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Interview: Liv Austen talks new double A-side, songwriting and Nashville Nights

We caught up with the singer-songwriter ahead of her releasing two fan favourite tracks on vinyl.

Liv Austen
Credit: Liv Austen

Ask any UK country fan about the leading acts on the scene here and chances are they’ll mention Liv Austen.

Originally from Norway, she’s become one of the most popular performers amongst UK fans since releasing her debut EP in 2014. Her debut album, A Moment Of Your Time, came out last year and won her acclaim from critics and audiences alike. Now she’s releasing two tracks from the album, Whole Heart and Detour, as a double A-side on vinyl.

Ahead of the release date, I caught up with Liv to find out more about the songs, her songwriting process, and her recent experiences touring with Sarah Darling and performing at Nashville Nights.

Last time we spoke was over a year ago – what have been the highlights of the last 12 months for you?

Well, I think the answer must definitely be my album coming out. Because I was working on that for so long and I was finishing the last 10 per cent probably as I was talking to you a year ago. It was just such an end because I’d signed in January 2017 and was working on the album, and that’s been my dream for so long. So that’s kind of been the highlight. And just to see how much, especially in this last year, how many people have come on board. There are people coming to my gigs singing my songs that I’ve never met before and it’s just something’s happened. People have caught on to it which is incredibly exciting. So I think the album launch, for instance, was amazing. So I think that would be the highlight for me.

And now you’re releasing two songs from the album on vinyl. Why did you decide this was the right time to do that?

Well, I think because of the singles that I’ve released from the album before it came out – I did The Next Time, I did Don’t Regret A Single One and then I did Window Shopping – they’re all songs that I really love and they’re really fun to play live and all that, but they’re all fairly upbeat. They’re catchy and that kind of thing. And I think a lot of people, especially the people who’ve followed me from the beginning, they know me for my really honest, sadder songs [laughs]. And I really wanted to honour that, because the album does actually have quite a lot of raw honesty on it and it’s not just catchy tunes and that kind of thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’ll write catchy tunes til I die, but people really come together when it comes to those songs.

So many people have talked to me about Detour and Whole Heart and how they really relate to them, and it’s so funny to me because they’re probably the most personal songs on the album. I mean, it’s all personal. And I think it’s so funny that when you write something that’s completely about your own life and people hear it and they go, ‘that’s about me!’ [laughs].

So talking to my label about what we wanted to do next, I think we all agreed that we wanted to do something a bit different, not just ‘oh here’s another single’. We were talking about vinyl and I love vinyl, so many people do these days and we thought it was gonna be a bit of a fad but people have really started actually buying and listening to vinyl now. So we wanted to do something around that and release two songs that go together a little bit, because story-wise the songs go together instead of just one new song for people to listen to. So that’s kind of the thought behind it.

I was listening to the album earlier and what struck me about Detour and Whole Heart was how powerful and personal the lyrics are. Did that make them quite difficult to write? Or were there others that were more challenging?

I mean, it depends what you mean by difficult, because they were fairly emotional to write. But in terms of being a songwriter they were very easy. That’s the great thing about something that’s really personal, it just comes out. With Detour, for example, I can hardly remember writing it. And that happens quite often actually when I write on my own – I go, ‘when did I write this?! When did I finish the song?’ and then it’s just done. And it’s because I’m just saying what I wanna say. I’m not trying to think of a clever way of saying it or I don’t have to work very hard for the words to come out. So yes it was quite emotional, and it’s hard to confront your past and that kind of stuff, but it was easy from a songwriting standpoint.

You’ve also recently been out on tour with Sarah Darling – how was that?

Oh, it was so much fun. I literally could not have been on a better tour if I’d tried to dream it up. It’s so funny because at the beginning of this year, and actually the end of last year as well, I talked to a lot of people about wanting to go on tour. Because the album had come out, I really just wanted to go out and play it, but it’s tough to do live music these days. It’s really hard to know whether it’s worth doing, where to go. I’ve played quite a few festivals around the UK now and they’ve always been amazing, but most of my gigs and my biggest fan base is in the south, south-east, London especially. So to get to go with somebody who’s got a big following all around the UK was just such a privilege for me, because I was just riding on her coattails and just joining in on the fun. And she is a lovely person, very relaxed, easy to be around, and I genuinely love her music. So I just got to watch a great show every night, and borrow her audience [laughs] for the evening. So it was amazing. Every night was really, really good fun, and I was so happy that I got to do that.

You also headlined Nashville Nights last month. How does that compare in terms of that crowd response and energy?

Well it was funny. I love doing Nashville Nights, it was the third time I’d played it now and I just love the band that I’ve got now. I just feel we’re the perfect setup on stage and I’m really comfortable. So we’re just having fun. And Nashville Nights is such a specific thing. It’s really cool to see how many young people come out to it, there are people that you don’t see at the other gigs that I do. And what was also really fun was that some people had seen me on tour with Sarah, even from quite far away, and they came to this gig because they saw that I was playing and they wanted to see me with a full band. So it’s kind of nice to see that I’ve picked up some fans along the way that then came to see me. It was the perfect way to round up that tour really.

Do you have any songs you particularly enjoy playing live?

I really love doing Window Shopping. I think that’s maybe my favourite. Window Shopping, The Next Time, anything where people sing along is just really, really, really fun. There’s also a song from the album called Nothing Less Nothing More. It hasn’t been a single and it probably won’t be, but I really love playing it with the band because it’s quite rocky, so I can just belt it out. For some reason that one just feels really, really fun to sing live.

You set up the I’ll Cover You shows at the end of last year. How did that come about?

