Chronicles of High School and ‘80s Nostalgia: A Conversation with Pizzagirl

Pizzagirl © John Latham
20-year-old Liam Brown, aka Pizzagirl, talks to Atwood Magazine about alter egos, the ‘80s and its relevance to pop culture today, his new music, and the joys of elevator music.

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“The idea of acoustic folk under Liam Brown is a nightmare I’ve had about two hundred times, maybe” laughs Liam Brown, who’s known to most as his musical alter ego Pizzagirl. The 20-year-old Liverpudlian has been releasing music under the alias since the start of this year, and needs nothing but the four walls of his bedroom, which he calls the Beatzzeria, a guitar, a keyboard, and a good dose of nostalgia to do so. While the act of making pop music in your bedroom has become quite common these days, Brown manages to dive into a whole new world with his music, evoking the colourful and John Hughes-like sounds of the ‘80s and making music that’s nostalgic for an era he didn’t even live in.

Pizzagirl - Season 2 Artwork

Pizzagirl – Season 2 Artwork

Creating a new identity hasn’t been too difficult for Liam Brown, since he’s been experimenting with shaving off and bleaching his hair. While he tends to oscillate between blonde and grey normally, he laughs as he says “someone at Topshop told [him] if [he] had peachy pink hair it’d bring out my eyes, so maybe I’ll do that”.

Today, Brown is releasing his second EP called season 2, where he zooms in on and ponders over high school life. The EP marks a more mature sound for the artist, who has been experimenting with layers and “quirky sounds” more for this body of work than in the past. Making music like this is how Brown deals with the transitional period he’s now in, having graduated high school only a few years ago and still trying to adapt to what it means to be an adult and young person in 2018.

Atwood Magazine spoke to Pizzagirl about alter egos, the ‘80s and their relevance to pop culture nowadays, his new music, and the joys of elevator music.

Listen: season 2 – Pizzagirl

A CONVERSATION WITH PIZZAGIRL

Atwood Magazine: Hi Liam!

Liam Brown: Hi! Everything cool with you?

Yes, how are you doing?

Liam Brown: Yeah I’m good. I woke up pretty late because I was watching the American The Office all night, so I woke up and had a shower. Pretty productive day in the world of Pizzagirl at the minute. A lot of binge-watching on Amazon Prime video.

You played Reading and Leeds this year. That’s insane!

Liam Brown: Yeah, it was so cool. It was back in August, and such a busy weekend. They gave me some posters to take home, so I have five or six and there’s one on the Beatzerria wall, hanging proud. It was such a cool weekend, a bit stressful, but I’ll remember that one until I’m an old girl probably.

It’s crazy to play such a huge festival only one EP into the game.

Liam Brown: It was just after I turned 20, so I was hitting me 20s and playing a cool festival, I felt really proud. And then I came home back to Liverpool. But it was so mental, one EP and people liked it that much that I could play a festival that big. It’s weird and insane.

Well, you deserve it.

Liam Brown: That’s so nice. I felt like I didn’t deserve it because it was so mental, but I had a good time nonetheless. It was very fun.

That’s better than thinking “I’m one EP in and I’m the best, how are people not asking me to play these festivals?”. That’s normally when it goes wrong.

Liam Brown: I think I need to stay humble and be grateful of all the changes that Pizzagirl is getting at the minute. But it’s very scary starting off peaking a bit, hopefully it doesn’t go downhill.

Liam Brown: I feel like I have to answer that. There’s no real answer though, that’s the thing. It’s just a weird name that I thought wouldn’t be too serious and is more memorable than my birth name. Pizzagirl is such a bizarre name and everyone looks at me a bit funny when I say my name’s Pizzagirl, I like it, my mum doesn’t like it though, she hates it.

Is Pizzagirl Liam Brown’s alter ego?

Liam Brown: Yeah. I feel like I’m quite boring, I like to sit at home and watch TV and sit in this room and make music. And then when I do a gig or I’m outside, that’s when I’m Pizzagirl and on social media and gigs I’m more flamboyant and loud. I feel like I’m quite introverted, but when I’m doing a gig I have to be quite loud because it’s just me by myself. It’s cool, I like the idea of channelling everything into Pizzagirl so I can relax at home and be a bit boring and moody and quiet.

Liam Brown: Yeah, it sounds very pretentious and dramatic but there’s definitely a difference between Liam and Pizzagirl. In a good way though, I wouldn’t want to be Pizzagirl 24/7 because it’d be pretty intense and everyone would get sick of me probably.

Do you feel like having an alter ego is a conscious decision, though?

