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Carry Illinois - An Interview with singer/songwriter Lizzy Lehman

Carry Illinois - An Interview with singer/songwriter Lizzy Lehman

From the drumbeats of our ancestors to the new digital age of streaming at the touch of a button, music is a powerful influence. Developing words that capture one's attention as they cascade throughout a song is a talent that few have mastered. Enter Lizzy Lehman, lead vocalist and songwriter for Austin based Carry Illinois. Lizzy has a knack for connecting with her audience through lyrically revealing life in the rawest form. 

Carry Illinois' much-anticipated upcoming EP, 'Work in Progress' featuring the lead single 'Runaway' will soon be released.  Lehman and her bandmates Rudy Villareal (Drummer), Darwin Smith (Guitarist), Benjamin Rowe Violet (Keyboard), and Andrew Pressman (Bassist) have collaborated to deliver music we can relate to. You can listen to 'Runaway' here 

Volup2 was fortunate enough to learn a little more from Lizzy Lehman as she talks about the past and present Carry Illinois. 

 Photo Credit:   Brandon Aguilar

Photo Credit: Brandon Aguilar

Was there a standout moment while writing fact-based lyrics where you had to fight through the anxiety and allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to tell your story?

Fighting through anxiety and learning to be vulnerable are part of my everyday story, and the writing process is no exception.  These feelings mostly arose when I was writing "Runaway" and "Work In Progress". I used to shy away from writing about the real issues in my life, but after our bass player John Winsor died, I felt I could no longer keep this content out of my songs. 

In "Runaway", I had to remind myself it was ok to tell the world that I have always hated my body. I have always felt conflicted about my shape, my weight, and my body as a whole. I realized this is something music fans need to hear from me because most people don't feel good about themselves in this way. I had been hesitant to bring up my painful past for a long time and finally realized that writing about it was one of the best ways for me to process my feelings (aside from therapy).  

Writing "Work In Progress" was difficult at first due to not wanting to hurt a previous bandmate's feelings. I quickly realized that my feelings were valid and a great song came out of them, so I had to be utterly honest while also shining light on my hopes for him and his personal and professional life.

Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana

Your trip to Kerrville Folk Festival was an important turning point in your life. Besides your now wife, what was the most life-changing thing you gained from that experience?

Besides meeting my wife, the most life-changing thing I gained from going to the Kerrville Folk Festival was learning how to hug. I know it sounds silly, but no one shakes hands at Kerrville, they say "Welcome Home" and then you fully embrace. I had to learn to let go of formality, anxiety surrounding meeting new people, and my northern frigidity that always made me timid and untrusting. It was the first time in my life when I realized that older Texans calling younger people "honey", "sweetie", and "darlin'" was totally normal. This was one of the first times in my life that I learned it was ok to relax and have real fun.

Who are the musical influences for you and the other band members?

My musical inflluences range in genre quite a bit. I am inspired by Carole King, Jefferson Airplane, Brandi Carlile, Lizzo, The Helio Sequence, Ezra Furman, The Supremes, The Beatles, Max Richter, Perfume Genius, and so many more amazing musicians. My bandmates were super excited to answer this question as well.

Here are their answers:

Rudy Villarreal (drums): Tony Williams, John Coltrane, The Clash

Benjamin Rowe Violet (keys): Lower Dens and Blondie

Andrew Pressman (bass): Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock

Darwin Smith (guitar): Flaming Lips, Nina Simone, David Bowie

Your new single, “Runaway”, mentions the struggle with self-acceptance as early as age 6 or 7. This is something so many can relate to. What advice would you give others as they work to find their identity? 

Be fearlessly yourself. Know that others who put you down are projecting their own insecurities onto you and it is their problem, not yours. It is ok to feel unsure about who you are, because we are ever-changing and that’s okay. Find the lovely weirdos who you feel safe with and loved by.

Photo Credit: Brandon Aguilar

Tell us about the process for which you develop your music videos/visual? Is it difficult to collaborate with the rest of the band to reach a single vision?

"Shameful Feeling" from Carry Illinois' "Garage Sale EP" released May 12, 2017 Credits: Creator & Animator: Trevor Wiggins Music/Lyrics © Lizzy Lehman Music 

Most of our most recent music videos/visual content has been colorful, weird, emotional, and bright. I like to use a pretty hands-off approach. I find an artist whose work I love, explain what the song is about, and give them creative reign. I sometimes ask for edits or concept revisions if an idea doesn't resonate with me, but I try to be open to possibility. The band lets me realize my vision because they understand that the songs are almost all my personal life stories.  

We are about to start filming a music video for a new song from our upcoming EP "Work In Progress" (out May 25th). Our keys player/background vocalist Benjamin Rowe Violet developed the idea for the video. I am allowing him to spearhead the making of the video because he is so incredibly talented and I know it is going to turn out to be really cool.

As you and your bandmates grieved the loss of your friend, and bassist John Winsor, after he took his own life nearly 2 years ago, did you feel compelled to reach others through your music who may be struggling with mental illness?

The late John Winsor, Photo Credit: Stephen M. Keller

Losing John was one of the hardest moments of my life thus far. He was a friend who I confided in and always believed in me even when I doubted myself. He was one of the smartest, sweetest, and most talented people I had ever met. After he took his own life, I felt compelled to reach others through my music who may struggle with mental illness. I myself have dealt with depression and anxiety throughout my own life and recently came off of anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drugs after taking them for 15 years. 

It is vital to have an outlet for anger, anxiety, and depression and it is incredibly important to know that there are resources for seeking help. It is also crucial to surround one's self with supportive and loving friends. If you are a musician in Austin, there is an incredible non-profit organization called SIMS that provides low-cost mental health care. They are an invaluable resource to our city.

If you could tour with any other band, which band would that be and how do you think the experience would be?

If I could tour with any other band it would be Lucius. Their flawless unison and songwriting, mesmerizing fashion capes, and fiery band make for a night of music you’ll never forget. Touring with them would be like hanging out with your best friends at a slumber party filled with laughter, late-night conversations about life’s rollercoasters, and fashion advice not found in Cosmopolitan.

Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana

One of the strongest messages your music conveys is pushing through one's own obstacles rather than being crippled by them. Tell us the importance of this on-going mission:

We cannot live a life subdued by fear and doubt. Coping with life's challenges and painful memories is essential in developing one's identity in order to become a strong and confident being. Pushing past emotional scars is key because love and healthy connection is ultimately what will make life more enjoyable and fulfilling. I have spent too many nights worrying about what other people think of me and now I am on a journey to slough off the negativity and replace it with self-awareness.

Many thanks to Jillian Santella at Big Hassle Media

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