Liz Cooper, a star-golf-athlete-turned-rock-musician, dusted off the Covid cobwebs last fall when she finally got to tour her most recent studio album, Hot Sass, which she completed just before the pandemic hit. Now, her creative life is back in full swing. Though she hails from Baltimore, she found her musical voice during a decade spent in Nashville and is now starting a new chapter in the Big Apple. We sat down to chat with her about her life, her sound, and her latest record.
Interviewer: To start off, before we get into the music, I was just wondering if we can talk a little bit about you and your background. You’re from Baltimore, is that right?
Cooper: Yeah. All over the Northeast but I grew up mostly in Baltimore.
Interviewer: And [before music], you were big into golf.
Cooper: I was, yeah. Growing up, since I was a little kid, it was something that my family and I would do together and so I kind of had a natural draw to doing it and I happened to be really good at it. But then I was like, I don’t feel like this actually fulfills me and I wanna do music. Because I felt like I could, I don’t know, challenge myself more and help people and find myself in a different way doing [music]. So I moved to Nashville when I was nineteen.
Interviewer: From what I’ve read, that was a total spur-of-the-moment decision. You were set to go to school and do golf.
Cooper: Yeah, well I went to school. I went to Towson University in Baltimore for basically two semesters and I just hated it so much that I—when I don’t like something, I just, like, explode and I need to get out of it. And so I got out of it as fast as I possibly could and then I just kind of started my path.
Interviewer: So what made you pick Nashville out of all the places to go pursue music?
Cooper: Nashville was kind of starting to pop off a bit. It’s funny because a lot of my friends in Baltimore… Everyone went to New York when I was graduating high school, or [around] that point. Or people were moving to New York after they were graduating from college and I just felt too intimidated by it, and Nashville seemed easier to me as a first city to move to by myself. So I was down there for nine years. And then I moved to New York two-and-a-half years ago.
Interviewer: When you suddenly went from being a golf athlete to going to Nashville to pursue music, what was the reaction from your friends and family?
Cooper: Oh, everyone thought I was crazy. But they thought that I could do it. I was like, I want to do this, I’m going to move, because this is what fulfills me and what I need to chase and so that’s what I did. It’s one of those things where it’s like, you can have a relationship with me and let me do it or you can not have a relationship with me and let me do it anyway.
Interviewer: You were previously going by Liz Cooper and the Stampede. That was sort of your stage name. There’s not actually a separate band called the Stampede that you broke off with, right?
Cooper: I made that name when I was twenty. I had just got down to Nashville and I wanted a band. I wanted people to play with. At that point, I was just doing a lot of open mics and writer’s rounds and just, like, anything I could to figure out how to acclimate to Nashville. It was me and my first drummer, Kai Baker, at first. And I was like, “Alright, what could we be?” And I remember one of my friends was like, “The Stampede!” So yeah, I was twenty when I made that. I’ve always had people clump me into country music and I honestly think it’s just because I lived in Nashville. It’s been frustrating for me. I don’t play country music so I don’t know why everyone thinks that. But I think it was just easier for me to be like, I’m just not doing that band name anymore. I’m going to play music for the rest of my life and it’s gonna be different variations of people like it always has been. It’s never been the same group of people playing with me.
Interviewer: That leads into another question I had, which is that there’s this misconception that Nashville—even though it’s called Music City—is Country Music City, but we have a lot of artists that come to the festival that are based out of there who are all over the map in terms of genre. I can hear a folky bend to your music but I wouldn’t classify it as country. So how did you find your place in the Nashville community? Did that happen quickly?
Cooper: No, it’s just like finding your voice with anything. I think it’s a constant progression and I think for me, the community in Nashville is so small and big at the same time. All of us musicians and artists were together all the time and watching each other play and listening to each other’s songs. I think there was this excitement of rock n’ roll that was happening and I felt like I was more attracted to that. When I was doing the writer’s rounds it was just me and my guitar cause that’s all you could have for those so [those songs were] more folky. Once I found my band and started playing and touring, I felt more rock n’ roll. And it’s just progressed from there. It’s a constant evolution of genre.
