It’s amazing how small the music community can be, and how often we can all be connected by one person. That’s how I met sisters Liv & Anita of the Lifers. In the classic friend of a friend situation, we stared showing up at the same shows, realizing we knew the same people. Eventually Liv (and her boyfriend/bandmate Braden) became roommates with 2 of my best friends. Liv came home during the tail end of my photo shoot with our first Inspirational Songstress Missy Bauman, I knew then that I had to have her band The Lifers in this project.
The first time I heard their music I was taken away. Their vocals flowed together in a way that made my soul soft. With the addition of the band behind them, their sound is pushed to a new level. Performing as a duo or a band, it doesn’t matter because the core intention and idea is the same. Their words are what really ground their music and what drew me in the most. With a LP and EP under their belt, and a new album on the way, these Guelph natives are planned to take over the world. During this interview I got to listen to two strong women with more than just a passion for music, but a calling. No matter where life has taken them they always come back to music and stick by their beliefs.
So on a beautiful fall day in October at Anita’s living room in Toronto, I sat and asked them these questions…
Inspirational Songstress: How would you describe your music?
Liv: The simplest way that we describe it to people is, ‘art folk-rock.’
Anita: Sometimes I get really caught off guard because I haven’t formulated a nice elevator pitch for what we sound like. Part of the reason why is because it varies so much depending on if we’re just performing as a duo, or if we’re performing as the whole band.
Liv: The essence though is our voices together, that’s what’s constant no matter what we’re playing. I think that’s what people enjoy about our music regardless of whether it’s as a band or as a duo.
Anita: The other good descriptor of our music is ‘dynamic.’ Someone today was sharing a post of ours and kind of coined us “the most dynamic band in Ontario”. There’s a big range of emotion, and a big range of sound both in volume and in terms of complexity of the arrangements.
IS: How would you define confidence & what does it mean to you?
Liv: Confidence is feeling like being myself is the right way to be.
Anita: Going off of that, I think confidence is also that feeling of doing something and knowing that you’re doing the right thing.
Liv: Confidence isn’t about being correct or incorrect, it’s about standing by your belief in what you’re doing.
Anita: When what you’re doing is true to who you are, and you’re happy about that, then I think that’s good.
IS: Do you feel more confident on stage or off?
Liv: Most of the time I feel more confident on stage. It’s funny because I used to have stage fright, and on occasion it comes back to me if there’s a certain person in the audience that I really look up to. Often if it’s someone that I really look up to, I want to show them that I care about what I’m doing as much as I hope that they do. On stage, I can be myself and I can share and experience with people in the most authentic way as it can be for me.
Anita: The same goes for me. When I’m performing I am emoting in the truest way, but it still has this mask of a song or a performance. I’m more free to express the things that I’m feeling or the things that I’ve felt before. I can express that without any barriers, I can just yell or cringe my body and move in a way that totally relates to what I’m trying to say. That’s the most powerful way for me to communicate.
Liv: Another layer of that for me is in a social situation - I consider performing a social situation because there are many people there - being on stage is comfortable for me. In a non social situation I’m just as comfortable just being around Anita or being around the other people in the band. I’m just as comfortable being around that, as being with them on stage.
Anita: I am comfortable on stage, but there’s a difference between that kind of comfort and being in my bedroom, or being in this apartment…
Liv: In pajamas!
Anita: Sitting on my couch drinking tea, it’s a different kind of thing. But somehow they both warm my heart in such a way, and they need to both exist in my life. If I didn’t have the one I would just drink a lot more tea - haha.
IS: What is your first memory of feeling musically confident?
Liv: Something that just popped into my brain, was when Anita and I performed with our old high school band at the Guelph Multicultural Festival. We performed a song that we both felt pretty empowered to play and it was, I think, the first time we played it live. By the end of the song when it got to this euphoric part, I think it was the first time that I fully lost myself on stage and realized ‘Oh that’s why I’m wanting to perform. That’s why this is important to me.’ Is that the same moment for you?
Anita: That’s defiantly one of them. After performing that tune, both of us were kind of triggered to think ‘I have to make that moment happen all the time and I have to write things that make that moment happen.’ When you have that moment of getting lost in what you’re doing and not having to think about what you’re doing, it’s just happening in you as a bodily instinct. I’m not sure if it’s confidence, or just purity. I’ve had a lot of moments when I’m performing and I stop thinking for a little while, then I click back in like ‘Oh we’re here in the song now, I was just in another place.’
