Atwood Magazine caught up with Pizzagirl to dive deep into the creation of first timer, the internet, self-deprecation and self-hatred in song, and how Pizzagirl created a Kelly Clarkson-inspired track.
“Someone made a Pizzagirl fan account and I thought it was my mum” says Liam Brown, the man mostly known to the world as Pizzagirl, as we talk about the perils of Instagram and how fan interaction has shaped his usage of the social media platform. Despite having over 2 million Spotify listens on his biggest song, “Seabirds”, Brown still remains humble, feeling the need to reply to all fans who reach out on socials and being intrigued, to say the least, when a fan account for his musical alter ego was created.
While a lot of artists’ music can focus on introspection and feelings, Brown’s songs take him all over the world. On his debut album, first timer, released today via Heist or Hit, Brown travels from Broadway, to Venice, to Maine, to the aisles of a grocery store. While Brown wrote, recorded, produced, and mixed the record alone in his bedroom, the songs belong outside of what he calls the Beatzzeria, they’re worldly, ambitious and inspired, elevating his traditional ‘80s sound. First Timer is a scrapbook, a collection of memories and stories – fictional and real – which together become a solid, fun, and unique debut album. First Timer is so, unmistakably, a Pizzagirl record, reaffirming Brown’s quirky and deliciously weird musical identity while also expanding the sonic world in which Pizzagirl exists. It’s bold and mature, and impressive for a debut that was made by one man in his early twenties in a bedroom in Liverpool.
Atwood Magazine caught up with Pizzagirl – one of our 2019 Artists to Watch – to dive deep into the creation of first timer, the internet, self-deprecation and self-hatred in song, and how Pizzagirl created a Kelly Clarkson-inspired track.
Listen: ‘first timer’ – Pizzagirl
A CONVERSATION WITH PIZZAGIRL
Atwood Magazine: Hey Liam!
Pizzagirl: Hi! How are you doing? It’s been a year!
Good! Can‘t complain. You?
Pizzagirl: Good, been in my room a lot. It’s cool to chat again, a lot’s happened obviously. I feel like I’ve just stayed in my room then most of the time.
Just making a record.
Pizzagirl: Been like a very lonely times me sitting in my room with a guitar and no one else. But it’s been fun, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m literally sitting in bed right now. I don’t do music here. This is like my own space.
How long did it take you to make the album?
Pizzagirl: I think like, I didn’t really sit down and write music thinking it was going to be an album, I just wrote demos and stuff. So it took me about the year. Probably like, since the EP till about now. But it’s weird. That was a very strange time. I liked the demos, and it doesn’t really make an album really, it’s not like a same sounds. Really it’s more of like a mixtape of all these weird demos that I’ve been making in my room.
I thought it sounded very cohesive.
Pizzagirl: Did you think? Wow.
I think it sounds very different from the EP like, brighter, but I think you can see that it‘s like a full project.
Pizzagirl: I didn’t want any EP songs to be on it. So I wanted it to be like a fresh, new bit of work. Well, I was very nervous. I’m excited for everyone to hear it though. It’s gonna be pretty strange.
I‘ve been interviewing lots of artists who have released albums recently, and they all say the weirdest time is between when you send the album to the label and then wait for it to be released.
Pizzagirl: It’s boring. I’ve got quite a hands on approach, I’ve had to do a lot of art, like some posters and stuff, but it’s still just me is like twiddling my thumbs waiting until the album. So it’s about a month now, which is not that long. Pretty scared like, it’s gonna be like, the face full chunk of music like that isn’y an EP, that’s going to be so nerve-wracking I think.
A lot of people claim today that albums don‘t matter anymore. Do you think there‘s a big difference between releasing an EP and album today given the streaming and music landscape?
Pizzagirl: I think like, the way people listen to music is so different, like Spotify doesn’t really favour albums that much. I feel like when I listen to music, I just pick the ones that I like the most and those are added to a playlist. I think albums are very important still, it’s still good to put out albums. I want to try and put like an album of the year, that’d be interesting. I think it’s going to be very extreme for people to like, listen to it in full. If I was listening to this album, I’d just pick some singles that I like, live with them and then maybe go back to the others. I’m a very impulsive listener.
