Liv Slingerland may not be a household name, but she soon will be. This star on the rise has spent years cutting her teeth as an up-and-coming artist in L.A.’s ultra-competitive music scene. The blood, sweat, and tears she’s spilled along the way as she meticulously hones her craft haven’t gone unnoticed. One of the hardest working musicians you will ever encounter, her ever-expanding skillset continues to turn the heads of fans and global music superstars. Whether supporting acts like Alex Lahey, Robert DeLong, and Lauren Ruth Ward, playing alongside Olivia Rodrigo on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ or hitting the road with HALSEY, she has been quietly laying the groundwork for what will undoubtedly become a legendary career. The next exciting chapter in her captivating story begins with the release of her debut solo album. ‘Hey You’ drops on August 5th via Righteous Babe Records, the label founded by fellow guitar slinger Ani DiFranco.
After losing her beloved father in March 2020, the in-demand guitarist knew what she needed to do immediately: finish her first solo album. It was the least she could do — a heartfelt homage to her biggest fan. The only problem? A global pandemic that would grind life as we knew it to a halt. However, Slingerland wasn’t about to let a looming national lockdown get in the way of finishing her long overdue debut. Building on the myriad of styles she’d mastered over the years — surf rock scorchers, Tom Petty tabs, the blues — and her recent studies in USC’s Popular Music program, Slingerland immersed herself in the creative process. She began decoding what she didn’t already know, primarily necessary evils like tricked-out production and engineering techniques required to drive her artistry forward in a much more self-reliant manner. Painstakingly crafted over several years, the album served as a creative outlet to work through the tensions of navigating her college years and early 20s while coming out as queer. The songs explore themes of her ensuing romantic relationships, family distress, and the loss of her father. ‘Hey You’ is a captivating record that showcases Liv Slingerland’s musical prowess and depth as a songwriter. Simply put, it’s an album not to be missed!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this star on the rise to get an inside look at her career. The pair discusses Liv’s musical origin story, her evolution as an artist, the inspirations that keep her creative fires burning bright, and much more!
Music has always been your passion, and you’ve turned it into your livelihood. When did it first take hold in your life?
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted a guitar. I was probably around six years old. I’m not sure if it was because I saw someone playing on the TV or just hearing songs on the radio with my parents. It wasn’t until I was in fifth grade that I really started learning guitar. In those middle and high school years, I went even deeper. I would have my friends over, and I remember my friend Jonathan showed me a bunch of stuff, and we tried to make a band. There were many iterations of bands after that. That began when I was around eleven or twelve.
When did it dawn on your that music was more than just a phase in your life and something you wanted to pursue at a higher level? Of course, you went on to attend USC, but that’s a huge step to take?
When I was in high school, who is a friend of mine now, whose name is J.C. Smith. He was this older musician who met me playing at Blues Jams. He saw me playing with all of these musicians. I think I had one or two original songs that I played at those. I had a bunch of other songs that he asked me about. He said, “You should record an album!” He ended up producing this album that I made when I was in high school. I always wanted to write original music, and that kinda got me into the process of recording, playing live, and putting a band together. I always wanted to do that; I was never really thinking of another option. I remember researching music school when I was in high school, and it was what I was most excited about. As a kid, I was good at math, so my Mom was like, “You should be an architect or a designer.” I thought those options could be cool, but I always just loved guitar. Fortunately, it’s all worked out! [laughs]
What lessons did you learn early on in your career that continues to resonate as you’ve moved forward?
That’s a good question. I think being open to all different kinds of music and people, as well as being a kind person and supporting other people in the music scene, has been really helpful. I feel like that is something that has always been able to help me move forward to the next place. The opportunities I get today can be traced back to people I knew at USC almost eight or nine years ago. Being open and excited for other people and letting them support you, vice versa, and going out to support each other show has been most significant.
There is no question that you’re a talented guitarist. However, it’s your songwriting that has blown me away. What can you tell me about finding your voice as a songwriter?
If I ever have! [laughs]
I think you have! Every one of the songs on this new album, ‘Hey You,’ is exceptional.
Thank You. I’ve been writing songs since I was in high school. Maybe it was a little bit before then, but I started focusing on it in high school. I try not to think about it too much. I try to sit down and play or sing ideas that speak to me somehow. Sometimes I get stuck, so I say I don’t know if I’ve found my voice, but almost everybody says that! [laughs] Frequently, I will sit down, even if it’s only for a half-hour, and start journaling or writing down any words that come to mind, brainstorming, free-writing, or doing thirty minutes of recording of some musical ideas. Then I will let those sit and eventually go back and say, “Oh, those two things fit together.” It’s all about the consistency of doing it often.
Are you an artist who is always in a creative state and working on new material?
I go in phases depending on what I’m doing. Like this current tour, for example. I’ve been on with HALSEY and doing so much; it’s been more challenging to work on new material. Usually, when I’m at home, I work on new material, depending on my headspace. I will go through months and months and months of not doing it and then months and months and months of doing it. It’s rather nice to have the break of playing guitar for somebody, but when I get home, I can use that energy that has been building up to really exercise that and jump back in. I think that’s what keeps my brain happy!
