Interview with Liv Austen
By Vickye Fisher
Vickye: Let’s talk about the new single. You’ve just released ‘The Guts You’ve Always Had’, with a video. What made you decide to release that song next?
Liv: Well, I think of all the songs that I’ve performed so far to people – well, I’m actually sure – that that’s the song I’ve had the most reactions to. To me that was a really personal song and I didn’t really know if people would relate to it, but so many people have come up to me and said, ‘that song makes me think about my sister’, or ‘my brother’, or ‘my wife’. And I thought well, you can’t really deny the feedback that you get from people, it was just a really natural next song to focus on and get a video out for.
Vickye: Was there are situation in particular that inspired you to write it?
Liv: It’s about my sister, and how she has dealt with things that have happened in the last few years. There’s another song that I’ve written and performed a bit recently that also kind of deals with that, but my parents broke up just a couple of years ago, and my sister dealt with that in a really – she helped me get through it. Even though she was kind of dealing with it herself, so that’s one of those moments where I was like okay, I need her. Still, even though I’m an adult, I still need my big sister to get me through certain songs. It’s quite cool we can be that close even though we’re living in different countries.
[Also] she works in immigration. I could never do that! Kudos to her.
Vickye: Have you written any other songs about the divorce?
Liv: Yes, well I’ve got a song that will be on my new EP, it’s not really about the divorce but it mentions it. It’s quite a personal song and I’m very nervous about releasing it! It’s called ‘Two Choices’. I have started gigging it but I haven’t recorded it yet. I didn’t want to shy away from [divorce in my music] because it’s something that a lot of people go through and you don’t wanna hide it, you don’t wanna make it taboo, so you wanna be able to talk about these things especially in the kind of genre of music that we’re in.
Vickye: The video for the song is gorgeous, I watched it today. There are so many different scenes and visual effects, but it feels quite relaxing to watch because it’s quite slow-moving. How much thought went into that and how long did it take to make?
Liv: I had a fantastic team help me with this video, I could not have created something like that myself obviously! A friend of mine called Ben Trombacco, he said to me a long time ago ‘I love your song The Guts You Always Had and I wanna do a video for it’. He approached me about it first. And I said ‘yeah, definitely’. We actually started – because there was a time I thought that would be the first single that was released off the EP, but then things changed and I decided to release ‘Rain On My Side’ first. We actually had the first meeting about this video almost coming up to a year ago! So it’s been a long time in the making and we started shooting it late last year, and then put it on hold so I could release my first single, and then came back to it this summer.
Vickye: You talked about ‘Rain On My Side’ – what made you decide to release that first?
Liv: It was just checking in with people, getting some opinions… even though at that time I already got a lot of nice feedback about ‘The Guts You Always Had’, I wanted to release something that was maybe a little bit more upbeat, and a little bit more obviously ‘country’. ‘The Guts You Always Had’ is maybe a bit more a traditional ballad, and I just wanted to get something more upbeat out, to get the general sound of my music. I decided that would be a better song to have as my second single.
Vickye: So what inspired the song ‘Rain On My Side’?
Liv: ‘Rain On My Side’ I wrote a long time ago actually, quite a few years ago. I was in a very good place when I wrote it; I was in love, which is usually when you start writing songs! And life was just good, and I was sat in this room trying to write a song, and the rain just started pouring down outside. Usually [rain] gets you down a bit, but I could tell things like the weather just had no effect on my mood because nothing could get me down. This is when you know you’re happy, when people can send a nasty comment your way, or the weather can be awful, you have to deal with London rush hour or something, and it doesn’t affect your mood. That’s when you know you’re truly happy, because it comes from inside.
Vickye: You received quite a lot of support when you released first the single and then the EP. Was that quite overwhelming?
Liv: It was unbelievable, because when I released my EP (which is exactly a year ago now, it’s unreal to think about the stuff that’s happened since!), I just wanted to have an EP to have some material to present to people. To see if anyone wanted to work with me, write with me, be in my band, because at the time I didn’t even have a band, and people just started picking up on it and sharing it on social media, and contacting me. I had some really lovely people contacting me and wanting to write about it, Dexeter were fantastic, they picked up on it straight away and started tweeting about it. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but I got a lot more from it than I thought I would. So yeah, it’s completely overwhelming!
