photo by Nate Ryan
Her music has been featured on CNN, but St. Paul singer-songwriter Lydia Liza still sees her most-exciting work ahead.
As a teenager, Liza led the folk-rock act Bomba de Luz, which released its first album in 2011. But the immediate attention and pressure that followed caused her to lose sight of her identity outside of music, and she spun into depression. After seeking treatment, she has found peace in her role as a songwriter and a voice for those who suffer from the disease.
“I’m sick of people getting treated differently in their everyday actions because they have a mental illness,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with it, especially if you are battling it every day. People with mental illness should be able to navigate as easily as people who don’t.”
In late 2016, Liza released a cover of the holiday duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with collaborator Josiah Lemanski—and with a twist. They updated the 1944 song’s original lyrics to emphasize the importance of sexual consent. It went viral, and has racked up 3.2 million audio streams since then. Time, Fox News, the BBC, and more outlets discussed it, and local charity label Rock the Cause Records saw to it that proceeds went to organizations working to end sexual violence.
“I was worried about [how I would respond to the attention] when it first happened,” she says, but she discovered she was ready to handle it. “I was like, ‘Oh, great. I don’t want this to be a thing,’ even though we got to donate so much money and everything for such a good cause. It was worrisome, but I’ve come to terms with it. I tell myself it’s the best thing I’ve done. It was a way to use my platform for good.”
Today, 23-year-old Liza is on the cusp of her next act. Going forward, her solo work will be named Your Friend, Lydia Liza. A record is set to arrive next year. She emphasizes that having a voice is a gift and a chance to do something positive, though she’d rather not be defined only by causes she supports.
“I wouldn’t say my music is actually activism music,” she says. “I like to write in a way that’s universal, so people feel connected to something and find truth in it. What I’d like to do is not be a ‘Bob Dylan anthem writer,’ but more when I can hop on fundraisers or donations to charity in any way, I do. That’s something I’ve tried to do.”
Performing: May 17 at Ed’s No Name Bar in Winona. More at yourfriendlydializa.com
Digital Extra: Extended Q&A
Almost everything that comes up in an internet search of your name is that version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” But what, as an artist, do you want to define you?
I guess I want to be known as a goofball, but also, I just want to be a person people would want to connect with. I always try to be really kind and thoughtful in my interactions. As a musician, I’m still trying to define that for myself at this point.
When you first made a name for yourself as a musician, it was with your first band Bomba de Luz. You guys were known as the “next big thing.” What kind of pressure is that for a budding musician?
It really scared me, actually. There was a long time when I did not know how to define myself other than just as a musician. I figured if I was known for that, that’s all I would be, so I went through an identity crisis. I ended up being diagnosed with depression and going to in-patient treatment and going on this long self-discovery journey to find who I was outside of this title of musician. I was 15 or 16 when all of that started. Nobody knows themselves at that age, so it was a lot of pressure. Sometimes I still feel it, especially when things like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” happen. I felt like everything I was saying or doing would be washed in some way. It was very scary, but I think I’ve come to healthy terms with it.
How do you break things down when you’re approaching these situations?
I had to go inside myself along with my relationships with my friends and family and confide in them. There was a long time when I just didn’t write. One of my guitars still has a spider living in it. There were a lot of times where I said, “I’m just going to be a human being.” It’s hard for a lot of people, especially workaholics, not to define themselves as their profession. I don’t think that’s all we are.
What do you do outside of music?
I try to read a lot. I definitely just write in general. Journaling. I don’t have a job besides music right now, because I just started a new band. I try to escape myself as often as possible—I think we all do—but it’s hard not having a job outside of music to distract me. Reading, writing, watching movies, hanging out with buds—I do all of these things.
What is this new project you’re starting?
I have started my first solo venture where I’m the full songwriter backed by three of the most wonderful, respectful, kind, and hilarious people I have ever met (Jessica Anderson, Jimmy Osterholt, Kelly Blau). We’re currently making a record that will be released next year.
At this stage in your life, when forming a band, are you gravitating toward friends or people who will help you in your career?
I really need friends and people I admire at the same time. A long time before we decided we would play together, we were all semi-friends. I knew I enjoyed how insightful they are and their kindness and their curiosity about their world around them. I also was so into what they did. It’s really important for me to have a group of individuals where I don’t feel afraid to have stupid ideas or goof around with them. This band is going to be the big one. Instead of my doing solo gigs, it’s going to be a full band.
Why is it so important to be open and talk about your personal issues, such as depression?
My agenda, if I could call it that, would be that people need to be more compassionate and understanding of one another. There should be this baseline of love, not in the preachy hippy way, but we should come into every interaction with intention and kindness. We gotta fight for it, man.