‘Hey You’ serves as your debut album. Bringing it to life didn’t happen overnight.
Yeah, some of the songs are recorded versions of songs that I had right after graduating from USC. I graduated in 2015, and part of my senior project was recording an EP. From then on, I recorded another EP and released another single. I have since taken all of those down to create this album, representing me from that time, meaning 2015-2016 onward. That way, I have a more significant piece to share and promote. So, yeah, there are a couple of songs from that era. Then there are songs I was working on in the studio with my friend/producer Wolfie. That was doing the Summer of 2019 area. Then half of the record was entirely written and recorded at home during the pandemic. It does stretch quite a bit of time. I think it just takes a long time, especially when you’re younger and trying to save money to live, record, and get things mastered and promoted. It was always like, “Oh, I’m working on my project, but I need to go on this tour to make a living. Then I’m going to come back.” It would always be in these spurts, so the pandemic gave me the whole time to focus on completing that and having an entire project to share.
What does this album mean to you personally?
A lot of the reason why this album is now finished is that my dad passed away. That happened a couple of weeks before the start of the pandemic. Then, two weeks later, we went on lockdown. My whole goal had been to be an artist. While I love playing guitar for other people, and that’s become a massive part of my career as well, I wanted to honor that initial impetus that I had and honor my dad’s supportiveness throughout my entire life. I needed to figure out a way to teach myself to record, put in the time, and believe in myself enough to put myself out there. When I think about the whole thing, a lot revolves around it.
How difficult was it for you to put your side of yourself out there in that capacity?
My lyrics are personal, so it is a little tricky because I’m a pretty sensitive person. I’ve always had the drive to do it. The main struggle has been the tug of war of being on tour with somebody as an instrumentalist, then trying to do my own thing, and then working other jobs at home. I think it’s been the lack of concentrated time on it. However, it takes a lot of people a while to get to that point in life where they can focus on their one main goal.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in bringing these songs to life, and when did you know the songs were complete? I feel like I could tinker forever!
I know! [laughs] I’m mostly a perfectionist, but at a certain point, I know I will make this worse by going over and over. I also wanted to take those old songs and make sure everything was cohesive. So, there were some old songs that I completely re-recorded. There were also some that we got the stems from and completely remixed. The ones that I was recording in a studio, it was like, “Okay, you only have so much time anyway. I have these five days, so you’re gonna get the best takes from that.” The mixing process can be pretty long, but for the ones that I did at home, I was going take upon take upon take of each part. But, as I said earlier, I felt like it would get worse if I beat it to death. It definitely helped to work with Matt Bishop, the producer/mixer of the last half of the album that I wrote. When I would get exhausted with something, I would say it to him. I’d say, “What do you think? What do you want to add? Do you think we need to change anything?” Getting his feedback on everything was super helpful!
As you said, some of these songs came from your past, and others are more recent. Are there clear steps in your songwriting evolution?
Yeah. Certain things come more easily or quickly in a problem-solving or process-wise sense, like not getting caught up on one thing here or there. I would be like, “Okay, at least I have the structure for these four sections that I want. Let me not get hung up on verse two if I can finish everything else and return to that later. Having little tools to trick yourself out of getting stuck has been very helpful.
You also mentioned recording a lot of this album at home. I imagine there was quite a learning curve.
Definitely! I would research different online classes focused on Logic, where I mainly recorded. At first, I was watching hours and hours of Logic videos! [laughs] I can’t just watch the video, do it and be like, “Oh, that worked.” I have to know every reason why it worked! [laughs] So, it was a long process, but it makes everything more fun when you know all the facets of it.
What do you think you learned about yourself through the process?
I learned to give myself enough personal time and space to work through something and trust my songwriting intuition more. Choosing different sounds and production elements was a big part of it. The last half of the songs I wrote were more synth-heavy, and I had jumped into the world of synths. At first, I was like, “I don’t know if I’m choosing a shitty sound or if it’s cool!” [laughs] Through the process, I got a lot more comfortable with it, and people would be like, “Oh, I really like that.” I told Matt, “You can change all of these sounds. I don’t know.” He said, “No, they are really good!” Learning to trust myself in those decisions has been a big thing. Then just finishing something front to back was a significant milestone. There are so many steps involved in the process beyond recording. First, there is recording, then finding out how you are going to put it out, if you’re going to put it out with a label, meeting people to help you do that, and getting the right people involved. There are so many things that go into it. It’s so fulfilling to say, “I’ve completed all of these steps to make this happen.”
How did the sequencing of the songs play a role in this record?
