mwe3: Where are you from originally and where do you live now and what do you like best about it?
Liz Lenten: I am a bit of a mongrel! My family originates from Eastern Europe, and lived in Manchester. I was born and brought up in Leicester, and now, after a decade in London, live in the wilds of Lincolnshire, in the center of England in a tiny, very rural village! I love living here… it’s so peaceful and beautiful. It’s flatlands, and you can see for miles. I also have a holiday home in Sitia, Eastern Crete, Greece, half way up a mountain, in the middle of a traditional village, which is my little piece of paradise and where I do most of my songwriting.
mwe3: Tell us about growing up in England and who your biggest musical influences were and what made you want to become a recording artist and composer?
Liz Lenten: I grew up listening to my parent’s records… Billie Holiday, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis, lots of country, jazz and any style of female singers. I guess Bonnie Raitt and Dolly made me want to write my own songs. I just loved the stories but also listening to Kate Bush, Dusty Springfield, Joan Armatrading, Karen Dalton… and also Melissa Etheridge, Patsy Cline, Debbie Harry, Janis Joplin, Guy Clark and so many others. I just always wanted to make records and tell my own stories. I wasn’t really into ‘pop’ music at the time, my friends all thought I had awful taste in music, but I just liked the older stuff and story songs!
mwe3: What instruments did you study?
Liz Lenten: I studied voice up to grade 8, piano to grade 5 and play the guitar, which my Dad taught me when I was 4! He was a doctor, but a good musician, also a songwriter. I arranged and sang one of his songs on my Nashville album a few years ago. He had written it for my Mum in the 1960’s when they were first together!
mwe3: What inspires you to write a great song and, in your songs, does music come first or do lyrics come first?
Liz Lenten: When I am writing there is no set method. Sometimes it’s the lyrics and melody, they do tend to come together, and sometimes it’s a chord sequence or just a groove. I teach composition and song writing but I don’t write like a teach! How do you say to kids, ‘just pick up a guitar and let your feelings out?’ That’s not going to work, so I use a structure for teaching, or if I have a commission for a choir or whatever, but when I write myself I just lose myself in ideas and see what flows. I record all ideas onto my phone, so handy!
mwe3: Tell us about the recently released Auburn album Love & Promises. Do you feel it’s the best album you’ve made so far and how would you compare it with the other Auburn album releases?
Liz Lenten: Well, I think we always think our latest work is the best. I am very pleased with how the album came out. I do think it’s some of my best work so far. I really enjoy working with Thomm Jutz, the producer and guitarist, in Nashville where I have recorded my last 3 albums. I just feel totally at ease with him and he brings out the best in my songs, always tasteful and subtle. He just seems to pick out the best bits and keeps my original vibe and mood and he juts lets me focus on telling my stories. I think it’s a natural progression from my previous albums… I hope they are improving anyway!
mwe3: What was it like recording in Nashville with Thomm and did being in Music City influence your sound?
Liz Lenten: Yes, he and Nashville did influence the sound of my songs. There is a real ‘sound’ that you can’t articulate but just sounds like Nashville and nowhere else. I absolutely love working with Thomm and his team of amazing players… he just gets me perfectly. I never need to explain what I am thinking… he just hears it. He is an amazing technician but then drops down a solo or a guitar part that makes you melt on the spot. I can’t believe I get to work with so much talent, but I do and it’s amazing!
mwe3: How many albums have you made with Thomm and how different are your albums from each other?
Liz Lenten: I have made 3 albums with Thomm now. The first one, Nashville sort of started the sound… picking out the Americana influences but still keeping my Englishness. Then Mixed Feelings, which was one of my favorite experiences as I was really happy with the songs. We had so many to choose from, and I felt it developed my / Auburn sound even more. And Love & Promises was just so easy to record. We did the whole thing in 30 hours! No rushing, it just flowed so easily. I think all my albums are similar… in that it’s always a collection of always emotional, often miserable and occasionally slightly more cheerful but most are stories rather than statements.
But, I hope that my writing is progressing with each one and each album has a theme to the collection of songs, so an overall outlook. I don’t think it really matters what I think… the listener always forms their own opinion on what a song is about anyway! That’s all part of the fun. I love it when people tell me that my song means a lot to them and then find out that they have a totally different take on it. Even though I sometimes feel that my heart is totally on my sleeve and I have left myself wide open to anything. It’s just always lovely when anyone relates to what you are singing / writing about and gets it in their own way!
mwe3: What are your impressions of Nashville and the US in general? Have you been to the bigger cities and towns in the US? NYC or L.A.? Compared to England the US is hard to get around.