Liam Brown: I don’t know, I never really sat down and thought I wanted to be Pizzagirl. Pizzagirl has allowed me to be very outgoing and larger than life, which maybe is what I’ve always wanted to do but I’ve been too shy to do it, and now I have a good excuse. I never thought “I want to be this weird meme on the internet and be loud”, but I feel like it’s nice, it’s a nice outlet to go a bit wacky because you can’t really do it under Liam Brown. That’s just weird to me. Pizzagirl is an excuse to be fun.

Yeah, when you say Liam Brown I think of a guy playing a folk song.

Liam Brown: Exactly! It’s a singer-songwriter, acoustic, folk singer and I don’t want to be that, obviously, so I have to change it. Pizzagirl is an appropriate fit, maybe?

Pizzagirl © Pizzamum

Pizzagirl © Pizzamum

Did you ever dabble into other genres when you started making music or did you always sound like what you sound like now?

Liam Brown: When I was making demos when I was 16 or 17 and stuff it was definitely more acoustic and upbeat. Like vlog music, music that would go behind a makeup vloggers, very cheesy. Hopefully it’s now cheesy in a different way, it’s ‘80s cheesy. But it was very bubblegum pop back in the day. Hopefully it’s changed, I’m not making music that goes behind makeup vlogs.

You write every song in your room, and as cliché as it is to ask about your songwriting process, I feel like I have to because all your songs are so layered and meticulous. How do the songs first come to life, what do you build upon?

Liam Brown: I don’t sit there with an acoustic guitar. It’s usually me sitting in this chair and messing around more or less, not even thinking of it as a song. It starts with a drumbeat or a sample, or something that I really like, and just play on that. Maybe pick up guitar after that and mess around with it, but it’s usually quite like a weird, intense process. It’s just me sitting in a room and seeing what happens, there’s no formula. I feel like if there was a formula, it’d be quite boring. Everything’s really bad, the setup is really bad, it’s just me, a computer, and a keyboard and that’s it. But to be fair, there’s a picture of Jennifer Grey there (points to the wall) from Dirty Dancing who looks down at me when I play, she gives me some ‘80s wisdom sometimes.

How do you know when it’s done, though?

Liam Brown: That’s the question. I feel like once the song’s reached its time limit and it’s not too busy with instruments, I feel like it’s done there. I think the thing with when to stop recording music in general, I used to write a song every day and that used to be quite intense, it’s nice to have a little break in between. The best thing to do is to know when it’s finished, it’s nice to have that, and then come back. Sometimes I’d sit for hours and hours like “This isn’t done, I need to finish it!” but I think I’ve gotten into a nice rhythm with it now.

The first song of yours that I listened to was “Seabirds”, which might be your biggest song but it’s also one of my favourites. It was my entry point to Pizzagirl, and it might be many other people’s as well, so what’s the song about, what has it meant to you?

Liam Brown: “Seabirds” is the oldest song that is out. I made it when I was about 17, so it’s a three-year old song at this point. I’ve heard it loads of times, I’ve played it too many times, but it’s always been one, for some reason, that people have really warmed to and I never understood why. It was a really quick song for me because I didn’t really know what I was doing, the setup was worse than this one because it was in my old bedroom. When I was playing it, half an hour went by and I was like “Okay, this is finished, I’ll keep it like this” and then I messed around with it. It’s the most streamed song on my Spotify and Youtube, it baffles me that people like it so much, but I’m really flattered that people have took something from it. People have messaged me saying they’ve listened to this song on the way to break up with somebody, and it was like “Wow, this is deep!”. It’s a random song, the lyrics don’t make sense, and people make sense of it, which I find nice.

Do you like it when people attribute meaning to things that you didn’t know had meaning?

Liam Brown: Obviously I made these words and they make no sense, but people are attaching some philosophical meaning to it, and I find that really cool because it makes me laugh that me spewing words into a microphone means something to someone. Sometimes I just make a line because I like the way it sounds, there’s no emotional connection to it, so it’s nice to let them do the job of figuring out what it means because it will help me out in the long run (laughs). People seem to get such a better meaning of the songs. “Seabirds” was just random, about nothing, people have attached deep, emotional feelings to it and I find that a lot more endearing than what I think it means, and it means nothing to me (laughs). Obviously there are other songs that have a lot of meaning to them. But “Seabirds” is a 17-year-old boy in his bedroom making weird words up, that’s the song.

Watch: “Seabirds” – Pizzagirl

Your first EP sounds a little brighter and more open in my opinion, and this one is more experimental and your voice is buried in different sounds and synths and really interesting, broody mood. It seems like you’re pulling us in a lot more, we need to pay attention. What changed between making these two EPs?

