August 26, 2016
Listening to Liz Longley is like diving into a vivid dream, moody and somehow both familiar and strange. At first, the dream belongs exclusively to Longley. But as she sings what she’s trying to know––her lovers, her place, herself––her fierce candor shatters any walls that may have separated us, and the dream we’re swimming in becomes more than just Longley’s. It becomes ours.
“I’ve found that people respond most to the songs I’ve been most open and honest in,” Longley says. “When I write, I want to put my own story in it and make sure others hear their own in it, too.”
That winning transformation of the personal into the universal plays brilliantly on Weightless, the highly anticipated follow-up to Longley’s eponymous 2015 Sugar Hill Records debut, which garnered praise from American Songwriter, Huffington Post, CMT Edge, and more.
Weightless luxuriates in bold, thick pop with rock-and-roll edges. Crunchy, percussive guitars cushion the defiant songbird melodies Longley uses to deliver her bittersweet punches that explore the complexities and even dysfunction of relationships rather than the fairytale. “I grew up listening to music of the 90s, and this record feels more like the Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette in me,” Longley says. “All those powerful chick singer-songwriters I grew up loving.”
The Pennsylvania native attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music and gained her first national traction in television, which recognized her ability to frame a scene early. Longley’s “This is Not the End” was featured in the 2012 season finale of Lifetime’s Army Wives, while “Rescue My Heart”––re-recorded for Weightless ––made its way onto ABC’s Switched at Birth and MTV’s Scream: The TV Series. A growing audience noticed and began following Longley’s career, craving more.
Weightless delivers the more everyone has been waiting for. Longley recorded the 10-song collection in Nashville with Bill Reynolds, the bassist and producer of Band of Horses as well as acclaimed projects from the Avett Brothers, Lissie, and others. Reynolds and Longley took their time in the studio, stretching the process out over three months. “It was such an amazing feeling to work with someone who was so invested in the record,” Longley says of Reynolds’ production. “Bill encouraged the exploration of different sounds and approaches until each song found its way. We never settled. Making this record was a creative process. It wasn’t made overnight.”
While the new album’s triumphant embrace of lush pop-rock marks a musical evolution for Longley, the starkly personal lyrics and clear vignettes that have defined her songwriting to date remain. “The songs I am drawn to singing every night are the ones that carry the most truth, the ones that I relate to no matter where I am in my life,” she explains. “This record is made up of those kinds of songs.”
“What’s the Matter” saunters into dicey relationship questions with confidence, crackling with electric guitar and vocals that are somehow angelic and menacing at the same time. “It’s just a matter of time till what’s the matter with me is what’s the matter with you,” Longley cries, pointing to the challenges of perspective and timing that arise even––or maybe especially––when partners are in sync. “I’m usually inspired by the darker moments,” she says with a laugh. “It’s something I can’t seem to get away from.”
Longley is exceptionally good at describing feelings and situations in new ways that only enhance our understanding. Songs “Weightless” and “Swing” capture two distinct yearnings for freedom. Longley wrote “Weightless” in her head while driving around in LA, longing to cut ties with a love that had soured. “I’d just gotten out of a relationship, and we’d been arguing about who was going to get what when we parted ways,” she says. “I just wanted to feel free and light again. And as soon as I wrote that song, I did. It helped me realize that there are so many important things in life, but none of them are the couch or the diamond ring.” One of three tracks written with Ian Keaggy, album opener “Swing” delights in refusing to settle down. The chorus soars like the pendulum it praises, with layered instrumentation that helps create an ambrosial ode to moving and self-reliance.
“Never Really Mine” lets Longley’s supple voice do the heavy lifting. She relies on sparse keys and guitar as punctuation as she hauntingly conveys the abject heartbreak of realizing you never had what you just lost in the first place. Longley finished the forlorn “You Haunt Me” alone in a dodgy hotel room with a paranormal vibe. “The song is about what was an unresolved situation in my life,” she says. “Someone from my past just kept appearing in my dreams. It was almost like my mind was saying, ‘You need to figure this out.’” She pauses then adds, “It’s resolved… now all that’s left is a song about it.”
Rolling “Say Anything” delights in following a chosen path, no matter what detractors say, while “Electricity” explores love’s invigorating and maddening buzz. Delivered over plaintive piano, “Rescue My Heart” pleads for a savior. “This song leaves the listener to decide a lot of things,” Longley says of the intentionally ambiguous snapshot of a desperate soul reaching up for either human or divine help.
Written from the point of view of someone “crossing over to the other side,” “Only Love” imagines the different choices we’d make if we could give life another go, acknowledging brokenness alongside newness and hope. Album closer “Oxygen”––written with Sarah Siskind––celebrates the resuscitative quality of a budding relationship over heartbeat percussion. “When you meet someone new and you feel like you’re taking in a breath of fresh air, like you’re brand new again ––I just felt brand new again,” Longley says. “The song came out of Sarah and I talking about new love and how it can almost bring you back to life.”
By vulnerably digging into her own stories, Longley keeps giving the rest of us the words and melodies to share what we feel but struggle to express. “In the process of writing these songs, I felt empowered and re-focused on what is important in life,” she says. “Songwriting is the cheapest form of therapy. It helps make sense of situations and emotions that aren’t yet understood. Then the hope is that it helps someone else, cause everything feels better when you can sing about it.”