Liz Lenten: I absolutely love Nashville! The music in every pore of the place. I’d move there in a heartbeat! I have family in US in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, so have made many trips to see them and spent time. I love the country, especially New York… amazing vibrant place, such a buzz to be there, always. Almost all the people I have met in my travels to US have been warm and friendly and welcoming, much friendlier than the average Brit!
mwe3: How did you put the band together with Thomm Jutz? Seems like a lot of artists are heading to Nashville to make records.
Liz Lenten: I can fully understand why people head over the Nashville to make albums… it’s such a wonderful way to work. For a start, there are no interruptions. I have a studio at home and an office in my house, so there is never any lack of distraction or people ‘needing’ my attention, so one of the best things for me is that I can go and forget everything, and just focus on making my records. I was introduced to Thomm by the lovely Gretchen Peters. Her husband Barry played on my first two albums there, who thought he would be just right for my music, and she was spot on. I spoke to Thomm, then sent him some of my song demos. Luckily, he liked the songs and he chose the musicians to play on the album, based on our chats.
mwe3: What kind of guitars is Thomm playing and what about your guitars? Do you have a favorite guitar or other instrument?
Liz Lenten: I don’t know what guitars he uses… he has loads, and pedals and all that shit, but whatever he plays it sounds gorgeous. I don’t play guitar on the recordings, although I play live with my band when I tour, but Thomm is such an amazing guitarist there is no way I would play in the studio when he is there, he’s just the best!
I have a few guitars… all acoustic and do most of my writing on a vintage Martin guitar, named Rosie, that I scrounged, borrowed, bought, stole from my lovely live sound engineer Justin. I just feel so connected to the instrument… that he can’t have her back! He is welcome to visit though and play her whenever he likes! I also have an Ovation superstar that I tend to use for rhythm work and a Martin Traveler mini guitar that I take to Crete with me. I have a little pignose electric guitar that’s fun to play, but I don’t usually use electric. I pick a lot and strum with my thumb and fingers. No plectrum, so my style of playing isn’t really suited to electric.
mwe3: The first track “Asleep” starts things off in a hushed manner plus you have a quote from Dr. Seuss who says love is better than dreaming. Is the track autobiographical? Speaking of love you have other quotes about love in the CD booklet from Joan Crawford who compares love to a fire that could warm your hearth or burn down your house… There’s quite a wide range of love’s side effects in your music too.
Liz Lenten: Okay… the Love & Promises album is all about just living for the moment. The last few years have been pretty crazy for me, for lots of personal reasons, and one huge thing I had to take on was changes and trauma, so whilst a lot of my songs… well most… stem from my personal feelings and experiences. It’s not totally autobiographical… it just starts out that way, then I let poetic license take it away. Some of the songs are very close to reality, but many are not at all. I also tend to write about the feelings and comments made by my friends too, so… be careful what you tell me… it could end up all twisted in a song!
I do like quotes about love, and particularly the way that everyone has a different take on what love really is about. All my songs are about love in one way or another I suppose… often the down side to falling in love, or the end of a love affair, or the love of your family and friends, or the love of a place or time or just a feeling, and of course sad times and difficult or heartbreaking situations are great to get those feelings out. But, I am also a real romantic and do believe in the whole ‘head over heels thing’ too. I just find that writing the sad songs makes me feel happy!
Liz Lenten: It’s more about having no control over your feelings… it’s literally part of you. I doubt that blind love is best kind of love. Eyes open are what is probably needed but new relationships are often blind!
mwe3: The title track “Love & Promises” is one of the best songs on the CD. What inspired that track? Is that kind of love harder to find these days?
Liz Lenten: I suppose it was inspired by a complete lack of faith in traditional relationships… so it’s all about just going with the feelings that you have at the time and saying, ‘I don’t need love and promises’ . Just all the other stuff…although of course I do really, everyone does…it was just how I felt then. I’m really pleased you liked the track. It is one of my favorite songs. We have shot a really arty video for the track, hoping to get that out soon… just a few edits to complete it!
mwe3: “Miss You Blues” is a slow bluesy track that speaks of a lack of love. Did you write the track first hand or were you writing about someone you know? Is it tongue in cheek or is it a serious track?
Liz Lenten: It is a bit tongue in cheek in terms of style. I just wanted to make it really ‘dirty ‘bar room blues! It was about someone I know that I was missing at the time, yes.
mwe3: Is “Wanda” a kind of satirical imaginary woman that no man can attain? It’s got a very interesting melody to match it with several breaks on a slide guitar? Although you lay it out at the end!
