Liv.e prides herself on being unpredictable. When the Texas-born artist announced she would be live streaming the release party for her debut album Couldn’t Wait To Tell You... through Erykah Badu’s website last week, it was a resounding cosign from a legend. “I’ve known Liv as family since forever,” Erykah Badu said. “She was this young shy, creative girl who found her way into my heart. We graduated from the same arts high school years apart. Liv is of the same tribe. I can’t wait to see her do her thang.”
After a quick DJ set on the livestream, Liv.e left her podium, grabbed a ladder, and placed it in front of a blank white wall as songs from the new album wafted in the background. She then began painting figures on the wall. Viewers commented that her work looked like an interpretation of Handsome Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants. She laughingly shrugged them off.
“I don’t necessarily want to be understood,” Liv.e told me over the phone a few days prior. “It makes you want to learn more.” From her recording process to her stage show, Liv.e favors a spontaneous creative approach. A moment near the end of “Lessons I Learned From My Mistakes...but I Lost Your Number,” a standout song from Couldn’t Wait, exemplifies this: The song fades out after a brief hook only for Liv.e to reappear and abruptly reorient the listener: “I know, I know / You thought the song was over / But that was incorrect / Because life keeps going on / And energy never dies, does it?”
Liv.e’s process is one Detroit producer Black Noi$e can attest to. The two met while on tour with Earl Sweatshirt in 2019 and clicked quickly, even recording “The Band,” the first single for Noi$e’s upcoming album Oblivion, while on the road. “I think we were in Seattle in the green room right before she had to do soundcheck,” he tells me over the phone. “We did that shit in like 10 minutes. It was one of them moments where everything happened the way it happened. I just brought an MPC out and she had a line in her head and she laid it down.”
Couldn’t Wait glides on Liv.e’s stream-of-consciousness. The music—produced by Mejiwahn, Daoud Anthony, and Liv.e herself, among others—channels rap, R&B, funk, soul, jazz, gospel, and spoken word into an aroma all her own. Songs flow and crash into each other suddenly, drawing attention and sustaining the album’s serrated groove.
All of this sounds more chaotic on paper than it actually is. Liv.e’s sound is simply hard to pin down, and that’s just how she likes it.
When did you know you wanted to make music?
I think I wanted to do it when I was 8 or 9 or some shit like that. But then I got into this weird bag of not wanting to be like my brother because he plays drums or my father because he plays keys. I didn’t think I wanted to live that type of lifestyle for real for real, so I avoided it. When I went to college, I started doing it and using it as an outlet because I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to be in this. I feel like it helped me realize that I can’t fully escape it.
Especially since you come from a musical family. I didn’t realize that.
Yeah, I tried to be different. I tried to be an artist but being an artist is so not one thing. You can be, but it’s really boring. Hobby type shit. I went to both high school and college for visual arts. I was in the architecture department at SEIC in Chicago. I was kinda dabbling in music, though. I was in an R&B ensemble and shit.
FRANK, your first project on Bandcamp, is marked as dropping on August 4, 1975. What kinship do you feel to that particular era of music?
That whole album was built off the first song. Me and Jon Bap made the first song and then I was like ‘Yo, what if we make a whole project like this?’ And then we just made a whole project. [Laughs] I was like ‘Why not put it in that year?’ Honestly, I don’t know why I picked that year. It’s no witty reason. I just be doin’ shit, bro. I’m not that fuckin’ serious. [Laughs]
Your debut album is called Couldn’t Wait To Tell You. What, if anything, are you excited to tell the people?
Basically, you’re supposed to plug in all the songs into the sentence: “Couldn’t Wait To Tell You...Bout These Pipedreams,” etc etc. The title of the album is the first half of all the song titles.
Couldn’t Wait To Tell You opens with an intro setting up a bunch of love stories. What inspired you to make your “debut” album an exploration of love in all its forms?
Yea, I feel that. I feel like it’s just me figuring out how to love myself. How my outlook on love and how I view it is changing all the time. This project is me just trying to be open and learning about myself. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s solely focused on that, though.
Going into this project, what was the core idea you wanted to get across?
I don’t think I had nothing in mind. I just be talking for real for real. I’ll hear a beat and then think to myself, "Okay, this is what I want to say." I haven’t really had the approach to writing music and having a specific thing I want to talk about in a song. I’m still trying to learn and exercise that part of my writing. I just got words on my mind but after a while, it starts to make sense.
I can see that. That’s part of what makes your music so loose and spontaneous.
I don’t really like structure. I do like it but I also love being able to step outside of that.
You make your own structure.
Your music incorporates elements of rap, R&B, jazz, soul, and spoken word but exists in the “genreless” space becoming more popular in modern music. How would you describe your sound?
That’s kind of an impossible question to answer. If I were able to answer that question with a sure answer, it wouldn’t make me feel very accomplished.
I don’t necessarily want to be understood. Being different or something you can’t put your finger on makes me feel fresh, for sure. It makes you want to learn more.
Interesting. Why’s that?
I don’t necessarily want to be understood, which is also funny because I’m a big-time mumbler. Being different or something you can’t put your finger on makes me feel fresh, for sure. It makes you want to learn more.
Many of the songs on Couldn’t Wait To Tell You end abruptly and smash cut into the next. Why did you choose to edit the songs this way?
That’s just to keep you awake. I love albums that have good ass transitions and I’m a very abrupt nigga. When I was making the album and finished it, it definitely kept me awake. I feel like that was the way I needed to tell the story. The album’s also so long. Nobody is dropping a damn 50-minute album except for Chris Brown. [Laughs] Gotta keep people awake. To get people to listen to shit the whole way through.
What’s the biggest difference between the Liv.e of 2016 and the Liv.e of 2020?
More confidence in what I’m doing. With more time, I’m getting more trust in myself.
Listen to Couldn't Wait To Tell You... here.