I hope people listen to the the album and like it from start to finish. I think it’s very rare that I just listen to an album in full. I listened to Clairo’s album in full when I was driving and that was fun to listen to.But to listen to an album in full is very rare for me, which is sad I know. It’s quite romantic to sit with a record and listen to it start to finish and live with it. But I’m very impulsive. So maybe that’s just something I need to do for my own self.
You‘ve toured a lot recently, right?
Pizzagirl: Yeah, I played some shows. Because the album’s coming out I didn’t really play that many festivals but like in the start of the year like I played some shows which is great, that was so fun. And then I’m getting prepared to do a week of European shows November, it’s going to be crazy.
Pizzagirl: It’s like non-stop like seven shows in a row. I’m going to be sitting up for like an hour in like different positions. It’s like every city, we’re playing like Germany, Paris, Amsterdam, in three days. So like my whole body is going to be killed. I’m going to have a workout regime and eat healthy. I’ve gone veggie this month. So as I’ve been trying to, like, treat my body bit better. I don’t eat meat that much anyway, but I don’t like being that veggie, strict, is gonna be helpful. And especially with the environment.
I read your essay that you wrote for Line of Best Fit about making the album by yourself. When you think about someone making an album, you don‘t normally think that a person is by themselves. There‘s normally a producer and then an engineer or something, people who are going to surround you and your creative process and reading that essay I realised you were just alone. How do you think this process has changed you either for the better or worse?
Pizzagirl: That’s a really good question. In terms of like, my specific situation, it’s like good and bad. I love making music. I’ve never made music with anyone ever so I’ve never had the experience with anyone else, so I’m quite used to it now. It’s so scary to make it all and then show someone for the first time. Because you do it and you’re just trusting that it’s good. Sometimes my mum will be downstairs and she’ll be like “I like this sound” but it’s not the full song so I’ll never know until someone listens whether they like it or not. It’s very strange. A lot of anxieties with it. Because you’re sitting there, doubting yourself most of the time, and you’re sitting alone. It’s very fun when you’re in the rhythm of it, but when you’re sitting there and it’s like, you don’t really know what you’re doing, if you’re a bit like tired or not feeling great in the day it really bleeds into music. Like if you’re not feeling great, then you’re not going to work well. And I found that a lot when I’ve been writing. But I don’t really write the same way every time. But I think having people around would make life a lot easier by I specifically choose to not have that.
How does it work in terms of time management?
Pizzagirl: All the songs are there, it’s just like mixing them when they’re ready to go. I’ve got so much music on my computer that like I could put another album out but it’s just trying to find that like the 10 songs I’m happy to start with. Just making sure that they’re mixed right. I didn’t really feel stressed out about the deadline. But it was scary to pick 10 for the first album, to know that these are always going to be my first 10 songs. So it was scary, but like, very exciting as well. I feel like I’m complaining. I really enjoyed it.
You have a line on the piece that I thought was very mature and very reflective of just accepting that you‘re always growing and changing, which was like, ‘Oh, this is just a snapshot of who I am as Pizzagirl right now. Like, whatever I think about it in the future, doesn't matter. I‘m happy with what I‘ve done‘. And I think that‘s the right way to look at it because whenever artists get really big and they release a lot of stuff, and they‘ve been in it for a long time, you always hear them saying like, ”Oh, I can‘t even listen to the first thing that I put out, it‘s 100% not me“. And all that stuff. And it‘s just sad.
Pizzagirl: I’m going to look back on this, even on the first EP, like the song that’s got the most streams today is a song I made when I was like 16. So I think it’s going to be fun. It’s like, you look back on pictures of yourself and you think “I look dumb there” but it’s still fun, it’s like a snapshot. It’s like a little glimpse of time that I am doing this. And I maybe when I’m older, more sad, yeah, I’ll be making better music, but I’ll still be proud of what I’ve done now. Because it’s just literally me in my bedroom, which I’m happy with.
Did making this record alone make you want to work with producers or other people in the future or do still think the way it is now is going to be the way to go?
