By John Wallent
Hot off the release of her killer indie-folk EP, I sat down with Seattle musician Liv Victorino to talk recording, the struggle, and searching for a musical community. Interview originally conducted January 23, 2021.
KLC: What does the title Sheer Force of Will mean to you?
Liv: It characterizes the feeling of producing the EP, which was very for me difficult for many reasons. It was a reflection of the sheer number of things I needed to learn, because I didn’t really sing or play guitar going into college, let alone record music! It was a two year battle fighting to get to the place where I could be dangerous enough to do something, so why not have the title reflect that?
KLC: What were you thinking about when writing these songs? Was there a guiding principle?
Liv: It was more letting it flow. I was listening to a lot of different music than I was when I was growing up and in high school. I was in love with artists that were doing stuff acoustically, and I knew that a lot of them were using the worst extremely shitty gear. Some of those albums have become classics, so I was channeling that in terms of the recording. I wrote a lot of songs as soon as I got into college but only four made it onto the EP, it’s an iterative process. You gotta write over and over and only the top 5% are the ones you record, so the ones I had down by the time I was able to record were the ones that made it. It was a kind of puzzle of what sounded the best and what I was most proud of. The cost of recording was just the guitar and a shitty USB mic, everything else was free. I was listening a lot to Elliot Smith and how he made his three biggest albums with really shitty gear and I was like “I can do that too!” My guiding principle was definitely to do a lot with a little. It was also a way to force myself to learn how to do stuff with a very minimal setup. I don’t have the means to invest in all this gear I don’t know how to use, so I’m gonna grab a USB mic and work the post-production really hard.
KLC: Speaking of the recording process, I’ve heard whispers and rumors on social media that people have been digging the production on this project. Could you speak to that a bit?
Liv: I’m surprised that people are enjoying it [laughing]. I learned that you really don't have to record with a lot of gear. What makes it listenable is your arrangement choices. You have to be really thoughtful about those and that's gonna distract from the fact that your production value is so low.
KLC: Do you have any words of advice for other home recording artists looking to put something out on their own?
Liv: By far the worst part was trying to get to a place where I felt like the songs were done. A lot of people I know get caught up in the fact that it doesn’t sound good enough yet, so there's two things I’d suggest if you’re caught in that cycle. One, abandon it and let it go, release it! There’s a point where it won’t get any better so you have to start somewhere or keep recording new stuff. If you don’t like the idea or the song from the get-go you’re not gonna like it after months of work, so the second piece is to scrap it and start again. You just gotta keep writing and recording and struggling.
KLC: You mentioned the struggle of the process, walk me through an average day of work on the EP!
Liv: Horrible! Horrible, horrible… As a student I recorded between the hours of two and four in the morning for multiple days out of the week, then I would wake up to go to class and repeat that process. I didn’t go to sleep earlier than 4AM for a month straight on multiple occasions, and I recorded this over nine months so there was a lot of time where I was just burning myself out... Recording in the nighttime, trying to be a student in the daytime. You gotta let the panic set in and then journey through the night for few days [laughing]
KLC: Who were you listening to/feeling inspired by when working on Sheer Force?
Liv: Oh man, I was deep in the clutches and thralls of Elliot Smith. I love stuff like that, low production but high songwriting and arrangement choices. You can kinda hear who’s on the other end of those recordings because the artist in charge of every part of it. I love artists that are in charge of everything, even their own marketing. Also Phoebe Bridgers, Big Thief, Adrianne Lenker, just these really great acoustic indie artists that I fell in love with in the past couple of years.
KLC: You’ve been very involved in the University of Washington Songwriter’s Circle. Tell me about that organization!
Liv: When I was a freshman and sophomore I was signing up for open mics and going alone. I wouldn't invite anybody, I wouldn't tell anybody, I would just go for the practice and to meet people. I got sick of that, because it's more fun if you have someone there to be with you, especially if they’re also a songwriter and artist. It’s bullshit that UW doesn’t inherently have that community aspect to it. I was feeling kind of lonely and I could sense that other people were too, and there wasn’t a lot of camaraderie between artists on campus so I thought “we should get together, start a club, support people, go to their gigs and all that!” There have been no gigs to go to recently but I can tell that once it gets fired up again it'll be a lot more fun to go to those kinds of things now with that community having been established.
KLC: Did the songwriter’s circle play a role for Sheer Force?
Liv: Yeah! I would show them the songs the day after I wrote them and test them out for a live audience. I remember the first ever meeting we had I played a version of You’re Never Gonna Figure it Out. I had never written a song like that before, and one person there was like “yeah I think that's kind of where your voice is at. That's where you sound best, singing these songs'' and I thought “wow that’s an interesting piece of feedback which I would not have had the confidence to come up with myself”. Having people there to give that feedback is really great and that’s what the club is all about.
KLC: In addition to this project, you also shred the drum kit in Seattle band Cherry Tomato. Is that band still around? What’s Cherry Tomato up to?
Liv: Oh yeah! We’re getting into the grind of recording an EP. I’m just playing drums on that one, so it's a lot of fun and a lot less pressure for me. We had a promotion cycle/merch and stuff that we marketed and worked for hours on for an EP which didn’t exist yet and now finally we’re getting into the music production stuff. We’re not dead! Even though live music is dead right now… but look out for that whenever it comes out! [laughing]
KLC: What else does the solo artist Liv Victorino have going on right now? Any musical plans for the future?
Liv: No, not really [laughing] I have to make it through this quarter first… Someone said to me ‘this is good but you have to be prolific, you have to keep releasing stuff”. That hit me in the face a couple days after the EP released because he was right! There’s no room to be quiet for a year and release another project then, that’s not how it works anymore. It’s a lot of pressure because it took so long to make Sheer Force that the idea of making more music quickly is hard for me to stomach. I’m afraid that I’m gonna have to sacrifice something to go faster but at the same time do I really wanna do that? Probably not. Right now I’m deliberating with myself about what the next step should be. Hopefully it’ll clear up once gigs come back when I can practice these songs in front of people and then the answer will fall into my lap or whatever.
KLC: Before we wrap things up is there anything else you want the world to know?
Liv: Uhh, listen to KLC Radio! We love college radio, and stream Sheer Force of Will!
Sheer Force of Will is out now on all streaming platforms, and you can find more content from Liv on instagram @liv_victorino