Pizzagirl - INTERVIEW: Softcore mourn, hardcore fans and life back on tour!
You might expect to find the sad Scouse pop star Liam Brown (aka Pizzagirl) locked away in a New York apartment. I almost thought I would have to traipse down some dimly lit hotel corridor at 3am trying to locate his whereabouts through the faint sound of a midi keyboard. I imagined that I would come across his room number, see the door already a jar and be ushered in as he cleared the dirty plates, dirty magazines and half burnt photos of an ex off the table. Yet all it took was a quick trip inside The Shipping Forecast to catch him in what seemed an unusual habit. It felt strange that I didn’t have to enter into one of his electronic bedroom pop narratives to meet him but it was comforting to see one of the city’s brightest artists at home in one of the city’s best venues. Ahead of his hometown there on October 13th, we sat down to talk softcore mourn, hardcore fans & the strange joy of finally being able to sing out his cynical break up songs to screaming uni students on tour.
(Photo by Ellen Offredy)
"Its sort of like me alone kissing a computer..."
Back in July, Pizzagirl released his second album ‘softcore mourn’, a dry exploration of loneliness, break ups and digital detachment. Its a record that shows real maturity, with each track carrying thick layers of instrumental and lyrical texture. From the rolling pop of ‘bullet train’ to the gradual melancholic build of ‘by the way’, the songs deliver an introspective exploration and, although Liam assured me “this definitely wasn’t a lockdown album”, it is certainly a cohesive reflection of loneliness that a lot more of us can relate to after the year or two we’ve had. However, he explained that ‘softcore mourn’ was close to never even existing!
“I had made this other album at the start of lockdown but then I woke up one day having a bit of a meltdown thinking I didn't like it at all. So I scrapped the whole album off and started again. All the music I was listening to just contradicted that album completely. I love super dry, sad songwriting like Phoebe Bridgers and Alex G so I wanted to go down that road a bit more. I had this phone note saying 'softcore mourn' and I just thought it was funny, I’d had two coffees and I was like ‘guys we’re changing the idea around’ - they said ‘yeah thats sick but I don’t know how much time you’ve got’- I said ‘its fine i’ll do it’."
… and he did. The title of the record really encompasses its atmosphere throughout. It shows the genuinely heartbreaking mournful nature that lies at the centre of each song with a slight nod to the electronic & digital connotations, yet it twists it with a witty self deprecation that is a trademark of Pizzagirl. “The name kind of came first then I wrote based on that mood. It’s a very sad, very personal and very lonely break up record. It’s sort of like me alone kissing a computer. Its kind of a hungover album too because I was hungover the whole time, even on the album cover”
Yet the record couldn’t feel less hungover sonically. The bleary eyed attitudes inside the lyrics have a slight hungover edge and reflect the isolated process Liam spends creating his songs purely by himself. “Because I make the albums alone its a lot more stress but I find it a lot more worthwhile because you fail a lot. Then maybe next time I can bring all the things Ive fucked up on and improve them and at least I know all the mistakes I make are my fault rather than someone else making them and me resenting them for it! I don't want them ruining something that I can ruin myself.”
However, instrumentally ‘Softcore mourn’ is as vibrant and stirring as ever due to the combination of his fuzzy dancing synth melodies and the new addition of a live drum sound. The instrumentals like in the ending of ‘Sugar Ray’ bring an intensity to his music that you couldn’t really replicate with purely electronic input. It injects an audible dose of lip filler into the track, plumping up the sound and giving the record its most moshworthy moment.
“This is the first time anyone's every played over it. Giving someone else control is a very scary thing for me music wise so I had to really trust people. Luckily I trust Saam 100%. it’s very nerve wracking waiting for the stems to come back in case you have that awkward moment when they're nothing like you wanted - but they were perfect and we didn't have to send a single amendment back!”
I suppose for an artist who is writing tracks by themselves in their bedroom about isolation and loneliness lockdown may have seemed a dream timescape for the new album to be written in. However, the bliss of indoor isolation may have worn off slightly during the lockdown so it is nice to feel that extra taste of instrumental flavour in the acoustic drums. It even offers a slight glimpse that Liam isn’t completely on his own on this record and I think you need this to stop you wanting to pause the album and DM him asking if everything’s okay! But after some of the online experiences Liam has had in the past it may not be the best idea…
"I thought -am I gonna die here?"
“Instagram is a very weird place! You get some weird people but then you also get people being so nice about my music so it’s strange. Like I don't mind people calling me by my name I kind of prefer it but when people start commenting saying ‘OMG liam this is so you’ it can freak me out! Someone sent me videos of them miming to my songs which is so nice but then she was dipping in between crying and laughing manically and I thought - am I gonna die here?”
His somewhat skeptical view of the online world is hardly a shock. The 90s era boops and beeps that run throughout the album and make up many of the electro pop beats create a very digital atmosphere. It feels as though you are stuck inside a chunky PC with a slow loading speed for the duration of the album as Liam constantly battles against the digital confinement both lyrically and instrumentally. Lyrics such as “I know you’re only talking to me because your phones just died” on ‘golden ratio’ and “you've said some things that may be online” from ‘moreno’ express the bitterness and regret that comes hand in hand with online communication. This contrast of the digital sonics and the anti-online lyrics displays Liam’s never ending nightmarish love affair with the online world.