Pizzagirl: I think I had a taste on the album of working with someone else but it’s very minimal. It this in Korean singer. And she was so great. And she’s like, a big fan of Pizzagirl, and I listened to one of her songs on Spotify, and I really loved the voice and I was like “I think this is the first time I’ll ever do this, but would you mind singing on this particular song?” And she replied like within a second saying “Yeah”, and she sent it over and that was really fun. I’d still want to do in the bedroom but like talk to someone online maybe and get them to send tracks over and work with them. I don’t know how well that would work but I think it was a good taste of how I can do it. I was very scared, but I did it and it was fun. I usually play with just a laptop live, but now I’ve got a drummer and bassist so it’s been a transition to work with. Our first show is in Reeperbahn in Hamburg which is quite scary because there are no sound checks. It’s fun. Like working with other people just takes a lot of stress off you. I think I’d like to produce someone. No one produce me, but I’d like to produce a couple of artists.
So can you describe to me the first time you played the album in full with someone else?
Pizzagirl: I was speaking to this girl a few months ago. It was like, she was a good friend and it was like a little fling. I was just sitting there finishing the mix, and I showed it to her and she really liked but it was very scary giving the songs to someone, especially as your friend because I think your friends are meant to – they just like it because they’re friends so it’s hard to get an honest opinion. I work really close with my management, so I made the big Dropbox folder and sent it to them. They were really just happy and excited about it. And I mean I think that was a really good day for me I was like “I feel good today because they really liked it” but it was scary like listening to it in full and knowing that people are gonna… I think pre-orders a very anxious for me, it’s like sort of people risking if they’re going to like it or not, because you haven’t heard it yet so they’re paying for what they think it’s gonna sound and that’s like so scary to me.
What was the best part of making an album?
Pizzagirl: I think the satisfaction of knowing that this was a completely me, that was so rewarding. Once I finished the songs, to sit and listen to them in full and know that this is what I’m going to do. Like this is my legacy just up till now. If I disappeared and all that was left was what I did, the album would be the thing, that’s quite interesting. I felt really ready, I felt this was the time to put an album out, it was so fun just to know that like, this was just me in my room, like I can’t blame anyone if it goes bad. Like if it flopped, then I know that I couldn’t blame anyone.It was just my product. So I thought that was quite exciting.
And the most challenging part?
Pizzagirl: Picking the songs was very hard. But it was also like, you know, when you hear a song so often you become like a bit deaf to parts that may make stand out in a week that you forgot to listen to. The drum sounds, I had to listen to so often, and I’d just become so numb to it that I worried that I’d listen to it in a month and go “Oh my god, I can’t believed I missed that”. Listening to the same song over and over for like, eight hours a day, was really stressful.
The album cover is very you, very quirky and funny. How did you land on that image?
Pizzagirl: It’s very camp. It was the weirdest story though because like, my friend, just before he left university, we rented out one of the photo studios in the university and took like a full day of like film photos. I have a double denim outfit on and we spent a lot of money on developing these photos and we were happy with them. And then “body biology” was coming out and we needed a press shot, so we ran into my back garden, put a white sheet down and he took like two photos and I sent them to the management. They’re like “These are great, this should just be the album cover” and I was like “Yeah, let’s do it”. And so these photos that we took in about five minutes in my back garden will be like, on the vinyl, and the whole colour scheme of the record is based on my shorts, which I didn’t even want in the picture. When we were getting these photos, I was like “Just don’t get the shorts, as long as you got my top”. It was just a weird story. Like, all these photos that I planned for months, like what single will be which and we spent a whole day on, were just completely discarded and this was the album cover now.
Save them for the deluxe version of the album.
Pizzagirl: I was thinking of adding some behind the scenes photos and stuff but it was so weird that like this one five-minute photoshoot in my back garden end up being the campaign, it was so interesting to me.
I think because maybe because it was more spontaneous it reflects more of you just naturally.
Pizzagirl: I’m very impulsive. And that just reflects… it’s always like a last minute thing with me and that was definitely last minute and it was just so quick and in the moment, I think that really worked, like the energy of that picture. I’ve got like a hoop earring on, some blue eye shadow, and I’m laying there, so if there’s any way to kick off a first record it’s like a very lazy way, I imagine.
