Her new album, Save Me, is a first for Liz Vice in many ways, despite being her sophomore LP. Her debut was written entirely by Josh White, showing off her voice with what is quite literally soul music, with notable Christian overtones. It became a surprise success which has led Vice to her recent, pleading release. She wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on Save Me, and realized that her gift wasn’t just a fluke; even before knowing she’d release a second album, she knew she had to record it. The rest followed suit.

Read more about the making of Save Me and Liz Vice’s new chapter in the interview below. Listen to Save Me here. Follow Liz Vice on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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I read that you moved to New York and began leading a church choir, is that still the case?

It’s so funny, when I tell people that I lead worship at a church, they assume it’s a choir. In my mind, they envision Sister Act, but that’s not it at all. [laughs] So just imagine a small church gathering in the school auditorium with me at the front of a three-piece band singing songs in front of a congregation of fifty to a hundred people, leading songs of hope and remembrance of who we are in Jesus. I never wanted to do this because, even though I grew up in Portland which is pretty liberal and open, I have never been part of a church that let women lead. I knew some women who were leaders in churches and they struggled. But it wasn’t like that when I moved [to New York].

I actually wanted to ask you about this open letter from Pastor Beth Moore about the discrimination she faced working with clergymen. Did you feel the same pressures as she did in a church setting?

Oh yeah, in the world. [laughs] I used to work in the film industry, I work in the music industry, it’s mostly men! I can’t name one female manager, I know two female producers, that’s it. And church is a place where you’re supposed to feel safe. Beth Moore, I don’t know a lot about her, but I know that she grew up with this misogynistic culture. She kept quiet for a long time, even though the Spirit told her to be vocal about the protection of women in the kingdom of God.

The Holy Spirit is feminine in Hebrew. Women are a part of this story too. And somehow we–and I say ‘we’ because I’m part of the body–somehow we have cut out half of the voice of the Bible by telling women to keep quiet. If you don’t see representation at church, even if they don’t say from the pulpit, ‘women can’t lead,’ that is embedded in your mind. I was really passive about it when I was younger, I didn’t wanna work in a church. And then I started doing music and I found myself on stage telling my story which is of faith, and I’ll talk about how I almost died or how all these school shootings break my heart or to condemn the white supremacist march in Charleston. That too is a part of the testimony of Jesus.

You support the March For Our Lives [protest for gun legislation] movement.

When my heart is broken, I know God’s heart is broken. Death is not part of the story. I know God hates when people die. And so it’s not natural that we kill each other. It’s not natural that we divide by skin colour. It’s not natural that we oppress one another based on our genitalia. And God is revealing that to me and sometimes I’m scared to death to say these things because I know the history of the American church. And I watch Handmaid’s Tale. [laughs]

And on Save Me, the track 'Brick by Brick' seems like it’s about Trump’s wall, especially with the sound of the protests against the travel ban in the recording. It seems like an overt political statement.

You know what’s funny about that song, we were supposed to add the words “brick by brick” in it. While people sing “take my hand, let’s do this together…” I sing, “Brick by brick, tear that wall down.”

I told myself I would not make another record unless God gave me something to say, but I’m not necessarily trying to be political. I wrote 'Brick by Brick' with someone named Micah Bourne, a spoken word artist, poet, and, honestly, a modern day prophet too. Micah and I wrote four songs together because we can talk about the state of the country, we can talk about the state of the church. This song could be about the wall, it could be about the travel ban, it could be about Donald Trump, it could be about Mother Teresa begging the government for more funding to feed the poor. It also is a wall that we build up around one another. It’s just about light versus darkness and that light will overcome darkness.

Can you tell me about the album art for Save Me?

I didn’t design it. I didn’t want my face on the cover–it’s too weird for my face to be stacked in a crate or on a screen in someone’s pocket. We actually hired someone to design the cover of my record and I knew that was not it. This is a collaborative project between [my fans] and I, and my roommate suggested having an album art contest, which we did. I never even met the artist. But I asked him, what was your inspiration? he wrote me, ‘What’s something that needs to be saved? Saved from what? And what creatures other than humans crave freedom?’ and this is what he saw.

The image is beautiful. A bird may desire freedom, but this bird is tied with string.

There are times when I feel that my wings are glued down to my sides and I just want to spread them, even if I knock things over. Here, the bird is attached to this branch and there’s so much contrast going on. There’s the beautiful yellow–which I knew the cover of the album needed to be yellow, I just really love that color–and the branch is also covered in flowers, except for the part where the rope is bound. I love that it means different things to different people.

I noticed that there is a storm motif across the record. Is there a significance for that imagery?

It’s so funny that you just said that, I just looked down at some lyrics I almost threw away this morning, and the only word that’s peeking out is “storm.” [laughs] Honestly, there are a lot of storms in the Bible. Also, I remember when I was a little girl I’d sit under this little plastic bag–which was probably dangerous–and I’d watch the rain fall on me. I’ve always been fascinated with storms. Well, storms are one thing that man cannot control. It’s how you react to them that can change everything.

That makes sense. The images on the record seem to depict it as a force that you can’t control but that you can overcome.

Or you could be Lt. Dan in the storm, screaming ‘come on!’ Sometimes life feels that. Like, let’s do this, let’s ride this hurricane.

