Licity Collins Blends Rock And Folk 'To Give You That Range Of Emotion'
NPR's Here & Now
[Song Clip: “Staring at the Dark” from the album Love Courage Yes]
Lyric: And I should open some windows and let in some air but I can’t wake up yet…
NPR's Here & Now's Lisa Mullins: Licity Collins is a folk and rock artist in Ojai, California, but she’s lived all over the U.S. and collected stories that she channels in lyrics and even in spoken word. Her new album is called Love Courage Yes and it’s out today. Welcome to Here & Now, Licity.
Licity Collins: Thank you so much for having me, it’s so much fun.
LM: You grew up performing music, playing the cello in a youth orchestra in Washington, DC.
LC: Actually, I really hated going to youth orchestra, I mean there was a part of me that was really shy and I didn’t really know how to relate to other kids on some level, but I loved being in the fantasy of music and the cello was a great instrument for me because it was such a full-body experience and it’s such an emotional instrument and it’s, it did give me a place to express things I wasn’t able to, and it still does, you know a lot of my songs originate from things I’m just not able to say directly to people for whatever reason.
LM: That reminds me, there’s a strong cello element, string element in “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles...
LM: and that’s apparently one of the songs that motivates you.
LC: Yeah! There’s no rock instruments in that, that’s a string octet in that song, and um, I sometimes describe my music as like “Eleanor Rigby” meets “Refugee” by Tom Petty, like catering to that isolated loneliness that we all feel and that isolation that I felt growing up and then this freedom that rock and roll gives us to say, “But man, things could be really different.” Rock and roll is like that jolt of energy to your spine that says, “I can get through this, I can do it." and "It can get better.”
LM: What song on this album do you think exemplifies that the most?
LC: I really think that “Weather Gets Warm” is where that folk meets the rock and just takes off.
[Song Clip: “Weather Gets Warm” from the album Love Courage Yes]
Lyric: So you wrapped me in that blanket your mother had crocheted, we fell together on the couch, kissing like kids, finding ourselves, in an unauthorized embrace. Will there be an end to this storm? How long 'till the weather gets warm? Holding on for that breaking sun…”
LC: In folk you get to tell these long-winded kind of stories. And then it just drops it all and says lets rock out for a while. And when the bridge we get to a point where we say, let’s dream, so even though the song is about suffering, there’s this hope that comes in when the rock and roll comes in. And that gives you that sense of abandon that humans so desperately need to live our lives.
LM: You know, I noticed that that happens a lot on many of your songs. That it starts off one way and then maybe picks up a lot like half way through. And sort of like, whoa, like a whole different song. And you say that’s to accomplish something.
LC: It’s to give you that range of emotion. I mean life is full of so many different feelings all at once. And I guess because I grew up in that cello section, I hear everything like an orchestra. And I like that sense of cognitive dissonance.
LM: You like that.
LM: Most people don’t like it at all [laughs].
LC: But you know why they don’t like it? Because it makes them have to grow! [laughs]. Let’s be honest, it’s uncomfortable. That’s why we have growing pains. We describe it as painful. But , but when your brain says “Man, those two things don’t belong together,” new mental pathways have to form so that you can process it, so my music does that as well.
LM: On your new album, out today, you include songs, but prose as well. Your own writing. Why the two?
LC: Oh, to me, it’s all singing. You know? And some things need a different type of singing and a different type of rhythm and cadence, and ups and downs, and sometimes a solo acoustic is needed and sometimes a full rock song is needed, and it gives people more ways to connect.
LM: There’s one piece that you’ve done and I wonder if you can recite a bit of it for us, about going to attend your mom’s funeral. Do you mind reading a little bit of that?
LC: Sure, I sure will. I ended up in this uh, very, well-priced, hotel room, in this basement room, and so this tells you a little bit about it.
