Analogue Music | Liz Vice

Liz Vice

By Matt Conner

Liz Vice likens herself to Moses—at least the part where he feels completely wrong for the job at hand.

Our conversation with Liz Vice caught the spiritual songstress at a similar point, an ongoing wrestling with her musical career and where it's taking her. One part of it is easy to understand as Vice defies easy categorization. Vice sings unabashedly about Jesus in terms of "Lord" and "Messiah" in non-sacred spaces, if you believe in such things. Songs for the insider sung with/to the outsider. Sunday morning songs performed on Saturday nights.

On the other hand, however, Vice's tension is a bit more difficult to comprehend. Earlier this summer she released her second album, Save Me, to great critical acclaim from the likes of NPR, American Songwriter, No Depression and more, and as she explains herself, the music has taken on a life outside of her own expectations. "I don’t really think about ticket sales or anything like that. How my music career has worked out, things will pop up. And I always have to be ready to just go if I’m supposed to go to those places," she says.

Even if she wants to worm out of her responsibilities a la Moses approaching Pharoah to free to Hebrew slaves, we're glad she remains obedient all the while. She searches but she stays, walking through the doors open to her even as she's yet to fully understand them. The music speaks for itself even as she tries to find the words.

Analogue: Looking back at your childhood, was it always clear that you were going to pursue a musical career?

Liz Vice: I wish I could have this Almost Famous kind of story. I’ve always wanted some message from above that I was supposed to do this, that told me I’m meant to do this. I feel like I’m still in the middle of the growing season. It’s kind of a wildfire, where I sang a solo one time at my church and then two years later, I had a solo album.

I still wrestle with it, because it’s not like I just show up and do music. I miss working in film, even though it didn’t pay very much. You work your butt off, but you had one job. You aren't the director, producer, writer, director of photography and then the actor. That’s what it feels like working in music.I am the writer, director, producer, line producer with all the logistics. Oh yeah, I also have to sing a song. I forgot. I have to sing like an hour’s worth of music, then shake people’s hands and have interviews.

​I don’t sing at a lot of church events. I sing at like regular venues where I’ve had people trippin’ balls in the audience and they tell me they see a light glowing around me. I believe them​

When people ask me what I do and I say I’m a singer, they’re like, 'Oh my gosh, I’m so jealous of you.' And I’m like, 'You are? You have no idea how much work goes into this.' I don’t have management. I don’t have a label. I have an incredible booking agent, and I have friends that have come alongside me to say I want to be a part of this, so they help me with some of the show logistics. But I still have to hire people and work with people with different personalities and learn how to lead.

So I feel like Moses, where God has called him to free two million slaves and their only concept of God is via abuse and many other gods that are false. Moses tries to talk his way out of it by saying 'you’ve got the wrong person. I don’t know how to do this.' But God’s like, 'Yeah, that doesn’t matter. I made you.' That’s how music feels to me.

I have only been doing it for five years in the public eye. I love music. I love to sing in private on my own. I love to listen to music all day, all genres. I just love music, I love people, and I love stories. So when I could sense that God was up to something, I definitely became resentful. I can be resentful of this gift. Not everyone can sing. Not everyone can get on stage and captivate an audience for almost two hours. And there are times when I start singing, I don’t even know how that person came alive. As soon as I hit the stage, a song or two in, I’m like a different person. I don’t ever prep what I’m going to say. It really is, 'God, what do you want me to say to these people? How do I make them feel more encouraged than when they arrived? How do I talk about my life’s experience of near death, of watching other people die in front of me, without making it feel like a crutch or my sob story?'

It’s a battle of pride of feeling my story isn’t that important. I’m a walking miracle, but then I think 'big deal.' There are tons of people. But people need to hear that it’s okay to doubt. People need to hear that it’s okay to be angry at God and be frustrated. People need to hear that joy doesn’t mean 'Oh, I just got my legs cut off, but you know what, God is still on the throne.' No. I have allowed myself to believe that I always have to be on, thatI always have to be okay, I always have to have the mindset that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, because that’s a lie. He does.

What does that look like to acknowledge that we're living in a broken world and all of us are God’s children, whether we acknowledge it or not. It doesn’t matter if you believe or not. God made you. That’s it. Whatever our story is, while we’re dead in our sins, Christ still covers that. Because he loves us. And I can’t know that and deny that God is using me in music to bring that to people. And it’s very scary, because it’s outside of the church building. I feel like I’m so in the middle of it; I don’t understand what God is doing with me at all. I want to know. But I’m in the middle of it.

