Being an artist these days, you have to be multi-talented and Liv Austen is no exception. Singer. Songwriter. Actress. These are just a few notches Liv has under her belt but she can now add Casting Director and Podcaster to her resume.
Having released a number of singles, an album, an EP, and an appearance on the popular Channel 4 series Humans; Liv has accomplished so much since her last chat with us. Now, after a few years, we sat down and reconnected with Liv as part of our new series – IndustryMe Revisited.
In our chat, Liv Austen discusses life as an artist during a pandemic, zoom sessions, her shift in sound and more.
It’s been a while since you last spoke to IndustryMe – how have you been?
I’ve been good – I mean, all things considered. It’s been a really strange year to be an artist and I’m sure it’s been a weird time to write about music as well. Around time last year, well a bit more than a year ago, I was working towards a new album – my second album and very, very excited about it.
I was talking to venues and really getting a tour together and it was right in the middle when it all (the pandemic) started happening and conversations we had like “Let’s talk in a few weeks’ time – things are a bit crazy now” and obviously that’s now just kind of not happened. To be an artist has been weird as hell because it’s like “How do you plan? How do you plan what you do next?” To make an album and you can still keep making music – but for me, to even imagine myself gigging has just been so strange.
I continue to release some music and I was quite hopeful – I released two singles last year but releasing it without being able to do any shows is something I’ve never come across before so that was really, really odd. It changed the whole approach. It’s really cool people still connected with it but it’s not the same as singing it in a room with people and connect. It really took its toll in terms of finding the motivation to make concrete plans of what’s gonna happen next? You see people reschedule their shows like five times and you go “Have I got the capacity to do that or shall I just sit back and wait?” I think I’ve been that latter in the last year; I’ve just sat back like “I’m gonna see when it’s even remotely realistic to go out there again.”
Has the pandemic affected your creativity – are you still writing songs or taking a breather?
It’s definitely affected it in that I’ve wanted to focus more on what I can do. I’ve always really loved writing for other artists as you guys have picked up on that before – which I think is really cool. I started in Country-Pop but I don’t do Country anymore but I write for other country artists I know in that kind of scene and that’s been really fun. I still love the music and love writing. The lovely thing about being a writer is the responsibility is on somebody else – they decide what they do with it; all I have to do is write a good song.
It came to a point where I just said to myself “OK, I don’t know what’s gonna happen with my own gigs so maybe instead of worrying too much about it, I’m just gonna enjoy the writing.” I’m writing a lot for other artists at the moment. I’ve got a session today and that really has been a godsend because it reminds me that I do actually love music and it’s not all about planning and the admin and the rescheduling – it’s also about making music. It’s kept me going and I’m really grateful to all the artists that I write with and now kind of slowly, steadily I’m going back into writing for myself but there was a time I couldn’t even picture myself doing a show and it’s really hard to find the motivation to write those songs.
How is the collaboration with other artists going – Are you having zoom meetings or are you able to go into the studio?
No – it’s been completely online for over a year now and it’s been really good actually. It’s worked remarkably well – when people’s connection is good! In the beginning when I had loads of rights in the books and we just kind of said “What should we do?” Just a year ago I’d never done an online session (maybe with a couple of people in Nashville I’ve done some writing because we’re far away from each other) with some I know. I’ve always had this thing of people would come to my place and I would cook them lunch and it’d be a whole thing – quite sociable; not just writing but really connecting as well.
So that was really weird to take it online a first but then you find out that it’s actually a really lovely way of connecting and the people you already write with, you have a way of working and you can continue that online. I also started writing with people I might not have met up with because they’re in Devon or something like that and realistically we were never gonna meet up for a session in person unless they came to London but you can just hop on a Zoom. So it’s been quite positive as well because it’s connected me to new artists which has been a nice surprise.
When you’re writing for other artists do you write in the way you would sing the song or do you cater towards the artists’ style? – Is it a fusion?
It’s a fusion but my focus is always on what feels natural to them. I think I have useful experience in the sense that I am an artist myself and having written with other writers I have fantastic experiences and not so good experiences where someone just tries to put a song on you and you like “That’s not me – I feel like you’re making me sing someone else’s words” and that’s never gonna feel authentic.
I try suggesting things; suggesting lyrics and melodies but when we sing it back, I go “You sing it how you would sing it.” If you have to think about it, it’s not your authentic way of doing it so that’s really important to me. When an artist really connects with a song, it’s when you let them kind of do their thing and say it in the way they wanna say it instead of letting your ego kind of take over and try and put your stamp on it because if you want it to sound like you then you should be an artist – you should release a song yourself!