You also mentioned in some press material that you wrote a song that “wasn’t ready to be born” with Jeremy McDonald. Does it have a due date?

Maybe it will be on another record. It’s another kind of protest-y song that actually calls out Christians to do something [other than pray, in reference to the “thoughts and prayers” platitude]. But look, I have no idea. I don’t even know how I wrote this record. My first record was not written by me. I did not plan to be a musician. And then I’m expected to write a second record? There are people who were sceptical that I could write this one, telling me I should write with the songwriter of my first record because I owe it to my fans. For this record, I wrote with my friend Micah, who is a songwriter, and I wrote 'Baby Hold On' and part of 'Save Me' with a friend who I met on a film set six years ago. We wrote three years later, so these songs are a lifetime in the making, they weren’t written for a particular release.

Honestly when I made this record, there were many times when I thought, ‘oh, I’m gonna lose my fans.’ I was even told that I should have an edited version of 'Baby Hold On' because I said “damn.” Now they’re lucky that’s all I said. [laughs] I wrote that after one of the worst tours I’d ever experienced and I wanted to say, ‘I’m done.’

Touring is really hard. You’re still doing it, though.

Yeah…

You don’t sound thrilled about it.

I just suck at quitting. [laughs] I’ve always felt let my yes be yes and my no be no. And sometimes that backfires because I overcommit and then I’m tired and then I resent it. But sometimes I feel like I‘m on my knees singing in front of God. When I was performing at the Siren in Morro Bay, I remember seeing a woman with her son and his boyfriend. They were so happy. Their arms were around each other as they looked up at me, smiling and dancing. After the show, the mom tells me she had a brain tumour and couldn’t walk for a year. All she wanted to do was dance, which she did that night. It’s hard to walk away when you’ve seen something that powerful. It would be like hiding. God can use me at festivals and bars, in the streets, in movies, on playlists, wherever people would say, ‘this doesn’t seem very religious.’ Good! It’s not meant to be. It’s freedom.

When you released your first record, you said you felt like you had been invited into this club of indie music, one that includes Alabama Shakes and the Avett Brothers. This new record seems to fit even better than the first one, so are you feeling more at ease with your place in the scene?

Well, I still have no idea what the club is! I told my producers, I don’t know if I’m ever gonna release this record, I just feel this nudge that I need to record it. I had to believe that this is what I’m supposed to do. I pray that I continue to have a mindset that way because I’m not sure a label will let an artist work on a record for three years and not have it be a radio hit. I have found that a lot of people will come out with their first record and ugh, it’s incredible. And then they make a second record and it just sounds so different that it makes me think they made it just to stay relevant. If I tell my stories out of fear of being forgotten, then I’m missing the point. I mean, but if I got to tour with Alabama Shakes, that would be awesome.

You mentioned that your first record was not written by you. When you were recording Save Me did it feel different?

Yeah, I was paying for it. [laughs] I was trusting someone else to record my voice but still felt so much insecurity, oh my gosh. My roommate moved in just at the right time; I don’t know what I would have done if she wasn’t here when I was recording. First of all, I wrote these songs and I don’t even know if they’re that good. They’re not like, top 40 radio hits. So there’s still a lot of insecurities wondering if I really know what I’m doing.

Do any of us?

No!

To put it out there, the songs on this record are beautiful. I don’t have a question about it, but I love 'Red Roses', for its vivid imagery.

Thank you! The purpose of the record is to say God loves all humans, especially those that are suffering. What does it look like to acknowledge that I’m human? We all struggle, we all know what loss feels like, we know what disappointment looks like, we know what doubt in ourselves feels like, we know what a dark night of the soul feels like.

We make things way harder for ourselves than they need to be. And there are times when I have to preach this to myself. “If every flower were a rose a rose’s beauty would not be...” Do I believe that? If everyone looked like me, or if everyone had blonde hair and blue eyes, would I be happier with myself? Pfft, probably not.

Do you think of your performances, even at rock clubs, as sermons?

A sermon…what’s the definition of a sermon? I feel like I’m too conservative for the liberals but I’m too liberal for the conservatives so I don’t know! After I sing a show, they’re like, what do you want to drink? And I’m like, can I get a gin and tonic? But, maybe. When I go on tour, I feel like my faith is such a huge part of who I am that I only can speak from my own life experience, and a lot of times it’s very spiritual, like the show at The Siren. When God is near, these things happen.

There is a movement, specifically in Portland, of musicians pushing Christian music into the mainstream, trying to get away from the idea of being “church music.” You inadvertently seem to be part of that movement.

Yeah! Josh White was the pastor at Deeper Well, which was the church I was part of. [Author’s note: he also wrote Vice’s first record.] The music that they sang was so incredible–I’d never heard music about Jesus that actually didn’t suck. I sang background vocals on the worship team and when my friend asked me if I’d like to sing a solo, I thought, ‘oh no,’ but my mouth said ‘yes.’ That opened the floodgates to do what I’m doing now. The first time I sang on any other stuff was a record called Wounded Healer and that year I applied for a scholarship to get my Master’s in producing, but I didn’t agree with certain ethics of the school I was going to go to, so I turned down a full ride scholarship to college. But I got to see the birth of my niece, I got to work on a TV show, and after that TV show wrapped Josh asked me to sing a song called “Console Me.” The rest is history.