Liam Brown: The first EP was a group of songs I’d made over the past few years, so it was obviously a different blend of times and styles and stuff, but this EP is music I’d made earlier this year. It was probably a bit more focused and a bit more detailed than the last EP. I just wanted to mess around a bit more, make it sound a little more dense and stuff. I think it’s nice to do that and keep it a bit more fresh for me, but if people listen to it a bit more consciously and it’s not easy listening then that’s also a good thing, I think. It’s nice to have a bit more detail in the tracks.

Definitely, we listen to so much music nowadays. If you put on a random playlist and there’s a song that pulls you in and requires your attention, you’re not going to forget it. And that doesn’t come with easy listening.

Liam Brown: I agree. I don’t think I intended to make anything really deep and harder listening, but it’s nice that people have appreciated the time I’ve spent in my room picking up all these ‘80s instruments. I just love all the weird, quirky sounds, and try to fill the tracks with as much as I can.

Just looking at the tracklist of the EP, you already feel a lot of nostalgia and you can see a story. What’s the story you’re trying to tell with Season 2?

Liam Brown: The group of songs is very nostalgic, like a teenager in his room, like me, talking about high school and relationships and not really understanding the world that much. It’s not even based on anyone, it’s just me, I’m only 20 obviously I don’t get the world that much.  Nostalgia about high school and relationships with people just bleed into all these songs but with an ‘80s feel to it. So it’s nostalgic to the ‘80s but in my life it’s nostalgic to my teenage years. It’s just the music I listened to when I grew up, the ‘80s songs that were playing in the car.

Looking back on high school when you’ve only recently left it is so much harder than when you’re much older, because your life changed so much in such a short time that you feel so nostalgic for the past.

Liam Brown: It was so simple yet complicated also, and so relaxed but it didn’t feel like that at the time. You grow up and realise that life is a bit complicated and school was a little holiday but you didn’t think that at the time. But the only way I can tap back into it is making synth-y songs (laughs).

Do you use these songs as a way of processing your feelings or do you just spill it out?

Liam Brown: You can’t really describe to anyone how much you miss high school or how much you miss a time in your life, so it’s nice to just sit in your room and get to term with your feelings and write a song. People are not aware of it, but I’m sort of venting to all these people and pouring my heart out to these people and they don’t really know it, and I find a secret way of chatting to people through songs!

Pizzagirl © Pizzamum

Pizzagirl © Pizzamum

season 2 is kind of the second season of your musical TV show - what’s the story, what’s changing, what are the new elements of the story? How does it build upon Extended Play, which would be season 1?

Liam Brown: I feel like Extended Play was the pilot, finding who you are in a way. I didn’t really know about releasing music at the time, so it was me starting off fresh and being a bit naive. Season 2 is like, I understand the world a little bit better but not too much. I’m introducing some ‘80s sounds, they’re my friends in school, and then as the years go on it’s me gradually understanding the world a bit better and when I’m 70 I’ll put out an album and be like “This is it, man, this is my peak”. But I definitely feel like each EP is a story about where I am in my 20s. I don’t know the world too much, I’m very new to being an adult, so it’s nice to mark my 20s with music so I look back and feel extra sad about being young again maybe. I’ll be a tortured artist in my 30s sitting in my room in my school uniform going like “I wish I was in high school again” (laughs).

Speaking of. I can see “highschool” being the soundtrack to an American ‘80s prom in a movie. Especially with the narrative of self-doubt and losing one’s cool, and people having brighter eyes in high school, which I think is an accurate thing to say.

Liam Brown: I really like that you picked up on that, because that’s how I felt. Everyone seemed to have a bit more of a spark, a bit more energy in high school, then I’ve seen people leave and just get normal jobs and submit to the adult world a bit. As everyone’s got jobs, I’m sitting in my room in a t-shirt feeling sad playing the keyboard. The idea that maybe we were all cooler in high school, I don’t like the fact that people are growing up, which is sad, and they’re all getting jobs and not being happy and stuff. Everyone does and did have so much energy and hope in school. Now everyone’s an adult and it feels really sad.

People tell you that you have to be an adult and pay your bills, and that’s all well and good, but don’t exchange your happiness for a paycheck.

Liam Brown: Exactly. Those are the truest words ever spoken on Skype, I think.

Pizzagirl © Pizzamum

Pizzagirl © Pizzamum

“blossom at my feet, flower” to me it seems like the liveliest song on the EP, even though the lyrics seem sad. Can you tell me more about it’s story and why it’s the brightest point in the EP?

