Lizzy McAlpine knows how to write a great heartbreak anthem. Following the whirlwind success of her sophomore album, five seconds flat, the singer-songwriter has recently come out with a music video for her hit song, ceilings – which you may have heard of on TikTok. In this interview, she discusses social media, her journey with music, and exploring new sounds.
Firstly, could you please introduce yourself and what you do?
My name is Lizzy McAlpine and I write music.
Let’s start way back in time. When you were a teenager, you started releasing music on SoundCloud. What did it feel like when you were sharing your art with the world for the first time? How has that feeling evolved over the years?
I wasn't really thinking about it when I was putting stuff on SoundCloud because I was like, “No one is hearing this stuff. It's just my friends and people that I go to high school with.” No one else was really listening, so there was less pressure. I was just doing it for fun at that point. Now I know there are a lot more people listening to my music, and that is simultaneously really scary and really fun. I think my feelings have definitely evolved. At this point, I'm used to it, and I just love having other people listen to my music. I love seeing people's reactions to the stuff that I put out.
On social media, you often post acoustic covers and snippets of original compositions. Here, we get to see your music style in its rawest form. How do you think this intimacy adds to the relationship between you and your fans?
I think it adds a lot. On social media, I try to be as transparent, honest, and open as possible. I mean, I can't show all of myself because then I would just be giving my entire life away to the internet, so I obviously like to keep some things private. But for the most part, I try to be very open and honest online. I think that adds to what people like about my music. I think that's kind of my whole thing.
On TikTok you have posted a lot of songs that you’ve chosen to leave unreleased. Why is it important for you to have certain songs that you keep to yourself?
I don't necessarily think of it that way. I just write songs and put them online because I like them at the time. Then they just evolve, I evolve, and whatever project I'm working on at the time also evolves. Some songs just don't make the cut – some I don't like anymore, others just don't fit the project.
You used to study at the Berklee College of Music. I’m sure there’s a lot of technical training that they teach you at a conservatory. How did those years learning music in a conservatory and being around other musicians shape your work?
Personally, I didn’t get that much out of my classes at Berklee. I don't know anything about music theory – it all goes over my head. I really don't know anything in that realm. But, what I really got out of Berklee was being surrounded by all my friends who were just so talented. Almost all of my friends were jazz musicians, and I had never really been in that world before. I never listened to jazz that much, like actually intensely listened to jazz. That definitely rubbed off on me. Sometimes, I go back and listen to the stuff that I was writing when I first arrived at Berklee and then the stuff I was writing as I was leaving two years later, and it's just completely different. I think that the people I was surrounded by really did that.
What was it like going from making music in an institution to making music on your own? What are some surprising challenges that you had to confront?
Yes, but not in the music side of things. What really caught me off guard was that I was just very isolated. I dropped out of Berklee halfway through and all of my friends were still there. I was just by myself trying to do something that no one else that I knew was trying to do. It was definitely very isolating and difficult, but I knew that I was doing the right thing for me. I know that everyone is on their own path, but it was very weird to be suddenly thrust into this life. I lived by myself and had to learn how to be an adult immediately while all my friends got to do the college thing for 2 more years.
Was it hard to make that decision to leave?
It just felt like the right thing to do at that moment. I felt like school was holding me back and my first album was about to come out. I was like, “I really just want to focus on this.” It was a very easy decision. Only after the decision was made was I like, “Oh my gosh, this is actually way harder than I thought it was gonna be.”
Let’s talk about your sophomore album, five seconds flat. The production in this album was more experimental than in your debut album, Give Me A Minute. For example, an ego thing plays around with rhythm and silence, and erase me has this huge swell in the second half. What was the process like in creating these new sounds?
I went into this album wanting it to be completely opposite to the first one, just because I felt like that was not who I was anymore. I wanted to try new things. I was trying to find what I actually sounded like. We went into the album thinking it was going to be very indie rock, and it did not turn out that way. It never turns out the way that you think it's gonna be in the beginning. We were in this Airbnb in Oregon for 2 or 3 months, and we were just trying to make the craziest sounds possible.
At the same time, the lyrics take us on a rollercoaster of heartbreak and rebirth. How do you maintain this emotional intimacy while having more complex production?
I feel like space is very important. It can't all be crazy production thrown at you every second of every song. It has to be a sonic journey – there has to be highs and lows. There has to be space in individual songs to leave room for the lyrics to shine through. The words and my voice are the most important parts of any song and Philip and Ehren, who were the producers I worked with, definitely understood that.
For many, the star of the album was ceilings, which really takes us on this lovely journey and then hits us with a very sobering ending. It leaves us with a sense of emptiness and longing. What inspired you to portray this story?
Well, I had just ended a relationship and then I went to London for 3 months. I was reflecting on that relationship and wondering if I had made the right decision. The end of the song is me remembering that it’s over.
Did you expect ceilings to be the song to blow up?
No one on my team thought that this song was going to be the one to have its moment. My manager and I made a bet to see which song would be the most popular, and we were going to reconvene one year out and see which of the songs were streaming the most. We both bet on different songs. Neither of us had ceilings.
You recently came out with a music video for ceilings, and the visuals really capture the essence of your lyrics. What was your favourite part of shooting this video?
We thought about making a video a couple months ago, before ceilings was trending. I was single, and I was like, “I don't know who would be the co-star.” We were thinking of a couple people and none of it really panned out. So, we kind of just let it sit. Then the song started trending. And then I was not single anymore. So, I thought, we should make this video now, and it just all fell into place. I wrote the concept. I also helped edit. My favourite part of shooting the video was probably just getting to hang out with my boyfriend on set all day.
My favourite song on this album is chemtrails. When I listened to the ending, I felt almost like I was intruding on a very precious yet vulnerable moment, and a lot of your songs feel very personal. Do you ever get nervous to put yourself out there like that? How do you overcome this?
I do get nervous, but I kind of detach myself from it. The only songs that I have been actually very nervous to put out were ones that were blatantly about another person. Other than those, it's kind of easy for me to put them out. I don't know, maybe that's psychotic. But I just know that people are going to relate to the songs, so it's not that hard for me to put them out because once they're out, they're not really mine anymore. They're for everyone else.
Is relatability something that you keep in mind when you write your songs?
It's something that is just intrinsic in all my songs. I don't think about it when I'm writing. I just write how I feel, and then people relate to it somehow.
Finally, storytelling has always been a huge part of your music. What stories are you hoping to tell in the future?
Something happier, eventually. But I will say that this next record that I'm working on is not happy.