THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
Return to Liana Conway

Arts & Culture

One listen to LIANA CONWAY’s smooth, irresistible, confident voice, and you will be shocked to learn that she is just 21 years old.

With a brash, sunny confidence, the Massachusetts native’s soulful vocals, equal parts R&B, blues, pop and jazz, recall the relaxed stylings of Norah Jones, James Taylor, Roberta Flack and Carole King, with a keen ability to evoke their narrative writing style in a clever turn-of-phrase that sticks.

“I’ve always loved words,” says Conway, recalling how she taught herself to read when she was three, about the same time she discovered her father’s Time-Life compilation tape from 1969, featuring Sly and the Family Stone, the Temptations, the Jackson 5, the Fifth Dimension and other pop-soul greats of the time. “I learned early on combining just the right words can create these amazing things called sentences. I learned that the perfect string of words can be priceless. It’s what represents you, gives you your voice, your credibility, and most importantly, it connects you to others. When I was 12, I began writing down what I call my ‘word vomit’ in Strawberry Shortcake notebooks whenever I felt passionate about something—good or bad—usually several times a day.”

Those words formed the basis of her early songwriting. “I base so much of what I am on my childhood,” says Conway.

At 16, Conway talked her mom into buying her a guitar at Guitar Center to turn all those personal experiences and feelings into song.

“There’s something about putting a melody behind words that make them come across 100 times more powerfully,” says Conway, who left Boston College after her sophomore year to relocate in Nashville, where she was previously an intern at the Nashville Songwriters Association International.

“I had heard people came there and just didn’t want to leave, especially if you love music,” she says. “And it’s true. I just loved it. There was music everywhere. And I have really come to love country music, for its story-telling and imagery. They talk about concrete things, with specific descriptions. Country music is a major reason why I started writing songs in the first place. I wanted to write songs that touched people.”

And she’s doing just that. Writing and recording in Nashville and Los Angeles with Phoenix Stone, the noted producer who has worked with and produced an array of artists, from the legendary Art Garfunkel to the Backstreet Boys, among others, Conway has crafted a stunning debut collection that showcases the warmth and intimacy of her vocals, along with the depth of her songwriting.

“The most important thing for me is to be real,” she insists. “This is who I am. This is what I look like. This is how I feel. I’m not the super-model type. I don’t wear a lot of make-up. I’m more relaxed and laid-back. I get to be myself, a 21-year-old girl. I feel confident in myself but like any girl I like to get dressed up sometimes. To me success means happiness. As long as I’m happy I’ll consider myself successful.”

With a debut album that just dropped, Conway is at the threshold, and she won’t let anything get in her way. “I was taught by my mom to be very independent, to do my own thing and everything will work out,” she says. “This life is not necessarily about finding that one person to be with. At the end of the day, it’s up to me. I have a specific mission. But it’s also about balance. You can’t simply lose yourself in someone else. Experience has taught me that. But I did get a few songs out of it, too.”

As one of her own songs puts it, there’s “No Turning Back Now” for Liana. “I don’t think that far ahead. I have goals, but they’re not specific, like having a #1 record or selling out stadiums. I thought about that more when I was 13. I want to be around music the rest of my life. It’s what I want to do. It’s such a powerful force, a form of expression for centuries which has had a huge impact on society. And it has helped so many people. Yes, I’m a dreamer. This is a great opportunity for me. And the coolest part is being around people who are so talented and passionate about what they do.”

There’s no question about it. Liana Conway is the real deal.

 

21 Questions with Liana Conway
Please explain what just happened.

I just got back from the west coast where we filmed the music video for my single “Beautiful Day.” Getting to act out a song that you’ve written is one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences. Also, while out there, I got to visit the headquarters of 94.7 The Wave, the Los Angeles radio station that just picked up my other single, “You Baby.” I loved meeting the team and had a great time.

What is your earliest memory?

I have a steel-trap memory, so I actually remember quite a bit from my early years. Appropriately, I think one of my earliest memories is of me sitting in the bathtub and my dad had this old cassette player propped up on a stool. There was a song playing, and to this day I can’t remember the words or who sang it, but I can hum the melody perfectly. My childhood was colored by music.

If you weren’t a singer/songwriter, what other profession would you choose?

This is both an easy and difficult question for me because I can think of hundreds of other occupations I would love, but I would never be able to pick just one. Of course, working in music wins my heart over anything else, but if I couldn’t be living out this dream then I would love to be an archaeologist, a short story writer, a photographer, a therapist, a maternity nurse, or a Spanish translator. A little all over the map, huh?

 

Describe a typical work day.

I’m a night owl so I typically don’t try to wake up early unless I have to! The first thing I do when I get up is check my Twitter and Facebook page and respond to my fans. I usually have either training or rehearsal, or sometimes both. Rehearsal is so much fun because I have the most spirited and talented band. And as hard as training can be, I really like to stay fit! I love the feeling after kickboxing or going for a run. Your whole mind and body just feels healthy. Nighttime is my creative time. That’s when I write, read poetry, play the guitar, or have life chats with my best friends on the phone.

