Elizabeth Powell can't pinpoint the first time someone misidentified her as "Liz," but she can give you a million reasons why she hates it. The misnomer, which lives on in articles about the Canadian guitarist, singer, and songwriter today, is both trivial and telling — emblematic of the loss of control over her identity that drove her away from the music industry in 2011.
It's a place she'd been since the early 2000s, first as a solo artist under the name ELE_K* and then as the lead singer of a pop group called Doppelgänger. There she'd meet Mark "Bucky" Wheaton, a drummer with whom she would start a new band in 2006 called Land of Talk — which, after one EP, landed both a record deal and a slot on tour opening for the Decemberists.
Six years into playing together, Land of Talk — which also included Chris McCarron on bass — would be a staple in the indie-rock world, and Powell, according to a radio interview at the time, was the "glue keeping the Canadian music scene together." But after a series of setbacks starting in 2009 (including a hemorrhagic vocal polyp), Powell called it quits in 2011.
It was unclear to her fans, and perhaps Powell herself, if she'd ever be returning. But after a six-year hiatus that included working at a bakery and helping her dad recover from a stroke, she and Land of Talk are back this May with a new album — their third — titled Life After Youth. Ahead of its release, we talked teenage angst, baking scones, and the hidden beauty of Florida.
Abby Haglage: You grew up in rural Ontario. When did you first get into music?
Elizabeth Powell: My parents had me in Suzuki violin since, I think, I was three or four. Then I got into orchestra when I was old enough. I was never good, but I did it! I really loved playing. I always loved making up my own songs. I would never practice, I would just improvise these pieces. That lent itself more to a fretless bass, so I babysat for like a summer and bought one. I was listening to Sebadoh, Pavement, the Pixies, PJ Harvey, and they were all kind of informing how I was improvising on the bass. And then, I guess music heads seem to find each other — especially in high school.
AH: Ha, yes. So when did you first record something?
EP: I was doing solo stuff and I would jam with musicians, but I recorded my first CD, called I Think You Ought to Love Me More, on my four-track when I was like seventeen. Then I did my first cassette when I was like nineteen. I ended up selling like 30 copies, and one of those [copies] was [bought by] Richard Perry of Arcade Fire. He was a big supporter of me and spread the word through the music department at Concordia University. I lived with Sara, who was the violinist of Arcade Fire. They were always supportive. Then Bucky and I met, and he was like, "Hey, let's play some rock tunes together sometime — I hear you have some music that you write." He heard the tape, and then he and Chris McCarron left me a message saying "Let's make music."
AH: So that was it, Land of Talk was born. The band got signed, released two albums, and then a few years after that you walked away, in 2011, and haven't been back until now. What happened?