First Time Really Feeling: Liz Stringer opens up about the catharsis that led to her making her best album yet

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First Time Really Feeling: Liz Stringer opens up about the catharsis that led to her making her best album yet

Words by Chloe Karis

Unpacking the events that led to the Australian songwriter's most unique record to date.

Liz Stringer had just moved to Canada in winter 2018 when she began writing the bulk of First Time Really Feeling, her sixth studio album and first via Milk! Records. Without a doubt, it’s her most honest and personal album yet.

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“A lot happened for me in the years between 2015 and when I made the album. Just personally one of those things was getting sober and I think I just hadn’t had much access to myself, to my inner world before that” Liz says.

“There’s a couple of songs on there that I wrote in 2016 which I had just been playing live. I sort of do that thing when I say, ‘I feel like it’s time to make an album and I wanted to go into the studio.’”

Stringer says that she feels this way every two years, even though the last album All the Bridgers was released in 2016, “the recording was still to that pattern, but I hadn’t released it until three years after that.”

She says she’s had First Time Really Feeling sitting on a hard drive since 2018, waiting for it to feel right to release but says that “for various reasons, it wasn’t the right time to put it out, or to attempt to release it.”

Perhaps surprisingly, COVID-19 wasn’t the reason for the delay though. “We weren’t planning on releasing it last year, that was never on the cards. Now, it feels like the right time for me as a person,” Stringer explains.

While in Canada, Stringer met Toronto-based producer Chris Stringer (“weirdly, no relation”) through a mutual friend, who ultimately approached her about making an album. Although it wasn’t quite what Liz had in mind for the album at the time, the pair bunkered down to complete the record at Union Sound Company, a spacious facility set-up and co- founded by Chris in Toronto.

Liz is quick to praise Chris for his production and engineering contributions to the record, describing him as someone who was “a good balancer, was supportive and made sure they were both equally invested.”

“It’s his record as much as it is mine,” she says, noting that her music is “very melodically rich and it requires to be quite dense and quite layered.” Thankfully, Chris managed to pick up on this, and the results were nothing short of spectacular.

“When I heard the first mixes, I almost started crying cause it was the first I really heard my sound really realised,” Stringer says with gusto.

Describing the band she worked with as “amazing”, the band who worked with Stringer on First Time Really Feeling included Joshua Van Tassel on drums, Devon Henderson on bass and Adrian Gordon Cook on the keys, with Adrian previously performing guitar with her in a prior version of her live band.

“The first three or four days we were in there together with the band, and then the next five or
six I was there just with Chris,” Stringer says of the recording process, reminiscing on the positive atmosphere as snow fell outside while they worked. “(There were) a couple of moments recording where the band just got really locked in and it was a really beautiful experience.”

First Time Really Feeling also marks a unique departure from Stringer’s older material, as she made the decision to turn her songwriting inwards instead of looking out towards other people’s perspectives and their lives.

“I’m just really interested in human stories and human condition,” she explains, noting that she had to do a lot of inner work on herself and ‘face some demons’ during the record’s creative cycle.

“Sort of ironically, I couldn’t write on my own human perspective so that’s the thing that’s really changed,” she says.

“Music has always served that function for me, and songwriting to a great extent. It became even more necessary for me to even be able to process what was going on for me.”

Another influence upon Stringer’s songwriting came through her move to Toronto, which allowed her to have space “geographically and emotionally from living in Melbourne.”

“Things were pretty sketchy for me mental health wise and dealing with being sober,” she confesses, noting that even though she found it hard missing family and friends back in Melbourne, the move acted as a much-needed reprieve.

“Ultimately, it gave me this beautiful space to really just deal with shit and write with less self conscience.”

While Toronto might have shaped the sounds of First Time Really Feeling, Liz managed to escape back
to Australia in time for the pandemic, recalling how lucky she felt to be able to live with her family while Melbourne in lockdown.

“As an artist I know the music industry suffered and continues to suffer greatly, and I was in a middle of a tour and half of that got canned. Lockdown was hard, but for many people it was way harder,” she says, noting that she used her time by reading, writing and learning how to self-record, which she wouldn’t have time to do under normal circumstances.

For now, Liz is excited to see gigs are coming back. She’s just finished performing alongside Midnight Oil (“A waking dream, it was crazy!”), and is looking forward to touring Australia with her new band later in June (“I’m loving the way it feels and sounds”), saying that she has no doubts that the music industry will bounce back after the hard hit it got from 2020.

An avid AFL fan, she says she’s also excited for football to be back in Melbourne, noting that “it’s a pretty grim city” without all the cultural entertainment Melbourne has to offer.

“Those are the two things that give the city so much personality. I think it’s a big part of the recovery of Melbourne having the football back for sure.”

First Time Really Feeling is out today via Milk! Records.