IS: Why did you pick this location? What about it is special to you?
Anita: I think right now, how our musical endeavours have been taking us, a lot of the time that we spend as a band is here.
Liv: A lot of important conversations have been had on this couch, with the band and just you and I.
Anita: Being in Toronto it can be a little chaotic, but this place is the one place where it doesn’t matter where we are geographically. We’re just in this little house.
Liv: I think for you, too, it’s a place that you can have control. Even when you were saying before that you like to have a clean house with the dishes done, you have the power to do that in your own space. That makes you feel comfortable, and that makes me feel comfortable.
Anita: Absolutely. To have my things here and have them stay here… this is actually the first apartment that I’ve had in Toronto that I’ve lived in for more than a year. This is my second year living here. The idea sparked for our tune ‘Front Door’ last fall when I was walking down my street here. I was admiring the autumn colours, smells and the feeling of this neighbourhood in the fall. I just started thinking ‘I wonder if I’m going to see and experience this again, or if this is the only time I’m going to be living in this spot with this season happening around me.’ Here I am now, I’m still here.
Liv: You feel more grounded.
Anita: Yes, it is very grounding to have things in their places. I find a lot of comfort in objects that I’ve carried with me through the different places that I’ve lived in. That is the only constant thing that I have access to despite moving around. Different things have come to me at different times. That kitchen table is from when we were growing up, when we were babies our parents had that table and now it’s here. The desk is from when I was a kid, I did my homework on that since I was 9.
Liv: The sewing machine, the chair…
Anita: Yes, the chair was at our Nonna’s house. Then other things like these things (artworks) I made a couple years ago. These curtains, I had with me when I first moved to Toronto. Things that hold memories and stories are very comforting for me. It’s nice that I have some things in here that are from a time when we lived together as well. At home growing up, but also when Liv and I lived together for a year in Toronto. You can probably speak to it more, Liv, but that could be a thing that helps you connect to the space even thought it’s not where you’re living right now.
Liv: Ya for sure. For me the thing that makes me comfortable being here is the fact that you’re comfortable with me being here. There have been times when you haven’t been comfortable with me being in your space. I feel like when that’s broken down, then it’s just perfect. I think the other place that I would have chosen, which just didn’t make sense geographically, was if we could do this interview at our family’s cottage. When I’m there, it’s definitely the most comfortable I am, or I ever will be.
IS: What’s your biggest battle in keeping the confidence and the battle to keep it growing?
Liv: On a non musical level, in terms of my body confidence, I try to push my body confidence in different ways. I think the first thing I did was I stopped shaving my arm pits, ‘cause I was like ‘enough of this!’ I think you (Anita) started to let yours go first then I was like ‘enough of this I’m going to let this grow out.’ At first I was mentally preparing myself, like I know I’m going to be pretty uncomfortable about people seeing this at first. Through the multiple times of having that panicky moment to myself, I wouldn’t lift my arms up or whatever. Now I don’t even care anymore, ‘cause it’s just the way my body is and I’m ok with that. Then I stopped shaving my legs. That kinda thing pushes my confidence I feel, cause it forcing me to get over something I should be ok with in the first place. Something that stops me from achieving more confidence, is: a lot of the times it’s the expectations that are upon women, and have been upon women, for a long time. That’s the main thing for me. Also some times because I’m under 25 and a professional in the industry, I feel that my age plays a roll in how people interact with me and I want to show them that’s not a factor. So sometimes if I’m talking to someone who seems like they care about something like that, I feel less confident. That’s a barrier right now. Hearing both positive and constructive feedback from people that I respect musically, really makes a difference with my confidence. I think it makes more of an impact when they say something constructive. It makes me feel like they were really listening and they care enough to say “You were doing something great, but it can be better.” And I really respect the fact that someone can believe in someone enough to give them that feedback.