Stepping away from music, you do some acting as well and you most recent film was Modern Love. Was that filmed during or before the pandemic?
That was filmed before the pandemic. Filming on that started years ago and it’s a collection of short films so I did that quite a long time ago and the director told me that it was gonna be released on Amazon Prime – which was really cool. I did a live session talking about it and kind of got to re-live those memories which is fantastic. It’s been really fun to see that people can still access new films during the pandemic through streaming. So it’s really cool to know I’m on Amazon Prime and also Netflix as well with Humans which I was on – so it’s nice new people discover it.
You were the casting director as well for the project?
I was the casting director for one of the short films. I got to cast a woman called Barbara Barnes, who I watched on TV when I was a kid so that was really cool. That was the first time I’d ever cast anything and the director gave me a chance to do that because when I was younger, I’d worked as a casting assistant and I thought “I think I can do this – I think I can be pretty good at this.” It’s not something I’m pursuing as a career at all but it was really fun to do it at the time – really cool.
Have you ever considered screenwriting or is just mainly acting?
I have actually written a feature script – another thing which has kind of been held back by the pandemic is me and some people I’ve got involved in it have decided to shoot a little demo version of the script so obviously shooting the whole film is incredibly costly but we’re shooting a short version – just a few scenes from the script. We’ve cast it and everything but I don’t really wanna start shooting until it’s safe to do so. It’s a Christmas film and it’s looking like we might have to shoot it in like June or July. So that’s kind of the next thing.
I’m trying all the different aspects of the industry and whether it’s gonna be successful – I really hope so. People who have gotten on board are very excited about it. I have a friend who’s a professional screenwriter who helped me. They’ve gone through the script with me with a fine-tooth comb and kind of helped me make it better. Hopefully next time I talk to you guys something will have happened with that.
You’ve dabbled in podcasting with The From Scratch Body and My Amazing Mess. What inspired you to take this route?
The first one that we started doing it was me and the co-host – Laura Allen, a friend of mine. She had the idea for My Amazing Mess – which is a podcast where we talk to creatives in every part of the industry and we talk to them about how they got into it, what the reality of their job is, what the best parts/worst parts of it are. If you’re really interested in the creative industry and not just your own job then there’s so much you can learn. We’ve talked to sound technicians, choreographers, actors, musicians, managers, and all that sort of stuff – we just wanna hear how their life is actually. You might think you know what a manager’s job is like, you might think you know what an actor’s job is like but then there’s so much you don’t see and so we have really honest conversations. It was her [Laura] idea and I jumped on it and we started co-hosting and I really do love it. I just love having honest conversations with people – no pretence, not just the stuff that’s great and not just the stuff that’s bad but everything. We’re gonna do another season of that soon which I’m very excited about.
The From Scratch Body is my idea that I came up with after I was diagnosed with endometriosis and I kind of started seeing that food really affected how I felt in my body. So, I started making all my food from scratch to keep in check how I felt after meals and stuff. That kind of got me on to being really interested in health in general and everyone can do that for themselves. Maybe the same things don’t apply to everybody but if you are in control of your own food and you know what’s going in your body then you can make yourself feel better.
Since I’d already done a podcast, I thought this might be a good way to get the message out there. It’s currently a website, YouTube channel, podcast – it’s a lot to keep track of but I really enjoy it so as long as I love doing it then hopefully it’ll keep going for a very long time.
Have you considered writing a book?
Yes, that is definitely a dream – I would love to do a book. I think once I feel really established in it and I feel like I’ve got some really authentic, full-proof recipes and some solid advice. I don’t want to tell people what to do because I know it’s really individual so I’d love to be able to create a book that just encourages people to find out what works for them. So hopefully down the line that will happen as well.
Now that you’re doing food and music, would you ever combine the two?
You know it would be so fun. I would love to do something like that. The first idea I had is to try and have a series on how to eat well on tour or when you’re on the road for festivals because I know it’s so difficult for artists when you just have services and you can choose between McDonald’s and M&S. How to still be able to make your own food to take with you without it be a massive hassle because you have other things to think about. I’d love to do that and hopefully, that can be helpful to artists because it’s so demanding energy-wise to be on the road. If you can eat well and help yourself that way then that’d be great.
With the world slowly opening up, are you hoping to have a tour or gig by the end of the year?
I’m hoping that by the end of the year I’ll be doing some shows again. I think realistically, I’ve pushed my album back so I don’t think I’m gonna have an album out this year – it’ll probably be next year. I think they’ll be some songs out this year – some singles but just being able to do some shows and play my new songs from last year and the singles that are coming up and next year I think a proper tour hopefully. It’s so hard to say at this point. Nobody wants to make any plans because we’ve seen how it can go but I think there’s a chance.
