lot of people have a dark space. And that kind of promotes your creativity. Being recovered in the past few years I have not revisited it or talked about it and we wrote it, in my opinion, pretty powerful encouraging song about everybody has the desert and the whole idea about the song is you can take into the desert but I’m going to be stronger on the other side. So, I’m really excited about it, as you can tell.
SWR: Yeah. That’s great. Alright, I think I totally lied. I do have one more question.
SWR: What are you struggling with today as a musician, as a songwriter?
Liz: Oh, just wanting to be better. Every single day, every single song I just want it to be better.
SWR: Okay. Fantastic.
Liz: Thank you so much.
SWR: Thank you for your time.
Liz: Of course, absolutely.