That’s what music is, it’s vocalizing your struggle.
Liz McTan Blogger, musician
I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades in terms of artistry. I write for Orange County Moms Blog, so I’m a blogger, and I have my own blog called the Redheaded Rambling Mama. I owned a store for three years and we just closed it six months ago and then I do music as well. When I say it all out loud it sounds like a lot but when I feel it in my life it’s like, “Eh, it’s not that much stuff.”
I went to FIDM from 2013 to 2015. I went back to school as an adult, at 28. I had been working in e-commerce doing copywriting for a long time and I just felt like I wasn’t moving and I wanted to do something a little more challenging. I wanted to get a degree — I’d never had one, I’d always done part-time school. I also have fibromyalgia, which is a big part of my life and why I do a bunch of weird stuff, instead of a full time job where you have to be there 40 hours a week and it’s a set schedule, because my illness… set schedules aren’t my jam. When I graduated, my husband was an engineer at the time and he and his father were talking about starting a family business. We came up with the idea of starting a store, because that was what I had my degree in: marketing and merchandising. We did that for three years; we opened an outdoors shop called Wander Outfitters, and at the two year mark we had our baby and I was like, “Oh man, the stars have realigned and I am not here the way that I was.” My husband was never the front-of-the-store person and then suddenly he was, and it was just not working. So we sold the business, and that was six months ago.
I made the transition from that to writing. I started writing online about how that felt — to go from being a working mom to basically a stay-at-home mom and the various things that go along with having a really young baby and trying to still have a sense of who you are because it’s really easy to get lost. I never planned on being a stay at home mom; I never planned on being a housewife. When I came out of owning a store, all of a sudden, I was like, “Ohhh, I’ve gotta figure this the fuck out, like I’ve gotta re-arrange my brain to figure out who I am again.” I needed to write in order to get it out of my system. I needed to write in order to not feel alone, to not feel that I was clogged, stuck.
I felt really lonely, was why I started writing. I was going through postpartum depression and it was really intense. I hadn’t made mom friends yet; June was probably six months old. I wasn’t at the store as much, I was going in two to three times a week, as opposed to being there every day for at least some of the day. I was like, “I don’t like this, I don’t love being a mom. I love my daughter and I thought I was going to love this.” I was so excited to get pregnant, I had planned on being a mother my whole life. I thought that I would feel fantastic as a mother, I would feel suddenly fulfilled. The other thing is that I had a really traumatic labor and that really took it out of me in a way that I didn’t expect. I needed to talk about that because most blogs and most things that I was reading did not talk about that at all. I had taken all these classes about natural birth and that’s what I was set on... I had a 56-hour labor and then I had a C-section. It was trauma, it was straight-up PTSD. I couldn’t say that I gave birth; I kept saying that I “had surgery.” I had to write something down to not feel like it was stuck inside of me and I really hoped that if I wrote it down then somebody would respond and say “Me, too.” That’s why I started writing the blog, so it didn’t feel like I was by myself with my thoughts. And I got a really good response. I had a lot of people saying, “I really needed to hear that somebody else was going through it.” That’s kind of how I felt when I started writing; I didn’t feel like I was hearing the voices that I needed to hear to make me feel like it was normal. Because it is normal.
Sometimes I’ll start a blog, and I’ll be like, “Ok I’m going to write about…” This is a really simple one, but recently I wrote about the rain. It’s been raining, that affects my fibromyalgia negatively; it’s very painful. My daughter loves the rain. There’s all these great indoor playgrounds now, they’re awesome. I go to them to write, they’re fantastic because everything’s contained so she can just run off and I’ll be there and I’ll watch and I’ll write. But I don’t do it on rainy days and the reason for that is because I don’t want her to think that you have to give up just because it is not pretty out, or that it’s harder or it’s wetter or it’s grosser, or that I’m having trouble and I give up. I think when I was younger it was a tendency of mine that if something got hard I just gave up and I don’t want to pass that along. I started the post with “This is what we do when we play outside when it’s raining” to “I want to build resilience in my daughter and that’s why we go out when it rains and I don’t want her to think that I give up just because it’s hard.” I didn’t go into a post thinking that’s what I was writing. But it apparently was what I needed to say. That’s the process — it’s very interesting that way.
I do think that the one difference that I have to the majority of the mom bloggers, even the ones that I really love, is that I am not religious. A lot of mom bloggers talk about Jesus. I am all for anybody finding the thing that gives a sense of calm, peace, and love, but I’m agnostic and I’m pretty openly so. I wanted to be one voice out there that was going to say, “You can feel all of that stuff and you don’t have to think about god.” All of the writers were writing from the perspective of, “I know this is what god’s plan is for me.” I don’t believe that there is a plan — how do you handle that? Instead, I look at my life and I go, “I don’t think there is a plan, but I’m trying to make one.” I’m making it day by day, I’m not making it year by year.
