“A heart-wrenching anthem to waiting for the moral arch to bend towards justice.”
“Beautiful music that is as moving as it is accessible.”
“A heart-wrenching anthem to waiting for the moral arch to bend towards justice.”
“Beautiful music that is as moving as it is accessible.”
Austin’s Nine Mile Records packed both stages at Barracuda last Friday, beginning with local fivepiece Carry Illinois and the booming, brassy voice of Lizzy Lehman. Powering sleepy, twee-pop instrumentation, the singer/guitarist skewed introspective on “Shameful Feeling,” her otherwise theatrical voice hushed. “Little Shell” offered like-minded empathy, Lehman’s earnest narratives proving warm and hopeful.
Abram Shook delved into sophisticated yacht rock – bright, rhythmic, undulating. Cool and understated, his falsetto carved out a breezy, atmospheric airiness. Organs and pedal steel in the singer’s backing foursome pushed the sound from guitar rock into something more experimental. From last year’s Love at Low Speed, “Lies” offered that same pedal steel at breakneck speed.
Closers Tinnarose performed as an eightpiece complete with brass section and two fluid backup dancers in brightly colored gauze ensembles. Devon McDermott’s towering, hypnotic voice traversed a divergent set list, at times slipping into a reserved folk psychedelia conjuring Jefferson Airplane, which also accounted for a hammering, throughly explosive jam-band sound on “TamLin.”
Carry Illinois is an Austin-based indie-pop band started by singer/guitarist Lizzy Lehman, who grew up a huge fan of ’60s pop. Some of that shows up in Carry Illinois’ sparkling sound, but 2017’s Garage Sale EP is streaked with darker shadows. But this week on My KUTX, Lehman brings the sunshine as our guest DJ, picking songs and artists that have influenced her since she was a kid. Hear My KUTX on Saturday, January 6, 6-7 p.m. or listen anytime at the bottom of the page.
–Art Levy // producer, My KUTX
[intro music: Carry Illinois – “Years To Come”]
1. Carole King – “Really Rosie”
2. The Beatles – “Yellow Submarine”
3. Brandi Carlile – “Closer To You”
4. Shawn Colvin – “Sunny Came Home”
5. The Supremes – “Where Did Our Love Go”
6. Sylvan Esso – “The Glow”
7. Lizzo – “Good As Hell”
8. Joni Mitchell – “Cactus Tree”
9. Crosby, Stills & Nash – “Helplessly Hoping”
10. Jefferson Airplane – “Somebody To Love”
11. Destiny’s Child – “Say My Name”
12. Third Eye Blind – “Jumper”
13. The Mamas & Papas – “Monday, Monday”
14. Lucius – “Dusty Trails”
Lizzy Lehman, lead singer of lo-fi, indie-pop band Carry Illinois, is psyched to play Free Week this year. Her band, which released its first EP Siren in 2014, is playing the Nine Mile Records showcase tonight. And while Lehman has been writing songs for over 10 years now, she hasn’t always been comfortable with performing her music.
Lehman rode out her nascent years in the capital city music scene as part of an Americana band that was “very straight,” and says she never felt totally at home in the twang. “I was writing songs, but they didn’t really feel authentic to my experience. I was just trying to make them fit the mold of the genre,” she tells Gay Place. For Lehman, the turning point in her music career followed the suicide of John Winsor – her friend and longtime bandmate – in March 2016. As Lehman explains, the shock of Winsor’s death caused her to take a step back and reevaluate her life both on and off stage. She asked herself: Was she writing and performing music that truly felt like hers?
Lehman tackled this question head on with Carry Illinois’ latest EP Garage Sale. Released in May 2017, Garage Sale is the band’s first major album since Winsor’s death and represents a major creative breakthrough for Lehman. “I would say that 95 percent of those songs I wrote after he passed away.” For her, songwriting was a cathartic way to process the loss of someone so close.
In the wake of tragedy, Lehman has made a conscious effort to write and perform more personal music. “I’ve let go of a bunch of insecurities and decided that I don’t have to hide anymore,” she says. “I don’t have to mask anything in my songs because there’s no reason to.” In fact, Lehman believes the vulnerability in her latest work is beneficial. It allows her to explore her experiences as a lesbian and her struggles with depression and anxiety, while creating a larger base for listeners to identify with.
When asked which of the six songs on Garage Sale reflects the queer experience the strongest, Lehman points to “Shameful Feeling,” the EP’s lead single. “It deals with shaking off the shame [I had] of being gay as well as any shame and doubt I might have in my life in general,” she says. But the song doesn’t simply mirror her own experiences, she was also inspired by her wife’s childhood growing up queer in Texas.
