Do you want to Fight or Do you want to Fuck?

May 3, 2019

By Katherine Turman; photos by Johan Vipper

An Interview with Liza Colby

Liza Colby strides into a tiny ramen joint in New York’s East Village, wearing (with apologies to Dylan) a leopard print pill box hat over her riot of wild blond curls. It’s a blustery winter day, and in her black turtleneck, Colby could be out of the ‘70s–she’s timeless, and pretty much the coolest person in any room, whether she’s onstage or off. These days, you can find her on stage with the Liza Colby Sound–guitarist Jay Shepard, bassist Alec Morton and drummer C. P. Roth. Or at her “day” job as a “chanteuse” (an enviable job title) at Duane Park the swanky burlesque supper club.

The Liza Colby Sound’s first-ever full-length album (after a spate of EPs) hits in spring 2019. Object to Impossible Destination is eight stellar songs that showcase Colby’s powerful pipes and the band’s massive, tight grooves and raging dynamics. From the kick-ass raucous rumble of  “Cool Hand” to the trippy psychedelia of “Zero to Freakout,” Object to Impossible Destination rages.

Colby, born to musician parents, has lived in New York City since she was 19. She’s lithe and leggy onstage; her voice, the powerful, bluesy sound of truth, comes with a slight rasp, not unlike Tina Turner, a frequent comparison. The frontwoman, who as conversant about Humble Pie as she is Aretha Franklin, is bold, bawdy, and whip-smart, at once a girl’s girl and a guy’s girl. As in her singing, every word Colby spews is rife with passion and purpose.

The Liza Colby Sound recently did a tour in Japan; are you and your music known there?

Now we are! Japan loves rock ‘n’ roll and it’s always been a market that I wanted to tap into. The Liza Colby sound has been working intimately with Wendigo Productions; they’re a New York City production company owned by Wendy Scripps, who I think of as a rock & roll fairy godmother of the East Village, they’re the ones who helped us get to the Far East. She gives to the arts, and handpicks bands that she supports. The company is run by Raffaele Mary, who was in Cycle Sluts from Hell, and Rik Rocket, who is in the Toilet Boys. We did a six-show tour of four cities. Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, and three shows in Tokyo. We were lucky to have Reiko Lauper

[of Wendigo], tour manage us, being that she is from Tokyo. The trip was unreal. We got to play with Hibushibire, the Relaxins, the Jungles, The Let’s Go’s and the 5,6,7,8’s [Japanese rock trio who were in Kill Bill] , which was insane; I got to sit in with them. 

I stalked you online, journalistically speaking, of course. Your parents are so cute, and professional musicians! (John Colby composed the theme ESPN’s “Sports Center; mom Beverly Colby sang with the Persuasions.) They post things about how proud they are of you.… 

They’re the best! Love my Mom and Dad! My brother and I lucked out big time on the parent tip for sure. I am proud to be their daughter. My Dad is an amazing composer and music director. My Mom is a killer singer with a show stopper of a voice. I have seen her bring down countless rooms. My parents have had a band together since before I was born. They told me when my Mom was pregnant with me she keep singing and performing till the last minute, and after she had me she would put the baby carrier backstage at their gigs.  I was singing as soon as I could talk. When I started walking, my mom said I’d walk on the bar, fraternizing with the customers and eating maraschino cherries. Then my mom was like, ‘we need to get a babysitter.’ She also tells a story of me being pre-verbal, listening to NPR’s Jazz a la Mode, I’d be dancing in front of my parents on the coffee table; I didn’t want them to clap or sing along to the lyrics, I just wanted them to watch me dance. And my brother Gabe, is a classically trained in trombone and plays in 4 ensembles heavy hitting and prestigious ensembles. Clearly the apple didn’t fall far the tree.

You’ve been described as Tina Turner meets Led Zeppelin, how does that feel?

It’s such a high compliment. Tina is so fucking cool. And Zeppelin is Zeppelin! As the band grew, it was a conscious decision for my performance to draw from Tina Turner and Iggy Pop. There’s a sexuality that’s deeply entwined in both. Tina is so secure in her sexuality onstage, so tough, so confident. Iggy, a reckless madman, is pure infectious chaos. With both of them, I always find myself asking: ‘do you want to fight, do you want to fuck?’ It’s a spectacle! Show are not always a comfortable situation; it’s too hot, it’s too cold, people are bumping into you, and either spending good money or their time. I feel that being onstage is a privilege and you really owe people a performance. We make a point to “mach schau,” whether we’re playing to one person or a fucking sold-out show to thousands, we’re giving everything.

