By Michael Lello
“I’ve been playing on a platform at Church Avenue and nobody,” Elizabeth Ziman sings at the opening of “Happy Pop,” making them the first words on “Like It Never Happened,” Elizabeth & The Catapult’s third full-length, out this week.
It’s a fitting opening considering Ziman, after being jettisoned from Universal Records imprint Verve, literally went underground to regroup.
“I decide to kind of make a change and learn a new instrument and get my chops back together and learn a bajillion covers,” said Ziman, who is primarily a piano player. “And some of my friends had been busking in the subway. I was really inspired basically by the acoustics. There’s a stop, the Church Avenue stop (in Brooklyn), where it really sounds like a church. I ended up getting a part in an Anne Hathaway movie as a busker. I was singing with an accordion, and she said ‘It’s a choir of angels here.’
“It’s a really fun way to be in public in an anonymous way. In Little India, once in a while someone will bless me. I just wanted to go down there and learn the guitar pretty well – I’m a pretty good guitarist now – and I wrote an album.”
Ziman’s new record – which Paste featured in a pre-release stream – is the latest in a career that has featured tours with the likes of Sarah Bareilles, Greg Laswell and Lenka and singing backup for The Shins.
We recently chatted with Ziman, who plays World Café Live on Friday, Jan. 24, about the new record, her busking experience and why she thinks musicians should think long and hard before saying no to an opportunity.
H81R: Was writing on a guitar a big difference for you compared to writing on piano?
EZ: I think it’s an interesting question and a lot of people are asking me about it. I don’t think that it really matters what you write on. Except for the fact that I play accordion, I play piano, I play guitar, I play drums in Kishi Bashi’s band. I play instruments. I think if you are a lyricist and a melodic person you should play more than one instrument. It’s going to affect all of the instruments and you’ll be better at all of them.
H81R: There are a lot of sounds on the album. Percussion, various keyboards, etc. Did you have those sounds in mind while writing?
EZ: Yeah, I think that’s . . . I don’t think there is one right way to do it. I played my first gigs with St. Vincent when I as in college, and Esperanza Spalding was my bass player in my first band. They write music first and then fill in the blanks with the lyrics, so I don’t think there’s one way to do it.
For me, I am always thinking of a story and a feeling. The music is the easy part, so it’s kind of the last step in the process.
H81R: You have released and produced your own material as well as working with labels and producers. Can you compare those experiences for me?
EZ: I think that Universal, Verve, they did a great job with my record and they were really supportive. Everyone I was working with just ended up not working there anymore. So I don’t have a big “fuck them man” stance on record labels. I just think the infrastructure of the industry is so different right now. It’s not a blame game. You have to work on how you are going to get your music out there.
The new exiting way is the way I just did it with PledgeMusic. We raised the money for the record pretty darn quickly. The fans were incredible. We did house shows. Now we’re doing a distribution deal with Thirty Tigers, and I love the people at Thirty Tigers. Amazing people, and I’m a big fan of a lot of the records they put out this year.
We’re in a world where Spotify and videos are the thing, and playing shows are the thing. That’s the reality, and there as to be other ways. When I hear of a musician that gets signed and quit their day jobs, I think that’s a total joke (laughs).
H81R: What’s your day job?
EZ: I do film scoring and scored “Knuckleball!” and “Alias Ruby Blade.” I’m doing some fun work musically, but I really believe if someone asks you to play a part in a movie or something, you have to try it all out.
H81R: On a related note, you have had songs featured in TV commercials (Google, Amazon and Sky TV). What impact do you think those placements have had on your career?
EZ: I’m, well, I hope there is more of that to come. Licensing keeps you on the road, so I’m lucky to get licensing. I am now the voice of Hershey’s Chocolate Drops. Which is incredible. Just a total blessing. And that just kind of fell from the sky. But I do hope that there will be more placements this year
H81R: How would you describe your live show?
EZ: The one problem with having a couple hundred songs from many years of doing it, you have to play the songs that everybody wants to hear, but there’s a lot of material to choose from We’ve been doing a lot for the new album, which us fun.
H81R: How did your path cross with Richard Swift, and what’s the status of your upcoming release with him?
EZ: I bumped into him at a Bright Eyes show, and sent him music, and he wanted to produce it. He got going with The Shins as musical director. During that, I was sending him songs. The tour extended more, and I ended up recording with my friends in Lucious. So we recorded the album in three weeks, then of course Richard Swift returned from The Shins and was like, “Let’s make a record,” and we made another one. And that EP will come out a later date.
Elizabeth & The Catapult — “Like It Never Happened”