A lot of rockers first found their voices in the church. Indeed, can you imagine the evolution of rock n’ roll without the gospel that inspired Elvis Presley and Little Richard? For 27-year-old Liz Brasher, the foundation for her house of music was built singing praise with her family while her father’s taste for the British Invasion opened windows into the realm of secular and popular music. Her style has matured organically from those days, first as a teen playing pop rock then into her higher education in Chicago where she discovered the depth of America’s musical legacy. Last year, Liz released the Outcast EP, four songs that introduced the world at large to her developed blend of garage rock and R&B. She’s been saddled with the title of the rebel, and it’s one she relishes if not prefers. On January 18th, Fat Possum Records released the debut full-length Painted Image. I spoke to Liz the day before her album was scheduled to hit shelves and digital markets. Vanguard tracks like “Love Feasts” and “Body of Mine” had already made me an admirer, but her energy and humble enthusiasm made me a believer.
AI- You grew up in Matthews, North Carolina singin’ Gospel music in a Spanish-speaking Baptist church. What got you turned on to rock n’ roll?
LB- Well, I mean, I think the same thing that gets everybody turned on to rock n’ roll– just rock n’ roll itself. While I was singing in the church, I was hearing all these other influences on the radio and at school… So the Beatles were probably my first real introduction to rock n’ roll. My Dad played the Beatles records at home a lot. I fell in love with them and that just started a lifelong love towards British rock!
Dad was a Beatles fan. What was Mama diggin’?
My mom was all about Gospel music and nothing but Gospel music– and she’s still that way. It was a crazy combo in the house. I had Motown and the Beatles for my dad’s side and then just hymnals and contemporary music from my mom’s side.
Were you playing in bands when you were in high school?
Yeah, I was, I was fronting a pop-rock kind of band that was influenced a lot by early Maroon 5. That’s kind of what we wanted to be like. And then before that, I had a little acoustic duo where we would do… it was just me and this other girl, Morgan, and we would do some folk, some rock, some covers together.
When did you start getting into the deeper roots, the music history part of it? Is that when you went to college?
Yeah, when I went to Chicago I was confronted by my lack of southern music knowledge! Well, and actually American music history. I had a drummer… He was really well-educated, and he came from the Appalachian Mountains, and he’s like, “Hey, what do you know about Bob Dylan and the Staple Singers?” [He] introduced me to all these different people, making me go back actually all the way to Stephen Foster to study American music. Yeah, that started my love for that ’cause then it became, you know, “Shoot, I know nothing about where I grew up!”, because it was all Spanish-speaking. It was all Dominican-oriented. He really confronted me with that and then it just went forward from there.
I know you ended up in Atlanta at one point, which of course is just a hop, skip and a jump up from Macon. When did you get there, and who are you running around with at that point?
Atlanta was right after I spent three years in Chicago. That was 2010… to ’13 or ’14, I was in Chicago– and then 2014 to 2018 I was in Atlanta.
Oh, so you were there for a stretch of time?
Yeah, for a good little bit. Atlanta was great because that’s where I put together and started to front a trio. I found a rhythm section that clicked really well with me. We started playing around, and from there, I was looking at who to make records with, and Scott Bomar in Memphis came up as one of my top picks. He loved what I was doing and that’s when I came to Memphis for the very first time and recorded with the trio here. That’s when I fell in love with Memphis and then moved here. But I was in Atlanta for a little bit, but I didn’t really run around with anybody. I was kind of trying to do my own thing and write as many songs as I possibly could and work on songwriting there.
Did you ever have a chance to come down to Macon and play at all when you were in Atlanta?
No! I wanted to, but I hadn’t– so I’m so excited. I’ll get to play there soon!
Well, let’s talk about Memphis because I absolutely love the city. Not just for the obvious musical reasons, but it’s got its own rhythm and style and the food and the people and it’s just a mix of everything great. You got to go to Ardent Studios and work there, and I am a ridiculous Big Star fan, as matter of fact…
What was it like to record at Ardent?
Ardent was really unique because we didn’t record a bulk of the record there or anything because the record is primarily recorded at Electrosonic Studios, which is Scott Bomar’s place– but the string section, there’s a whole string arrangement on the album and that was recorded at Ardent. Everybody just kept telling me like, “Oh, you’re going to Ardent!” And I already knew I was going to love Ardent, but they’re like, “Especially for strings, you just can’t top recording in Memphis at Ardent!” And I didn’t know that, you know? This was my first experience ever being at Ardent but also ever having strings on anything of mine. So we walk in, and it’s really cool. There’s like this neat little atrium in the middle– and Jody is there– so I’m like, “What is going on in my life?” It was so smooth and so professional, and it went really well.
