In between the loud blender pulses of her morning smoothie routine, Liv.e tries to find the right words to describe the emptiness of the past few months. She’s currently stuck in her Los Angeles home, where she’s not pushing herself to record new music and is instead taking up new health-conscious recipes from the producer of her new album, Couldn’t Wait to Tell You….
“Mejiwahn told me instead of using ice, use frozen grapes. So frozen grapes, blueberries, some raspberries, some banana, some oatmilk, pineapple, turmeric, ginger and a little THC tincture. Hopefully I don’t cry,” Liv.e laughs but she’s fully serious and completely in the moment. “Life is just becoming very taxing in very obvious ways. Sh*t is changing around me and around the world really fast right now. It’s not one of those little (shifts) where you can be like, ‘Alright, I can deal with this,’” she says.
That sentiment of exhaustion is echoed on her “I Been Livin” single. In the video, Liv.e drives a vintage 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle on an abandoned, winding road in a 10-gallon hat and fur coat. She sticks her head out the window and soaks up the sun. “I’m as tired as you see/ I’ve been walking down a long road and/ I’ve been living as long as my soul’s been in existence,” Liv.e sings above warped piano keys.
Musicians the world over are feeling the anxiety of releasing new material to stay in the public consciousness, and to earn back some lost revenue while touring is now nonexistent for the foreseeable future. But Liv.e, born Olivia Williams, is learning to accept that prolonged stuckness. “Right now I don’t really feel like anything. I don’t have any lyrics in my head or any songs in my heart. I feel very empty,” Liv.e pauses to think. “Which is cool because it makes me realize that I have a lot of room to do things, you know?”
Aside from a soulful “Inside With Liv.e” quarantine performance back in March in which she premiered a few new tracks, Liv.e has kept things low-key. “It’s like, if I was not in quarantine would it really be any different? I feel like I would just feel the same. Life never ceases to amaze me. I’ve kinda been anti the world. Me and my boo have been going to the beach, just pulling up and allowing that to be the healing force that it is. It forces me to be like, ‘Yeah, there’s no point in just sitting here wildin.’”
The Dallas-raised, Los Angeles-based 22-year-old singer, songwriter and producer has the right to relax too, having just released her 20-song, 48-minute album Couldn’t Wait to Tell You…, an emotional, singular sonic experience that melds jazz, neo-soul, R&B and hip-hop. The LP has these mildly psychedelic qualities like when a hallucinogenic is in its early stages and you can see the ever-slightest ripple in reality from your peripherals. Each track serves as a vignette of her poetic musings on the different phases of love. It’s loosely narrative, but not a complete story. Much like in her instrumentals, there’s a calculated lack of structure. Different points of view weave their way through the project as if they’re a part of their own formless diary entry and then, just like that, Liv.e moves onto the next one. The tracks hover somewhere just above your subconscious. Some cut abruptly, stanzas shorter than you want them to, while others loop her vocals repeating a single, echoing phrase as if to hypnotize, luring you closer into her world even if there is no particular destination.
“I started writing these short stories… I didn’t even know what that was at that point. I was just elaborating my little mind-flow and nobody would know about it.”
The song titles read like a task-list of ideas and memories that Liv.e needs to get off of her chest. Couldn’t Wait to Tell You… “What’s the Real”; or Couldn’t Wait to Tell You… “Bout These Pipedreams”; or Couldn’t Wait to Tell You… “Lessons From My Mistakes… But I Lost Your Number.” For just under 90 seconds, Liv.e sings about learning from those faults on “It’ll Be Okay (hymnal5)” over a landline’s busy signal dial tone. The “About Love at 21” instrumental features a loop reminiscent of a deep cut in J Dilla’s anthology, the phrase “loving you” repeating bar after bar while she recalls how easy the early stages of love can be.
For an album so full of life, the artist who created it came out on the other side utterly spent. “It’s not negative. Like, I gave my all to that. Even though I did it a long time ago, it was like I had to feed into this… thing,” Liv.e explains. “But not only am I feeding my time, I’m feeding people my energy. I want to celebrate but there’s just so much other sh*t happening. It feels so empty, bro.”
Liv.e operates under the law of attraction. “People have to be excited, because I’m a nice ass person. A lot of these people just find their way into my life, too.” She shares an alma mater with Erykah Badu in Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and even though the two artists attended decades apart, they share a kindred spirit. Erykah recently hosted Liv.e’s album release party via her new livestream platform, but the two consider each other more friends than collaborators. “I don’t talk to her about music at all, ever. She’s just kinda like a family friend.”
The road to get to Couldn’t Wait to Tell You… was a winding one. Liv.e’s artistic growth, while she’s only 22, is a testament to her songwriting and curation abilities that are on a learning curve well past her age. She shrugged off being a musician early on, partly because she grew up in a musical family — her father played keys in gospel groups, her mother sang in the church choir and her brother had a penchant for drums. Liv.e felt that she couldn’t close that elusive gap of where she wanted to be as an artist either.
“First me and my cousin were making songs and sh*t, it was mad funny. But then I kinda realized how bad they were and I was really discouraged by it,” she said. “I was like, ‘Damn, I can’t really get to the level that I wanna be at right now.’ That was me just being on some f*cked up Saturn sh*t. But then I started writing these short stories, and it’s funny because I didn’t even know what that was at that point. I was just elaborating my little mind-flow and nobody would know about it. I’d write on my little computer, sometimes I’d paint.”
“I literally use my voice as an instrument. I don’t want to give that sauce away though, you know what I’m saying?”
