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Lizzie Donohue





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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