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Lizzie Donohue

Deli Premiere: Lizzie Donohue's "Virgin Suicide" is an early contender for Song of the Summer

photo by Yoshiki Murata

Eagle-eyed readers may remember how last June there was a Deli column re: the unofficially designated Official Song of the Summer™ (even if it was observed to be a “hackneyed premise” at the time, but hey we’re not above a little hackery) and thus you may be wondering why The Deli has yet to nominate any entries for Summer Song of 2022™ because summer officially starts in only four days and what are ya gonna listen to come 6/21 without our sage advice?

Ok, since you asked nicely (!) we’ll get you started because there’s a song that just came out today that happens to check off a good number of the requisite summer song boxes and that’s “Virgin Suicide” by Lizzie Donohue


But how is this song "summery" exactly you may ask? (good question!) For one thing, it opens with a sprightly drum beat, and sprightly drum beats have been associated with summer since at least the Summer of 1969. And then the bass guitar plays the notes one-by-one of a major triad, and major triads have been associated with summer since at least the Summer of 1963. And then, still just a few seconds in, the intro culminates with a spirited shriek, and shrieking has been associated with summer since at least the Summer of 1964.

So right from the start “Virgin Suicide” sets a beach blanket “let’s twist at the beach” vibe musically, but the opening stanza tells another story: “Oh sweet baby / you’re doubling down and going ‘round / I can’t take this roller coaster ride / little virgin suicide” and as Lizzie herself put it to us, “Sonically I love a song with dark lyrics and catchy, happy, dance-y music” which actually fits perfectly with the longstanding summer tradition of mixing the flavours—both the light and the dark, the sun and the shade—during the longest days of the years.

RIP Julee Cruise...

Case in point re: mixing the flavours: the book and the movie The Virgin Suicides which both in their own ways mix a sweet-as-apple-pie-hazy-lazy-languorously-sensual vibe with the tragedy of, well, virgins committing suicide—a book which Lizzie had self-reportedly been obsessed with since the age of 13 which is an important number symbolically in the book so isn’t that interesting? Also interesting is that none other than The Criterion Collection is putting out a deluxe edition of the movie on home video later this summer so hey I smell a cross-promotional tie-in opportunity for Miss Lizzie here just sayin’.

Clearly, neither the book nor the movie would work at all if they were set in the dead of winter, or any other season besides summer really, so isn’t that interesting too, but not nearly as interesting as drunk kids getting their kicks in the bathroom and your tongue getting so numb that you’ll talk to anyone to paraphrase from the lyrics. And to quote again from Ms. Donohue: “For me the story represents the fetisization and dehumanization of young girls—particularly sad young girls” and if someone doesn’t start a band called Sad Young Girls after reading this I shall be terribly disappointed. 

And would you like to know some backstory re: the creation of “Virgin Suicide”? Sure you would! Again, straight from the source: “I recorded the guitar and vocals in my bedroom. I really wanted that DIY Julien Casablancas tube-effect vocal sound. The bass and drums were done over at The Creamery in Brooklyn (shoutout to Quinn [McCarthy] who engineered) with Dylan Kelly and Jensen Meeker who played on the track.

And finally, for this critic what really takes the cake (by the way Lizzie describes “Virgin Suicide” as being the musical equivalent of vanilla cake flavored ice cream but not equivalent to an (inevitably stale) ice cream cake) is the sweet vocal harmonies that come in near the song’s conclusion which is overall the song's most summery quality in this writer’s humble opinion, and also adds extra oomph to the song’s concluding sentiment: “I don’t wanna die a little virgin suicide / and it might be rad / I just don't think my mom and dad / would like to find me like that.” (Jason Lee)


Introducing Lizzie Donohue

In March of this year Lizzie Donohue played her first live performance, in virtual form natch, as part of a live-streaming benefit for Save The Scene—a benefit organized by Pan Arcadia (recently profiled in this space) together with the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund in support of fellow independent artists during the lockdown.

