After touring with some of the genre's core acts, the folk singer/songwriter readies her new self-titled album. Her Boston show tomorrow, meanwhile, will partially benefit the American Red Cross.
"A lot of people leave, but I really wanted to finish and get the most out of it that I could," Liz Longley says of her education at - and graduation from - the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
The institution is likely as well-known for those who drop out to pursue their careers as for those who remain to soak up as much as possible about the music industry. Longley proudly counts herself among the latter group. "With music, you never arrive. You're constantly learning. You're always being challenged," she says.
"I would go back … if I could afford it …"
Thanks in part to entrepreneurial parents, Longley has long adhered to a DIY mentality. "I've been booking shows since I was 16 years old, so, for the past nine years, I've learned a lot from doing that. But, there's still a lot I've got to figure out on the business side, for sure."
The now Nashville-based Longley recently visited Billboard's New York offices to perform songs from her forthcoming self-titled album. First single "This Is Not the End" is available digitally as of today (April 16), although it's already gained exposure on Lifetime TV's "Army Wives." Sirius XM folk/rock channel "The Coffee House" also championed her music, dating to her 2010 cover of Van Morrison's "Moondance."
Fellow artists, too, have shared their praise of Longley, who's toured with such singer/songwriters as Shawn Colvin, Amos Lee, Nanci Griffith, Livingston Taylor and Colin Hay. "Gorgeous, simply gorgeous," John Mayer has said of her work.
After releasing sets in 2009 ("Somewhere in the Middle"), 2010 ("Hot Loose Wire") and last year (the EP "Inside This Song"), her new collection "feels like my first real album," Longley says. "It feels the most like myself."
Instrumental in the album's creation were fans, via Kickstarter, who've followed Longley through her previous albums and her always-busy touring schedule. "I'm so proud because I made it with 650 incredibly supportive fans. I would not have been able to make this record without them. It's extremely humbling.
"Most of the names as they were coming through, I knew all of them. It was really cool to see them pull through for me like that."
"Liz Longley" offers a mix of gentle ballads and uptempo tracks. One of her favorites on the new album is "Camaro," a "juicy, ex-girlfriend breakup song," she chuckles (belying the happiness of her relationship with Gus Berry, her boyfriend and producer [and guitarist on the versions of "Never Loved Another" and "Rush" performed at Billboard]).
"Outta My Head" bounces along with an irresistible hook that recalls many of Mary Chapin Carpenter's '90s pop/country hits, while "We Run" was, by yesterday, already offering comfort to fans who posted on Facebook that it's helping them through the tragic events following the Boston Marathon; proceeds from tickets for the front-row table for her 7 p.m. show at Boston's Club Passim tomorrow night will benefit the American Red Cross.
While Longley praises the production on the new set (which is available at her live shows, prior to its proper release), she's just as comfortable performing with only an acoustic guitar, a setting that lends itself to the intimate nature of her lyrics. (As she sings in 2010's "Unraveling," describing a granddaughter's visit with her elderly grandmother, "She looks in my eyes and asks me my name / And every five minutes, I tell her the same.")
"This is how these songs started out. I didn't write them on a computer, or some instrument that can't be played easily live.
"I'm lucky that I can take my little guitar and play."