But the ”body biology“ single art was a photo of your shorts, right?
Pizzagirl: The original one was my bum with lipstick saying body biology on it and we did get that shot, but then like I was told by like the distributor that it might have problems in some zones of nudity. But my mum had to write it on the cheek. So she was like writing it on and then in lipstick as well… But my shorts were pulled down, it said on the cheek likw “body biology”. The picture is somewhere, but I think the shorts being the theme is way more friendly for younger audiences. You couldn’t see anything, but the idea of it was more mature theme-wise. I knew that the single covers were not going to last long because the album would just take over that, so having these single covers for now was fine. Maybe I’ll post them online. If people like the album then I’ll tell them the secret, but I don’t know, maybe it’s like to have my bum specifically on my computer.
The secret will be in the interview.
Pizzagirl: Yeah, please let people know.
Watch: “body biology” – Pizzagirl
I feel like these songs are much more personal to you than the ones you‘ve released before. They talk about heartbreak, love, self-hatred, even about ego and fame. Did you consciously make the decision to dig deeper or did it just happen? Why?
Pizzagirl: I think it’s very interesting to look at these lyrics. Because it’s mostly like, I press record and I just make words until like a sentence strings out of them. I never really write anything down, so I have to write the lyrics down after the songs. It feels beyond my control, that just ends up being like a diary entry, like if I’m feeling stressed out that’ll probably come out in the songs. All the songs have a personal undercurrent, but it’s still quite wrapped in a fun way I imagine. There are songs of like troubles in relationships and stuff, but it’s very – my life, as it currently stands, is the album so it was just me spewing my thoughts and what my feelings were at the time I’d put into the songs. Some anxious songs, some weird songs. There is a song on the album called “daytrip”, which is such a sinister song. It’s about like a woman getting spiked, but it’s like a serial killer thing going on. Like I think I was watching Netflix murder documentaries and that probably seeped into my thinking at the time. So I like the idea of it being such a happy song with a sickly sweet melody when it’s about a really sinister subject. That’s probably the furthest away from my feelings. I wanted to make a song that was just completely not me whatsoever. The songs like “dennis”,that’s a bit more personal, besides the chorus, but like dealing with moving on in a relationship or with your friends and stuff. I like the idea of looking back and knowing that I know the meaning of it. It’s very therapeutic for me.
”ugly“ is quite heart-wrenching, as is ”cut and paste“. These both touch on self-worth and the online world - what‘s the relationship between self-worth and the internet to you?
Pizzagirl: I think the internet is, in a bad way, an indicator for self-worth, which is so bad. And that’s what you get clouded with sometimes. You need validation from the internet and I find that very toxic. Sometimes I fall into that trap of like. A lot of people feel like that, I think, with Instagram especially posting the best version of yourself online. But “ugly” and “cute and paste” are very on the nose, like very clear with that message. And again this was me randomly saying the words on the microphone. The chorus of “cut and paste” is like “best friends really want to break my neck” or something like that and I was like where does that come from? It must be my anxious mind thinking people hate you and stuff. If my best friends heard that they’d probably think like “What are you saying like, obviously that’s not the case”. But when you feel anxious you feel like the world’s against you. That was so weird, I was like “Oh my god, I’m so dramatic”. Looking back, I’ve cracked open my own personality there, which is maybe a bit too vulnerable.
”cut and paste“ is my favourite song. I just love the darkness in it, and it feels like you‘re really opening up.
Pizzagirl: It’s definitely a song that I’m not expecting people to give time to the most. It’s a very cagey, anxious, and nervous song. And just before the last chorus I distorted my voice like a scream, and I think my mom was cleaning up upstairs and she’s like “What are you doing and in that room?!” it was the loudest scream I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t want it to be too on the nose, so I covered it in a lot of reverb and distortion so no one could hear how childish my voice would be. But I think it was nice to have the moments of pure energy in that song. And it is pretty anxious and listening back, I showed my mum that part and there’s more context of me screaming now.
