TAP Exclusive Interview: Eliza Rickman

By Ace Ubas

The lovely Los Angeles-based songstress Eliza Rickman literally sacrificed everything, like her apartment, job, and beloved kitten to pursue her career in music. In terms of style, both musically and visually, she is one of a kind. Where else can you find an artist that wears beautiful vintage Victorian dresses and plays toy instruments to create an elegant, yet fun live performance? Currently, she is on her first nationwide tour with a debut full-length almost completed. Before her set at the Make Music Pasadena festival, I had a chance to speak with the emerging singer-songwriter:

You’re currently on your first nationwide tour. How’s the experience been so far?

It has been wonderful mostly; varying degrees of good.

Any crazy experiences so far on tour?

Oh my…I should’ve written everything down as I’ve been going. I’ve definitely had more than enough guys come up to me and give me their “advice.” They see that I’m doing well, I think they can’t stand it.

What kind of advice?

Like telling me that my voice is really beautiful, but I should play more happy songs to get people to get their feet tapping. It’s totally a misogynist thing.

On your new album, you’re working with Mark Greenberg (Andrew Bird, Wilco). What made him the ideal choice to record your album with?

I had been sitting on a batch of songs, waiting to release them at this ideal date. People kept asking for them, and eventually I just got sick of telling them I didn’t have them recorded. I decided to try and record a full length album. I figured it would not be a bad idea to bring someone on board who might have some buzz going in the industry. I literally took out 10 or 12 of my favorite independent CDs from the last 8 or 10 years, many of them being Andrew Bird CDs. I wrote down the engineer and producer credits on all these albums, and Mark was one of the first two or three people that we e-mailed. He replied within 30 minutes and he was like ‘hell yeah I’ll work with you! Who doesn’t love a toy piano?’ And we were like ‘you’d be surprised actually.’ He is the coolest guy in the world.

You’re recording the album in Chicago. What made that city fitting?

I did like the idea of uprooting myself from all things that were comfortable and going somewhere I didn’t live. Chicago has been a favorite city of mine. I’ve been there a couple of times before I started recording. Also, we recorded the bulk of the work on the record during the winter, and I had this idea in my head that it would be very special and beneficial to the vibe of the record if we were to record when it was freezing balls outside. It doesn’t really get much colder than Chicago in December/January and it worked. There’s totally this haunting shimmer and we ended up with twelve lovely, spooky songs.

I read that the string arrangements were very important to your album.

Yeah, that’s another reason I went with Mark. I loved that he’s worked with Andrew Bird. I mean Andrew’s amazing so Mark will not take much credit for the work they’ve done together because Andrew can fart into a microphone and it sounds gorgeous (laughs). He obviously knows what he’s doing with strings and I was an arranging major at Azusa Pacific. I wanted to show off that side of my work on this record.

Is your signature Schoenhut toy piano going to make an appearance on the record?

She did. We made some adjustments to the mixes of “Black Rose” and “Cinnamon Bone.” Those will be on the new record and everything else we recorded is going to be new. There’s a song called “Start with Goodbye, Stop with Hello” that’s toy piano-based. It ended up being one of my favorites on the record.

Will “Devil’s Flesh and Bone” going to be on it?

Yes, you will love it! One of my favorite things about that recording is that we did a bunch of auxiliary percussion like ratchets, tambourine. My favorite was when we put an old glass jug of water on top of timpani, and hit it and tilted the bottle. It makes this really cool, pitch bending percussive noise. It gives the song a sense of clockwork.

How did you get that idea to incorporate all these different instruments?

I string arrangements have been written for a long time. But the percussion, which I love, that was mostly Robbie (DeLong). I flew him out to Chicago to work on the record. He’s really good at adding that “fairy dust” during a recording session. All the little things that don’t stand out, like they don’t take center stage of the record, but they really do add a lot of gloss and finesse to a final product.

When you bring out your kazoo and slide whistle, it’s a huge fan-favorite. How did you originally bring those in to your songs?

We mostly bust out the toys on “Foot Soldiers,” and that song is very silly and campy. That song was the one that got the most instrumentation, I guess, for this whole recording session. Actually, about halfway through recording it, I realized as much as I wanted to put it on the new record, it’s not going to make any sense in the context of these other spooky songs. That’s why I’m offering as a b-side on Kickstarter.

You’ve recently incorporated the accordion. How’s that been?

OK. I’m still just as bad as I was when I first started playing the song that I wrote on the accordion. We put accordion, reed organ, singing wine glasses, and tuned desk bells on my song “Coming Up Roses.” I kinda have to play that song at my sets now. It’s a doozy; people cry. Gotta make people cry. It’s my goal in life (laughs).

On stage, you wear all these different outfits that span across different eras like the 50s or Victorian era. How do they add to your live performance?

That is a really good question. The only thing I’m really thinking about is that I want, for the people nice enough to come out and see me, to give them something nice and pretty to look at. But I think that the gowns that Shareen (owner of Shareen Vintage) has loaned, the aesthetic like Victorian or quirky old Hollywood that she puts me in, it just sort of emphasizes the production of the music. It adds a visual representation of the sound. The music is super feminine and the gowns are really feminine too.

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