Backed by Diplo’s Mad Decent label, rising LA songstress LIZ has been patiently plotting her music takeover. Step one, release a glimmering, maximalist single produced by the year’s buzziest name in electronic. “When I Rule The World,” produced and co-penned by SOPHIE, checks all the major boxes for a crossover hit, fusing the freshest sounds of the Underground with an undeniable pop sheen that sounds like tomorrow’s radio number one smash.
Like the present-day version of Britney Spears’ Max Martin-produced “Oops!… I Did It again,” the bubbling track brags with bratty high school hallway lyricism and a larger-than-life chorus sonically charged to take on stadium-sized nightclubs. “When I’m on the throne, it’s a total freak-zone,” LIZ asserts, cocky and unapologetic. “You can call me mommy and I’ll throw a dog a bone; better bite on that bone or you’re never going home, so bite it, break it, hit it, lick it, ’til I tell you to stop.”
We caught up with the new ruler of the pop world to talk about working with SOPHIE, writing with Charli XCX and auditioning for a girl group.
Tell me about your experience growing within the music industry.
“I spent the last decade working with different writers and producers, and I went through different eras as an artist and as a teenager too. The coolest part of being an artist is putting your twist on whatever is important to you at the time—it comes full circle. It’s learning how to change, grow and evolve, and some of the best artists have made a point of that in their careers, like Madonna and David Bowie. I’ve always been doing pop music, just different versions of that.
In my early teens, I was making straight pop music, working with some amazing songwriters and producers that were really hot at the time, like the Matrix and John Shanks. I learned a lot from those people because their acts were quite the pop stars at that time, like Avril Lavigne, Ashlee Simpson and Michelle Branch. I definitely went through a darker, moodier singer/songwriter phase and did a lot of shows acoustically. I didn’t want to rely on anyone, so I learned how to accompany myself on piano. I did a lot of shows like that, but I really wanted to experiment with different sounds and it was a natural thing to start working with my friends who were producing electronic music. That allowed me to grow as an artist.”
Your Just Like You EP had a very nostalgic, early 2000’s sound, which is very different from “When I Rule The World.” Why the switch?
“I think ‘When I Rule The World’ is just one of the many colors of what I do. It’s not necessarily early 2000’s R&B, but I think it’s cool to change. I wouldn’t say I’m abandoning anything, I’m just growing with the times; I’m really about uncovering what’s bubbling underground. Part of my entire identity as an artist is to not box myself in with a particular niche. I don’t like when people call me a ‘throwback artist,’ I’m just celebrating certain influences, which are very true to me that haven’t been touched upon very much, and I’m always doing it in a fresh way. I don’t think I’ve ever put out anything that just sounds like straight, dated music. The producers I’m working with always put a futuristic twist on everything. That’s why I gravitated toward SOPHIE—he’s the future, so I wanted to make original music with him.”
How did your collaboration with SOPHIE come about?
“I’ve known SOPHIE for a while; I’d seen him play live with A.G. Cook and QT, but was officially introduced to him in LA. We ended up getting together the following week and had a session. We had talked about ideas in London with him, A.G. and QT before all the major hype. He’s a very creative guy, so it was special to work with him. He has an awesome attitude. This was a year and a half ago, so I’m just happy to have this song in a big way because I think that pop music is going in this direction.”
It definitely has the potential to be your crossover hit.
“It’s a super fun pop song at the end of the day, so even people who don’t have any context, or know who SOPHIE is or who I am can still say it’s a great, catchy pop song. It doesn’t really sound like anything on the radio right now, which is good and bad for me—it’s going to be an uphill battle, getting people to play this song on the radio.”
What’s that process like?
“It’s definitely a weird process, getting a new artist and single on the radio. Once you’re established it’s much easier, but for me, I’m always meeting program directors at a bunch of radio stations. It depends on what strategy the label puts together for your promo because you have to fly everywhere and meet with these program directors. Radio is so important for pop artists and I don’t undermine people’s power one bit—they can make or break your career. I’m always grateful whenever a DJ plays my song on the radio because they are really the ones that can make peoples’ careers. But yeah, it’s definitely a process; ‘When I Rule The World’ might not even be on the radio in circulation until next spring or summer. It takes that long, so I need to be doing other things, being creative and putting out content.”
How would you describe your songwriting style?