In the midst of two evenings full of fine musical entertainment Lizzie caught my ear with her two-song acoustic set (see above) and most of all with the sheer presence of her voice—a voice both smoky and sweet, kind of like Kansas City barbecue sauce in audible form (insider tip: most voices can be compared to regional barbecue sauces) or, in case you’re a vegetarian, a voice that's one of those gritty-pretty voices where you're likely to assume the speaker’s got a chest cold or some other similar ailment, but then it turns out it’s just their normal singing/speaking voice like with say Tina Turner or Rod Stewart or Bonnie Tyler, or legendary late-night NYC radio DJ Allison Steele (aka The Nightbird) which suggests a possible alternative career path for Ms. Donohue should she ever need one.

But probably not on the new career path, because as revealed in an exclusive interview with Deli Mag, Lizzie Donohue recently acquired a degree in Textile Design and Photography from FIT and already does freelance graphic design work on the side, including band logo design, and we all know lots of bands out there with ill-considered logos or no logo at all, so it sounds like lucrative work to me. But back to the music. Lizzie’s first song in the virtual concert performance above is now her first officially released single and it’s called “What’s it Matter.” Opening with some strummed guitar chords, the rhythm section soon kicks in alongside Lizzie’s voice reading you the riot grrrl act (“Hey, fuck you / you gotta pretty face but that don’t make you cool”) and really you had it coming didn’t you? But the the blow is softened by the quality of her voice, thus making for a compelling juxtaposition. So you see it’s complicated.

And it’s further complicated by another insight gleaned during our interview, namely that Lizzie sees herself singing the song to herself as much as to anyone else. So when she gets to the next lines about “what’s it matter if I dye my hair blue?” and “all the things I say just come out lame / what’s it matter anyway?” she’s basically saying why worry about socially-mandated appearances or SAT-enforced verbal skills when it’s more important to just be yourself and put yourself out there. So basically it's like an Id vs. Super-Ego situation we got going on here (“I’m completely aware that I’m my own worst enemy”) if you happen to be into psychoanalytic theory.

These lyrical sentiments are supported by an uncluttered pop-rock arrangement that's got some nice, subtle flourishes like the occasional up-the-neck bass notes and the faint, breathy background vocal at 1:22 (something we'd love to hear more of just sayin') and the cool slide-guitar-break-down-and-build-it-back-up section that comes soon after. Incidentally, “What's it Matter” was produced and mixed by Dylan Kelly who plays guitar and keys for Pan Arcadia (those guys again!) and plays bass and lead guitar on this single, a recording laid down in a friend's basement DIY home studio somewhere out on Long Island using camping tents for isolation booths which is a pretty cool idea.

And speaking of Long Island musical happenings, Ms. Donohue hails from Nassau County (on the westernmost edge of L.I. directly adjacent to Queens) which is the ancestral home of one Lou Reed. So it’s fitting that 1) Lizzie opened her Save The Scene set by noting that is was Lou Reed’s birthday; and 2) her second number was a Velvet Underground cover. And a well chosen one at that, namely “After Hours,” the last track on the Velvets' self-titled third album a.k.a. the mellow one, sung by drummer Maureen "Moe" Tucker. Like a lot of Lou Reed’s best-known songs, "After Hours" expertly walks the line between nihilism and humanism but leans more toward the latter, thanks to Tucker’s sweet lullaby-like but rough-hewn singing on what’s essentially an impish music hall number about staying in and finding comfort in solitude, but longing for human contact at the same time. Needless to say the song fits Lizzie’s voice like a glove and she adds some vocal flourishes of her own, including a brief fit of giggling at the end when she flubs a guitar chord. (even her mistakes are charming, and if you wanna hear an original take on a similar theme you can listen to “Going Nowhere Slow” on Lizzie’s Soundcloud page)

Besides Lou and VU, Ms. Donohue is also a fan of Patti Smith, Pavement (a car stereo staple whilst driving around aimlessly with her friends in Long Island), Alanis Morissette, and Mazzy Star among others and hey that's a pretty good list. Personally I’m also reminded of the female pop songwriter renaissance of the late ‘90s moving into the aughts with artists like Lily Allen, Avril Lavigne, and Nina Persson of the Cardigans (each of whom, in different ways, take riot grrrl-like attitude and wrap it in deceptively "mild girl" packaging) but maybe that’s just me. Lizzie says her upcoming EP will cover topics and themes such as outer space, Elon Musk, and the movie Heathers so you may wanna stay tuned. (Jason Lee)


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