Me and my husband, when we met, we connected over music. I grew up in Philadelphia. My family is a musical family. We always had music in the house. I always thought of myself as just the backup and that I could sing around a campfire but I was never going to be an up-front performer; I didn’t see myself as a singer. That was just a real lack of confidence. And then I met my husband and he was in a band. He quickly figured out, “Oh, you can sing!” And I was like, “Oh… maybe. I sing a little bit, whatever. It’s just fun.” But then I’d be listening to his rehearsals with a super critical ear that doesn’t come from somebody that doesn’t know anything about music. It took probably eight years of me and him being together and him being like, “You should really sing.” We started singing together and just doing covers probably five years ago and then we wrote a couple songs ourselves — it was just maybe two or three, really small, just me and him and a guitar, simple stuff. It was just something we did every couple months, it wasn’t even with any regularity. Then we had a baby and our relationship struggled. And that was when he started being like, “We should play music again. Because this is what brings us together, this is what makes us special, this is what we bonded over right away, it’s always been our thing, let’s get back to making music.” And we did. Then our friend Chris, he had a band and it was called Bless My Stars and his band broke up as soon as their album came out. I said to him, “If you want to jam, you should come over.” He messaged me, and was like, “How about tomorrow?” We sat down and that night we wrote a song.
Now it’s been a year since we started writing together and in the process, me and Ollie were really working on our marriage. We were working on how to parent and still be together. Which is really hard. We owned a business, we had a child, we were writing music… everything we did was together. It was getting, like, explosive in terms of our relationship and the negativity because we were together all the time. That was when I brought up divorce. I was like, “I don’t know what to do — I feel like the words that I’m saying aren’t the ones that you’re hearing.” And he’s like, “Say that again.” I’m like, “I DON’T FEEL LIKE THE WORDS I’M SAYING ARE WHAT YOU’RE HEARING!” We ended up writing a whole song from it, and it was such a release for me to get it all out there on a page. But also, it was the first time that I had written a song start to finish where I was like, “No, it goes like this.” In the past when we had written together, Ollie would write a song and then I’d come in and give him some lyrics and that would be that. Or Chris would have half a song and he would bring it to me and Ollie and we would finish it. But I’d never had something where I felt like, “You need to listen.” I think that emotional need was bubbling to the top and if I didn’t do something then I was going to burst and it came out in music. I think that was one of the first times he really heard me and how I was feeling… was because I put it in a fucking song! I think that was when we kind of re-found each other. And we started writing more songs and more songs.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write from a place where I‘m talking about somebody else. I think really good songs have a story. In the good songs, you’re telling a story and that’s why people relate to it, that’s why they repeat those lyrics, that’s why they get them tattooed on their arm. “That’s my song,” how many times has somebody said that? I’ve never written a song where it was about somebody else’s experience. I think that’s incredible, I think that might be a goal of mine at some point, to be able to look at someone else’s story and tell in through song. But at this point, it’s always that I feel like I’m going to burst and so I’m going to write down a bunch of words and a lot of times it’ll come in a verse. I’ll come up with just four lines and I’ll ruminate on it for quite a while. But it’s funny because Oliver will sit down and have a start-to-finish song in his head: the music, not the words. Because we come at it from those two different directions, it’s like we’re finishing each other’s work. We’ve tried writing songs when we’re not feeling things. Just for the sake of exercise, we’ve sat down like, “We’re going to write a song tonight!” And they’re not good. For me, it has to come from an almost a lack of ability to verbalize it in the structure of paragraph form.
I say my husband is my talisman; I don’t know how I would do performing without him. Recently, I had to perform on the opposite side of the stage from him, and I was so much more nervous. He really gives me this sense of security. But if we’re not in synch, then it’s totally going to fuck me over. So it can’t be like that forever – I’m trying really hard to work through that. And yeah, I drink. I have to have at least two glasses of wine or beer before I can get up there and be comfortable. I need something to take the edge off. I would love to get to a point in my life where there is not crutches because… I see now, when I was younger, I thought that people who were musicians were alcoholics and drug addicts because of convenience. It’s convenient, and that’s just the lifestyle, it’s just present. And that’s what I was convinced that it was... until I started doing it. And then I realized, no, it’s not fucking convenient, it’s necessary! For so many of us. I get caught up on so many dumb details before I get on stage. One of the things that’s been hardest for me is that when you’re the lead singer, everyone looks at… you. It’s really a hard thing to say “I’m terrified of doing this thing, and I’m going to do it anyway.” But it’s interesting and it promotes growth in a way I think everybody could benefit from.
We’re about to record our album, which is exciting, and we started playing gigs, like all the time. The Fullerton Museum one — it was sold out and that was crazy for me because I think it was only the last few months that I’m like, “I’m a musician. This is what I’m doing now.” I’m not questioning my worth anymore. I’ve gotten to the point where I recognize that I have value in the room and I have value as a performer. I’ve written 70% of the lyrics of our songs. These are mine, these are my words and these are my feelings and people like it. Somebody reacted to it somewhere, even if it’s just one person then that’s valuable because that means they feel heard, too; they feel recognized. If you can relate to somebody’s struggle —that’s what music is, it’s vocalizing your struggle. I think in the end, I look at myself as a story teller and I do it through my writing on blog and I do it through writing songs, and they’re all the same thing.
