All in the family

Liz de Lise’s many folks at Blind Bob’s

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Liz de Lise (left) and Mark Watter drop the sounds of a full band Sept. 18 at Blind Bob’s

Some music can be a bit unclassifiable. But music that leans toward being unclassifiable is often the most intriguing, and the music of Philadelphia guitarist and songwriter Liz de Lise can at times be described with such adjectives. De Lise’s music is definitely rooted in folk music and singer-songwriter traditions, but at the same time incorporates elements of world music, pop, and classical. It sounds a bit heady, but de Lise’s music is approachable and performed with an oddly engaging charm.

And while de Lise’s music is unique, her foray into playing and writing music started the way many other young musicians do. Being raised in a musical household, it seems only natural that de Lise would follow a similar path.

My dad started teaching me the piano when I was five,” de Lise says. “He’s a professional composer, arranger, and producer. My mom is an awesome singer, so singing just always seemed to happen in the house. I started playing violin when I was 8-years-old and moved to guitar when I was 13, inspired by my oldest brother, who’s an awesome songwriter and guitarist. I have a clear memory of seeing both of my brothers play in a band and thinking that being in the audience was fun, but I would much rather be up there, singing songs I’d written.”

And like a lot of other budding, young musicians, de Lise made her big step from spectator at a school talent show, playing “Good Riddance” by Green Day.  But it wasn’t long before de Lise started to focus on writing her own music, and even from the beginning, her penchant for creating unique sounds was evident.

“When I started playing guitar, I messed around with open tunings of my own and started to focus more on songwriting and writing compelling melodies,” she says.

In 2014, de Lise recorded her first studio record, entitled To & Fro. The album is a lush yet stirring collection of songs that incorporate so many different music styles and elements that are yet rooted in folk music, like her musical hero Joni Mitchell. The album boasts not just de Lise’s guitar and glittering voice, but an array of fully fleshed out arrangements and a broad spectrum of instrumentation such as backup singers, accordion, percussion, marimba, mandolin, double bass played by pro musicians who’ve worked with Ray Charles, Joan Baez, Patti LaBelle, and Chaka Khan, and some of whom are her own family members.

“The instrumentation we decided on for the EP felt like it helped support the storytelling on the album,” de Lise explains. “I wanted to include as many of my family members as possible; they’re all such talented musicians and have informed my choices in music greatly. Plus, it’s super fun to sing with a big group of people, especially your nieces.”

Speaking of the story behind To & Fro, the music and instrumentation isn’t the only thing unusual about de Lise’s debut recording. Inspired by a visit to Portland, Oregon, de Lise donated portions of the profits from the album to Outside In, a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding homeless youth in the Pacific Northwest.

“The summer after my sophomore year of college, I drove out to Portland, Oregon, [and] spent the summer busking and hanging out with people living on the street, many of whom had chosen to live that lifestyle. I had never encountered homelessness in that form,” de Lise says. “I was lucky enough to receive a grant from my college and returned to Portland the following summer to conduct anthropological research for my senior thesis. I wanted to donate a portion of the proceeds to Outside In because I needed to find a way to support the people in Portland who had been so generous and open with me. All of the songs on the EP are based on the stories I gathered out there.”

Supported by bassist Mark Watter and her trusty loop pedal, de Lise’s tunes take on a different shape in the live setting.

“Our present live show is very different from what you’ll hear on To & Fro,” de Lise says. “I have a lot more guitar pedals than before, which definitely differs from the more acoustic sound of the EP. Layering vocal and guitar loops seems to really engage and intrigue people. That, in conjunction with Mark’s live bass playing and singing to add to the layering keeps people on their toes. Mark and I achieve a full band sound with only two people, which is pretty fun to watch!”

De Lise is about to release her first full-length album and is embarking with Watter on a three-month tour back and forth across the United States to support it, including a Dayton stop Sunday at Blind Bob’s. While such a lengthy tour is quite ambitious, the duo’s overall goal is quite simple.

“Our goal is to achieve a sustainable lifestyle through music, which means lots of touring and writing and recording and practicing!” de Lise says. “We’re so excited to explore new towns and cities. There’s terrific music everywhere, and I bet Dayton is no exception!”

De Lise de Lise performs Sunday, Sept. 18 at Blind Bob’s, 430 E. Fifth St. in Dayton. Paige Beller and Kyleen Downes are also on the bill. Admission is $5 at the door for patrons 21 and over. For more information please visit LizDeLise.com.

 

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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