“I feel like my lyrics and the place I’m coming from are usually very vulnerable, but sometimes they end up turning into something else. Like a song could start from a vulnerable place, but end up as me putting on a front and being super badass and cocky. I make a lot of backstories for my songs because it helps me create context to what I’m writing in order to create a world in that moment I’m working on a song. I was working on a song with Charli XCX and she was laughing because I was creating a backstory from the perspective of the girl in the song and she was like, ‘Liz, how did you just know all that?’ But she said it actually helped and she appreciated it. It’s almost like in acting when you create a history for your character.”
How did this process play into “When I Rule The World?”
“That song was almost totally written by SOPHIE and I knew that I wanted to be the voice for that song because it really spoke to my inner devil-child. I felt like I haven’t really shown that side of me yet, but it’s always been a part of me. When we finished it together in LA, he was very specific on how I sang each line, which I really appreciated. We were channeling Annie, the musical, in the choruses. That song has a whole backstory too because I see this girl, this character that I’m playing in a Cinderella-type story—someone who’s been told they can’t do something and has been knocked down. This is the song about getting back at the ones who try to keep you down—the haters and putting a little tongue-in-cheek, sassy twist on that. I know a lot of kids can relate to that, from being bullied or judged and it’s just one of those songs that’s a fun outlet. It’s an anthem for people who’ve been made to feel like they’re not good enough.”
A while back, you auditioned for a girl group. Tell me about that story.
“It was this group called ‘No Secrets’ and they ended up signing to Jive; I auditioned to be in that group and I didn’t make it because I was too small and scrawny—I didn’t have boobs or anything. The girls who ended up getting in it were at least one year older than me and more developed and good at dancing, too. I was just a ballerina, so I was very graceful and I hadn’t really grown into my body yet, but the producer ended up working with me as a solo artist. He let me watch and learn from the girls to see what they were going through; I would hang out in the studio and go to rehearsals. I was very close to it, and that’s really how I got into the music industry.”
What is it about pop music that you’re attracted to?
“Pop speaks to me—I love pop personalities and I’m just a pop baby. I remember clearly when Britney Spears came out with ‘…Baby One More Time,’ it really changed something in me. I thought she was the coolest artist in pop because she was pushing boundaries and shocking people. Everyone was talking about her and I thought it was so special that this young girl could make such an impact in pop culture, so I appreciated that and started motioning toward pop Top 40 radio; I really got into the Backstreet Boys, Brandy, TLC, Christina Aguilera and I became a full-blown pop fan.”
If you were to pull up your go-to playlist right now, what would be on it?
“Spotify and Soundcloud are very different for me. Spotify is where I listen to more mainstream stuff, like Stromae, Marina and the Diamonds, Carly Rae Jepsen and J. Lo. But on Soundcloud I love finding new weird stuff like nightcore and strange remixes—I love Teen Witch Fan Club.”
That makes sense—you’re both really into that teen bedroom aesthetic, which is especially visible in your “When I Rule The World” music video. Why do you think you’re attracted to this style?
“I feel like it’s just so true my life. My room looked like that, plus a bajillion posters on the wall, things I cut out from magazines and stuff I ordered on eBay. It’s just me, I’m so unapologetically pop and I feel like I was judged for that in junior high because everyone was trying to act older. I was always that girl playing with American Girl dolls or Barbie until I was 13—I was just so innocent for so long. I like celebrating that because I feel like girls shouldn’t think they have to rush to grow up. I liked to party in high school, but I didn’t drink or anything and I still had so much fun. Being a good kid is cool.”
What’s an average day in LA like for you?
“I am such a valley housewife, my days are so boring. I wake up; I get my coffee from Starbucks, a Caramel Macchiato; I go to Pilates and maybe I’ll go to the gym after to do some cardio and then if I have a session, I’ll go to the studio and work. I like to volunteer at these dog rescues, hang out with my friends and eat sushi or Mexican food. I feel like I’ve turned into such a grandma.”
What’s nightlife like in LA?
“Nightlife in LA sucks, it used to be so much fun in 2006 and 2007. I remember I used to take my sister’s ID and go to clubs with friends when we were in high school and it was a blast because you got to go out like an adult and constantly see people like Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton—the clubs were just great. The promoters were like celebrities themselves and you’d go to their after parties. I used to go so many events, but now I just think that everyone’s over it in LA.”