“I hate online and I hate my phone. Sometimes I miss it when i'm not on it but I just hate how much time I spend on it. One day my screen time was 17 hours! 'moreno' is about being bitter online. It's hard to gauge how someone really feels on text. They say that you should write a letter, leave it in a draw for three days and only send it if you still mean it but you can't really do that with a phone. It's so immediate and so passionate - on 'moreno' I was going through a break up and I was like ‘this is all fucked’ and you hurt but then a few days later you look back and cringe. I have a love hate relationship with the internet because its a source of a lot of joy and a lot of opportunities for musicians but then clickbait, cancel culture and twitter are very hard to navigate. If i didn't make music I think I would have thrown my phone in the mersey by now and just went off grid and lived in a cabin. Unfortunately music tethers to you to the online world which is fucked. Like if didn't go on Instagram then how would be know how shit i'm feeling? It's almost a soap opera, its an ego boost thinking people care about the salad I've eaten or the beer I've drank but i'm a victim to it. Its sick if you find someone you like online who likes your music but then you also get those intense random bot accounts that send you nudes constantly so there’s good and bad.”
I think after lockdown we can appreciate this frustration with being restricted to online communication. So Liam can’t have been the only one who was buzzing to get back out on tour. Last month he set out across the country playing his album live for the first time. “I treated them like normal shows, we all gave 100% and we were excited and hoped everyone would treat it like a normal gig and they did! We played a gig in Exeter and it was like going back in time. We were moshing with these freshers and lashing pints. I never went to uni so it was like my freshers week!"
(Photo by Ellen Offredy)
"I was nervous about how bad I would be playing. It’s a scary thing to get back in the rhythm of live again. The first show we did I felt so rusty in terms of what I was saying, I was well in my own head but towards the end of the tour I felt really comfortable just having a chat. I talk so much shite anyway so it comes naturally. We have a song that has a 10 second gap so I just started downing a pint each time, playing in front of students I was just playing to the crowd - it's not even an impressive thing but its the symbol of drinking that all the students are like YES! - i’m the only one mic'd up so I have to try and be engaging as I can to a crowd who might not know who I am so I just scream ‘has anyone got a pint here’ and become this proper Scouse enabler for people to drink!”
“I don’t take it too seriously. It’s more fun when you acknowledge that you're fucking up on the guitar so often but you’re still having a laugh rather than being shrouded in some smoke machine mystery thinking ‘you’re lucky to see me tonight’ - you can smell that attitude on people. I'm like I’m sweating my tits off here but lets have a good night. We did 'Teenage Dirtbag' and did the girl voice and everything - but we left the covers at that as there's a 5 year gap between me and some of these students so i didn't wanna feel proper old, walking off stage in my Zimmer frame”
It’s funny to picture the scenes of hundred of students dancing like mad to songs that are so dry and sad. But that’s the beauty of Pizzagirl's music and of this album in particular. Lines like “life couldn’t get this worse now surely” and “if you’re gonna cry then at least make it snappy” on the albums bleakest storyline ‘Car Freshener Aftershave’ paint a really grim picture of a character that has completely given up hope. Yet there is a bittersweet charm about it. There is a moment when the music drops down leaving the underlying synth chords and fantastically evocative image of ‘the California hotel vomit - it’s like a Jackson pollock’ to shine through. As hopeless as this scene looks there is a certain smirk in the music, like a slight nod telling you that you are right, you know what is coming next. The track then explodes into life with the high energy bedroom dance beat slapping a euphoric band aid over the pain and providing the perfect chance for a live crowd to let loose! Yet it doesn’t take away from the pretty unfiltered sadness of the content. As Liam said himself “the music I make is well sad, its sometimes wrapped up in happy instrumentals but its still sad”. Yet it is this ironic sonic smile in the face of desperate times that really captures what this record is about to me.
I have to take time to comment on these lyrics too. When tracks like ‘Bullet Train’ ‘Car Freshener Aftershave’ & ‘Sugar Ray’ have such infectious beats and bright catchy melodies it can be easy to neglect the quality of writing that has gone into them. There are countless witty, emotive and hugely complex lyrics throughout the record but my favourite has to be the ‘bullet train’ line “you kissed your plastic surgeon with lips I know he’s working on”.
The phonetics are subtle yet so satisfying and in terms of an image it tells us SO much from one small line. It tells us the shallow beauty obsession and promiscuous nature of the women, the almost Frankenstein esc delusion of the surgeon who loves his own creation and the bitterness of the storyteller who somehow knows this intimate detail of someone else’s love life. I know I’m nerding out here but I love it and it was great to see Liam’s eyes light up as I began to share my appreciation for the line. “It was a super jealous song anyway. the idea of getting cheating on by someone who's in love with the creation they've made - like he's made these lips that are so good he cant help it. It could even be vanity on his part. I remember laughing to myself when I sent it off but i'm definitely proud of that line because its so stupid but I kind of wanna kiss a plastic surgeon too”.
Despite his own appreciation and pride for the new album it seems as though this fondess could be fading fast. "I have a horrible knack of hating everything post releasing it, I just move on. It's like looking at an old photo of yourself…you cringe at it but you're still kind of charmed by it."
When do you think you'll get sick of this one? I asked - "About 2 weeks ago" he replied. So I think you get the idea.
However, there are three more nights of his UK tour where you can guarantee fuck ups, singalongs and slightly teary eyed moshpits... and I'll be in the middle of them. Backed by a live band he will be playing The Shipping Forecast on October 13th, London's Lexington on the 14th and finally YES in Manchester on the 15th. Tickets available here.