Liz Lenten: Yes, kind of… Its about being / having that dream woman, that every guy wants / wants you to be, a long way from reality or responsibility, or work, or commitment. But of course she’s not real, and if she was she wouldn’t really be that perfect dream woman… she would have needs and feelings too!! I do absolutely love the musicians take on my weird chords and melody, particularly love the keys on this and of course the amazing slide guitar. The band got it straight away.
mwe3: “Cross The Deep Atlantic” is a very romantic song. Tell us about your singing partner on the song. It’s very English in a way. How did the duet happen?
Liz Lenten: The male vocals are sang by a friend of mine from Texas, Chet O Keefe. Thomm produced some of his records and as soon as I heard his voice, I wanted to sing with him. We hooked up on Skype and chatted, and then I wrote the song, based on our long-distance friendship, which wasn’t ever a relationship! Just my little fantasy of what a long-distance relationship would be like. I hear it almost as a nursery rhyme. It’s simple and sweet. And Justin Moses added such gorgeous tones with the dobro. I love the way Chet sings it. His voice is like velvet!
Chet came over to the UK last year and we toured, just the two of us and two guitars, doing alternate songs of Chet’s and mine. It was a blast and the UK loved Chet too. I always embarrassed him at the gigs telling him I wrote the song about him, then following it with my ‘stalker song’ “Hell Hath No Fury”, from Mixed Feelings… and used to pretend that was about him too. He’s a lovely fella, you should check out his music, he’s a wonderful songwriter too. I put out his last CD on my label. We hope to do some more work together at some point.
mwe3: Is “Safety Net” written about the musician or the circus acrobat?
Liz Lenten: It is really about life, and trying to keep yourself steady and safe in an unsecure situation. The circus stuff is just a metaphor.
mwe3: “Ivory Moon” has a nice hooky chorus. Does the hook come to you after you write the verses? I like the connection between the ivory moon and someone smiling. I never saw it that way!
Liz Lenten: Ah, thanks so much. The song is about my son. It is absolutely real, every word. He has the most wonderful smile that always makes me feel better whatever the situation and I always feel lost and like I hit the ground hard when he isn’t here. He hates the songs I write about him… refuses to listen to them! (Ha ha). In English slang, teeth are called ‘the old ivories’… like piano keys, so that’s what made me think of a huge smile as an ivory moon. This song literally wrote itself. It just came out. I couldn’t write it down as quickly as I was thinking of it… melody, lyrics, everything, just rolled out once I had the first verse. The Nashville band thought it was a bit of an epic, so much longer than the usual 3 minutes!
mwe3: “Stupid Game” is either very dramatic or ironic comedy about relationships. I understand that love is a game. Life sometimes guides our choice of partners or lack thereof. I wonder if the internet has made it easier or harder to be human.
Liz Lenten: I think the internet has made it much harder, full stop. Social media is one great big game. I hate it. It’s all front and no trousers! Love is also a game. Fun to play when it’s going well and a nightmare when things start to go wrong. It’s just that sinking feeling when you start to feel like you have been had and maybe not everyone is being totally straight with you… stupid games.
mwe3: Tell us about writing “If Everyone Was Listening” with Mark “Gus” Gustavina. It sounds like you were going for a specific pop-rock sound on that track, at least compared to some of the other songs. What do you look for in a songwriting partner and will you be doing other songs with Gus in the future? What are some of the key lyrics as I don’t think the lyrics for this track were printed in the booklet.
Liz Lenten: I have written with Gus, my UK guitarist and co-writer, on and off for over 20 years. The only reason we don’t write so much together now is both having a lack of time to get together and I am writing all the time on my own, so have so many songs. Gus is one of my favorite and most trusted musicians and friends. He came over to mine the night before I went to Thomm’s to record L & P, just to go through the songs with me and give me his feedback and any ideas. Everything he says is relevant. Anyway, we started to jam and wrote ‘If Everyone Was Listening’ at the end of the evening, after watching the news!
I played it off my phone, half finished, to Thomm, who loved it and said we had to record it! So, I finished the lyrics in the studio, and we just let the feel evolve. It is probably one of the most ‘pop’ sounding songs I have… but I love it. Its powerful… and again just simple message. There are quite a few of our co-writes on previous albums and we do intend to write more together next tear. When I write with someone, I just need them to be relaxed and jam around a groove. That always makes an idea spring forward and then we just refine it. I love writing with Gus. The only reason that the lyrics aren’t on the CD artwork is because of a print error, we genuinely don’t know how they disappeared!
mwe3: Is “Tell Me” is another song about the realities of relationships? You wouldn’t think relationships could be so complex! It’s quite a sobering song. Is it autobiographical?