Is there a time you wish you’d lied?

My number one rule that I live by is never ever to go back and regret anything you said or didn’t say, or did or didn’t do. So I try not to play the should’ve/could’ve/would’ve card. There used to be times, especially in relationships, where sometimes I would wish that I hadn’t been so honest or had held back my feelings to protect me from getting hurt. But in the end, I’m so glad I didn’t. Because the person I’m going to end up with is somebody who puts everything on the table.



What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at age thirteen?

I would tell myself not to change a thing and everything will be just fine. All the innocence and naivety and lonely feelings that come with that age are something that you just have to go through to evolve into who you’ll become. This is actually something I think about a lot because I have a lot of younger fans and friends and family that are going through those same formative years that I went through. I remember getting advice from older people when I was younger, and it’s something that you keep in the back of your mind, but you don’t take until you grow up. When you’re thirteen, you just gotta be thirteen.



If you could have only one album to get you through a breakup, what would it be?

Ryan Adams, Gold. No question.



What are three websites—other than your email—that you check on a daily basis?

Facebook and CNN. Other than that, I try not to spend too much time on the computer.

From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration comes from my mother, my father, and the beautiful love they have shared for over 35 years. It is unconditional, steadfast, and still exciting. Both of them are so fiercely independent, yet in perfect harmony together. And they would both bend over backwards for anyone in need. They are the two greatest souls I have ever known.



Name three books that have impacted your life.

My number one favorite book of all time is a collection of the poetry of Rainer Maria Wilke. Second would be any piece of work by F. Scott Fitzgerald—his writing style is so fluid and intelligent. Lastly, a book I read in 2nd grade by Paul Fenimoore Cooper entitled Tal and his Marvelous Adventures with Noom Zor Noom—I never thought my life could be as magical as this fairytale story is.



If you could relive one moment over and over again, what would it be?

Waking up from a nap in my dorm room my sophomore year in college to my manager calling me and telling me they wanted me to come out to L.A. to record. It’s hard to pick just one moment though; there are so many beautiful ones.

How are you six degrees from Kevin Bacon?

If I knew who that was, I’m sure I could find something similar.



What makes you feel most guilty?
Not calling people back. I am terrible with that. I always forget.

How do you incorporate the work of other artists into your own?

I’m constantly listening to music, whether it’s a Grateful Dead album I’ve had for years or an unknown singer/songwriter project that I find on YouTube. The coolest thing about artists and musicians is that we have this perfect blend of being easily influenced by other sounds, while also keeping a distinct style of our own. My incorporation of other artists’ work with my own is analogous to how I am influenced by my family who surrounds me and raised me. I am made of a little bit of everyone. Similarly, my musical style is made of a little bit of everything. My father brought me up listening to pop-soul, classic rock, and subculture folk music, so my foundation of songwriting is based off of artists such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Fifth Dimension, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc. That said, I am just as inspired by more contemporary artists such as Michelle Branch, Owl City, Third Eye Blind, Ryan Adams, and Jack’s Mannequin.



Please explain the motivation/inspiration behind your new album, Sunrise.

Sunrise is inspired by my 21-year old heart, and the lessons it has learned thus far in my life. The album is a musical portrayal of who I am and what I am made of. There are sad songs, happy songs, angry songs, love songs…all of my emotions in musical form! I am someone who wears her heart on her sleeve all the time, which sometimes ends well and other times leaves me in the dust. But the good part is that I end up with a range of different types of songs. The album title is also significant of the dawning of a new chapter in my life. I’m still young, but I’m not a child anymore.



What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?

Force yourself to live in the moment! Happiness comes from being present. I know it sounds cliché but nothing is truer. Life is so much more full when you’re right here and nowhere else.

List your favorite in the following categories: comedian, musician, author, actor.

My dad, Eric Clapton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and…hmmm…I don’t watch too many movies so I don’t have one.



If you had complete creative license and an unlimited budget, what would your next project be?

I have been so blessed to be able to live out my dream unconditionally. I would continue to write, record, and share my stories. I would also love to travel and teach guitar to kids and adults who have never had the chance to play an instrument. Music is so good for the heart and the soul.

What do you want to know?

How some people can just be so mean. And then not look back.



What would you like your last words to be?

I’m usually very in tune with my emotions, so I trust that in the moment they will be just what they should be. But everyone should remember that legacy comes from how you lived your life, not what you said last.



Please explain what will happen.

I will continue to share my love, my stories, and my lessons with the world and I will never give that up. In terms of specific events, I have no idea what’s in store. But that’s the way I like it. I fall more in love with life every single moment I live it, and I’ve found that things have a way of happening just how they should.