Anita: I think for me musically, I find I get confidence from performing for people and seeing them enjoy it, and hearing from them that they felt something. I get a bit worried if I’m performing for someone I know from a different context of my life, and they haven’t seen me perform before. There’s a certain vulnerability that comes from doing that, from showing this different side of yourself to someone else. When I’m performing I get distracted like ‘oh this persons watching me and they don’t really know this side of me’, but afterwards I feel like it’s so much better and we have a better understanding of each other. At least they have a better understanding of me, and that makes me feel good because I can express myself more to them in other ways. Then I guess more personally, I struggle a lot with change. With feeling like I’m not in control of my situation. So being in a band and doing this whole music thing, many times I’m confronted with a situation that I don’t have any control over. So I end up kindof crawling into myself a little bit, and I don’t really deal with things very well in that kind of a scenario. So it ends up hurting people around me and therefore that makes me not feel good at all. I think the more that I do things the more I get used to that, and there’s nothing I can really do to have perfect control of situations. If we’re on tour, there’s going to be unknown factors on a daily basis. So I’m always practicing dealing with that and also finding ways of communicating what makes me struggle. Also, communicating more effectively and efficiently can just makes everyone’s lives a little better.
IS: When you’re performing, what makes you feel most powerful?
Liv. I find power in the changes between loud and quiet, and the changes between the emotions that happen. Taking people through that journey, I find super empowering. I can tell when they’re really riding it.
Anita: I think for me, especially when we’re playing with the band, I’m able to just wreak havoc on my guitar ha ha.
Liv: Hair flips!
Anita: Yes! And just banging the heck outta my guitar, not in a bad way, just in a heavy strumming way. Having that in sync with the drums and everything else that’s going on. Having that heaviness, it makes me feel stronger than I am. I think it’s the combination of sound and music. I find, too, my hair moving is a big thing that connects me to what I’m doing. Your body moves then your hair moves in response to that.
Liv: It’s like you’re taking it for a ride ha ha.
IS: Who is your female inspiration? Musician or not.
Anita: I was just going say that.
Liv: She’s number one for many reasons, but I feel like she is able to express herself so perfectly and powerfully. I feel empowered by listening to her music and watching her play, because of the way that she can move with her music and move other people with it.
Anita: I think she’s able to capture that emotion and movement and sound and performance all in one.
Liv: She seems to be very herself, it doesn’t seem like she’s trying to be anyone but her.
IS: I think that’s a big Canadian thing vs some American artists. Very folky Canadians feel like ‘Oh we’re just here playing music; hope you like it.”
Anita: Also I find it really empowering to watch her and to know this is a Canadian woman who is rocking out and has found her niche. And is able to have such a big influence on people and remain humble. She doesn’t flaunt her fame, she’s just doing her thing.
Liv: I think another person who does this is Sarah Harmer. I really look up to her. She also uses her music as a platform for people to understand her environmental beliefs and kind of join her in that journey. I also find that empowering.
IS: What has been your biggest personal confidence set back? Did it help or hurt your music?Anita: I think for me it’s been my struggle with mental health. For a really long time - basically forever - I’ve struggled with anxiety and it’s impacted my ability to just want to run freely into the arms of music and performance. When we were performing with our high school band I had a lot of trouble. It wasn’t that I was afraid of performing, I was just nervous about being in new places I wasn’t familiar with, or being with new people I wasn’t familiar with. So a lot of the times if we were trying to book a show I would just say “I don’t want do it”. Every time we would play would be so difficult for me to get myself through. Once I was actually performing I felt really good - it was the lead up, even afterwards but especially the lead up. The process of getting there and getting our stuff there. It really made me not want to do it, but performing made me want to keep working through things. I think similar things still hold me back now. I still struggle at some points more than others. Especially while we were on tour, I found it difficult to have time to myself and decompress and kind of reset myself after a show or after a few shows. Sometimes that makes me really want to run away from doing all this. Sometimes I think ‘Why am I putting myself through this? This is hard and I could just not do it.” At the same I can’t not do it. Because I struggle, sometimes I’m more hesitant towards committing myself to performing or to music as a whole. There’s this whole other side to doing this musical project with Liv. This project is about both of us, so sometimes Liv is a lot more ready and eager to make plans, for playing more shows and things like that. A lot of the times I’m more hesitant and I fear that I’m holding her back from doing things because she’s so ready to sprout. I also think it’s an age thing, because I’m not done school yet and Liv is done school. A lot of the time I think I just have to barrel through this and get to where Liv is at. But through the process of getting there she’s also going to be in a different place.
