words by sammy maine
photography by liz powell
We always think we have all the time in the world. “Tomorrow,” we say, as we push it to the back of our mind. And suddenly, it’s winter again, and then summer and then it’s two, six, ten years later. Time is something that creeps up to surprise us, to urge us to live a little louder, a little riskier. And that’s exactly what Liz Powell did when it came time to revisit the Land of Talk project.
Land of Talk’s first full-length record Some Are Lakes was released almost ten years ago and still stands as one of the most introspective, affecting works to date. Then came breakthrough LP Cloak and Cipher in 2010 – a grandiose record that explored the complexities of a frustrated heart while solidifying that endearing, emotive tone that Powell had accomplished so well. However, after the success of the album, Powell found that it was time to take a break; a break from the endless cycle of releasing and touring and promoting and never really having a place to call home. She retreated to her grandparents cottage where everything she’d been working on post-Cloak and Cipher was lost due to a crashed laptop and Powell took this as a signal to slow down. It was a devastating blow for an already disheartened songwriter.
In 2013, Liz was dealt another blow as her father suffered a stroke. He became her sole focus, meaning the Land of Talk break had turned into a full-blown hiatus. But it was Liz’s father that ultimately reminded her of her love for her craft, urging her to get back to her artistry and her happiness. First single “First Time” was written shortly after visiting her father in hospital. He asked, “Come on, can you just do this now? Can you just get back to music?” and the single served as a catalyst in reigniting the Land of Talk project.
“I don’t wanna waste it, this time, I don’t wanna waste it, my life,” she says, facing the undeniable mortality that had surrounded her life for so long. It’s the repetition of this lyric and the urgency in their delivery together with the layered, almost frantic instrumentation that makes the return of Powell and Land of Talk a reaffirming masterpiece, reminding us to follow our hearts in times of uncertainty. Even in our darkest hour, Powell reminds us that there’s no better time than now.
Here, she talks to us about her journey surrounding the new album and offers up a visible representation with a short photo series of her hometown and its inspirations.
How does it feel to have made a new album?
It’s a relief of sorts . It feels quite fantastic. I’ve already got another record on the go. I suppose that’s evidence of having been a bit backed up.
Music is often described as cathartic but did the circumstances surrounding the birth of Life After Youth enable you to see how the process of writing music affected you internally? Do you think the way it makes you feel has evolved or changed at all?
I think I only write music when I’m in “deep feeling” mode so it’s hard for me to have perspective on something like that. I’ll only write a song if I’m swimming in the emotion of whatever sound or riff or melody or vibe hit me over the head all of a sudden . I just seem to get ambushed by inspiration. Since I was a kid.
People don’t often talk about the toll touring can take on your mental health and wellbeing. Do you think the amount of touring you did contributed to your break from Land of Talk?
Touring takes its toll on body and soul no doubt. However my break from Land of Talk wasn’t all that planned out. I really just thought I’d record a solo record and do that for a couple years but alas the record disappeared before my eyes (laptop crashed taking with it all demos). Then, life got in the way as they say. But yeah, THE ROAD IS ROUGH! A little stoicism never hurt anyone though.
Mark Wheaton called you out of the blue – did that coincidence confirm that it was the right time to make something?
YES! It did. I was dealing with this ever-growing body of work I again figured would go toward my solo project one day, but Bucky’s reaching out really was the catalyst for making a full band record.
How did the collaborations with Sharon Van Etten, Steve Shelley, Sal Maida and The Besnard Lakes come about? Was it at all difficult to share this very personal work with them?
I live for the very personal and I only work with people with whom I can be really real. Otherwise I die inside. If anything it was a relief to be able to share, reveal, unload with Jace and Olga after all the years. We’ve worked together since our first EP in 2005 – they’ve hosted, cared for and partied with me and I consider them chosen family. Sharon is friend from way back; when I found myself wanting more of certain songs I reached out for her to fill the gaps. She is the only person I could imagine letting into my songs like that… she “gets” me more than most. The Shelley and Maida factor is wholly John Agnello’s doing. I sent him demos to two orphaned songs which hadn’t made the initial MTL recording sessions months previous. When I arrived in NJ to mix, John had booked Shelley and Maida to help me lay those sweet jams down! Through intuition, eye contact, body language, and “musicianship” we worked out the songs and recorded them together live off the floor. Needless to say, that day was a very good one!
The title ‘Life After Youth’ evokes a certain retrospection. As it’s now over 10 years since the Land of Talk project was founded, does this new LP harness a sort of “full circle” aspect for you? Does it feel like the end of one era or perhaps the beginning of another?
“Life After Youth” is about resiliency. It’s about moving forward.
Life After Youth is released on May 19, via Saddle Creek.
You can pre-order it here