It’s not every day that a college student releases an EP on Spotify, but Liz McGovern, MCAS ’18, is different. The Arizona native released her self-titled debut on March 22. Speaking with her for just a few minutes, you instantly become aware of her passion and love for making music.
McGovern has been a musical person all her life. She’s loved it for as long as she can remember, and as her parents are both musical people, it’s not hard to imagine. She sang as a child and was involved in theatre from first grade through college.
“I’ve been interested in music for as long as I could make noise,” McGovern said. “But I started songwriting in eighth grade.”
She’s not the only one with a knack for songs in her family—apart from her parents, her brother is also a drummer currently on tour with indie rock band Active Bird Community. McGovern also plays two instruments—the piano and guitar—both self-taught. She started playing them in the sixth grade and hasn’t stopped since.
Winter Break of 2016, McGovern produced an EP in a professional recording studio. Clearly, it was an experience of a lifetime for her, but the process of getting there was somewhat unconventional.
“It’s kind of a long and confusing story,” she said of her journey to California. “My dad knows a woman who is a producer in L.A., and she wanted to work with me but she couldn’t because she was traveling when I was available.”
Evidently, the producer passed the memo along to a friend (also a producer) who contacted McGovern’s father because he was interested in helping record the EP. For her 21st birthday, her parents gave in and as a gift allowed McGovern to go to California to record at the studio.
“I will never be able to repay that,” McGovern said. “It was such a dream.”
When McGovern writes songs, it’s purely acoustic—just her and a guitar. “It’s very stripped-down and folky,” she said. “But when I went into the studio, I had all this equipment and all these instruments at my disposal, I said, ‘Let’s throw this instrument in, and this one!’”
McGovern’s music is mostly folk, but she recorded Elizabeth with a hip-hop producer. “You’ll be able to hear where those two worlds meet,” she said. It certainly is a unique mix—hip-hop and folk—but it worked well for McGovern and her team.
“When the team took over and was editing, they had hip-hop experience so it became filled out and more electronic,” she said.
When asked about the experience of recording in a professional studio, it is clear that McGovern is still caught up in the excitement. “It was insane,” she said. “It was in California and we worked for 10 hours a day for a week straight.”
The daily recording process was both stressful and rewarding. “It was quite funny, actually,” she started. “I would get up really early in the morning and then the producers would text me asking for another hour … I’d be like ‘Okay, you L.A. people’.”
When they finally came in, they’d just play music on the guitar, not in the booth yet. It was more of a brainstorm of the general sound of the song. Then they’d lay down a guitar track and a rough vocal before returning to the booth.
“Most of the hours of the day were me sitting with the producer, telling other musicians what to do,” she said. “It was just insane to watch, these dudes would pick up a mandolin and just be able to do it.”
California may have a laid-back stereotype, but McGovern’s experience proved it wrong. In fact, she caught on to the fast-paced lifestyle pretty quickly. “It was a lot of in the booth, out of the booth, playing things back, experimenting with different sounds … and once the real song was being built I would go back and do the vocals,” she said. “It was a lot of work, but it went by so fast.”
When she plays her music, the spotlight is on McGovern alone. She has no band, but sometimes she plays with people in the Boston College Music Guild. When she recorded Elizabeth however, she was able to instruct professional musicians on exactly what she wanted in each particular song.
“I’d love to work with a band one day,” McGovern said. “When we recorded, I sort of just watched as random musicians tried to do what I was telling them to do.”
McGovern cites Lana Del Rey and Radiohead as some musicians that inspire her music and songwriting. She is also inspired by her brother. “Not that he’s some super famous artist that has influenced me forever, but just the fact that he’s doing it and is so committed,” McGovern noted. “I want to be like that.”
She said that she definitely has a few “Lana-esque” songs on the EP—the rest are pure folk—as well as a wide range of tones. There are six songs on Elizabeth. She wrote the first when she was in eighth grade, while another was written just last year. “We’re all over the place,” she joked. Not only does the EP span a variety of sounds, but a variety of writing types and parts of life. The EP has been nearly a decade in the making.
Clearly, McGovern is ecstatic about her new release. “I think everyone who knows me knows that music is front and center in my life,” she began. “But I haven’t taken it seriously as a career.” People are constantly asking her when and how they can hear her music, and up until recently she didn’t have a large platform to share it.
“Now that there’s this professionally produced EP that’s available on all the streaming sites, I’m just absolutely pumped that now people can see what I’ve been doing my whole life,” McGovern said.
McGovern tries to perform live as much as she can. She recently performed at the BC Music Guild’s Singer-Songwriter showcase and has also played at Battle of the Bands. In addition to this, she occasionally does open mics. She doesn’t get off campus too often, but she has played the Middle East in Cambridge with some fellow students in the Music Guild.
“In Phoenix, in high school and even before, I played downtown a lot,” she said. “I sang for a lot of arts shows.”
On campus, she is involved with the Music Guild and the BC Acoustics. In her freshman year she was involved in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and as a sophomore was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
When asked how much music will play into her future, the answer became instantly clear. “We shall see,” she started, rather tentatively. “I’ve always wanted to do something music-related, I don’t think I’m ever going to give up and stop looking for gigs or stop trying to record and get music out there.”
“At this point it’s a waiting game,” she said. “It’s up to the universe, really. But I definitely plan to keep it a big part of myself for the rest of my life.”
McGovern is extremely grateful for the amazing opportunities she has had over the past few years, both in her life in general and specifically in the world of music. She is extremely grateful to her parents who helped her create this EP and allowed her to go out to California to record it.
“My parents are so incredibly supportive,” she said. “It’s sort of silently pushing me to [tell myself] ‘okay, you should really make something of yourself and not let this part of you go away, whatever you wind up doing’… I owe it to the people that got me to this place.”
McGovern’s self-awareness in this manner is heartwarming. For a person with a fair amount of newcome success, she is extremely humble in regards to her accomplishments.
“One of the biggest things I’m taking away from it right now is how lucky I am to have been able to do it,” McGovern said. “As if the other details about where I am right now in my life weren’t overwhelmingly lucky.”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor