Analogue Music | Elizabeth Moen

Elizabeth Moen

By Matt Conner

We're torn between the vocal work and vivid imagery.

The songs of Elizabeth Moen have more than one resonant element working through them to draw you in, which is why Wherever You Aren't was such a late-year highlight in '22. Whether it's her stellar vocal with its significant affect and allure or the intimate details of her story-songs, Moen has multiple ways of entering in and remaining with the listener long after the song has stopped playing.

Moen describes herself as a late bloomer when it comes to songwriting, but her singing background goes about as far back as she can remember. The good news is that she's come into her own touring with Kevin Morby and Squirrel Flower and the waves she's riding are of her own making. It's well-deserved, to be sure.

We recently sat down with Moen to hear about her journey to date and the personal nature of songs on her latest LP.

Analogue: The vocal work on the new album is it for me. It made me wonder about your own background when it comes to singing and how that developed.

Elizabeth Moen: Well, thanks for saying that. Yeah, my parents told me even when I was little that I loved to sing. My mom says that when I was a toddler, I loved watching music videos and dancing and singing along. I’ve never been trained as a vocalist. I took a voice lesson a couple of years ago just for vocal preservation exercises.

Especially in the summertime, and I’m from a small town, my parents would go to work and I had a lot of alone time and space to just sing. Whether it was singing along to a record or just singing nonsense, I did do that a lot. Then in high school when I eventually got a car, I definitely really loved that car time because I could just be alone and sing.

Once my brother was in high school, too, he would be in the car with me and I would still sing but I’d try to do harmonies to whatever was on the radio. I’ll never forget one time when he shut the radio off and yelled, ‘Just sing the fucking melody. You can sing but just sing the melody.’ I was like, ‘That’s fair. I’m not the only one in the car anymore.’ [Laughs]

But yeah, both sets of grandparents are both in my small town still and they have a strong history of showing up. My parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles were all so supportive of my singing, whether I was in choirs or musicals, they show up when they can. My parents came to the Chicago show, even for the Morby stuff. They drove over because they wanted to hear me sing.

So I definitely had space as a kid to find myself and my voice alone, but since it was a small conservative town, I didn’t really have a chance to find a musical community. I think that’s why it took me so long to start to write music. I didn’t write my first song until my senior year of college.

Analogue: At what point did the thought really germinate to make this a serious career instead of a hobby?

Elizabeth: I really did not believe in myself at all. I had such a fear of being cheesy or annoying to write a song, so I just never did. But I had so many friends and family members who encouraged me. They told me I should write songs and I finally let go of that anxiety and I did.

My first ever show was at The Mill, which is unfortunately RIP, was sold out and I knew everyone in the room. It wasn’t a big room but it was all people who told me, ‘You should do this. C’mon, we love your singing!’ That show felt so good and it felt so good to sing my own songs. I had a semester left of college and I wanted to honor that, but the moment that was finished, I started booking DIY tours and lived out of my car for a couple of years.

Analogue: I want to fast forward to some of the achievements you’ve had or the experience playing with Kevin Morby. It makes me curious how that’s factored into or affected your songwriting—

Elizabeth: Well, I wrote this stuff before the pandemic.

Analogue: So it’s really out of order in that way?

Elizabeth: Yeah, my dream was to release them in the winter or spring when the pandemic hit.

Analogue: So does it feel weird to release them now?

Elizabeth: Well, listening back to them, I’m still really proud of the songs, which is a good sign. This is the first time I’ve taken my time releasing something. Listening back, I’m still proud of everyone. So it’s not weird to be hyping them up, because I still like them. There are definitely some songs of mine where, three months after releasing it, I think, ‘We probably should have waited on that one or not done it at all.’ [Laughs]

A few years ago, meeting so many people and bands through all of my DIY touring and couch-crashing on the west coast, the east coast, over in Europe. There were so many musicians and friends who inevitably inspired the music and songwriting on the record. So maybe not the Morby crew or I also played guitar for Squirrel Flower who opened up for Soccer Mommy. It’s crazy how one connection leads to another which leads to another which leads to another. You never know who you will meet or who will inspire you.

I wasn’t super familiar with Kevin’s music pre-pandemic. But now being in his band and having sung his songs literally hundreds of times this year, I am in hindsight very inspired by his songwriting and also how he is as a person and in this industry. He’s come this far through hard work and just being a great songwriter and a good guy. I definitely look up to him and how he has made his path.

"You don’t edit at all. You just let it happen. Then you step away from it for an hour or a day or even months and then you come back to it and say, ‘Okay, what can I add or take away?’"

The way I want to do it, too, is to not give up and to not be an asshole. I think not giving up, not being an asshole, and maybe a pinch of good luck—is that how it works? I don’t know. It’s worked for him for him for sure.

Analogue: Some of these stories set such vivid scenes or feel remarkably personal. What’s your editing process like?

Elizabeth: The more I grow as a songwriter, the more editing is involved, for sure. I think the initial free flow, letting your brain fart out on a guitar. That’s step one. You don’t edit at all. You just let it happen. Then you step away from it for an hour or a day or even months and then you come back to it and say, ‘Okay, what can I add or take away?’

There are songs on this record that are bits and pieces of other songs. I write a lot and it’s definitely quantity and then quality.

“Synthetic Fabrics” was a song with two different free-flowing moments combined. They felt like similar feelings, so I wondered how to combine them. I took the chord progression from the first free flow writing day and threw in the other one. Then my friend Gemma is a co-producer and she wanted to add things on the verse and chorus and that made the song worth us wanting to play it live.

Analogue: Do you ever find yourself writing something too personal to share?

Elizabeth: Yeah in those free-flow moments, I will definitely say everything and then I’ll step back and say, ‘How can I keep this song honest and relatable but not give away too much?’ I want to respect a little bit of my privacy and maybe the privacy of others. So I want to honor what happened and keep that sentiment but maybe alter some of the locations or descriptions.

That’s a really fun thing to do for me. A lot of the songs that are very wordy on the record, like “Painting a Picture” or “You Know I Know” or “Where’s My Bike?”, are ones where I went back to the initial outpouring of words and said, ‘Okay, how can we make this a little different so it’s respectful of the privacy of the real thing.’

VISIT: Elizabeth Moen