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.”