Vickye: Well, I think it’s very well deserved!
Liv: Thank you!
Vickye: I found that your lyrics are very honest, in a way that sets you apart from a lot of the others artists on the scene at the moment. Is that someone that you really make a point of trying to channel, or is that just natural?
Liv: Kind of both. It’s completely natural to me; I wouldn’t want to call myself a songwriter if I didn’t write honest lyrics, to be that’s completely what it’s about. That’s not saying that I can’t enjoy music that is just fun, but for me when I write music, if I don’t have anything to say I won’t write a song. It’s as simple as that. I do try and make a point of [honesty] just because I see a lot of themes and stuff repeated, and sometimes I do ask myself what the motivation is for certain songwriters. If you don’t have anything to say… I mean, everyone can do it for whatever reason they want, but if you don’t really have anything to say, I’d find it hard to be a songwriter.
Vickye: You’ve played quite live a lot in the last year, and your big break was at C2C Festival in March. What was that like?
Liv: It was the most nerve-wracking thing I have ever done in my life! I don’t wanna sound ungrateful because it was also the best thing I’ve ever done. When I got the email telling me that I’d been given a slot I was just completely overwhelmed, and it took me half the day to realise that I’d actually got the Brooklyn Bowl Stage, which then I just got into a second shock! So I was kind of in a haze for two days after that. It was incredible… I mean, I was so nervous right before going on stage, that I was genuinely thinking that I was going to be sick. I was so nervous, but it was mostly nerves that I was worried that no-one was gonna be there! That everyone had seen Ward Thomas and then just effed off into the arena or something. But then I just walked on stage and it was packed – and that was also kind of terrifying! But it was incredible, I was in a complete trance in the 13 minutes we were doing the gig. I had a lot of fun, the second I did go on stage it was a lot of fun, but I was definitely the most nervous I’ve been in a long time!
Vickye: I remember when you supported Dexeter at their album launch gig, you mentioned how nice it was to have so many people out for the support act. Have you got a few empty room stories that makes you think no-one’s gonna turn up?
Liv: Oh my God, do I?! Yeah. I have definitely played to empty rooms, I have played to rooms of ten of my friends, very supportive friends, but you kinda wanna play to someone who hasn’t heard your music before! Definitely – I’ve played to rooms that weren’t empty but everyone was talking over you, and you could have just left and no-one would have noticed, which is almost worse. I’ve had all sorts of gigs, which I’m also kind of grateful for, because it makes you appreciate those amazing moments like C2C and Dexeter’s album launch and Folk Fest so much more.
Vickye: What other shows have you been playing lately or have you got coming up?
Liv: Well, the day after Dexeter’s album launch I played London Folk Fest, at the Bedford in Balham, which was an incredible event, so many fantastic musicians – I was very proud to be a part of that. Then this Thursday (August 13), I’ve got a very exciting gig coming up, I’m playing In The Round with Gary Quinn and Luke & Mel. Which I’m very excited about, but also very nervous! I’m probably going to be quite nervous again because I’m playing the guitar, which always stresses me out, but I’ve been practising like a crazy person so I’ve gotta push myself.
Vickye: How does it differ solo and playing with a band?
Liv: It’s a very different vibe. I really love doing both, because I think they bring different things to the table. I love playing with my band, and I’m really excited to do that later in the year, we’re playing Fort San Antone and things like that. Because it’s just good fun, I have a great band backing me – I guess I can relax a bit more because I know the music is gonna be good! I can give more power vocally, I can have a bit more fun, be a bit more of an entertainer I guess. Then on the flip side of that I really love doing acoustic sets, just because to me the songwriting is a really big part of what I do, and I think in the acoustic sets undeniably the lyrics are a bit more clear and it’s easier for people to listen properly, and hear what the song is about. So I love being able to do both of those.
Vickye: You’ve been playing quite a lot of new songs. You mentioned a new EP – what’s the deal with that?
Liv: So this weekend we started recording – the first thing I’m gonna do is release a single on its own, it’s gonna be a bit later in the year, and then if everything goes to plan we’ll have a new EP by early next year, maybe February if I’m lucky.
Vickye: Have you picked the single yet?