Now, as adults, Lehman and her wife have found a powerful sense of community in Austin where she says she’s always felt supported. However, she’s quick to emphasize the importance of carving out space for queer artists and musicians. “There’s a spotlight that needs to be shined,” says Lehman. “It’s helpful to have some separate events because it really does give queer musicians a place to feel safe and be among people who maybe share some similar experiences as them.”
Looking toward the future, Lehman hopes that Carry Illinois can continue making music that remains as honest as possible. Currently, the band is working on another EP slated for release this May. The upcoming single will tackle the intersection of queerness and body politics. “It’s definitely about being honest and vulnerable,” says Lehman. “That’s what makes the music work and what makes it powerful and what makes people connect to it.”
Favorite Austin Music Video of 2017
Carry Illinois – “Electric Charm”
I *LOVE* this song so much, and this beautifully animated video starts with some kind of psychedelic looking vagina, so I was instantly a fan. This was a hard question, because we’re spoiled with great directors in town (Zack Scott and John Valley are my faves), but I love Yukai Du’s work in this.
Cheer Up Charlie’s always maintains a lively chatter. Even on a foggy Sunday night, a friendly crowd amassed to watch Carry Illinois perform songs from their Garage Sale EP. I was greeted by the band’s frontwoman Lizzy Lehman with a warm smile and Cheer Up’s colorful lights illuminating her.
Lizzy has dedicated five years to this project, a hybrid band that floats in between being a musical anchor for the local LGBT community and a passionate dedication to another emotional theme: the unanticipated death of her bandmate and close friend John Winsor in 2016. The tragic event delivered a story worth pursuing and it was obvious that the event largely influenced the energy of the band. Even the prologuing soundcheck riddled me with anticipation.
The set did not disappoint. Through expressive motion, Lizzy lead the group into their first song, carrying a powerful vocal delivery. Usually armored with an instrument, she was forced to go guitar-less due to cutting her finger weeks prior. Nevertheless, the band’s style has the quality of building a great story, beginning with a slower tempo that erupts into an exciting and dramatic uplift that reveals a surprising and special gutting charm. The harmonies and keys added an ethereal poppy charm to a couple of their songs and in others, the drummer was able to showcase his raw ability.
Finally nearing the end of their set, they played “Shameful Feeling,” which they recently unveiled a new music video for. It’s a very well put together song with Lizzy’s fiery vocals and some happy guitar work that carried a nice rhythm, but again, what added a very subtle but important touch to the song was the band’s newest addition, keyboardist Benjamin Rowe Violet. Ben added a wonderful and light relief that lifted the crowd from the band’s sometimes melancholic tone and sad lyrical themes.
Though the set was short, the band did deliver one last request from the crowd: the performance of one of the band’s older songs, “Electric Charm.” While the band had not practiced this song for their set that night, it was the cherry on top and added raw charm to end their set.
“A catchy anthem that celebrates honesty and self-love.”
A year ago, Lizzy Lehman and her band Carry Illinois were reeling from the loss of close friend John Winsor, the group’s bassist, who took his own life in March 2016. Paralyzed with grief, Lehman spent weeks in a state of disbelief, “not able to do much of anything,” haunted with questions. How could this have happened? Winsor and Lehman met while playing in another band, the Blackwells, and grew closer when John started playing in Carry Illinois—close enough for Lizzy to refer to John as a “surrogate brother in a way.” Although Lehman struggled to find the right therapist to help her cope with John’s death, the fog of her grief cleared enough for her to begin working through her emotions by writing new songs.
“When I was able to start processing,” Lehman says, “this was what came out…. I absolutely knew that he never would have wanted me to stop playing or writing.”
Despite some uncertainty about how to move forward without John, the band started to rehearse again, and Lehman eventually brought her collection of personal, raw songs, to the group—Rudy Villarreal, Darwin Smith, Andrew Pressman, and Derek Morris. “Because we had shared this deeply sad experience together, they just understood,” she says. After deciding to record the new songs in a studio, the band ambitiously contacted producer John Congleton. Flattered, but completely booked, Congleton referred Carry Illinois to producer and musician John Vanderslice, who runs Tiny Telephone studio in Oakland. Vanderslice has a reputation as a studio whiz and has worked with a slate of well-known artists, including Spoon and St. Vincent.
Spending a week or so holed up together in the studio solidified a new level of trust and camaraderie for Carry Illinois. “We were really working as a team,” Lehman comments, adding that the sessions felt “less rushed” than ever before. The result, a new EP called Garage Sale emphasizes mellow keys and guitar arrangements centered around Lehman’s wavering, pensive vocals. On the record’s strengths, Lehman says “it’s the truest songwriting [she’s] done.”