[Reading] I feel like a mole. In this corridor outside the window, which I guess is not really a corridor but a garbage dumping area, is an overflowing green garbage bin. It’s pressed up against the window, its lid unable to shut completely due to a plastic bag of garbage bulging out of it. There’s a chunky brown stain dripping down the window glass which looks like someone tried to throw a slice of pizza into the garbage bin but hit the window instead. Something in this room makes me feel like a failure. I’m not sure I can handle my mother’s funeral with this as my home base.
I unpacked my sweet little funeral dress and hung it on the dowel propped in an indentation in one side of the room. It is only wrinkled a bit, and there is a mini-ironing board and an iron, which was all I hoped for when I planned this. I will adapt. This is how it is happening.
LM: Hm. I mean it creates a, quite an image. Tell us more about what you were going through at that time, when you say “This is how it‘s happening.”
LC: Well, actually, in releasing the first album, I was about to start the media campaign, and my mother died that morning. So I never thought, you know, releasing my first album and my mom dying would happen on the same day, but that was how it was happening and all could say was, “Yes.” You know, okay. I had to keep accepting and keep accepting, and so it was a really powerful experience.
LM: And your new album is entitled Love Courage Yes. Um, and you say that kind of underscores everything that you do. Will you talk a little bit about the song “Turn” and what the lyrics are about there.
LC: Yeah, so “Turn” is one of those moments, that…it was written when we face that moment when we go “Oh, is this it? Is life going to be over?” Maybe we get some news… For me, I was facing…I went to the doctor and she was like, “You’ve got lumps all over your body.” So I was facing a thyroid nodule and had I just started singing, and I didn’t know, I didn’t know, if it was all going to be over. And so the lyric is about that—looking at your life and going “What has it been and what do I want it to be?”
[Song Clip: “Turn” from the album One Girl Town]
Lyric: And the clouds might turn, and the river might rise, and the dam might break, right before our eyes.
LC: One of the things I love to do in my work with an audience, shows, is I make eye contact. My people are people who are comfortable with that. So at one point I got to sing that song to a woman who I knew in the audience was dying. And she died about a few weeks after that. But it was just a pleasure to be able to look her in the eye and give that song to her.
LM: Where does the courage come from, to do that, to engage them by looking them in the eye and writing and singing, sort of, you know, full-frontal? Do you have to gin up the courage, or does the courage come from having done it?
LC: Oh my god, I love that you just called my shows “full-frontal” that’s awesome. Um, I really am hungry for honest interaction, and I guess I get my courage from all the music that came before me. In many ways the music I make and give now is just a thank you to everybody who saved my life every day along the way.
LM: Saved your life in what way?
LC: Um, there were times that just felt like I didn’t want to do that, like I didn’t want to keep going. I need to wake up and have a really intense purpose.
LM: I did want to ask you though, since you mentioned your health, you referred to certain issues, are you doing okay?
LC: [laughs] Yeah, I have lumps still, but they just hang out with me.
LM: But they hang out, that’s good. Um, I wonder, just in closing, if you could talk a little bit about the song “Love Me Like That.”
LC: Yeah! “Love Me Like That” is a really fun song because as the song says, I went to this open mic and this poet kind of fell in love with me and so he dedicated this stunning love poem to me. I never heard anything like it. This cowboy, totally in love with his wife.
LC: and I had been single a really long time and I just thought, If somebody would love me like that, I mean, I would try a relationship, why not? The next day I woke up and it was like the song was knocking on my head. “Hey, hey, hey, wake up, write this down." “Okay…” That was the first verse. Then they’re like, “Write this down now.” I said, “Okay.” That’s the third verse. So I said, “Great, I have the first verse and the third verse.” and so I said, “What about the second verse?” and the song was like, “Well, you’re on your own.”
LC: [laughs] so the second verse is the verse where I have to say what I want in a lover. And I had to really sit down with myself and be like, What do I want?
[Song Clip: “Love Me Like That” from the album One Girl Town]
LM: Nice to talk to you, Licity Collins, whose new album is out today titled Love Courage Yes. Thank you, Licity.
LC: Thank you, Lisa.