Credit:  Katrina Sorrentino
Credit: Katrina Sorrentino

There are times that I’m like, 'Can I quit? Can I stop doing this?' We’ve got the Christian music industry singing about Jesus. But what does it look like to sing about Jesus in a way that invites everyone to the table? It’s bigger than just doing music, to me. There’s a whole life experience behind the songs, behind how I got into music. It’s not just, I was a little girl singing in the basement for hours because I wanted to do it in real life. It was I was a middle child who grew up in a single parent home who went into the basement and locked the door and listened and danced and sang to music for hours because it was mine. Then God was like, 'Now I need you to go and do this for people. You don’t need to save them. You just need to sing.'

Analogue: The intersection of art, spirituality and commerce can be an ugly intersection. Has that been weird for you? It seems like there aren’t a lot of examples of people who can speak authentically to their own spiritual beliefs and experiences without prepackaging it.

Liz: Oh, definitely. I had an interview on a podcast where the host asked me about my views on the evangelical movement in politics in this season? This is in front of a live audience. This is going to be on a podcast given out to the world. I’m sitting there like, 'Okay. All right. I know exactly what I’m going to say.'

You know John the Baptist? He prepared the way for the Jesus, the Messiah. Right before he dies, he’s like, 'Are you actually the Messiah, or are we still waiting?' And Jesus’ response isn’t yes. It’s the blind can see. The deaf can hear. The lame can walk. The lepers have been cleansed. The poor receive good news. Now go and tell him all that you have seen and heard. That’s it. And then John’s head is cut off, and Jesus says he is one of the most faithful men you will ever know.

If those things are lacking, then I cannot say that the kingdom of God is involved. That was my answer for my views on the politics. If it’s only causing destruction and division, it’s not of God. Period.

I get this question often: How do you incorporate your faith and also invite people who don’t share the same faith into the story? That’s my life. That’s how I live. I do feel the pressures of being this pure virgin queen waiting on the Lord to send me a husband and then I’ll be fully complete, and I know how to bake and sew and cook and want to have a bunch of children. You know what, a lot of people want that life. But I also feel like God is using me to go and to remind people that they are seen and heard, that I don’t know where I fit in the church body as a single black woman, as one who her faith in Jesus is very important to her. I don’t feel conservative enough to be in the Christian realm, and I don’t feel liberal enough to be invited into the “secular” realm.

So where do I stand? I have to fight to stand in the middle. How do I acknowledge my human self as one who has faith in Jesus, realizing that my faith in Jesus is way more mysterious and mystical—that there will be a lot of things that I’m never going to know the answers to. I have to be okay with that. It doesn’t feel very Western Christian-like to not have all the answers.

I moved from Portland to New York City, and I worked at a church. For the first time, I don’t have a consistent church community. I’m not leading a community group. I’m not available to go to church every Sunday, because sometimes I’m on the road. So what does it look like for the first time to have the activities of what it means to be a Christian stripped away? Now I put all of that into my music.

Analogue: That tension you’re describing of not being very western Christian – do you find that people respond well to that because they’re living in that tension?

Liz: Honestly, I don’t even know. I guess it varies on the day. Sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump, where he’s running and all of a sudden people are running with him and they have signs. He turns around and he’s like, 'Well, I’m going to go home.' I was just running. There are times that I’m just walking through these doors because it feels like God is sending me to these places. I don’t know what to expect when I get there.

I don’t sing at a lot of church events. I don’t sing at a lot of Christian events. I sing at like regular venues where I’ve had people trippin’ balls in the audience and they tell me they see a light glowing around me. I believe them. I feel like sometimes people who don’t follow Jesus are much more open to the mystical side, the spiritual side of things. I want that freedom. I’m terrified of the Holy Spirit, because I just didn’t grow up hearing much about the Holy Spirit and what it does, but if you read through the scripture, it’s pretty freaky. You can’t box it.

I feel like sometimes people who don’t follow Jesus are much more open to the mystical side, the spiritual side of things. I want that freedom.

Analogue: Were there some dominant records growing up for you?

Liz: You might laugh. I listened to Top 40 music, like Rod Stewart and Melissa Etheridge and Alanis Morrisette and No Doubt. Then you throw in some Al Green and Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin and a couple of Patti LaBelle songs with Michael McDonald. There were also movie soundtracks, like I knew the Lion King soundtrack before the movie came out. I listened to The Little Mermaid. I grew up with a sister who’s 10 years older than me, so I listened to '80s music all the time. Ther was also the boy band era of N’Sync and Backstreet Boys.

Analogue: That really is all over the place.

Liz: All over. I’m surprised I’m not in a loony bin. Then add living in New York City. There are times when I’m like, 'I think I might have a mental breakdown.' I don’t know. Maybe this is just who I am.

Analogue: Tell us what’s coming up for you. I see a lot of tour dates. Does that take you through the end of the year?

Liz: Yes. I think so. After my tour with Prop[aganda], I have some West Coast tours, and then a show here and there in November and December. But anything could pop up. I don’t really think about ticket sales or anything like that. How my music career has worked out, things will pop up. And I always have to be ready to just go if I’m supposed to go to those places.