Mad Decent's Liz Is a Walking High School Drama From 2001
Valley Girl ultra-babe gives great music industry advice then talks about "Rockwilder-era beats with Y2K Neptunes chord progressions"? We're crushin.
Mad Decent's Liz is on the 2 Chainz album, has collaborated with Ryan Hemsworth, is friends with Diplo and is touring for the first time supporting Charli XCX. While it's hard not to be jealous of this Hollywood bombshell, her journey from radio-loving teenybopper to R&B diva with an ear for the underground proves she's put in the work to get there. Inspired by the '90s and '00s music video aesthetic—you know, SUVs in the high-school parking lot, basketball courts, custom Tims—she's making real pop music for the people. We got Liz to answer some questions about her bad self, and she sent us a bunch of links to her favorite music videos so we can get a little window into what makes this songstress tick.
THUMP: When did you begin singing? How has your sound changed and become refined into your current style?
Liz: I began singing when I was about seven years old. I experimented with writing and recording different styles within pop throughout the years, but my voice always had a soulful R&B element to it, which I felt I wanted to embrace more. I've always been a pop baby, but I also listen to a lot of progressive underground music, so I've found a way to incorporate those aesthetics by working with those producers I dig and admire.
Lately, I've been integrating this song into my set in a completely unexpected way. My live show has the energy of a DJ set, but it's more about celebrating pop and R&B through some cool edits, mashups and dance breaks.
Where are you from and what was your life like as a teenager?
I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. I was actually a terror at home, and my mom claims she thinks I was creatively frustrated and I didn't have the correct avenues to express myself. She says the second I started getting serious about ballet and music and art, I really calmed down and showed real signs of having passion and ambition. It was a very long road to get to where I am now, but I really do think it takes time to figure out who you are as a human and who you are as an artist. Luckily, I have a supportive family who always believed in me and helped nurture my dreams as much as possible.
Christina Aguilera's "Obvious" is actually the song I sang when I met the first music producer I ever worked with. He introduced me to the writers of this song and I got to actually sing it for them in the room. It was a surreal experience for a 12-year-old.
How do you think pop music has changed from what you grew up on to what you are making now?
The Top 40 pop music I grew up on really influences what I make today. I am very nostalgic for it because it was there for me during the most innocent and confusing times in my life. Music was always that constant for me, regardless of what I was going through in my adolescence. I infuse my records with those vibes from the millennium but with a progressive twist on the production and fresh choices when it comes to my collabs.
Here's my song "U Over Them." It's a pretty good example of the marriage of my childhood and today, with visuals to match.
What do you think of the fusion that's happening now between these different dance music worlds? Being signed to Mad Decent/Jeffrees, how do you think your music applies to the collision of the genres?
The soundscape is so open today, because there are so many people blending genres and taking really cool risks. I kind of like to stay away from getting too technical with genres and dividing lines. For instance, "U Over Them" would technically be like, meta-Darkchild-UK garage-Jersey club-bb-Destiny's Childwave or something, but it's hard for me to have an academic review on stuff like that.
That's why Mad Decent is so great for me, because I really just like to make stuff that inspires me and that I feel will inspire others, and they have such an "anything goes" approach. Mad Decent is hands down the best as far as being eclectic and on the pulse of curating new sub-genres, and how those trends evolve into new sounds. We take chances and it's a very exciting time to be making music right now.
Mr. Carmack is on some next-level shit. He makes danceable hip-hop tracks that blur a lot of lines on the genre front. Most of them are unquantized, kind of reminiscent of Rockwilder-era beats with Y2K Neptunes chord progressions, and they're mastered super loud for the club.
What are some of the most important things you've learned from your years in the music industry? Do you think this has made you cold or jaded at all?
I'd say building the right team around you and knowing how to navigate this industry with dignity and integrity is the hardest part. It is so important to know when people truly have your best interests at heart, or if they have other agendas. It is very hard to find those rare people within the industry and sometimes it's best to work with your friends and people who have known you for years. My manager and I went to high school together and some of the people closest to me who I write with are ones I have worked with since I was a young teenager. Knowing how to identify those people you can really trust and who know how to bring the best out of you is the key.
DJ Khaled says it best in his movie, No New Friends: "You can't trust nobody, keep your circle tight. Remember, no new friends. They gon' know. Just know."
How important is image and branding for an artist? How much of being an artist do you think is more than the actual musical element?
Being an artist is so much more than just having cool songs. You have to be aware of who is going to identify with you and really embrace a certain path. Being influential and being a tastemaker is important to me, but making sure my songs keep getting better and stronger is just as necessary. There are certain stars who get to a point where their music is almost supplemental to their celebrity, and that's a great power to have and all, but at the same time, being savvy and knowing how to progress with music and pop culture—and not losing touch with reality—is extremely important too. In my opinion, the most successful artists keep themselves in check and have an open mind when it comes to evolving and changing long after they are famous. If you're going to hop a certain trend, it's better to go to the source of where that music is originating, rather than making fake versions with industry producers.
I love to see a young artist resurrecting a Babyface song and having the vocals to make it shine on radio today. Ariana Grande can sing her ass off and I'm lovin' the nostalgia in this. Her A&R is smart to give her a song from one of the most prolific modern R&B writers of all time. V down for Ariana.
Day to day, what are you up to? When did it really hit you that you are a pop artist fulltime and all of the opportunities that are to come? What would be your ultimate diva moment?
Day to day, right now, I go to pilates, hang with my doggies and my best friends and the rest of the time, I'm literally holed up in my studio making a shitload of new songs. I am so excited about this batch of new material. I'm able to manifest things a lot quicker now, without so much of the hustle and struggle. I'm going to be traveling a bit with Charli XCX for our tour dates together, and then for the rest of the year, I'll be creating, putting out videos, putting out an EP, plus working on a big release for next year. Obviously, some insanely fun stuff is peppered in (like getting to travel to faraway lands and do photo shoots with glamorous magazines and play crazy fun gigs like warehouse parties etc.) My "diva" moments are usually me wanting things to be perfect and how I envision them. I'm pretty patient when it comes to big picture things, but I get anxious and impatient when little details aren't taken care of right away. After all, it is the smallest details that are all part of a bigger plan.
I'll leave you with this, which is my ultimate diva steez.