The Liza Colby Sound has had a really steady lineup, which is unheard of for bands these days…

I feel like we got lucky. The guys in this band pushed me, in a way nobody else had. It was never like ‘here’s the singer, here’s the band.’ We are a unit. Depending on the creative situation you’re in, sometimes things don’t work out because you’re not in a space that’s conducive to growing creatively, where you feel you can talk things out and have ideas and people are listening and not shooting it down. When the guys and I play or write together it’s really organic and natural. Everyone is just doing their thing and killing it. Charly is a great drummer. He’s there playing the drums as fucking loud and hard as he can, and Alec lives, I mean he reallllly lives in the pocket, and Jay is the lick slinging lead fucking guitar player. And I do exactly what I always wanted to do sing and pour my little heart out on stage. We all get to be up there swinging our proverbial cunts and cocks. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re a rock & roll band. 

Tell me about the cover of your first EP, High Yellow, with you and the hotdog photo… 

Oh my god, it’s so funny. We were at Southpaw, the old venue in Brooklyn, and Matt Dillon is a good friend of Adam’s [late band member, Adam Roth] and was at the show. He just snapped the shot, and we said ‘we’re going to use this.’ I am as fucking high yellow as you can get! And the hot dog just felt super New York, it’s phallic, and kinky and that was that. Our first EP’s cover was shot by the Drug Store Cowboy himself. 

So how did your sound morph as the band began to gel?

We were leaning more on the soul side in the beginning. Then it started turning more rock and soul and gradually got tougher and louder. That era was around was our Live EP [2013]. I have always said our strong suit is our live show. Kick you in the face rock ‘n’ roll… When I was growing up working with producers and other bands, I was pigeonholed into R&B and soul, but I never found the ‘release’ I wanted. It never dawned on me that there was an option to be like an Iggy Pop and the Stooges, James Brown or Bette Davis onstage. By the time we wrote Draw [2017], we were really peeling the onion, our performance was bigger, and the natural evolution continued into Object to Impossible Destination. We still pay homage to where we came from, but there’s also a new heaviness, maybe a little Queens of the Stone Age in there, some Sabbath moments, and a couple huge pop hooks. 

How would you describe Object to Impossible Destination?

Object to Impossible Destination is a magic trick, literally. You know it…The magician takes your ring and it ends up in the back of the room on another woman’s hands. That’s music. In every sense of the trick. When we show up in Spain, we’ve never been there, yet we’re playing sold-out rooms and people are singing along to songs that haven’t been released yet. How, why? It’s in the ether. It’s the closest thing to God. It’s pretty psychedelic. How does this song get to you? Or to you and your band? Is it alchemy? It’s a long title, but it resonated with me. Music is magic.  

You’re very sexy on stage and you usually don’t wear a lot of clothing when you perform… have any meathead fans done the “show us your tits” thing? Have you had a #metoo moment? 

No, nobody’s asked me to show my tits. I wear what I wear cause I wanna wear it, soooo. It’s my pussy I do what I want. In regards to #metoo, Every woman has had a #metoo moment. I feel for every one of my friends, family, anyone–for myself–when you’re a position where you have to say , ‘fuck this motherfucker for saying or doing this to me.’  I have really solid parents who prepped me to have a plan before you get to where you are going.  From the time I was in my teens I had worked in restaurants, and soon after nightclubs, and then became deeply involved in perusing my own music. There were many nights I was in sub-par situations or singing on some rap guys’ hook in their studio around a lot of guys, everyone is drinking E&J and smoking blunts and I’m the only chick in there. Music is still a boys club. Fuck society is still a boys club. You have to trust your gut, your instincts, be fucking smart, know where the door is, do you know the people who will be there, do have your phone, do you have a plan? That still doesn’t mean that nothing can happen but that’s how I have navigated through these situations. That’s the choice and the conversation that needs to be had now. 

I looked at a list of bands you’ve opened for and on it was the Scorpions. The German ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ band?

[Laughs] Yeah. It was a freak situation. We opened for them at PNC Bank [in NJ] and Jones Beach [in NY]. At the time, we were signed to TAG, The Agency Group, and the opening band imploded, so they asked if we’d be interested in doing two nights with them. It was really wild; I was actually at PNC Bank a month previous singing backup for Enrique Iglesias, so I knew the stage. During sound check, I walked in front of the monitors and our manager comes running out, ‘you can’t do that!’ Their tour manager said if you cross that line, they’re going to pull the plug. I was so bummed. Whatever. We do the gig, and it went great, awesome. It was really fucking full; we played to a lot of people. We’re in the van on the way home, and the band said to me, ‘we’re so proud of you, they didn’t even boo.’ I’m like, ‘WHAT the fuck are you talking about?!’ They’re like ‘everybody’s been booed. Like Zeppelin, when so-and-so opened for so-and-so….’ I was like, ‘don’t get that in my head!’ Fuck. It hasn’t happened yet, knock on wood. The next day at Jones Beach, dream venue, we show up, and we’re taking pictures, getting ready to unload our teeny tiny van and a crew of way too many people came to help us. I’m like, ‘this is crazy.’ Then one of the guys from the crew said, ‘we’ve been hearing really great stuff about you since yesterday.’ The Scorpions band members were super fucking cool. Then right before I went onstage for the second night, my manager got word from the Scorpions camp that I had free rein of the stage for the show. It was a mega pat on the back.

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