The album is this really weird journey because it starts like ”I‘m a rockstar“ and then goes to love, heartbreak, then ”I hate myself, bye“. I don‘t know if it was conscious of you to take us from the highest of highs and then end on a beautiful but ominous low, but why did you do this?
Pizzagirl: It might be how I subconsciously see the progression of an album anyways. I realised that it did go darker and I didn’t really think about it at the time, but I like the idea of it starting quite hopeful. Maybe that’s just my inner cynicism, but it’s just always decline. That’s such a good way of describing the album, like it’s very hopeful and confident and then “I don’t really like myself”. It’s just a bit self-deprecating. I think the last b-side is definitely the dark one.”thispartysux” is like a Kelly Clarkson pop song of going to a party and not being looked at by the person you really like and being really sad. It’s weird that I decided to go from such a high to a deep low at the end. Hopefully people stick with me.
I didn’t want it to be 10 tracks, all sunny songs, I think that’s disrespectful. I feel like it’d just be a waste of an album. It’s nice to have light and dark at times. But I think it just happened to go swiftly down. Like I could have put “cut and paste” as the second song but it wouldn’t work, I like the idea of it slipping a bit. It doesn’t dramatically decline. But it’s just like really steady, plateau, and then it goes a bit darker. The older songs have a bit of like a dark edge. The first song is about being a pop star, not dealing with the fame of it that well, but it’s still confident, it’s still hopeful. But then the second to last song is like, “My friends hate me! My family hates me!”.
The album opener, ”ball‘s gonna keep on rollin‘“, touches on themes of stardom, fame, ego, and being adored. ”thispartysux“ touches on these themes as well. How did you find yourself writing about these topics?
Pizzagirl: It’s definitely ironic. I feel like if I was talking like I was a rockstar then I’d have a personality crisis. But I like the idea of, “thispartysux” as well, there’s a lot of insecurity. [“ball’s gonna keep on rollin'”] says “I could be a rockstar”, and I feel like it’s a very teenage song. And it’s like me, in my room, almost singing in the mirror to the person I like. All these things you strive to be as a teenager, like you want to be a popstar when you’re a teenager, you want to be like a celebrity. And it’s all these things in your mind that really – I wish I was a teenager again just to have the idea of that being the biggest deal ever. Like that’s such a simple thing. To be a pop star, like life gets a lot more stressful than just wanting to be a popstar, so being a kid and that being the biggest deal in your life is quite simple. But I think it’s nice to look at these things and there’s always irony, I’d never write a song and be like, “I’m a pop star” and be super happy. There’s always like a bit of self-deprecation that you have to take these songs. But I like the idea of making a story. “thispartysux” is me at 15 probably thinking that I was in love with someone.
Watch: “ball’s gonna keep on rollin'” – Pizzagirl
A lot of the songs are set in specific locations, like the subway on Broadway, a car, a supermarket, Venice, a library, etc. Does music transport you? Why do you think your songs are not only stories but also settings?
Pizzagirl: That’s such a good question. I feel like I need to be anywhere but the bedroom when I’m in the bedroom. I like the idea of being anywhere but the place I’m in. I’m ready. I’m always in that room, so if I can write about being in a library and falling in love in a library that is so fun to me. Very mundane places, people write about going to like Club Tropicana, or like, really like different places, and I’m talking about the vegetable aisle in a grocery store. I like the idea of being in other places. Venice is probably the most exotic place that I’ve spoke about really. Actually, I talk about being on a beach in Maine – that was very Sharpay, High School Musical 2, that was definitely an ode to “Fabulous”. Someone pointed this out yesterday because I was just trying to make a word that rhymes consistently, like a parking lot in Venice is like a bit ironic and I didn’t realise until I listened to it. Venice is just canals. Maybe I was subconsciously thinking of that as fun sentence. But I like the idea of being in different places because I’m mostly just in this room. So that’s why I try and mentally transport myself. I wrote a song the other day, and it was like global warming’s kicked in now and we have to leave the planet and I was like flying to Mars and it was like, really fun.
Why did you choose Kelly Clarkson as an inspiration for a song of yours?