Would you just want to tour in London or would it be UK-wide?
I’d love to go UK-wide. I love doing shows in London but the chances I’ve had to go to other cities in the UK; I would love to do that more – I love travelling with work. It’s such a lovely thing to be able to do and now I’m just itching to be out there and see new places and meet new people. So, I hope I can do a tour – supporting somebody else or headlining, we’ll see but I’d be really eager to go around the UK.
You previously described your music as “Kind of Country-Pop” – how would you describe that sound now?
I really struggle to describe my music anymore because it’s kind of whatever I feel like in the moment. I don’t think it’s accurate to say Country anymore about my music – I think I’m a Pop singer-songwriter and that’s why I’m really grateful to you guys for the support you’ve shown from the start. Starting out in one style and then kind of changing it, you’re kind of hoping that someone’s gonna pick up on that and understand what you’re doing and just not be too attached to what you did at the start. It’s really nice that you guys cover different styles and you’ve liked what I’ve done. I think as much as I love that music still it’s just not what I’m doing anymore. So, I think Pop singer-songwriter if that’s a term.
What influenced you to try Country – did you grow up listening to it?
I didn’t really grow up listening to it but I did kind of in my teens discover it a bit. I really loved the honesty in the lyrics, the simplicity, the lovely melodies, and I do like kind of straightforward lyrics, like very honest stuff. So, I think that’s what kind of got me onto it but now that my musical world is opening up so much more over the last however many years, I’m kind of seeing it in a different way and you know, it’s not like Pop music isn’t straightforward and honest in its lyrics too. So many really big Pop artists are super vulnerable and honest in their lyrics so it’s not something that’s unique to Country, I think.
What has put me off it, to be honest is that, I think it’s had a surge for years now in the UK (the Country scene) but I think it’s always hitting a ceiling where it’s kind of like a novelty thing and the festivals are very themed and novelty. It’s still kind of like the cliches and I’ve never been interested in that. To me it’s not about the boots and the hats and all that kind of stuff – I’m not interested in that. So that kind of made me feel really limited in that world because I felt like a lot of people who were interested in that was interested in the lifestyle, like a dream of country and western and I’m not interested in that.
So, for me, it’s just about music that’s real and in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to call it anything at all because I don’t know what my next track is gonna sound like. It’s all just different every time. So that’s what I’m hoping I can do going forward.
Since you last spoke to IndustryMe, what do you consider to be a pivotal moment in your career?
I think for me the big moment was or maybe it’s not one moment, it’s kind of like a moment in time, was leaving my label after doing my first album. Deciding that I can do this on my own and enjoying it so much more. Everything that I’ve done and this not blaming anyone that I’ve worked with but it’s just for me, everything that I’ve done since I went back to being independent and really understanding the power that I have as an independent artist, I’ve enjoyed so much more. It was just a reminder of like oh god, this can actually be really fun – this can be actually really enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be stressful.
Then releasing my single in June last year – “Come Find Me (When You Wanna Talk)” – I was just 100% me, written by me, the video was directed by me and shot by me and my partner, and people really connected with it. Even when I share it now, people seem to be seeing it for the first time because that’s what social media’s like. I really feel like I did something different and it wasn’t just to be different, it was coming from me. It’s definitely a pivotal moment because now there’s no going back from that.
I’m never gonna be putting out music now where I’m like “Ooh, I wonder if this is gonna be a hit, I wonder if people are gonna like it” – I’m just gonna put out stuff that’s real to me and the result of how many people stream it is kind of secondary. It’s more important that I put something out that I really love. So that really changed my way of thinking when I kind of took back control of it.
You also recently got engaged – how was that?
Yes – I finally got the ring resized down; it was a bit big! Oh man, it was amazing. Absolutely incredible – thank you. I live with my partner, work with him, he produces my music and he’s done my music videos. He’s just super talented and to be able to get through a year like this together and just know that you are stronger than ever and wanna be together is just amazing. He just feels like greatest support. He supports me in everything I do and it’s just kind of feeling we were saying if we can get through that year, we can do anything – feeling really happy about that.
So, what projects can we expect from you in 2021?
So, in 2021 I’m gonna be definitely putting out some singles at some point and I’ll be working towards an album but as I say I’m not gonna rush it. So realistically it’s gonna be next year when it comes out but some singles and new music – absolutely. Hopefully, other artists will be putting out some songs that I’ve written with them; which I’ll be very proud to share. The From Scratch Body is gonna be a big, big thing as well definitely. So, keep an eye out for that!