Flexing both indie-folk subtlety and alt-rock grandeur, Lizzy McAlpine’s second record ‘five seconds flat’ offers a graphic insight into recent heartbreak.
Words: Finlay Holden. Photos: Caity Krone.
Lizzy McAlpine has capitalised on modern routes to listeners’ ears from the get-go – going through the Soundcloud demos stage, uploading YouTube content, and dropping TikTok hits. However, she secretly hopes that such promotional prosperity doesn’t taint a perception of the subdued long-form experiences that she has developed something of a knack for too.
“A lot of people see a song blow up, and then that’s all that they care about from that artist,” Lizzy resigns. “People think that because artists have this big ‘claim to fame’ that must have been their big starting moment. Most of the time, these artists have worked so hard to get to where they are and that viral video is just one moment in their journey.”
Fortunately, the Philadelphia native is not one to let past moments define her, be it unreleased triumphs or a first attempt at a full-length that she now views as a snapshot of a more naïve and innocent version of herself. “With this new record, I wanted to stay as far away from the first album as possible,” she comments. “That felt really easy because I am not the same person I was when I put that first album out.” With flurrying successes exposing Lizzy to a new world of opportunity and the growth points to match it, one distinct step forward carries the most intention: “These songs are way more mature than I’ve been capable of previously.”
“[Maturing] is an unconscious thing that happens as you go through life and experience more of what is on offer,” she considers. “The months of 2022 so far have been insane for me growth-wise; I’ve discovered so much about myself, how I relate to other people and work. There are seasons of growth; sometimes you feel stagnant, and sometimes things just keep coming out of nowhere and making you question yourself.” This album is certainly about the latter, although not much of that road was trodden with ease.
Speaking in the middle of her first-ever tour, she’s found an inspiring musical mentor in dodie – from listening to her songs online to singing them together while baking cake, Lizzy has found a friend in a touring party that she continues to look up to as delicate live renditions unfold every evening. Long car rides and lonely hotels mean that the expedition isn’t all blissful, though. “It’s all a pretty intense learning experience, which I knew coming into it, but it’s hard. It’s hard to avoid burnout, and it can be isolating in some ways, so easing my anxiety is the biggest thing.”
Despite ongoing COVID-safe regulations, seeing faces that aren’t transmitted through a screen remains an encouraging pleasure. On ‘chemtrails’, Lizzy sings: “Sometimes when I shout it feels like no one hears it” – it’s clear that now this is irrefutably not the case. “I released my first album during a pandemic, so I’ve not been able to put faces to names. It’s crazy to see that there really are people behind the numbers.”
“Feelings are so weird. No one really knows what they’re doing”Lizzy McAlpine
An intrinsic element of ‘five seconds flat’ is deep heartbreak, a topic much explored but never exhausted. “That will never change; it’s a shared feeling amongst everyone,” she declares. The break-up in question did not leave Lizzy abandoned, as she has tapped into an exciting roster of friends to accompany her cutting words – Jacob Collier, Ben Kessler and Laura Elliot, just to begin with. Elsewhere, a quick DM to none other than FINNEAS resulted in a bolstered spark of vulnerability on ‘hate to be lame’, a collaboration Lizzy treasures. “I feel like he’s one of the few musicians in his position who really wants to help up and coming artists; he often supports people in a position like mine. It was a really cool thing to experience.”
An overarching vision earnestly embeds listeners within Lizzy’s intimately distressing experience, with fourteen narrative tracks reinterpreted in an accompanying short film. “I love a concept album,” she grins. “The film and album are both tied into each other. Every album that I write is a journey through a specific period of my life. I put the songs in order so that you can listen through that and see what I went through, how it happens, and the film is just a visual extension of that.”
Precise details manifest a personal pain, leaving the responsible parties explicitly catalogued. “It’s really difficult for me to write about something that’s not happened to me, which is why most if not all of my songs are very specific to my experiences,” Lizzy shares. “I like using specific details – in a weird way, I feel like it makes my story even more relatable. It feels transparent and vulnerable to write without shrouding any details. I don’t think that will ever change.”
‘nobody likes a secret’ is one example of this, recounting a confrontation with insecurity-fuelled toxic masculinity that impacted a past romance in which a partner disguised his loving connection by bragging to others about the exaggerated sexual extent of their relationship. Unsurprisingly, penning this ordeal was not a simple choice, particularly when laid bare against a stripped acoustic instrumental. “For me, that song was really hard to write. I wrote it a year after the break-up, very much as a reflection,” Lizzy explains. “I’ve never really been nervous to release a song, but for this one, I almost am; I know he’s going to hear it and know that it’s about him because all the lyrics are extremely real. I’m a little scared, but I’m speaking my truth.”
Moody album opener ‘doomsday’ is credited with opening a new era for her sound, thematically detailing the feeling of guilelessly relinquishing control, albeit with a heavy metaphor of death and ‘pulling the plug’ that wasn’t too far a reach from Lizzy’s emotional state at the time (“yes, it came easily – is that bad?!”). In an odd turn, the initial kick of inspiration for this came from a TikTok video theorising reincarnation into specific zodiac signs. “This girl said I don’t want to die in June because I do not want to be a Gemini in my next life,” she laughs. “That concept inspired the first two lines of the song. I connected that to my own heartbreak – your first love hits different. I knew that it was going to end, and I was just waiting for him to do it because I was far too in love to do it myself.”
If you hadn’t guessed already, Lizzy isn’t on too much of a romantic hot streak and admits to partaking in a “silly little daily scroll through the dating apps” and, even if ‘orange show speedway’ describes dating as “racing headfirst towards something that’ll kill you in five seconds flat” – yes, now the title makes sense – she still endorses an attitude of no risk, no reward.
“The whole theme of this album and the film is that human relationships are messy and complicated and confusing. Feelings are so weird. No one really knows what they’re doing. Although love and relationships are so hurtful and hard, we still search for them because they can also be so amazing and beautiful if you give them a chance,” she summarised. “Even though things can be tough, I’m going to put myself through them anyway. Even though it could kill me in five seconds flat, I still want to chase that hope.” ■
Taken from the May 2022 edition of Dork, out now. Lizzy McAlpine’s album ‘five seconds flat’ is out now.