Police, harps, & healthy living.
Lizzie No (she/her) is a singer-songwriter, harpist & guitarist from Princeton, NJ. With the release her debut album, 'Hard Won,' in March 2017, Lizzie established herself as one of the most exciting new voices in contemporary folk music.
What does “raise the female voice” mean to you?
People have been eager to hear men’s stories forever. We have a broad understanding that just because two artists are men, that does not mean that they necessarily have anything in common...but as a culture we are only just beginning to give women that same space. Raising female voices is as simple and as difficult as making ourselves vulnerable as artists and storytellers so that audiences can learn from our diverse humanity. And on a practical level, give us your money. Albums are expensive. We can’t raise our voices if we can’t afford studio time or groceries.
What’s your favorite thing about yourself today?
I am proud of the fact that for the first time in a very long time (maybe ever?) I am just as interested in being a content, functioning, healthy adult as I am in being a good songwriter. I don’t want to run on rage and fumes. I’m working on being more present in my own life.
Your song "The Killing Season" takes on police brutality. Can you share the inspiration behind it?
Things grow in the spring and are harvested in the fall, and it’s routine. It’s nobody’s fault. That’s how it feels to me when a person of color is killed by a police officer. The timeline goes something like this: tragedy → outrage → justification → repeat. It’s meant to happen and it’s useless to try and ask who is to blame. Because we so rarely get justice and we are all aware that it is going to happen again. The uniqueness of the person’s life, and who they were in the eyes of their family and their community, is flattened in an instant.
Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ was the text that most directly inspired the song. Her descriptions of the killing season in her early childhood, alongside descriptions of everyday violence and survival, really “clicked” for me.
What advice do you have for artists looking to write political music?
In my experience, good songwriting has to be born from a depth of feeling. I’ve never been able to give myself a homework assignment to write about a particular topic and come up with a song that feels real to me. If you are passionate about something, that will come through in your work. If you’re writing about something just because you think other people care about it, I think that becomes obvious pretty quickly.
What do you do when you need a break from music?
I live for boring routines. I run and cook and watch tv and read fiction and talk on the phone and listen to podcasts. I spend time outside. I do face masks and light candles. I do various day jobs. I drink coffee.
What’s the weirdest thing that happened to you while carrying your harp around for gigs?
I developed surprising upper body strength!
Do you identify as religious, and do questions of spirituality come up in your music?
I was raised Protestant and I shamelessly steal from religious texts in my lyrics all the time. (The Bible is in the public domain, right?) The stories I was raised with continue to shape how I write and how I see the world. But I wouldn’t say that I am religious in a strict sense. There might be a god. Ask me tomorrow or in a few years? I’m okay with the mystery.
Do you feel the folk music scene does a good job representing womxn of color?
I can only speak to my own experience, which is that the folk music scene is a very friendly place to be a performer. I have met so many nice people all across the country since I started playing. I’ve been lucky to play for warm, attentive, discerning audiences since day one.
But I think there are bigger structural issues that make it especially hard for womxn of color to play folk music. For instance, we have not historically been well-represented in folk music so it can be hard to find mentors to guide us when we’re getting started. And we seem to have decided as a society that it’s chill to not pay musicians for their labor, so most of us are self-funding our albums and tours at enormous personal cost. Womxn of color are less likely to have money to burn, or a safety net to catch us. Not to mention the gatekeepers who decide who gets played on the radio and who gets to play festivals, etc.
Who’s one artist on your playlist we need to start following immediately, and why?
Run, don’t walk, to listen to Caroline Reese. She’s my tour buddy and one of my best friends. Her songwriting is brilliant, her band slays, and she’s a ferocious performer. And being a fan of Caroline is like discovering a great show on Netflix that already has a bunch of seasons out. She’s been making great music for a long time so there is a lot to enjoy. She sang on my album and I had the honor of singing on and helping produce her latest EP, ‘Two Horses.’
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I’m heading out on tour, where I’ll be road-testing a bunch of new songs with my band and on my own. And I’m working on a new album.
Lizzie's Upcoming Shows
3.15 Austin, TX - SXSW Second Play Stages at the Hyatt Regency Austin
3.15 Austin, TX - SXSW Official Showcase at 18th Over Austin
3.16 Austin, TX - SXSW Second Play Stages at the South Congress Hotel
3.18 San Antonio, TX - Lowcountry
3.24 Louisville, KY - Louisville Orchestra Festival of American Music
3.27 Chicago, IL - The Elbo Room Lounge
Lizzie's Charity of the Week
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) supports victims of sexual violence and helps educate people about consent and sexual violence to prevent abuse in the future. They have helped 2.5 million people and are doing hugely important work all across the country to help people live free from assault and abuse.