Now/It's: An Interview with Liz Cooper

The past ten years of Nashville are something of an ouroboros. Quick aside about the ouroboros (for the uninitiated) - as is the case with many an iconographic entity, the ouroboros has many different meanings and ascription, some pertaining to alchemy, and others societal. In this particular instance, we’ll be focusing on the societal lens. At the risk of this intro turning into an exercise in subpar hermetics, I’ll leave our aside with this, Matthew McConaughey may have represented the societal ouroboros best  in the Linklater opus, Dazed & Confused - “I get older, they stay the same age.” Now, contextually, the movie quote is a bit unsavory, but the general notion is applicable to the sustained draw of Nashville - as the city grows at an exponential rate, it still manages to draw the same bright eyed youngbloods ready to cut their teeth from Broadway to Inglewood. Liz Cooper was one of those youngbloods almost a decade ago, cutting her teeth going from show to show to show to eventually becoming one of Nashville’s true, bonafide rising stars. While she’s still on the rise, Cooper’s time in Nashville has wizened and steadied her ascent, something that anyone new to Nashville can benefit from. People keep coming to Nashville, but Liz Cooper keeps doing her thing. 

Now/It’s met with Liz Cooper at Cafe Roze in the Lockeland Springs neighborhood of Nashville.

N/I - How have you been?

Liz - Just running around all over town. 

N/I - Really? How so? 

Liz - Just scrambling constantly. 

N/I - What are you scrambling for?

Liz - Well, our bass player just stopped playing with us, so I’m trying to figure that out. 

N/I - Oh, so some bonfide logistical scrambling, then. 

Liz - Logistical scrambling. I’m doing a lot of writing. We’re going into the studio in about a month or something? So just tour, tour, tour…. Scramble, scramble, scramble. But it’s good.

N/I - No kidding. You toured for a while. How many dates did you guys do after the album came out?

Liz - Oh gosh, I don’t know. I’d be interested to look that up. We’ve been pretty much gone since the album came out. At least two and a half years, I feel. 

N/I - That’s a good chunk of change, that’s for sure. 

Liz - It’s been fun, though.

N/I - Had you ever toured to that length before?

Liz - That’s…. This is the busiest I’ve ever been. I feel like I’ve been on tour pretty consistently for… I don’t know… The past five years or so. I’ve just been going. But more people get involved, which helps. As we keep touring, it keeps growing, which is amazing that’s the case. It’s just been non-stop.

N/I - Well, I thought that since your tour ended recently, I’d imagine you’d get some time off from the road, but now that you’re back, it’s just jumping straight into other things. Just no rest for the weary. 

Liz - No rest for the weary [laughs].

N/I - How do you deal with that? How do you adapt?

Liz - [Laughs] Well, you adapt to it….

N/I - Quite literally that. I guess that’s asking the pot to call the kettle black [laughs]. That’s something that always fascinates me - being someone who does not go on tour, but talks to enough people who do - is finding some sort of stasis in all of the travel. Does Nashville feel like “home?”

Liz - At this point…. It’s really nice, because I’ve been here for a solid eight, almost nine years - so it is my home. I moved here when I was nineteen. It’s become a very comfortable place, but to me I almost feel like I’m passing through. 

N/I - Well that’s why I ask, because you more than likely spend more time on the road than you do here for extended periods of time. 

Liz - Yeah, when I come home, it’s nice. I hang out a lot with my roommates. They’re all artists and musicians, so we do a lot of painting and get into a lot of trouble [laughs]. It’s fun. 

N/I - I’m sure it is. Where are you from originally?

Liz - I grew up in Baltimore, mostly. I moved around a lot there when I was a little kid, for no reason.

N/I - Not like a military kid, or anything like that?

Liz - Not military. I lived in Baltimore pretty much my whole life until I moved down here. My dad is from Frederick, Maryland, and my mom is from just outside the city in New York. They met in Frederick. My mom went to college there. They moved around, but decided to come back, because most of our family is there. 

N/I - What’s the college there?

Liz - Hood College. My dad was a townie. My mom went to college, and they met through friends and they’re still there. 

N/I - So were they musical at all?

Liz - My dad played in bands growing up, and when I was growing up, he played in bands as well. Just cover bands. He always had a drum set, and there were always instruments around the house. My mom played guitar growing up, as well, and in college. So there was always stuff that was accessible in the house. I’d just go around and ask “What is that?” Anything I could do to make noise, I would do it. I found some old pictures of me recently, and there’s a picture of me playing pots and pans like drums. I’m sure that drove them insane.

N/I - It seems like it worked out to this point.

Liz - It did. It did. They both threw me into the fire of good music and going to shows a lot. I think once they realized I really enjoy good music, that was kind of like a bonding thing with them. We all liked this music, so we’re going to go see it. 

N/I - That’s great. So you say “good” music, what qualifies as “good” music in this scenario?

Liz - Well, I say “good” music because I also like Nelly and all of these things where my parents are like “That sucks.” They’d say, “Listen to Bob Dylan.” and now I understand Bob, but at the time….

N/I - Bob was not your priority?

Liz - Right. Bob was not my priority. It was Nelly, Destiny’s Child, really anything I was hearing on the radio. There was Brittany Spears and all of those pop stars. 

N/I - I understand that entirely. 

Liz - Then my dad was like “Wow. You’ve got to start listening to other things, too.” So they started taking me to a lot of jam-y stuff. Like Allman Brothers and Peter Frampton. All the Grateful Dead tribute bands, that was always fun. 

N/I - And do you think that influence stuck with throughout time?

