Austin Monthly Band of the Month May 2017

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.”