May 31, 2010
Elizabeth Seward is a singer-songwriter based in New York. In this interview she talks to contributor Cole Stryker about her background in Appalachia and the way the Internet has changed her songwriting.
CS: Tell us a bit about where you’re from and how you got to where you are today.
ES: Well, I grew up in a small town in Ohio called Marietta. I started writing my own music around the age of 12 and by the time I was 16, I was constantly playing every show or open mic I could land within an hour or so drive from Marietta. I moved to NYC when I was 18 to pursue music, played some solo shows when I got here, but it didn’t take me long to form a band. I started a band that sounded nothing at all like my solo music when I was 20 called Devola. We toured a lot and worked really hard, but members quit and changed and it all started to fall apart just as I was starting to write songs again on my own. I’ve been getting back to my songwriter roots for the last two years. Most of my songs have been unpolished low-fi recordings birthed in Garageband and right now I’m just writing and recording obsessively, trying to be as good as I can be.
CS: You live in New York now, but you’re from Appalachia. Does your rural background influence your songwriting?
ES: Oh, I think so, yeah. It’s difficult to expect your home culture to not affect your art. Sometimes I feel a little too ‘in it’ to really see the influence Appalachia has had on me, but other people tell me they hear it all the time. The blues, the hint of country twang, the burden-ridden lyrics that you’ll find most frequently with country music, the finger-picking you’ll find most frequently with bluegrass and folk music. Come to think of it, I use a lot of country imagery in my lyrics–I mention nature, particularly hills and forests, more often than I even realized…until just now.
CS: Tell us about your ‘Song a Week’ project.
ES: The ‘Song a Week’ project was an idea of my close friend and fellow musician, Ben Britz. He has always complimented me on how quickly I piece together songs and at the end of 2009, he challenged me to start an online project that would hold me accountable to my fans online. He said something like ‘do a song a day’ and I said something like ‘ummm, no, how about a song a week.’ And then I just started the Tumblr page for it. Sometimes I have a hard time believing that I’m still going strong with it, but it’s been a remarkable process. Putting yourself in a box can sometimes be the best way to come up with something you’re happy with.
CS: Are there any changes in your songwriting process when you’re forced to create new songs so often?
ES: Definitely. I’ve been fiddling with my melodies more, working myself harder with my guitar parts, playing around with the idea of using loops, playing piano here and there, etc. When you’re forced to create a new song every week, you strive to make each its own piece; to breathe life and individuality into each of them. So I can see how my songwriting has been changing over the course of this year and really, it’s a nice thing to sit back and watch. I’m not sure anything else could have cornered me into expanding on my style.
CS: You’ve written on your blog about your enthusiasm for D.I.Y. culture. How do you feel the Internet has changed the relationship between you and your fans?
ES: I’m such a big fan of the Internet. It has changed everything! When I started playing music and taking my career seriously, it seemed like there was one way and one way only to make fans: a record label. Everything you want to do you can do yourself. With the expansion of the Internet, I’m constantly thinking and making lists of what I can do next. The huge change the Internet has made is that I’m now in control and my fans can reach me. They can literally just send me an email and expect to hear back from me, leave me a comment and wait for my comment back, vote on t-shirt designs, etc. I’m excited to be a musician during this time.
CS: What’s next for you as an artist? Working on any cool projects?
ES: This project has taken a lot of time just to get started and keep afloat, but now that I’m in the swing of it, there’s a long list of collaborators I’m planning on working with for the second half of 2010. A group project I’m not really allowed to talk about yet is underway, as well as a new band I’ll be going public with sometime this summer. Other than that, I’m just trying to organize my songs, get better recordings, release them as I see fit, and continue down the long road of songwriting improvement.
Listen to Elizabeth’s tunes at http://www.myspace.com/elizabethsound