Liv: I have. It’s gonna be ‘Don’t Regret A Single One’. A song I’ve done a couple of times now, so some people will know it. It’s kind of the ‘Shake It Off’ of exes songs. I think it’s kind of fun, I love singing about stuff that’s happened in the past, good or bad, especially bad if you can be a bit sarcastic about it, it’s fun. I hope people can enjoy it!
Vickye: You’ve recently started working with Think Country. What made you decide to jump on board with them?
Liv: I just really appreciate when people are straight-talking. Annette is definitely that. I had a really good experience with Annette – she approached and said (after C2C, she saw my set) that she really loved what she saw, and she just said straight out, ‘I’d love to work with you’. And I thought that was just so great, because as a musician and also on the other side me being an actor, there’s a lot of me approaching other people, like ‘Will you play my song on your radio station?’, ‘Will you manage me?’, ‘Will you work with me?’, ‘Will you listen to my music?’ And she just came to me, she said ‘I love what you do’. I felt like she cared about the music, and not just jumping on getting on some sort of hype, because suddenly some people knew who I was a little bit. I just love people that work with you for what you do and respect what you do, and don’t really try and tell you how to do things. Think Country has been really fantastic about it.
Vickye: I wanted to touch on the fact that you grew up in Norway but you’re now living in the UK. What made you decide to move to the UK?
Liv: My initial reason for moving was drama school. I did musical theatre in Oslo, in Norway, and the reason why I was doing musical theatre was because I wanted to sing and I wanted to act, so I thought okay, well musical theatre then! But it wasn’t really for me – but I loved acting, I wanted to do that more. And I had a fantastic drama teacher in Norway who told me ‘You have to go to the UK, because they have the best drama schools. That’s where you’re going to get the training you want’. And I’d always wanted to live over here, I love London, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t wanna be stuck in one place, so I love travelling, moving to new places. So I got into the Guildford School of Acting in Surrey. That was the official reason for moving, but I think as soon as I moved here I thought ‘Okay, I’m not gonna move back, am I?’ (laughs) There’s just a bigger market here for everything.
Vickye: Do you miss Norway at all?
Liv: I do, I mean I love going back. I went back for a week in July, I go home for Christmas. I love it, I love it when I come back. It’s a beautiful country. I do miss my family. It’s great coming back but I don’t miss it in the sense that I immediately need to move back. But it’s definitely very close to my heart.
Vickye: Country music is really on the rise in the UK. Why do you think that is?
Liv: That’s a good question. I think it’s in large part because there’s a lot of good contemporary country music coming out of America, and with the world being smaller now than maybe – because three years in [my] band are quite a bit older, you know late 40s, and they’re like ‘Country music was completely dead in the 90s!’ And you know, the world wasn’t as small as it is now, whenever someone releases a single over in America you can get it straight away, you can listen to the music, you can feel connected to whatever genre that you wanna listen to. You can instantly get that music from whatever country it comes from originally. It’s hard to say, but I think the stigma and ideas about what country music is are finally starting to disappear and people are trying out music. I guess it’s also because we listen to more music now, I had this with my friends, like ‘I love this song’ and ‘I love that song’, and I’m like ‘That’s country’. And they’re like, ‘Oh, is it?’ You know, cause they don’t really think about what it is. I guess we just we’re just subjected to more music and we are more open to different genres, which is great.
Vickye: What kind of music were you listening to growing up?
Liv: Absolutely not country! I was a massive – and still am, to this day – I was a huge Michael Jackson fan, from like aged 6. And a lot of the stuff that was playing in my house was like Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel, Queen, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits… and The Beatles. When I got a bit older and I picked my own music, Alicia Keys was a huge inspiration to me songwriting-wise and because she played the piano and I wanted to play the piano like she did. Massive Hanson fan, still to this day! (laughs) Quite a lot of singer/songwriters that I came across in different ways from American TV shows. There was a lot of different stuff that I listened to when I was a kid that doesn’t really fit with what I do now, but it’s all music and you know, genre is not irrelevant but to a certain extent I don’t wanna get too caught up in genres either, because it can all be connected in a way.
Vickye: Have you got anything else coming up that we haven’t already talked about?
Liv: I do have a short film coming out later in the year, which I’m really excited about.