Liv: I’m just pulling you along ha ha.
Anita: Ya! Ha ha. I will forever be the younger sister no matter what.
IS: What do you think is the most important thing to remember as a female musician?
Liv: We’re just as bad ass! We are bad ass not “just as”, there’s no such thing as “just as”, we just are badass. We have the power to choose who we work with, most of the time. When we don’t have the power the choose, we have the power to act in a certain way. We’re just as worth wile - we have worth. I think in my lifetime; I would love for it to come to the point where there’s no need to have the word “female” in front of “songwriter”. I don’t want to be categorized as a “female musician”, I want to be a musician.
Anita: Right now we say the Lifers is a female-fronted art folk rock collective, but I want it to just be “we’re an art folk rock collective”.
IS: You never hear male fronted. It just feels weird to say.
Anita: It’s like being female is somehow special, which it is in a certain sense, but it shouldn’t be an exception.
IS: If you could go back to a time where you felt taken back by whatever obstacle, what would you tell yourself knowing what you know now?
Anita: I was terrified of going to Toronto when I was younger, I hated going to Toronto. I would cry and resist, I wouldn’t go on field trips to Toronto with my class because I didn’t feel safe. So I think I want to tell my younger self - and this is up to Grade 11 – “you’re going to live here for at least 5 years of your life very soon and it’s going to be fine – you’ll actually like it”. When I was deciding where to go for my post secondary education, I had just ruled out Toronto. I just said ‘I could never do that.’ Then I ended up going to school here and it has had such a huge impact on who I am as a person now. And such a huge impact on our lives as musicians. So I’m really grateful that I did this.
Liv: On a different note for me, I went to university with the intention of coming out a financial advisor. I was like ‘I’ll study music as a second major because I love it and I want to know more about it’. That’s was what I thought would happen going into first year. I think that I just did not believe in my ability to survive as a musician, as a career. It took a long time for me to understand that I should take that chance and that it’s totally feasible and possible. I just needed to educate myself more on how to make that happen.
Anita: You also had to do a lot of work.
Liv: Oh ya! I’m sad that I didn’t even think that it would be possible. I’d always dreamed of playing music for my whole life, but I didn’t think that it would be possible. I would have just wanted to say to myself, ‘Just talk to people that are musicians, grassroots style, and just do it.’ If that’s what you’re wanting to do, you can do it. Luckily I did anyways, luckily I got past that slowly and surely.
IS: Do you have a message you hope to send to people who see you live or listen to your recordings?
Anita: It all comes down to kindness. Kindness to each other, kindness to the earth, kindness to ourselves. If we are kind to each other, ourselves, and the earth we can live in harmony. That’s what our music is about and that’s what I’m all about as a person. I think that’s how people feel about our shows. A sense of community and a sense of love. That’s an important first step in fixing a lot of issues that face us in today’s world.
IS: What’s your advice for other women, young or old, who struggle with confidence?
Liv: Talk to other gals about the way that you’re feeling chances are they’re feeling it too.
Anita: Celebrate small successes and small triumphs. I like to go through this process every once in a while, especially if I’m not feeling that great about myself. I try to make a list of things I’m proud of that I’ve done or moments where I’ve felt really positively about myself. Through the process of reminding yourself ‘Oh yeah, I did this thing and it’s actually pretty great that I did this thing!’ there’s a lot of power in that, in keeping myself going. Just remembering to thank yourself for pushing yourself to new places.
Liv: I sometimes just like to look into my eyes in the mirror, I don’t know if you ever do this. I like to try and connect with my own soul that way. Eyes are so important for me when I’m talking to anybody. It should be equally important to look into my own eyes and feel love and happiness and a sense of understanding. I do that pretty much daily, it’s not out of vanity at all it’s just because I want to be like ‘Hi! Nice to see ya.’ Check in with myself. Sometimes my eyes can tell me things that I didn’t really know was there, I see that I’m more tired then I’m telling myself that I am. Or that there’s a lot of light in my life, a lot of things.
To learn more about The Lifers visit their site: http://www.thelifersmusic.com