Liv.e’s early experimentation can still be found on SoundCloud, DJ mixes that tap into golden-era Stones Throw Records offerings, nods to Knxwledge and Mndsgn, chopped and screwed remixes of Q-Tip and other digital crate digging with added distortions and static. “SoundCloud is how I met Pink Siifu and it just kinda manifested sh*t,” Liv.e said. “Listening to sh*t with friends in high school and realizing, ‘Yo, these people are crazy. I want to link with them… [Knxwledge, Mejiwahn] reminded me that I don’t have to make music that’s pristine, pop-like. The sounds that they used, for real, they knew where my vibration was at during that time.”
Liv.e relocated north to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017 but ultimately dropped out. “It took me more than a few years, but I was just hanging out with musicians because that’s just my lifestyle. I feel like I didn’t get to making my own sh*t until I got to college. It took all that time just for me to be like, ‘Alright, I cannot deny myself anymore.’ But then I was so inspired by so many things. But I wasn’t feelin’ like nobody was tryna f*ck with me on their tracks yet.”
She released her first EP, FRANK, in 2017 through her hometown’s Dolfin Records. It’s minimal and sample driven, but not to be dismissed as lo-fi. “That’s ‘cause nobody had hard beats like that,” Liv.e said of any early mislabels to the lo-fi tag. “Dilla and everybody like that — they was really flippin’ songs and that’s how I was viewing my sh*t. Like I can make this into a structured song but what would this sound like if I flipped this sh*t? I feel like when people say ‘lo-fi music’ that sh*t’s just annoying. Once people find a word, they just stop thinking and they lose what it actually means to be descriptive.”
She followed up with the 10.4 ROG-produced ::hoopdreams:: in 2018 and moved to St. Louis, Missouri to live with her mother that same year after her two semesters in art school came to a close. Liv.e compared the time spent in St. Louis to the current quarantine, a cyclical existence of working a dead-end job for a not-to-be-named corporate fashion retailer and then going home to write.
“It’s similar because I was practically quarantining myself just to do this album. The only time I would have was when I was off work. If you workin’ like a regular retail job, that’s it — your whole day is gone.” She kept in touch with her main collaborators though, and producers Mejiwahn and Daoud Anthony (who produced SABA’s CARE FOR ME and composed music for the podcast for the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project) sent her ideas that would eventually become the foundation of Couldn’t Wait to Tell You….
“It was so easy,” Liv.e proclaimed. “I had a whole pack of songs, hella songs from Mejiwahn that were so hard. And I was like, all I have to keep me sane right now is to run all these songs up. I wondered how many songs I could make. But it wasn’t like I would sit down with every song and write. It was more of, ‘I f*ck with this song,’ but then when I’d get tired of that I’d put on another track. I would freestyle over one song then freestyle over that song.”
Instead of dealing with the pop-centric spectrum of love and infatuation at its peak, the songs often touch upon the expectations before or the fall out that comes after. Liv.e floats effortlessly between singing, spoken word and rapping. “By a few weeks in, maybe even days in, low-key, I probably had like 15 songs. But the writing process — I really be freestyling. I don’t want to tell people that, but that’s what I really do. I hear the beat and then I find out how to be an instrument within the beat. I literally use my voice as an instrument. I don’t want to give that sauce away though, you know what I’m saying?”
Liv.e was quick to get a co-sign from Earl Sweatshirt and at the beginning of 2019 she joined Earl on his “FIRE IT UP!” tour behind the critically-acclaimed Some Rap Songs alongside MIKE, BbyMutha, Black Noi$e and more. Her time there would result in a number of collaborations, from Earl’s Feet of Clay track “MTOMB” to Black Noi$e’s recently released “The Band,” recorded in under 10 minutes during a soundcheck in Seattle. The song offers insight into the fluidity of her creative process. “We finally found this little greenroom area that was kinda quiet but you could still hear the other side of the wall which was hella loud playing all this trap sh*t,” Liv.e said. “Sh*t started overpowering us. I was already listening to the loop before so when we got to it, it was hella quick. ‘What do I wanna say?’ Then I mumbled some sh*t (laughs). I love that song though, it’s a great song.”
Liv.e’s aesthetics imbue nostalgia for eras past. “SirLadyMakemFall” infuses ‘90s R&B with moments that feel etched directly out of Texas’ chopped and screwed movement. The song matches her gold fronts while out of focus camera angles mirror those extinct shopping mall video karaoke booths. “I feel like I treat art and music the same. I have to interchange them or I’m gonna be really bored, really fast,” she revealed.
“Life is just becoming very taxing in very obvious ways. Sh*t is changing around me and around the world really fast right now.”
The Livingston Matthews (frequently known as Pink Siifu)-directed video for “LazyEaterBetsOnHerLikeness” jumps off the screen with warm, oversaturated colors. Liv.e takes center stage while vintage VHS editing techniques harken back to the days of the analogue. The title credits wrap up as an informal infomercial with a message: “And on that day I ante’d up in my head realm; a wager with myself that I would have you. I made a bet with the universe and all things began to align because I trusted my hand.”
It’s been almost two years since Liv.e wrapped up the recording of Couldn’t Wait to Tell You… and just over five months since the coronavirus quarantines created this surreal moment of isolation. In a press release announcing the project she described the project as “a completion of a web, a web that signifies what I call a closing chapter of my life.”
So when asked about what she wants to include in her next chapter, Liv.e takes a breather, another sip of her Mejiwahn-approved smoothie and then comes up with her reply. “I want to fill my life up with sureness, confidence, with abundance, with happiness — controlled happiness where I’m only worrying about sh*t I can control — and a lack of words, for real. That is really the only space I can go to and just have law and order in my life.”