If you haven’t caught W21 Music’s monthly songwriter’s night at Gullivers yet, you’re definitely missing out. We caught up with Liv Austen who recently headlined the evening on her Manchester debut to find out about her new EP, the personal approach to music and how her Norwegian heritage plays a part in her songwriting.
Welcome to Manchester. It’s your first time playing in Manchester, are you looking forward to it?
I’m so excited. I’ve been waiting for this for so long and finally it’s happening. I’m thrilled.
What can people expect from you live?
I think what I do, when I do acoustic shows like this, is a lot of storytelling. My songs are usually about my life or inspired by my life. It’s little stories and I really focus on that when I’m on my own with the guitar and I haven’t got the band with me. I just focus on telling the stories and hopefully people can get something from it.
That’s something which we picked up on in your fantastic debut EP, the honesty, personal feel and the storytelling. Your new EP isn’t too far off now either …
It’s not too far off. My EP is going to be called Who I Am Today and if all goes to plan it’s going to be out on the 20 May. The EP launch will be part of Nashville Nights. It’s very soon!
Does it follow the same personal approach in that it’s straight from the heart?
I think it’s going even further that way. I’ve already released a single, Don’t Regret A Single One, which I have had some reactions to, because of the songwriting and I’ve also got a couple of songs on there, especially one, which I had to warn my Dad about, when he was in the audience, because I was singing about him. So I thought I’d give him fair warning! So it’s pretty honest stuff. I’m definitely going more in that direction now.
How did your Dad react to that?
It was probably a bit weird for him because it’s about my parents’ break-up. I think he was very proud of me anyway. That’s all he said anyway!
What’s your approach to writing a song?
These days it’s all these different ways that they come about. Sometimes it’s the story first, sometimes it’s just a phrase, sometimes it’s just some kind of vibe. It used to be, all the time, that I had a story I wanted to tell but now that I write more I’m finding all these different ways of merging the tune I play on the piano or guitar and finding it fits with an idea and I can merge the two. Sometimes I literally just, and this happens a lot, get a phrase in my head and I go back to do a song and just think about the saying or something which sticks with me and turn in to a song. There are all these different ways of doing it for me.
Who have you been working with on the EP?
All the songs on the EP are just written by me but I am co-writing quite a lot now so for my first album there’s going to be a lot of co-writes. In terms of working with people, I did work with my guitarist on the single – he did a riff which inspired the song, so he’s kind of an unofficial co-writer on that song but doesn’t want any credit for it! I worked with two different producers. I produced the single in Maidstone, Kent and then the rest of the EP on the Isle of Wight at Studio 5A with my friend Claydon Connor who’s a songwriter as well and he also has a studio. So it’s two different inputs and two different vibes. The single which is going to be on the EP is very country, whereas the stuff I did on the Isle of Wight is a little more singer/songwriter. The two going together is quite interesting, as well as seeing how people respond to that.
How did you get into country music?
I started writing songs which people said were kind of country. I didn’t really grow up listening to a lot of country music. I did have a bit of Shania Twain in my childhood (many of us did) but I didn’t really think of it as country. Country wasn’t something which was really played in my house at all, but then I started writing when I was a teenager and people said it was very honest, that the lyrics were honest like in a country song, so I started listening to country music. My friend was obsessed with Carrie Underwood and told me about her and then I got obsessed with her too! So it’s kind of come along in the last six or eight years really. It just fit when I found it.
You’re from Norway, what’s the country music scene like out there? Is there a big country music scene?
Yes and no. I think it’s slowly growing, just in a way like it is here, but on a bit of a delay. They really love country music but they are very much still leaning towards the Americans, so they do still find it a bit weird when people who aren’t American do it! They love Brad Paisley (he comes over all the time), Carrie Underwood did really well when she played at the C2C there. I think there is room for country music to grow there, but I think what’s happening in the UK and certain other European countries is going to find its way through Europe and Norway as well.
Have you performed yourself in Norway many times?
I have but not really much since I moved to the UK. I first moved here to attend drama school, so I was completely immersed in that for three years and after that I mainly performed in the UK because I lived in London. The first few times I started gigging my own songs, I did in Norway but it’s been a while so I’m really hoping to go back.
Do you find that Norwegian heritage influences your music?
That’s a really good question. I think maybe, without realising, it probably does. It is my background. I lived in Norway until I was 16 and then moved to Belgium and back again (it’s a long story!). I’ve grown up with Norwegian folk music and all that kind of stuff so it’s probably affected me in a way. I think also, the thing which affects me is having that second language to draw from as well. I don’t really follow rules when it comes to whether I use an English expression or an American expression or I use something which we say in Norway. Sometimes I kind of break the rules a bit language-wise. Maybe it’s something I’ll explore further in the future, going into Norwegian music and influences. I saw this amazing Norwegian band playing in London, called Circumnavigate, and they’re really Nordic. It was so cool. It was completely different from what I do, but that was really inspiring.
The first place we saw you perform was your fantastic performance at FSA Fest. We understand you have a couple of festivals lined up this year.
Yes, I’m going to do FSA again in its new venue and I’m going to be doing Buckle and Boots as well, so we’re going to come back up here again which is going to be great. I’m really excited about that – it’s going to be fun.
Do you look forward to festivals or intimate gigs more?
I’m really happy that I get to do a lot of different things now because I love doing stuff like I’m going to do tonight because it’s really great, and it’s fun to be at festivals as well because at this point I know so many of the people who are performing, it’s great to see my friends go on stage and then go on stage myself. It’s just a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of people in one place and see music lovers come together. I do love songwriters’ events like this and gigs with my band where I get to headline as well.
Who would you like to write with?
There’s tonnes of people I’d like to write with. The people who really inspired me, Jessi Alexander – I think she’s fantastic – Brett James and Hilary Lindsey, the people who’ve written with Carrie Underwood – that would be incredibly inspiring. I think it’s really hard to know before you try it, who you’re going to click with. I’ve written a couple of songs with Jessica Sharman who’s based in London and she’s fantastic and written these cool tunes with me. You’ve just got to meet people and try different things. But if I had to pick one, then Jessi Alexander.
You’re heavily involved in acting. Do you find that complements the musical side of things? Do they work together or do you draw a line between the two?
I really want them to complement each other. That’s what I’m aiming to do because people tend to ask which one I would chose if I had to pick one and I find that a really difficult question as I want them to work together. I don’t want to pick one. I think I have now in some ways, because of the music, but I still see myself as an actor so what I’m aiming to do is to make them complement each other but it is sometimes quite difficult due to time. There is the thing of time going really fast! So sometimes you do have to choose which one to focus on – am I doing this gig or am I taking this job? So sometimes I have to make a choice. But my ultimate goal is to be completely 50:50 actor/singer (and a songwriter somewhere in there!).
Liv Austen releases her new EP Who I Am Today on the 20 May. The EP launch will be part of Nashville Nights held on 20 May at Under The Bridge, Chelsea.
Liv Austen returns to perform at the Buckle and Boots Festival at Etherow Country Park, Stockport 24-26 June 2016 alongside the likes of Ward Thomas, Jess and the Bandits, Luke and Mel, Phil Vassar and Gary Quinn.