A year removed from Winsor’s death, Lehman focuses on a new question: “How do I keep his memory going through my music?” Although the songs on Garage Sale chronicle Lehman’s personal experience with trauma, she hopes the songs are universally accessible and reach out to anyone processing a painful experience. She cites one of her ultimate goals as “being able to connect to people on a really human level with music.”
‘Garage Sale,’ the new album from Carry Illinois, is a testament to the human experience. It’s a tour-de-force of emotion and takes you on an emotional journey with the band. For singer/songwriter Lizzy Lehman, losing a bandmate last year was a paralyzing experience, but writing new music gave her hope.
She said, “I took some songwriting workshops about using songwriting as truth-telling” and felt a switch in herself. She said that the class made her realize the importance of writing about her genuine experiences because “that’s the stuff that people really connect to.” To draw on the tragedy the band faced, ‘Garage Sale’ became therapy.
Despite the surrounding circumstances, the album became an expression of hope. The songs life you up rather than depress and each one feels like a new experience. The album has so many different influences from vintage college-rock mettle to a little lush AOR that it’s impossible to get bored. Take “Years to Come,” which plays midway through the album and catches a current of ringing new-wave guitars, marching choral drums, and Brill Building harmonies: It’s a defiant gesture though relatively unadorned.
By partnering with admired producer John Vanderslice, the band took a raw approach, focusing on emotion and instrumental nuance. Lehman described her experience saying, “I think John, immediately when he heard the music, knew making sure the vocals were right up front and the lyrics could be heard was top priority, and made me super confident recording with him.”
But Vanderslice defers credit entirely to the band. He said he mostly tried to stay out of the way and just capture the energy. He even went as far as to say, “The band was so good I didn’t want to impose a production style.”
With top-tier production, raw emotion, and exciting nuanced tracks, Garage Sale is a memorable album about love and loss. It’s a ode to recovery and moving forward — a true inspirational ballad.
Album out: May 12
— Lou Flesh
Austin-based indie group Carry Illinois is making music for the right reasons. In the wake of a personal tragedy, the band set to work on a six-song EP, their third major release, that explores issues surrounding death and mourning as a way of coping with loss. At its core, Garage Sale is a very personal collection of well-constructed, well-produced, and well-performed indie rock songs. They’re not busy, clunky affairs; the songs are clean and pared down, a move that elegantly frames singer Lizzy Lehman’s poetic and touching lyrics. The songs feel like little glimpses into the life of a person who’s growing in the wake of a tragedy, the album has an emotional narrative that gives new depth and meaning to the songs. Carry Illinois is making music for the right reasons, and that sort of honesty and transparency makes its way into the band’s sound, to great effect. The band stopped by Studio 1A to gives us a preview of the album, which comes out next week. Check it out below!
– James Parker
How does one start again? When is the end really the end, and when is the end a seed to the next beginning? Austin, Tex. band Carry Illinois found itself grappling with those questions in March 2016, when a founding member of the band died tragically. Bandleader Lizzy Lehman found herself unable to write for months, as the remaining members decided whether or not to keep making music together. By November of that year, they had decided to keep working. Lizzie wrote a collection of songs processing her grief, the band selected a new bassist, and musician and recording engineer John Vanderslice offered to produce the tracks that emerged that winter. The result is Garage Sale, to be released May 12th. These six songs are heartbreaking, but not devastating. This is music from a band that stared death in the face and chose to live. Lehman’s voice is strong even when it wavers. The album’s standout is “Little Shell,” all sharp lyrical edges and raw, searching lyrics about facing a world of uncertainty. But it’s album closer “Goodnight” that best captures the tone of the album, wading into the dark to get through to the light. “Why is it so hard to restart?” Lehman asks, and then, an answer to herself: “I look at all my friends, my dearest family, wishing happiness to call and take the place of agony.” There is no solving the problem of grief, but there is always the possibility of new happiness alongside it. Garage Sale makes ample and deeply moving room for both.
Look for previews from Garage Sale later this month. In the meantime, here’s the band’s latest video, “Electric Charm,” from a 7-inch released last fall.
When Carry Illinois’ bassist John Winsor took his life in 2016, the remaining members were numbed by their loss. They channeled their emotions the best way musicians know how: the release of a new album “Garage Sale”. The emotional 6-track tackles their loss not with sadness and helplessness, but with hope for their future.
by John Vanderslice, the album focuses on the importance of singer Lizzy Lehman’s lyrics and is a stripped-down wonder. Electric Charm is an upbeat bouncy track that comes from a 2-song release called “Electric Charm/Sea Inside”.The video’s colorful animation by Yukai Du is a unique representation of the music through color and morphing from one shape to the next. The result is the best dang thing I have seen in a long time!
