Although keen to avoid the clichés that surely accompany anyone hailing from such an iconic locale as Transylvania, the central Romanian region made famous (or quite possibly infamous) by Bram Stoker, singer-songwriter Lizabett Russo’s development as an artist has undoubtedly been shaped by her background and her travels.
Now residing in the slightly less mysterious Scottish port city of Aberdeen, Lizabett regards her homeland as a major influence on her creative process: “Romania is an old country with lots of stories to tell,” she says, “but not the one that crappy media presents.”
Pop Mythology’s resident music scribe John Stubley recently chatted with the wavy-haired wayfarer about her music, travels and memories of home.
Being of Transylvanian heritage, living in Scotland, and forging a career as a touring musician, you’ve clearly done a lot of travelling. Would you say that there’s more of Romania or Scotland in your sound?
LR: I’ve been living in Scotland for three years now and I do love the culture, music and the beautiful landscape. I guess the sublime solitude that you find in this country inspired me a bit in my creations. But there is a balance between Romania and Scotland in my sound. My own roots have a deep impact on my music. Transylvania is a mysterious land and can provide very good inspiration (especially since we have so many intriguing legends and myths). I still feel excited and amazed when I go back home and visit some places in Transylvania.
You just got back from playing a few gigs in Amsterdam. How does the experience of recording compare to playing live?
LR: Recording feels like a never ending process but it feels good when you are getting really creative with your sound and you work together with other people.
Playing live is a different experience, that’s the moment when you have to take the emotions out of your own soul and share it with the audience. Sometimes it feels like magic standing on stage, I get so lost in my songs that when I come back reality seems boring and sad. I’m usually a shy person but when I’m on stage nothing else matters and time stops. I call it “the teleportation.” But all I can say about both processes is that they make me feel.
There are so many means of digitally distributing your music today, and you’re getting a fair bit of online buzz right now. Is it something of a double-edged sword: i.e. easier to get your music out there, but perhaps more difficult to be noticed by the press?
LR: The Internet culture makes it easier to share your music with various people but the disadvantage is that people don’t buy CDs anymore. It’s not the same respect and appreciation towards music. Therefore, I have to work hard in order to promote my music and do my best so people will hear it and capture their interest.
Sometimes, I feel the burden of it all since I’m doing it all on my own. Nowadays, the visuals count as much as the music does. You need to have it all in order to be appealing to a larger audience otherwise it’s harder to be noticed by press. But then again, there are days when I tell myself that all I care for is my music and nothing else. Sometimes it feels like you are in a competition with yourself and it doesn’t feel right anymore.
Could you tell us anything about your songwriting process?
LR: To be honest, it’s nothing special. I usually sit in my room when it’s quiet and nobody disturbs me. I start playing some songs and messing around with some chords until I find something I like and then lyrics and feelings keep on flowing. The process is natural. I do not pick up a guitar with the intention of writing a song.
Sometimes I translate some of my old Romanian poems and make them into songs. “Lose Your Colour” from my EP is a good example. I wrote the poem when I was in high school.
Was there music around during your childhood?
LR: My general life influence is my mom. I remember she taught me a lot of songs when I was little. She wanted me to grow with a compassionate, artistic soul. The folk ballads that I used to sing back then still impact my songwriting and vocal style. There was always folk music playing in the house. Later, when I got into secondary school I got my hands on some foreign music but I was quite selective.
I used to listen to a lot of music from Japan and Korea. I guess I was fascinated by those beautiful countries. And also, since I am a big fan of anime, I have to give some credit to the wonderful movies of Hayao Miyazaki. They are very inspirational and I hope that one day I will create the music for one of his movies.
You designed pretty much everything for your EP release, and even knit bowties for your merchandise store! Where did the DIY ethic come from?
LR: My mother always used to create things with her loving hands. I’ve watched her year after year knitting, sewing, fixing, holding, comforting. I saw her creating love with those two hard-working hands. I’m grateful that she taught me so many wonderful things. The world wouldn’t be the same without her. I think that all I create for me or for others is an expression of love. So I want to share it in any way possible. There’s nothing much sweeter than a hand-made gift.
Lizabett’s début EP, the aptly titled The Traveller’s Song, provides a deeply personal and revealing insight into the somewhat transient life of a musician working to establish a career far away from home.
Deceptively upbeat and catchy opener “Lose Your Colour,” with its reassurances of remembrance for those left behind, is a well-crafted slice of melodious folk-pop which sets out her stall as not only a soulful vocalist, but a pretty nifty guitar player to boot. The more contemplative title track “The Travellers Song” continues to expand upon the themes of displacement and isolation running through the EP, and successfully manages to fuse a subtle hint of traditional Romanian folk song with more modern sensibilities – a feat that many, more established, acts have tried and failed to achieve. Closing the EP, the haunting “Tonight” adds extra layers of synth and effects-driven guitar to Russo’s sound, creating an atmospheric end to an extremely promising début release. An acoustic version of “Tonight,” available on her website, is well worth a listen and perhaps offers a peek at what one could expect from one of Lizabett’s frequent live shows.
Between answering questions for Pop Mythology, constant gigging, and personally hand-making everything available to purchase on her website, it seems that Russo’s work ethic matches her indisputable talent.
“I’m starting to record new songs this week,” she says, “and I will post them one by one on Soundcloud once they are ready to go out into the world. And I’ll keep on gigging and writing more stuff in my blog.”