“Fiona [Apple] has been a huge inspiration to me—mostly the ‘The Idler Wheel…,’” NC musician Lizzy Ross says over the phone. “That’s the album where I fell in love with her.”
The singer-songwriter recently moved back to Durham, NC, after a few years in Nashville and several years of full-time performing. Her blend of folk, rock, country, and pop keep her tracks unpredictably entertaining with different tones and vibes. Her work on 2012’s “Read Me Out Loud” landed her a Carolina Music Award for Best Rock Female.
“What I find is my style sort of changes with every song,” she tells. “Of course, there’s a common thread we all make, but it seems like when I’m writing my best, the songs take the reins, and I let them govern the style. I try to get out of the way. I feel less and less need to adhere to a style.”
Ross has shared stages with the likes of Brandi Carlile at FloydFest and played hundreds of shows, including Suwanee SpringFest in Florida, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion in Virginia and others. She’ll be performing for Wilmington music lovers at WalkerWorld Organic Artist Retreat in Castle Hayne on Friday, Feb. 19.
While Ross says she’s done a lot of great shows at venues with huge melting pots of talents, she’s been playing more house concerts as of late. Most last around 45 minutes to an hour. “I find house concerts to be really wonderful because they are such an intimate connection and half the time,” she says. “I can just step from behind the mic and get really real with people. And the folks who show up at concerts are usually ready to be real with you in that way.”
According to Ross there are no passive listeners within these intimate audiences. They typically want to hear more about songs—the process and journey from page to stage. It also reinforces her idea that music does have the power to bring together and build community. She is honored to be invited into someone’s home or private space.
“On top of that, it’s so amazing to see a community of people getting together to listen to music,” she tells. “And they don’t just listen to music, they come together, and drink and talk and eat and make connections.”
There’s also the added perk of having a place to sleep, a hot shower and good company. And then there’s the business side of it: At house concerts, artists typically get to keep 100 percent of monies made from entry or merchandise sales.
It will be the first time Ross has visited WalkerWorld. In many ways the venue reflects Ross’ style of music: unique and diverse. The giant log cabin along the Cape Fear River sits on 10 acres about 10 minutes outside of Wilmington. WalkerWorld listeners will hear both old and new works from Ross—those completed and in progress. She’s approaching her upcoming performance like a co-creation of music between her and the audience.
“I don’t know if audiences realize how much artists feed off of and rely on their energy to create that show,” Ross says. “They’re just as much a part of the show as the singer and guitar player, and every time people clap for me onstage I want to clap for them. . . . There’s a degree of open-heartedness and passion that these listeners tend to bring, and I’m so grateful for every chance I get to share my music with those people.”
Ross is working on an album she hopes to release in 2016. It’s in its early stages still, with several songs needing to find a home on the page and in melody. Nevertheless, Ross says she has more clarity so far in this developing record.
“I’m really enjoying watching my own creative evolution,” she says. “I’m noticing a difference in these songs and songs from past albums. In that interim between my last album released years ago and the one I’m working on now, there have been so many changes in my life, my writing style and also in what I value and have experienced.”
Folks can actually give new songs a listen on Ross’ Patreon account, a visual and audio platform where listeners can go to hear songs in development, leave feedback and even donate to artists. They’re not complete or professionally recorded songs, but rather videos of what’s in progress.
“I get to share with my fans as we go, instead having to save up a whole crop of songs for a year or two and put all the time and energy into recording and releasing it after sitting on it for two or three years,” Ross explains. “A lot of artists will make something and work on it and work on it and never ever release it. So Patreon is cool because it’s just releasing it, putting it out there, sharing it. I feel like, energetically, it moves this creative dam inside me and it allows so much more of that energy to flow.”
Ross isn’t looking for feedback to change her songwriting but certainly constructive criticism on how it’s shaping up musically or how it sounds is welcome. It’s not about figuring out what’s going to make everyone happy, as “that makes for really boring art,” according to Ross. It’s about expressing who she is as a writer and musician in the moment. Two new songs she’s released on Patreon, “Elephant Heart” and “Saying It’s Easy,” will be featured on an upcoming album. “Elephant Heart” was written in an afternoon and Ross has found its mellowness to be a more natural fit for her voice. It’s a vocally challenging song, but often sounds easy and effortless to listeners. “It happens to be the perfect expression of what I’m able to do vocally,” she says. “‘Saying It’s Easy’ is way more honest than other songs that I have released on prior albums. I feel like it’s an experience anyone can relate to. We’ve all had terrible breakups or moments where we’re not proud of ourselves . . . it kind of gives the listeners permission to recognize themselves in a similar situation.”
What Ross is starting to notice with her writing process, and with these new songs, is how she’s trying less. She isn’t worried about telling a story or making it adhere to a set of standards but just allowing feelings to direct her. “Simply by being honest about my own experience I’m giving people permission to express their experiences,” Ross adds. “I feel like that’s one of the most important things a songwriter can do for the people who listen to their music.”
Sharing a connection with audiences via performing is also about showing up, being honest and making space for all of the energy. Ross says growing as a musician isn’t about making everything look perfect.
“The important thing about growth is that you just do it,” she exacts. “Taking steps and being brave enough to try something, even if you get shot down you keep trying. If you keep doing what you’re doing, ultimately our artistic voice becomes clearer and clearer.”
Lizzy Ross is set to play at WalkerWorld Organic Artist Retreat on Feb. 19 at 8 p.m., with a suggested donation of $10. Visit the event Facebook page at www.facebook.com/events/1641478342741167.