Liz Lenten: Okay… yes, it is autobiographical. I am still confused and don’t understand any of it! And yes, it would be really nice if people communicated with each other and actually told them what they are thinking, before it’s too late. But I guess that’s just life. Relationships are hard, so many conflicting thoughts, particularly at the end of a very long one.
mwe3: Is “State Of Grace” anything to do with religion? The song is really coming from a unique direction. What do you make of it? It sounds like the song is coming right through you. Is song writing being in a state of grace? Sometimes I wonder…
Liz Lenten: No, not religious and having God’s approval as such… It’s more about forgiving yourself, and the God within us all and allowing yourself to go with your own feelings, living in the moment, etc. etc…
You’ve probably gathered by now that my life was in a state of change when I wrote this album and I just wanted to allow myself to live in the present and stop trying to understand why things happen… or don’t!
mwe3: I know your mum just passed away. Is that like rite of passage of sorts? Tell us about your mother and did she connect with your music?
Liz Lenten: My Mum was my rock. My heroine. My best friend. My style icon. My advisor. My role model. She loved us all unconditionally. She encouraged my every single day. She always loved music, although she was a dancer, couldn’t sing to save her life, (lol), but she loved music and there was always live music in the house as I grew up… bands, sing songs, my dad played piano and loads of other instruments, parties, gigs… always musicians around and performing was a totally natural thing. She supported my musical ambitions always, right down to selling her jewelry to pay for recording time.
I wrote a song on the Indian Summer album called “All Comes Back To You”. It’s about my Mum… whilst she was in hospital having a hip replacement! There is a line in it that says, ‘you sold your rings, and I know other things, to make sure I got what I needed’… And someone asked me if she had been a hooker! When I told her that, she was a proud as punch to think that someone would pay her to sleep with them! She was always laughing and she came to virtually every live gig I ever played, even over the last three years when she has been in a wheelchair, heavily paralyzed after a severe stroke. She never missed a show that she could get to somehow.
She played music all the time when I was young, and that’s what drew me in to love it so much. I will never stop missing her. To be honest, I still can’t quite get my head round the fact that she has gone. She was kind to everyone she met, really, so generous, and quite reserved. She hated it when I would hug and kiss her all the time! She never really understood why we all adored her I don’t think, particularly the last few years of her life, she couldn’t get why everyone was so kind to her. I explained that you reap what you sow and she sowed nothing but goodness. I have dozens of songs about her in my head. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.
mwe3: Tell us about Scarlet Records and how many albums do you have out. You did such a great job on the CD sound and packaging. It’s a shame to lose that with the download craze still in full swing.
Liz Lenten: So pleased you liked the packaging. It was designed by my nephew Seb Lenten, who used the project as his final university module. He got a 2:1! I was very proud of him. He’s a talented lad. We spent a lot of time talking about the songs and the moods and the colors and the quotes and the message and the style. We included the lyrics as so many people had asked before if I would include a lyric booklet next time. I am very pleased with how it came out. I think he did a wonderful job.
I have put out loads of records on Scarlet – from Auburn, to The Popes, Shane MacGowan’s live band… to Eliza Carthy, a national treasure of the English folk world and who I have managed for the last 10 years, and loads of other new artists, whose music I like, such as the wonderful N.Y. singer/songwriter Galia Arad and Chet O Keefe, who I wanted to help launch in the UK. It’s just a small label really, to springboard stuff, and I agree, it’s a shame that hard copy has been taken over by downloads but it’s something I enjoy… working with other artists, so I will probably continue releasing stuff anyway!
mwe3: I had been listening to the Love & Promises album for a while so I’m glad we were able to do the interview. So what’s coming down the road for you musically and label wise?
Liz Lenten: I really appreciate your support. I have been writing new material over the last year and intend to go back to Thomm in Nashville in 2018 to record a new CD. It will probably have a slightly different feel to the last 3… more organic and acoustic, but hopefully still with that lovely Nashville vibe and Thomm’s gorgeous playing and production. These songs are all pretty personal, so I want to spend a little more time writing before choosing tracks. I like to take about 20 or so with me, then we can find a playlist that really works together.
I am also touring live in the UK in February 2018, with my good friends from L.A. – Live Dead 69. Auburn Acoustic is a 3 or 4 piece, myself on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Gus on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, Jevon Beaumont, who is also Arthur Brown’s musical director, on bass and backing vocals and maybe one of my lovely backing singers. We like to keep it small and intimate and powerful. I can’t wait, singing live is the best bit of the whole process!