On “Bad Vacation,” Liza Anne Finds Community in Vulnerability

Artist Liza Anne (Photo credit: Liza Anne)

Up until this point, Liza Anne—for all intents and purposes—has been a “sad girl.” From her folky, sprawling ballad “1,000 Years” to her encapsulation of anxiety on the menacing dream-pop hit “Panic Attack,” she embodies the mythical internet-bred symbol of a young woman overflowing with nebulous emotions. However, when she accepts my call on a Monday evening from her hometown of St. Simons Island, Georgia, I can feel her smiling and laughing through the phone as we discuss her new album Bad Vacation, which arrives on July 24.

“I think that as a person, and as an artist, there are just a lot of rooms to my personality,” Anne says about her sad girl persona. She still doesn’t deny the title, adding that her social media is full of dark colors. “My secret place[s] where I go and write—which [have] been the records people have heard—have been these deep, welled-up pits of feeling that I haven’t really figured out how to articulate.” Bad Vacation was essentially her opportunity to explore another room, one where the curtains aren’t drawn and sunlight pours onto the white walls.

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During her tour for Fine But Dying, her third studio album released in 2018, Anne had several important revelations about the relationship she was in at the time. Suffering from emotional abuse, but not yet realizing a way to leave, she stayed the night at a friend’s place after a show, wrote the song “Devotion,” and realized: “Holy fuck, this is my door out.” And she walked through it. The song is empowered and insightful, something of a love letter to herself as she sings ecstatically: “And who I was before I was in love/ I’ll do anything for her now, she’s my longest love!” After finding this self-love, Anne dived deep into it.

She took steps to recollect herself, starting with a therapy intensive in November 2019, which she describes as “transformative.” Since then, she’s launched livestreams on her Instagram called #EmotionalHealth2020 in which she interviews friends and other artists—including Chase Lawrence of COIN and singer-songwriter Samia—though it’s less of an interview and more of a productive, vulnerable conversation. The point is for the viewers and the participants to learn about the realities of emotional health. In one livestream with her friend, country-pop singer Jillian Jacqueline, Anne asks Jacqueline how she calms herself down when she feels a wave of panic coming on. “She basically said: ‘I look at a childhood picture of myself, and then I go outside, and I put my hand on my heart, and I say, “You’re going to be okay Jillian.”’ She basically talks to her child self.” Anne, who is currently going through an Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) program, said that feeling resonated with her.

Liza Anne - Bummer Days (Official Audio)

The beachy atmosphere on Bad Vacation is a product of Anne attending these ACA meetings. “I grew up in a beach town,” she announces with pride, because most listeners of her music probably wouldn’t expect that due to the aforementioned sad girl persona. “I just needed to go back to where I was tiny and feel strong.” And her strength shines on this record. She yells, she laughs, she jokes, and she’s constantly arriving at casual epiphanies. The buoyant track “Bummer Days” finds Anne in a revelatory stream-of-consciousness, and though it’s easy for her to fall into a depressive state and give up, she persists as she sings: “I wanna feel like I can get out of my own way/ I’ll stop crying at my party/ I’m tired of feeling sorry.”

Of the album title, Anne explains, “Nothing in the world feels like a worse vacation than the suspense in between knowing you need to leave someone, losing yourself in the process, the clumsiness of trying to find who the fuck you are after you’ve given yourself to somebody else, and then the puzzle piecing back together of who the fuck am I now.” And a lot of Bad Vacation captures Anne yearning to be by herself to put those puzzle pieces together. “I think it’s time/ We take a little time alone,” she sings on the playful “This Chaos, That Feeling,” which is about “knowing someone’s lying to you and just calling it out.” Anne clarifies: “Because I was being lied to for years and kept turning on myself rather than turning on the person and leaving.” Through writing, she revisited this situation and rewrote the way it played out, allowing  herself to explore now what she should have done then.

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Anne emphasizes her gratitude for all of the turmoil she’s experienced, because it brought her to where she is now. “I wish there was a way for us all to have internalized that at, like, 10 years old. Like, Hey, you can walk away from something really sad [and become stronger]. But I am just learning that too. I will probably keep learning that for the rest of my life,” she says with a self-accusatory laugh. Bad Vacation is not Anne postdepression or postanxiety; she’s very much—to this day—enduring emotional trip after trip. “Still, when I’m on one, I am on one,” Anne explains, “and when I’m sad, I’m like fucked up, and when I’m happy, I’m like the most annoying person in the room.” However, there’s a lens of clarity that informs each song. “Desire” recounts her experience getting sober, which, at the time of our conversation, she’s been for 250 days. Her newfound wisdom manifests as an act of self-control.“There’s a part of me that knows where the party leads/ Maybe I should just go home,” she sings.

The sweetest, most hopeful moment on the 12-track record is the slow, ambient finale “Too Soon.” Anne croons over and over: “I want to lose my mind a little/ I want to love you.” Written about her new partner Josh Gilligan (who is also her bassist), the song dwells in a blushing, love-struck state—it’s a refreshing break from all of the upbeat anthems and sonic exuberance that make up the rest of the album. It’s a special track to Anne, and it ends with staticky repetition, which she did intentionally, “as if the record got broken on that, because that’s kind of how my emotions feel,” she says. “I feel like everything is just paused and repeated in this expansive yet really calming state of learning to love and to be loved. And I want to be caught in that loop for a little bit before I say something new. It feels good.”

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by Danielle Chelosky
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Danielle Chelosky is a New York-based writer who grew up on Long Island, goes to school in Westchester, and lingers in Brooklyn. She’s interned at Paste Magazine, Kerrang!, and Consequence of Sound, and her work has been featured in The FADER, MTV News, Grammy, and more.