[Big Star Drummer] Jody Stephens?
Yeah, Jody from Big Star! That’s right! He was just sitting there and friendly as all… That’s what Memphis is like though, honestly. You’re just walking around legends or places where legends used to walk– and you can still feel that energy. So I think you’re right. It’s so unique here.
You put out the Outcast EP last spring, put everyone on notice– and it was just in time for the festival circuit. I think you were at Shaky Knees in Atlanta… I want to know how the relationship with Fat Possum Records came together– and why was this the perfect time to release Painted Image? Because it seems like it’s been simmering for a little while.
It absolutely had been. When I came with the trio to Memphis to record, it was just me out of my own pocket, really recording a demo or anything to put me in front of labels– because I really didn’t know where to start or where to begin? We came, and we recorded 15 songs in two days, and Scott Bomar, the producer, I guess he had called up, Bruce Watson at Fat Possum who happens to live in Memphis also and told him, “Yeah, you need to come.” I think it was him and also JD Wilkes from the Legendary Shack Shakers told Bruce Watson about me. So, he comes and he sat down and listened to what we were doing. We were still in the middle of tracking– and his jaw dropped, and I’m just watching, and I can’t believe what’s happening, you know? He tells me the next day like, “Hey, can we go meet at Central BBQ for lunch?” And I’m like, “Yeah, of course.” And he proceeds to tell me– over barbecue– about how the record deal that they’re going to present to me would be like. So, you know, we’re talking like years in the making… From the time I was a little girl I had dreamt about the time where I could be on a label– and especially one that I respected so much like Fat Possum. They signed me and then I came back to Memphis for two more weeks, and we recorded Painted Image as you know it now during that time period. We spent a little more time with those songs to develop them. After doing that, we realized, “Oh s–t, this is actually a really good record, and it would be a damn shame if while nobody knows who I am, nobody’s anticipating this really great record that we released, and it goes nowhere!” So that’s when we went back into the studio– because I write all the time, and I had written a lot of songs since then– and we just picked four songs that we thought would be a great representation of what the live trio sounds like. That’s where Outcast came from, we added two songs from Painted Image with that and put it out as an EP to just be able to base bookings and things like that around for all of last year, which went really well. And now it seems like it’s the perfect time to release Painted Image!
That was very wise to do because it looks like your 2019 is shaping up to be even busier than your 2018.
Yeah! I don’t know how that’s possible, but yeah!
The album drops tomorrow. Have you got a big party planned?
No! I don’t have a big party planned for tomorrow, but there’s just a few things with a local record store that we’ll be doing and a live taping of the album that we’ll be doing in the next few weeks. But I haven’t thought about a big party tomorrow or anything like that. I don’t know. Maybe a surprise party will be in store for me.
Tell me about the live taping. Where are you going to do that?
We’re going to do that at DittyTV studios, and they’re a really great station that’s getting international recognition now. They’re actually based here out of Memphis. But what they do is, they broadcast music videos from a lot of roots-based music 24 hours a day! You know how MTV you used to play music videos?
Yes. I am old enough to remember that.
Yeah. So they’re doing that. They’re really great. They’ve gotten an Amazon channel, on the Amazon Firestick, you plug it in and the DittyTv app is there… They’re doing great things, and they’re going to expand from just roots music to other genres as well to open up those floodgates. They’ve got this great studio in town, and they put on these live sessions at DittyTv where it looks and it feels like an MTV Unplugged almost. So that’s what we’ll be doing at the beginning of February.
You’ve got the power of the Gospel singer, you got this bluesman soul. There’s no denying that you got a little rock n’ roll, punk rock going on in your heart. What do you want to see happen next as this album takes off and you hit the road in 2019?
Honestly, next, I’d love to just collaborate with a bunch of different musicians, a bunch of different artists from any genre, honestly, that click with what it is that I’m doin’. Because I’ve spent so much time in this singular bubble, I’d love to expand and collaborate with other people.
Give me your top three people you want to collaborate with.
Oh, man! Top three? Like crazy, out-there, I’ll-probably-never-meet?
Like throw it out there in the universe and see if it comes back to you?
Okay, Okay. Top three. Paul Mccartney, number one! I had to do that! Number two, I’m going to put Bob Dylan up there, but I know that one will never happen! And then number three, I would say Dolly Parton. I love her!