“It’s like a diary—I don’t feel like there’s one focus. It’s just an album of general entries, with some different perspectives.” That’s (Liv).e, a Dallas-born, Los Angeles-based singer and producer, talking about her debut full-length album, Couldn’t Wait To Tell You. And if you’ve followed (Liv).e to this point, you’re not surprised that the album doesn’t focus on any one theme. Ever since her 2017 debut EP FRANK, she’s explored various genres under different aliases, dedicating whole projects to specific sounds. FRANK was a murky funk album dialed in from the past. The release year on its Bandcamp page reads “1975,” and with its dusty drum loops and distorted vocals, FRANK sounds like a lost classic from a bygone era of cosmic Afrocentric soul. A year later, on ::hoopdreams::, (Liv).e’s collaborative EP with producer 10.4 ROG, the sound volleyed between ’90s R&B, neo-soul, and trunk-rattling hip-hop; her work with KRYPTONYTE—under the name Jade Fox—was ‘90s-leaning gangsta rap fashioned after old Three 6 Mafia tapes.
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(Liv).e has made significant strides in a short time. She emerged just three short years ago, an elusive and nostalgic figure in Black music, equally steeped in both modern and throwback soul. Writers quickly likened her to another Dallas native, Erykah Badu, a comparison (Liv).e now thinks has run its course. It’s not that she doesn’t see the similarities, but (Liv).e wants to establish her own identity; plus, her relationship with Badu runs deeper than a few superficial sonic similarities. “Me and Erykah have been friends,” (Liv).e says. “She’s been my friend for a long time. I never really asked her about music or anything. It was just a friendly relationship.” Badu feels the same; she recently hosted a livestream release party for Couldn’t Wait To Tell You, and in a press release promoting the event, said that (Liv).e has been, “family since forever. 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.”
Badu isn’t (Liv).e’s only high-profile fan. In 2018, Earl Sweatshirt reached out to her on Twitter, saying how much he dug her music. The two ended up touring together, and (Liv).e supplied vocals for the song “Mtomb” on Sweatshirt’s 2019 EP Feet of Clay. “Everything is just very fluid and very natural, and it makes me feel good,” (Liv).e says. “I don’t really look at anybody like, ‘Oh, you’re a star! You did this, and you made all these things!’ I barely listened to Earl Sweatshirt. I was just like, ‘Oh, this is cool, he’s cool. I know what you’re about. That’s fly. You’re a human being, though.’ Everybody’s got flaws. I try to remember that, because once you meet people you really, really fuck with, and you realize how regular they are, it will help you. So I really haven’t felt a way about meeting someone of a certain stature in a long, long time.”
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Before she rubbed elbows with Badu and Sweatshirt, (Liv).e (born Olivia Williams) grew up in a musical household with a mother who sang in the church choir, a father who played keys in blues and gospel groups, and a brother who played drums. She developed an affinity for jazz, ’70s soul, and alternative hip-hop, and as she started creating her own music, those sounds naturally turned up in her arrangements. Ben Hixon, the producer who founded the Dallas-based Dolfin Records, was introduced to (Liv).e at a jazz concert when she was still in eighth grade, through the drummer Mike Mitchell (aka Blaque Dynamite). At the time, Hixon and Mitchell were upperclassmen at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts; (Liv).e would attend the institution the following year.
(Liv).e started DJing in high school, where she linked with other members of the Dolfin collective—Jon Bap, Juuwah, and Max Gerl, among others—who all shared the same taste for idiosyncratic music. Soon, she was uploading DJ sets and freestyles to Soundcloud, and started jamming with her new collaborators, “playing drums and percussion and stuff,” as Hixon remembers. Eventually, (Liv).e began to put together some songs, and asked Hixon to supply the beats for what would become her first project, FRANK. “She used to come over, listen to records, do some art shit, and talk about life,” Hixon says. “I remember I started with some chords and I picked up the bass to come up with a bass line, and she was like, ‘Yo, try this,’ and whispered a bass line in my ear. It was tight.”
In 2017, (Liv).e left Dallas to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where the rigors of course work made her think seriously about foregoing a formal education to pursue music full-time. “That’s really when I started to take it a little serious, because I was like, ‘Wow, I don’t know if I want to be in school like that,’” she says. “That’s when I allowed myself to be fully engaged with music.” Producer 10.4 ROG remembers (Liv).e asking for beats around then. “I reached out because she had an email up, and I sent her a bunch of stuff with no expectations of how she would attack them,” he says. “My only real frame of reference was her Dolfin release, FRANK. This music was rooted in sounds and styles I gravitated to, while it pushed forward and insisted on something else.” (Liv).e used two of 10.4 ROG’s beats on her follow-up EP, Raw Daybreaks Vol. 1. Two years later, ROG invited (Liv).e to his studio and played her some instrumentals. She’d listen with her phone out, and “if she had something for a piece of music, she would have me loop it, and I believe she was sketching lyrics on her phone,” he says. “She wrote and recorded what later became ‘raindrip soft’ (from 10.4 ROG’s for a tension) in no more than two hours. I literally set up a signal chain for her to work at her pace and discretion, went to the couch, got out of the way, and ate a plate of food. She can do it all.”
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Recorded in the winter of 2018, Couldn’t Wait To Tell You is the strongest album in (Liv).e’s already-rich discography and the one that could well be her breakthrough. Like her previous work, the album also looks to the past—this time, to a previous relationship and the emotions it conjured. But instead of walking through it in sequence, the memories arrive randomly—sometimes through fully-formed songs, other times through repetitive phrases and private dialogue between (Liv).e and her imagination. In that way, Couldn’t Wait To Tell You is remarkably authentic, a sketchbook of scribbled-down musings on love, hurt, euphoria, and frustration. It’s a head-in-the-clouds record that dabbles in the nuances of vast emotions, and as it plays, there’s a sense that (Liv).e is trying to reconcile her feelings on the fly. “These are different perspectives of me,” (Liv).e says warmly. “It’s also just life stuff—like how relationships look to me, or to the different characters in my head.”
There are standouts, though: lead single “Sir Lady Makem Fall” is a compelling retro-soul track on which (Liv).e flirts with herself. “That was me hitting on me,” she says. “It’s me outside of myself and thinking about how I was feeling in different situations or how I would feel if I were somebody else.” Other songs, like “About Love At 21,” “She’s My Brand New Crush” and “How She Stay Conflicted…I Hope He Understands,” thrive due to the backing music: repurposed Quiet Storm soul, tailor-made for summertime cookouts and evening drives with the sun setting. There’s a reason why her music sounds so rich and emotive. Just three years into her career, (Liv).e has already reached a level of ease that other artists need years to achieve: She makes music out of want, not necessity. “I feel like I’m making music leisurely now,” she says. “I’m feeding myself, but it’s not solely all I have to feed myself. I really went from doing this uncomfortably to being in a mental space where I can take a moment and breathe and actually get an idea together. I feel like all this has just been a matter of being patient.”