It’s never too early for a musician to get accustomed to working within a strict budget.
As a high school freshman, 15-year-old Liv Greene was told by her parents that she could attend a songwriting camp, just as long as the cost didn’t exceed $900.
Working together, they found one that fit the financial criteria: the Miles of Music Camp in New Hampshire. The week Greene spent there has paid off since in many ways. Not only did the formative experience influence where she would finish high school (Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan), but the camp is where she met Lula Wiles singer Isa Burke, the producer of Greene’s debut album, Every Bright Penny, released May 8.
Now 21, the well-traveled Greene, who this month is finishing up her senior year at the New England Conservatory in Boston, recently checked in to discuss her folk-fueled debut and other music-related firsts in her life and career.
The first music she listened to while growing up in Washington, D.C.:
Liv Greene: “I found out the other day: My parents were going through old movies, and apparently I was born to a Bruce Cockburn song. I guess my parents had a playlist at the hospital.
“In terms of music I grew up with, lots of Patty Griffin and Alison Krauss and Shawn Colvin, a little bit of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. A lot of songwriter music, so I think that kind of makes sense where I ended up as a writer.”
Her first guitar:
Greene: “I was 11 at the time when I got guitar crazy. I really wanted to play guitar, but we didn’t have one in my house. And so I asked my dad if we could buy one. He asked my uncle who was a classical guitar major in college and still plays; he had an extra guitar sitting around. So I actually got my first guitar from my uncle. It was a Washburn acoustic/electric classical guitar with nylon strings. I still have it; I need to dig it up and play it a little more. I used to love that guitar, and I would play it really hard with a pick, which is exactly how you’re not supposed to play a nylon-string guitar.”
Her first concert:
Greene: “My family was living in New Zealand at the time; this was 2007. I was eight years old, and we went to see Brooke Fraser, this amazing singer-songwriter from Wellington, where we were living. I think we saw her at the Wellington Opera House. I remember that concert so clearly; it really impacted me. Her album Albertine had just come out, and [she and her band] were playing pretty much the album arrangements, and it was really beautiful.
“Later on, she played near where I grew up at this little venue [in Vienna, Virginia] called Jammin Java. I went to see her; I think I was in middle school then. I had really gotten into music at that point, and we got to meet her after, which was really cool.”
Her first impression of the Miles of Music Camp in New Hampshire:
Greene: “I had found it through a random Google search with my family; we were looking for a songwriting camp that was affordable but accessible for kids. I was 15 at the time, and most comparative songwriting camps are pretty pricey if they’re intended especially for kids. But this one was unique in that it was an all-ages music camp. It’s like a weeklong workshop camp where a lot of professional musicians and amateur musicians alike come and learn. It really played into a lot of my passions.
“I remember when I first got there, I literally knew nobody, so I immediately clung to the person that I carpooled with from the Boston Logan International Airport.”
The first favorite song of her main influences Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris:
Greene: “Hmm — man, that’s hard. Patty, I think I’m torn between a few, but I’ll say ‘Making Pies’ because I admire the way in which she can write from anyone’s perspective in such a beautiful and authentic way.
“Emmylou Harris: ‘Prayer in Open D’ is so timeless. Shawn Colvin, I gotta think about this one. … ‘That Don’t Worry Me Now.’ I just think that’s a beautiful song, and that whole record [2006’s These Four Walls]. … I think she’s one of the most incredible lyricists.
“Alison Krauss: I’ve always admired her for her arrangements and her vocal phrasing, and the way she performs ‘Lay My Burden Down,’ that performance is gorgeous to me.”
The first words that come to mind when asked to describe the New England folk scene:
Greene: “Community: It’s a really rich community. And I think history. I kinda got caught up in the history of the New England folk scene, especially having played at and worked at a venue like Club Passim [in Cambridge, Massachusetts] that was so formative in the folk revival in terms of being the hub.”
A few words about “New York’s Arms,” the first single from Every Bright Penny:
Greene: “ ‘New York’s Arms’ was a song I wrote in transit, sort of. I was not living in New York at the time; I have a habit of inhabiting places that I don’t actually inhabit in real life. That song I wrote after a visit to my sister in New York. I started writing it while I was there; she was living in the East Village at the time. I was taken with that cliched story but also really powerfully true story of people coming to New York to reinvent themselves and start over. I was reflecting on how we adapt to traumatic changes in our lives. We can let that write our story in a negative way, or we can move on from it. And I was ruminating on that while in the city, and it came out that way because of that.”
The first song recorded for her debut album:
Greene: “The first song we recorded was ‘Wishing Well.’ It made sense with our plan of attack, with all of the musicians there. I remember I was super nervous. I mean, this is my first record. I’ve had a bit of studio experience, but only a small pocket.
“We ended up getting it on what we call a ‘chance take,’ which is where you’re like, ‘OK, we have all the takes we need, but we’re going to do one more, just in case we can beat any of the performances we’ve done so far.’ And the chance take ended up being the one that we used. I think I really felt really freed up in the studio when we said we said we were going to record one more and not worry about how it sounds.”
First thing she’d like to do once the coronavirus pandemic is over:
Greene: “I think the first thing I’d want to do, once things are totally back to normal, is tour this album. I had a lot of dates lined up, just like everybody else, that unfortunately got canceled, but obviously for a good reason. I’d probably want to play an album release show at Club Passim, my musical hometown venue. … I’m just so eager to get playing shows again.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Photo by Louise Bichan