Liz - It definitely did. I love that music, but I also found my own music that I really love….

N/I - That’s outside of Destiny’s Child and Nelly….

Liz - Right. But I still love Destiny’s Child. 

N/I - Sure, who doesn’t? 

Liz - I don’t know. 

N/I - So you came to Nashville when you were nineteen with the intention of straight up going for music? Or was it just because Nashville seemed interesting? What drew you here? 

Liz - It was the intention to “make it” in some way. I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to do, exactly, because I was mostly just starting out writing my own songs. I really started playing guitar and singing and becoming obsessed with it by the time I was sixteen. So once I got to college, I knew that I wanted to do that. I think because I was angry and angsty, I decided I was going to write about that stuff….

N/I - Like most teenagers….

Liz - Exactly. “I’m angry, so I’m going to write.” When I move down here, I thought that there was a chance I might write for other people. Maybe that’s what my thing was going to be. So I did that, and I hated it [laughs]. I love writing….

N/I - What was the difference in that writing process as opposed to the process of writing for yourself?

Liz - Well I was just going down on Music Row and going into these co-writes in flourescent lit rooms and writing country music for people. That just wasn’t my vibe. I was like “This is like going to work.”

N/I - And there was no appeal in that?

Liz - There was no appeal in that! So I was always playing. I was always playing writer’s rounds and open mics until I could finally get my foot in the door at some venues. I started playing at The Basement, and that was the first place that started letting me play. 

N/I - Was that through New Faces Nite?
Liz - Yeah, New Faces Nite, and then I bothered Mike Grimes until he just let me play, because I wasn’t twenty-one yet, but I finally convinced them to let me. From there, I really enjoyed that and kept doing stuff in advance so I’d have to find people to help me with the things I couldn’t do by myself. So that’s where I started to realize I like to play music a lot. 

N/I - And playing your music, as opposed to other people’s. 

Liz - Right. Playing my music. Exactly.

N/I - So at what point did you start to see things truly materialize - like this is the most realized version of what I’m going to do? Because you had mentioned “making it….”

Liz - Well whatever I needed to do, the thing that stuck with me was that I was going to make it somehow. I just started making friends. We were playing music constantly, and all I was doing was writing constantly. I loved doing that. That meant something, so it just made sense to me. I made an EP with my friends, and that was the first time I had ever recorded anything. I thought that was really cool, and I’d show it off so people could see how it sounds. Now, I look back at that and I think “Oh my god, that’s what that sounds like?”

N/I - And when was that?

Liz - That was like 2014, 2015?

N/I - So a little under five years.

Liz - And so much has changed from that EP to Window Flowers. And then from Window Flowers to whatever the next thing will be is wild. But that’s just the process of music and making records - everything changes - because we change, and if you don’t, there’s nothing to improve upon. 

N/I - That’s true. So you’ve been here for the better part of a decade, and on the subject of “change,” the city has changed quite a bit. Being that you’re on the road as often as you are, is it weird to come back and see major chunks of change?

Liz - It is, because we’ll be gone for sometimes months at a time, and a lot can happen in a month. So we’d come back and there are new restaurants and houses. On the street that I live on, there was an abandoned house, but they tore it down. Stuff like that. So seeing that, it’s tough. It’s changing all the time. People are getting more and more interested in the city, and it’s getting more crowded. 

N/I - That’s true. Think about going to shows, normally you see the same groups of people going to the same shows, but more and more now, I don’t think I recognize many of the same people at any show I go to.

Liz - I know, and that’s so cool. 

N/I - It is! It’s great. That’s the great part with all the change - there are more people around to come out to a local show. 

Liz - To see any band that’s cycling through. Because I remember when I moved here, I’d go to shows all the time. We all did. We were trying to meet people and network, and see music. I still love doing that, but it’s cool that we all have done that, and all of our friends who have done that or are doing that are now busy touring and doing that, and the people we looked up to are doing their own thing. Everyone’s kind of doing that. So it’s cool to see younger kids come in and are doing what we were doing. 

N/I - Who are some of those younger kids?

Liz - Some of the younger kids? I don’t know. We’re all about the same age, so maybe not younger….

N/I - But they’re newer in the game. 

Liz - Newer, yeah. Like Katie Pruitt and a chunk of her whole crew are young and hungry. They're going to shows and playing their asses off. 

N/I - So when you were going to shows trying to meet people, whose shows were you going to?

Liz - It was just our friends, like Microwave Mountain, The Minks, Ron Gallo, Desert Noises, Future Thieves, Leah Blevins, Erin Rae, the list goes on and on. 

N/I - For sure. So now that you’re almost ten years into living here and being Liz Cooper of Liz Cooper and The Stampede, do you feel like there’s still a lot more that’s going to change?

Liz - It’s all going to change. It’s always changing. It’s just more mature, and I’ve learned a lot over the past few years.

N/I - Is there any sort of takeaway? Even if it’s just “never tour without a neck pillow…”

Liz - Well you should never tour without a neck pillow…. Or a butt pillow. I’m realizing that’s where my body is starting to creak and crack, because I’m sitting in vans so much. But my big takeaway is that thanks to things that have been happening over the past few months, even though you may be doing as much as you’re doing and thinking that this is the dream, you always have to keep working, whether or not it’s your thing, because everyone is your competition, but even if you feel like you’re doing your thing and you’re doing it well, something will happen and you’ll have to figure it out. You’re keeping your sea legs, I guess. You have to always be strong in that way.

N/I - Right. Always kind of moving. 

Liz - Exactly. Never become comfortable.