Interviewer: Yeah, I’ve seen your music described as everything from psychedelic folk to indie rock. So you don’t really have a specific genre that you try to slot into?
Cooper: It just changes. Every album will be hopefully different. It would be boring to make the same music over and over. People do it and that’s fine.
Interviewers: What bands and artists would you say influence your sound?
Cooper: Oh, man…
Interviewer: Just for the most recent record, let’s say.
Cooper: For Hot Sass, it was more so bands like Broadcast and… I have a hard time with that question. All music inspires me. But definitely more, like, interesting music that is kind of all over the place. I like those kinds of sounds.
Interviewer: Getting into your music, talking about this new record, I know you’ve been touring over the spring. It looks like you were in the South and you have a Middle America tour coming up, so is [your new record] what people can expect from your current sets?
Cooper: Stuff from my recent record and, you know, maybe a couple of songs [from the past] that I will have made my own again that [are] more relevant to what I sound like now.
Interviewer. So Hot Sass. Awesome record. I loved it. Can you talk to me about personally what went into the record? What inspired the content of it?
Cooper: It was all very organic. It was just happening. I was living what I was writing. I worked really hard on writing and so it was just non-stop but it wasn’t… It’s hard to explain because it feels so far away from where I’m at now because I’ve been writing for my next record and I’m in that world. So I think, for Hot Sass, it’s the house that I was living in in Nashville and it was, like, Nashville, my community, and my people that I was surrounded by and just the madness that was happening internally and also on the outside with all of my friends. We were just really intentional with our art and what we were doing but it was also very reckless and we were just like, “Let’s have as much fun and go as wild as possible.” So I feel like there was a lot of experiments that were happening, in a really fun way. Testing the waters of reality and just things that Nashville allows. Nashville is kind of like a high school town in a lot of ways. You’re surrounded by all of your friends and your peers and no one is an adult actually, because we all are, like, musicians. So you can imagine. It’s really kind of wild. Anything goes. So that’s kind of fun. But that’s also exhausting. Nashville has always been very special to me, it’s been an amazing place for me for making my friends and doing what I’m doing now. But I never planned on staying there forever. I was getting the itch to see more of the country. I know I do that on tour but I also was very limited because we were just driving to a gig and doing stuff around the venue. So I moved to New York basically before the pandemic happened and now I’m here.
Interviewer: That must be a strange experience to have to sit on an album for so long and only recently did you get to begin touring it. So how is it going back to that record every few days at a show, even though you feel removed from that stage [of life]?
Cooper: I love to play this record. I’m so proud of it and it’s so special to me and it was definitely a time that I look back on very fondly. And my recording experience was really beautiful. So I’m happy to play these songs live, but I’m also very aware that I’ve moved on now from it. Which is nice. It’s nice to separate yourself from your work. Especially one project, as you go into the next one. I’m happy to be out of that a bit and in a different mental space. I don’t know what to expect going back on tour for the summer and kind of finishing out this cycle for this record. Which is so funny, because it doesn’t even feel like it actually began.
Interviewer: Now that you’re here in this new city and in a new phase, how is it affecting your writing, your approach to music, your general career and artistry?
Cooper: I feel like I’m in such a different place. I feel like a completely different person. It’s felt really good here since the spring started, so I’ve just felt really inspired. I’ve been recording with my friend Zenny, who produced Hot Sass. I’ve also been working on recording at my house, so I’ve kind of been embracing a new approach to making a record and to writing. It’s like a totally new experience and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.
Come see Liz Cooper play the Equipment Share Stage on Sunday, October 9th at Stephens Lake Park in Columbia, MO. Get your passes here: https://rootsnbluesfestival.frontgatetickets.com/