Lizzy states that the song “Electric Charm” began as a way for her to express and work through the pain that she experienced being bullied in high school. “The only place I truly felt safe and at home was on stage and in the choir room. It wasn’t until college that I was able to make friends that I could relate to and be myself around. I could finally express my true self without the fear of being ridiculed or laughed at. It is only in the last couple years that I have found the strength to reflect on those early years with the confidence of knowing that I have risen above the hurtful words of my youth and find myself living happily.”
Lizzy chose to have a video made for this song to express the growth in her personal confidence. She also wanted to have a beautiful piece of art that featured the musical talents of their former bass player John Winsor, who tragically took his own life in March 2016. This video is for him.
When working with Yukai Du of Bliink Studios (Brighton, England) the collaboration came about very naturally. They provided her with the lyrics, the themes of the song, the color palette they preferred, and then gave her free-reign to work her magic.
“I like to give creative folks as much freedom as possible when starting a project and then ask for certain elements to be modified, provide criticism, and express my thoughts as the process happens. The imagery of a solitary person in space, the electric elements of earth, and the colorful abstract shifting shapes tie together the intimate themes of the song while creating a universal feel that people can relate to.”
The video for “Electric Charm” is an exciting creative step for the band and Lizzy looks forward to diving deeper into more collaborative artistic efforts with future songs.
This tribute to her friend and band mate is simply touching and beautifully done. It is an honor to listen to these lyrics and support this release. We suggest you check out Carry Illinois’s upcoming release “Garage Sale” which comes out May 12th. It is jam packed with songs that will instantly give you goose bumps.
As Austin-based indie pop collective Carry Illinois – comprised of Lizzy Lehman, Andrew Pressman, Rudy Villarreal, Darwin Smith, and Derek Morris – prepares for the release of their new album Garage Sale on May 12th, they’ve got a little surprise for us. We’re hosting the exclusive premiere of the music video for “Electric Charm”, and we’re totally smitten.
It’s never easy to reach back into your past and revisit the painful parts of growing up. In high school I was surrounded by kids who were solely concerned with societal norms, materialism, and looking, dressing, and acting like everyone else. There was little room for being the weirdo or girl who wasn’t a size 2,4,6 etc. “Electric Charm” is about not fitting in, not being the popular kid, and finally finding my place in the world once I moved away from home and began to shape my true self and find real friends who accepted me for me. In spite of vast self-esteem issues over the years, music has always been comforting and I am proud to share it with the world.
Du has created unique profiles with an interesting color palette, almost creating a fuzzy texture in her illustrations. She plays with the idea of being completely alone in a room full of people, and the subject matter of the song itself absolutely shines through.
Keep an eye out for Garage Sale here.
There are some childhood memories that stick with us forever. For Carry Illinois’ Lizzy Lehman, an incident with her brother became one such memory, one that inspired her to write the confessional tune “Smoke and Medicine.” The Austin-by-way-of-Evanston songwriter has a knack for channeling small moments into meaningful tunes, as evinced by the band’s debut album Alabaster, which counts its influences as spanning from Laurel Canyon to Smiths hometown Manchester, England.
“I simply didn’t want to hide anymore. ‘Smoke and Medicine’ reveals my imperfections, my secrets, my truths, and my need to express that, like most people, at times I need to quell my fears, anxieties, and sadness through a less than accepted vice,” Lehman tells AS. “When I was in high school, I told on my brother for smoking pot in the garage solely because I was not a fan of the kids he was hanging out with. A few years later, I found myself hiding away, just the same, partaking in order to feel just a little bit better. I needed to apologize for what I had done and own up to my own hypocrisy. I needed to say that I wasn’t always the perfect child, that I did things wrong time and again, and that I needed to decompress from life. I wanted to tell the world that I wasn’t doing anything wrong even though so many believe otherwise. We shove legal chemical cocktails into our throats every day and still become unhinged. It seems that the universal mentality about drugs is backwards, and I want people to know that that is truly how I feel. Clearly, as we have seen over the past few years, the times are changing, laws are changing, and minds are changing. People are beginning to see light and it should be discussed.
When deciding how the song should be portrayed visually, I wanted the movements to express physical and mental struggle as well as growth, change, and freedom. I wanted the video to be simple yet strong. I wanted it to express the trials and tribulations of youth that every young person deals with on a daily basis. Toronto based video director Sammy Rawal did an excellent job bringing my visions to life. The video was filmed in black and white with hand colored red shadows behind Toronto based dancer Ila Kavanagh as she moved. The red shadows emphasize the very difficult dance we go through when navigating the ups and downs of life. It is tough to grow up and get through it all, but if we work together, support one another, and stand up tall, we will be able to breathe through it and take on another day.”