That’s a great question. I feel like I had an idea of a few songs that I wanted to go together based on many of the live sets that my band and I had been playing. Also, some of the songs I had written were in the mindset of playing live. Those came together naturally. “Come Back To Me,” I always knew would be the end. “It Might Be Time,” which is the album intro, I knew I wanted to flow into “Hey You.” “God Forbid” was a longer song, so I wanted that to be in the middle. I feel like I had at least three or four goal points, and then I had Steve from my label, Righteous Babe, help as well. We went back and forth on a couple of ideas and listened to it a bunch until it felt right. I don’t know why but I think it feels right! [laughs]
Which songs came easiest, and which were the hardest for you to nail down?
I remember with “Bad Dreams” that I had written that song over a completely different chord progression, and I didn’t like it. One day, I decided to rework the chords. It’s one of the songs I completely reproduced after having had it out earlier. I remember that one taking a while just because of that process. “Come Back To Me” was interesting because there were a lot of tempo changes. That’s a song I wrote in college. The drummer I was playing with at the time and I arranged it together. Then the producer I worked with on it, his name was Scott, and he and I spent a lot of time mapping out how the tempo was going to change. I feel like even though it’s a song I wrote more quickly, the production side of it was a lot harder. “It Might Be Time,” the intro song, came together pretty easily as more of a stream-of-consciousness poem. I was just messing around with different chords on the synth that I had, and I just recorded it as an idea. I think it was on Valentine’s Day. It sat there for a long time, but it was pretty much completely finished as I wrote it.
Another element from this album that speaks to me is the artwork you’ve incorporated. What can you tell us about fleshing out those aspects?
All the photos I did for the album were with my friend Emma Cole. Basically, she was like, “We’re going to rent a photo studio, and we’re going to do five different looks in one day, so that we can get each individual cover, the album cover, and press photos.” She was really influential in setting up these different looks. I had gathered a lot of different images that I wanted to emulate, so we took all of those and took what we could find in the studio, what clothes I already had, and put all of those into a bunch of different visual looks. That was really fun, and I’m still surprised that we did it all in less than one day! She’s incredibly good with photography, creative direction, makeup, and fashion. Working with her is incredible because she is so talented in all of those realms.
I also worked with my friend Christian, whom I went to middle/high school with. I live in Los Angeles, and he lives in Fresno now, but I knew he was really into making short films. Everything he posts about revolves around films. I asked him if he would ever consider making a music video, and he said yes. He had never made one before, but I wanted to work with somebody with whom I had some sort of connection. Even though we haven’t been in contact since high school, we still had been in touch, so I thought it was a much more special thing than just hiring somebody I didn’t know just because they were big in LA or something like that.
The video for “Hey You” was done by Rob Fidel. He had worked with Lauren Ruth Ward, whom I used to play with, and a friend of mine was also good friends with him. I had seen his stuff online, and I saw he did a video with The Linda Lindas as well. I really, really loved his work, so I reached out to him. I said, “Hey, would you do something to collaborate with me?” I kinda just gave him a color palette, a synopsis of the song, and told him he could do whatever he wanted. That’s kinda how that worked out! It’s nice to be able to admire someone’s work and trust them enough to be like, “Oh, I’ll give you these few things to go off of so you aren’t completely starting from scratch but just do what you want to do.” That was a really cool experience.
Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days?
I’m constantly inspired by the musicians I work and play with. It’s been unique to work with HALSEY and their musical director, Vinny [Ferra]. It’s been amazing to see how they put a show together at that high of a level with all the people and musicians involved. Being immersed in that has been inspirational. Being around our drummer in HALSEY, his name is Harry, has been fantastic as well. He works with our musical director Vinny and programs all of the electronic drums, does a bunch of tech stuff, and is a tremendous drummer. He’s also an excellent song arranger. So being around him and having him help me with stuff and helping him on other projects has been really helpful.
That’s awesome. I’m looking forward to seeing how these experiences incorporate into your music as you move forward in your career.
Yeah, I’m excited to work on new music when I get back from tour!
I know you have a busy schedule, but what are we looking at in terms of potential tour dates in support of this album?
I want to make something happen. I’d love the situation to be something where I was opening for a bigger artist, even if it was just for a handful of dates. I feel like that would be more effective and doable than planning my own headlining tour in small clubs. Either way, whatever needs to happen, I’ll do it! I’d love to, in between the HALSEY dates that we have, get some opening slots somewhere and play again because I haven’t played with my band for a while now. I guess there was that time when things opened back up in July of 2021, but that’s the last time we played together. With all that said, I’m really excited to play this album for people; I just don’t know what it looks like yet.
Your work, drive, and determination are inspiring. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
I think it is to be persistent and keep going no matter what. That is what people always told me when I was young. When I started at USC, they were like, “A bunch of the students here are not going to make it because they are going to give up at some point. All you have to do is keep going and doing the thing you started out wanting to do. If you do that, things will happen for you eventually.” I feel like that definitely has been the case!
Thanks so much for your time today, Live. ‘Hey You’ is such a remarkable record. I look forward to seeing where the following chapters in your story take you!
Thank you so much! I truly appreciate it! I look forward to speaking with you again soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.