It was actually just an idea that I’d had for quite a long time. I’d done so many songwriters’ rounds and I love them, I really enjoy doing them. And the reason I wanted to do it was actually because there are so many great singer-songwriters on the scene and I think they’re such good singers that you can get distracted by how good they are as singers, and you almost forget how amazing the songwriting is. So the idea was that I wanted to just highlight a few people that I just thought were brilliant, and a good way of doing that is to change things up a little bit and really just focus on the songs, and that we sing each other’s songs so that people could understand, ‘oh wow, this is a great song that just fits any voice’. And I had a lineup in mind and I got all of those people to do it with me – Clara Bond, Kaity Rae and Lisa Wright – and it was just a perfect start to it. I wanna do more of them with new people, and I wanna go to other cities outside of London as well and do it. Because some people heard about it and they were like, ‘oh my God, I want this up North, come up North!’ So I’m looking into that so hopefully we’ll do that in the future.

Do you have a favourite song you like to cover? And who would you like to cover one of your songs?

Ooh, very good question! I think this is a bit of a cliché, because I know it’s been done to death, but I Can’t Make You Love Me. It’s just my favourite song to sing. It’s one of those songs that I can hardly get through without getting emotional, but it’s just so good. And Bonnie Raitt I think recorded it first, but I just love that song so much. But so many people have done it obviously, but that’s maybe my favourite to cover. I do love covering Dan + Shay though whenever I get a chance.

Who would I want to cover one of my songs? I will actually say I would love to hear Dan + Shay doing one of my songs. That would probably be the ultimate! [laughs] That would be so amazing. That would make my life!

You’re playing at The Long Road festival in September. What can people expect from your typical live show?

I think people might be surprised at my band, when I do full band stuff. Because some people might see me at a songwriters’ round or something, and with my band it’s just so much energy and we love dancing around – well it’s mostly me dancing around [laughs]. A lot of singing along and just straight from one song to the next. When it’s a round or an acoustic show, I like to talk a bit more about the songs, but when I do full band shows I just love to just get the music out there and get as many songs as we can into the set, and just really create as big a sound as we can. I have a lovely mix of the live band obviously and a bit of tracks and stuff to kind of add to that pop sound that I like to mix into it. So just a lot of energy really!

You’ve also recently been involved with Imagine Scholar – can you tell us a bit more about that?

Well I was actually contacted by them or their sort of marketing people – just really lovely people asking me if I wanted to be an ambassador for the school. It’s an educational programme or a school in South Africa. And I just thought, ‘yeah, I’d be very happy to but what can I do?’ sort of thing. But basically to try and describe it in the shortest possible way, it’s a fantastic educational programme in South Africa, in the eastern part of South Africa which is quite poor, most of it, and they choose a student who just shows a lot of motivation and young people who really want to work hard at school. But it’s not just a conventional getting them ready for university and stuff, it’s really honing in on what the individual student is interested in, whatever that might be – whether it’s fashion or medicine or whatever it might be.

Because that can sometimes understandably be the thing that in poorer regions of the country, you try and educate everyone to become something that’s guaranteed a high salary and that kind of thing. Whereas Imagine Scholar has the more modern view on things that if you really help people get really good at what they love doing, they’re gonna be amazing at it. And the results have been incredible. The students are travelling all over the world, they’re getting scholarships everywhere that they wanna get in and they’ve been travelling to other countries. So it’s clearly working, and my role is basically just to spread the word. Because they’re doing really well, and they’re getting quite a lot of funding and if people wanna fund it more then that’s fantastic, but they just need people to spread the word so that people know the name and know the brand, so to speak.

And I’ve also been mentoring some of the students at the school, those who are more interested in art and music and stuff. I’m in touch with them regularly which is amazing. It’s so cool to talk to them and hear how ambitious they are. So five of the girls I’ve been talking to quite regularly, so it’s brilliant. I’m really honoured to be doing it.

What does the rest of the year look like for you? Is the plan more touring and writing?

Yeah, I think it’s gonna be pretty much the two things that you just said, touring and writing. I think there’ll be quite a few gigs over the summer, and The Long Road is definitely gonna be a highlight. I’m so, so excited to be playing it. And I’m writing quite a lot now. At the moment I’m writing with artists for their stuff, which is something that I’m really, really passionate about too. But as I’m doing that I do get inspired to write for me as well. So I have already kind of piled up a bunch of songs that I really wanna do something with. I’m trying to stay patient, because I have just released an album and I am releasing vinyl, so I’m waiting a bit with releasing anything on my own. But the writing process is already happening, and that probably will continue for the rest of the year.

Is there anyone you’re co-writing with at the moment that you’re particularly excited about?

Well, I think there are so many people I’m writing with that I’m just really passionate about, but I don’t wanna jump the gun if they’re like, ‘oh Liv I don’t wanna talk about that yet, it’s not coming out for another six months!’ But what I can say, which is really exciting, is that the lovely Abby Inez who was in the duo Darline before – I’ve been writing with her quite a lot and she’s releasing a single called Bridges which we wrote together. It was the second song we wrote together and it’s lovely, if I do say so myself! [laughs] She’s just such a wonderful singer and she’s had a big hand in writing it as well, because she came with the idea. She’s just such a lovely person and wonderful singer. And my partner Jon produced it as well so it’s a very in-house production. So very, very excited about that one. I think it’s gonna be out pretty much as the same time as my vinyl, so that’s going to be a busy time! [laughs]

Liv Austen’s double A-side release, Whole Heart and Detour, will be available on vinyl and as a digital download on 17th May 2019.

See Liv performing live at The Long Road Festival, Stanford Hall, Lutterworth, Leicestershire from 6th-8th September 2019. Tickets are on sale now at www.thelongroad.com.

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