Liam Brown: We had the EP finished and had all the songs listed and ready to go, and I made that song out of randomness and sent it over and we all really liked it. I wrote it in the summer, we were all going out and it was all happy and stuff. I wanted to make it sentimental, like sad happy, it’s nice to listen back, it’s not a sad subject – everything’s good in July, and flowers, and people being nice. It was a rushed song but it captured that feeling of summer that I feel quite happy about. I’m glad that you see that it’s a happy song, all the songs are quite sad on the EP but that one is one you can bob your head to.

The word blossom too, that’s a positive word.

Liam Brown: It’s another transitional period, you’re growing up, you’re blossoming. There are definitely some subconscious messages.

Pizzagirl © Ross Carrigan

Pizzagirl © Ross Carrigan

It seems like so many of today’s artists are bringing back ‘80s aesthetic or music today. What do you think is so special about that decade?

Liam Brown: Obviously I wasn’t born in the ‘80s but I’ve lived it through its pop culture and stuff, and it’s such a loud and proud period of time where it was really colourful. Obviously it wasn’t perfect, but the art and the culture that came out of the ‘80s was so important because it’s carrying on today. I just like the colours, movies, music, and all the people in jazzy clothes feeling proud to wear them. Nowadays it’s very grey and bleak and monochromatic so it’s nice to rock a few pinks and blues here and there.

I noticed that on your Facebook page you list elevator music as an influence of yours, which is simply hilarious. What about it inspires you?

Liam Brown: I just love the purpose of it. It’s designed to be the most easy listening, sonically pleasing sound, and it’s just cheesy and fulfils its purpose so well that I can’t help but cite it as an influence. I love the jazzy, smooth elevator sound as you’re going up.

So now I’m going to ask you random questions that are somehow related to every track on your new EP. First one is “body part”: what’s an underrated body part?

Liam Brown: That’s a really good question. I think the thumb maybe. Maybe 20 years ago the thumb wasn’t really that known, it was probably a disregarded appendage, but now, how integral it is to your phone experience every day. I find it baffling that you can just use your thumb and you can speak to anyone in the world. You can do it with the other fingers, but they wouldn’t be as comfortable as the thumb.

“gymnasium”: The Breakfast Club was shot in a gym even though it’s supposed to take place in a library, so let’s say you’re there at that converted gym with all the Breakfast Club kids during their infamous Saturday detention. What do you do?

Liam Brown: There’s a Breakfast Club poster here (points at the wall)! I feel like I definitely wouldn’t do the assigned work, you’re meant to write about who you are and they never do. I think if I had to fit into a character in that situation it would be the nerdy one, quite quiet but wanting to be chatty. I’d be Molly Ringwald as well, because she’s quite shy but quite confident in a way. I’d just chill out, I’d eat so much American food, if there was a guitar there it’d be quite cool and I’d have a little jam with the ‘80s kids, play some “gymnasium” live for them.

“kisses xxx”: if you could kiss anyone, who would it be?

Liam Brown: Wow. It definitely would be an ‘80s female character, I’d definitely have to say Jennifer Grey. Just for the fact that she’s on my wall in the Beatzzeria, it’d be a cool ‘80s scene by the lake, sunset, me and Jenny having a little smooch (laughs). She’s my female icon.

“high school”: if you could’ve chosen an iconic movie or tv high school to attend, which one would it have been?

Liam Brown: I feel like East High from High School Musical.

Yes!

Liam Brown: That’d be such a cool high school to go to. Such a fun, musical school, everyone’s dancing and body poppin’.

“blossom at my feet, flower”: if you could plant a field full of a certain flower, which one would it be?

Liam Brown: I don’t know much about flowers, but there’s this one flower – my friend’s from Virginia but she lives in Liverpool and she had this Fourth of July party, and each state has a national flower and California has this nice orange poppy. It was this bright orange colour, but I’d love to be in a field of really vibrant orange poppies with a tank top on and a guitar, running through.

“call it a day”: what’s one thing in pop culture that has ended and you wish to revive?

Liam Brown: Double denim was always something I thought was quite cool. And flip phones. Flip phones were a huge pop culture symbol of the 2000s. You couldn’t really use it nowadays, but it’d be really cool to have an argument and then flip it and go “Bye!”. All these things are so iconic but I don’t think they’d ever come back unless it was for some kind of promotional thing. They lasted forever too, the battery was so long. It was a cultural fad, flip phones, they were great.

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Pizzagirl - Season 2 Artwork

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📸 © John Latham

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Brazilian, currently in Philadelphia pursuing a BA in English. Is a dogs and music enthusiast, and spends most of her free time discovering new music, writing out thoughts, or photographing anything and anyone. Started a cactus collection she loves to talk about (each of them have a name), and has very strong opinions on very random subjects like soup.