Pizzagirl: I was just listening to a lot of like pop funk and “Since U Been Gone” was on a lot. I think it was very uncool when I was in school to listen to music like that. Now, people are just embracing it. And I feel like that is so cool. So I wanted to just put my little spin, my little two cents in, have this really cheesy breakup song. It’s not a masterpiece of classical music, I didn’t want it to be like that. I just wanted it to be like, you are at a party and you’re very young, I just wanted it to be very juvenile. Kelly Clarkson was big influence on that song. I listened to a lot of early Avril Lavigne and Britney as well going through my mind.
So now quick questions based on each song: ”ball‘s gonna keep on rollin‘“: if you could choose any actor to play you on a sitcom about your life, who would it be?
Pizzagirl: I was very into Jerry Seinfeld at the time I was writing that song. I think Seinfeld is too easy. Timothée Chalamet!
”daytrip“: if you could take a day trip to anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Pizzagirl: I think it would be the USA, I’ve only been once so I’d like to go again. And the song is very Ferris Bueller as well. Maybe like New York would be great. I’d like to go to New York.
”body biology“: if you had to work at a supermarket, what position would you want?
Pizzagirl: I think like the scanner guy. I’d love to do that. I’ve always been interested, as a kid, the process of doing that. I just love the idea of scanning and being like, at Walmart, or scanning bulk items at Costco.
”dennis“: what‘s the one thing you can‘t give up?
Pizzagirl: Terribly it’d have to be my phone. It’s an extra hand on my body. I’m gonna have to give it up. But I think that and also like, Instagram is pretty bad. Maybe I should delete social media. That’s such a bad thing to say. I’m so ashamed to myself saying that. I have to be honest with myself, I don’t think I’d give up my phone.
”yesterday“: What's your idea of a perfect date?
Pizzagirl: So I think my perfect date is like… Definitely nowhere expensive. Awesome. No place where I have to spend money. Maybe like a nice city walk, going to a place where there’s free art that would be so fun. Maybe have a slice, have some water, and go to bed like 10pm which I never do. I always go to bed like 3am. So my perfect date will be like going to bed at 10pm waking up early and just like having breakfast. But no touching. We’ll wake up really early and have like a really good breakfast and then I’ll never see this person again.
”library“: What is your favourite book?
Pizzagirl: This is really, really morbid. But I was reading Anne Frank’s diary a couple of weeks ago, and it’s such a great book. And it’s so dark. I should say something like Green Eggs and Ham. I’ve been reading Steve Jobs, his biography. Yeah. Which is a really interesting thing. If I’m being honest, my favourite book at the minute is Anne Frank’s diary. Green Eggs and Ham is a great second.
”thispartysux“: What‘s one party from a movie/TV show/book that you wish you‘d been at?
Pizzagirl: Can a party be like a gathering of people?
Pizzagirl: You know on Grease where all the Pink Ladies are in the room together doing each others’ makeup and she sings “Sandra Dee”, I would love to be in that room. Obviously not as a guy like, that’d be so strange. But like as a Pink Lady.
”ugly“: What was the weirdest/worst thing you’ve ever come accidentally come across online?
Pizzagirl: The Pizzagirl fan account was strange. It came to me. There was an account that me and my friend found because I followed him, and it’s just this really old guy and it’s like pictures of his feet. And his bare nipple. There’s probably a lot of weirder stuff on the online though.
”cut and paste“: If you could have the answer to any question, big or small, what would you want to know?
Pizzagirl: Why am I tired all the time?
”goodnight“: What was the last dream you had?
Pizzagirl: I have dreams all the time where I meet celebrities and I try and get a picture with them but it never takes the picture. There are loads of dreams I’ve had where I’ve met my idols and I’ve tried to get a selfie. But every time I look at the picture, it’s either like deleted or just blurry. It’s a reoccurring dream. It’s so weird.
Who were the celebrities?
Pizzagirl: I think Timothée Chalamet was in one. I’ve been obsessed with Mark Ruffalo lately. My phone wallpaper is a picture of Mark Ruffalo. If I talk about him enough I might have a dream about him tonight, so let’s hope it’s Mark Ruffalo.
? © Neelam Khan Vela
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