I think one of my biggest frustrations is when I’m making music with men. I love my bandmates, I love them dearly... They do not take me as seriously as they take each other. It was even my husband who said it; I was super blown away that he even said this. We were talking about making our album and production, and he goes, “I see on the production side who’s going to be a producer and I think it’s probably me, Chris, and Chad.” And I’m like, “You realize you just named all the men in the room.” Because our cellist is female, too, Bonnie. I’m like, “Seriously, that’s what you just did. Why would you assume that me and Bonnie would not have opinions when it comes to production?” and he goes, “Well, you’ve never made an album before.” Even if you’re going to go that route with your explanation, how the fuck does that apply to Bonnie, who has made albums before and actually just wrote a fucking musical? And it’s published, it’s being made. Why would you think that she wouldn’t have input into how this is produced? I was just like, “I don’t think that was what that was, because otherwise it wouldn’t be that you just literally left out the women in the room. If you think that I do not have opinions on production, I can tell you right now that’s otherwise because we have at least three songs that I know are not exactly how they should sound and I know that because I wrote them. Why would I not have opinions on the songs that I wrote?” We kind of left it be for that moment and then I began sending him songs where I was like, “I love the production on this, I love the backups on this, this is where I need this song to go…” and we’ve been kind of fine tuning things from there. I think it was really valuable because I think he had underestimated me. I don’t even completely blame him for this. I haven’t made an album before, I don’t play instruments. But I know what I want them to sound like, so they are in my head. Once I could prove that — here’s where my inspiration is coming from — then it was like this light bulb went on and he was like, “Of course you should be involved.” Then when we met with the producer at the recording studio, I kind of led that meeting and I was like, “Look, I want you to look at Elle King and I want you to look at this artist and this artist because I feel like those are huge inspirations for these songs and I need you to give us a real opinion of whether they can all go on the same album or not.” I think when he saw that I was going to be putting that stuff out there to somebody else, then it became less an issue of “Does she have opinions or not?” because obviously I do. But it just shocked me to the core because here are three men that I work with on a weekly basis on music and they just assumed I wouldn’t have input? It’s crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life allowed a time where somebody was like “We don’t want your opinion” to pass me by.
When it comes to recording a record, we’re going to be using crowdsourcing to raise the money to record it. It’s not like we’re on a label where they’re going to pay for us to record an album. We have a following of fans and they’ve all been asking, “Where’s your music, where can we download your music, I need to find this song” or whatever. That’s how most indie musicians are. If we want to book festivals, if we want to book bigger gigs, they want us to have samples. We can’t just be sending them iPhone recordings. And if we have fans, they deserve to be able to find us. The whole point is that if you’re going to out a song out there and you want people to connect with it, you want them to connect with it wherever they feel comfortable. It would make me the happiest thing in the world to know that somebody is in their car, listening to my voice. Or in their bedroom, crying their eyes out because they relate. The last few months, it’s become obvious that it’s a necessary step for us.
I think every person’s story is valuable and the more stories we have out there, the more we relate to one another and the less alone that we’ll feel. And that’s what humanity really is, and needs. Especially as women, we tend to focus on other people’s stories and other people’s needs and wants and desires and we say, “Ours’ll wait. After this.” Sometimes it’s necessary, but sometimes it’s just not. There’s this feeling in my stomach right now, that I want more children. We both would like to have more children. Maybe one, maybe two, but we’re also in this insane period of creativity and I don’t want to put it on hold. I don’t want to have to put everything in the back seat when we’ve got this explosion of creativity happening in our home right now. Things are picking up, we’ve been booked pretty much every other weekend the last three months. So it’s really stressful, it’s really great, it’s exhausting.
One of the things that I believe really strongly and I’ve seen it a little bit recently is this idea of we have to let go of the long-term plan. We have been taught since we were little kids that you have a three, five, ten year plan. Well, guess what? Every three, five, ten year plan I’ve ever made is exactly the opposite of what I thought it was going to be. I’m not going to assume god has a plan for me, but what I am going to do is I’m going to look at the next month, and say what am I going to get done? What do I want to do? The long term plan will come together. I would like in the next six months to be able to play bigger venues. I know that I want to finish our album. I know that for me, one of my goals in the next few years is to play a specific festival that I grew up going to every single year of my life and that would be a bucket list goal coming true and I’d like to do it in the next two years. Those are the larger things. But in terms of my day to day life and my week to week life, I don’t need to think about that. What I need to think about is, am I doing the thing that is right for me and my family right this moment? And if it is, then it’s going to get me to those places anyway.