Liz Conant Interview -By: Niki Kaos

Written by on May 10, 2022

Liz Conant is a force of nature, combining thoughtful musicianship with heartfelt, emotive performances. While owning and managing The Studio in Greenfield Center, her work has provided an environment for musicians to thrive just outside of Saratoga Springs. She is a mom who juggles it all. And she is a writer and performer who is ready to embark on the next chapter of her music life. I was lucky enough to catch up with her for this interview and learn more about what exciting projects are on the radar for 2022.

RRX: Tell me about your new music projects – you have a few different things you’re working on, including joining Wesley Stace as part of his band on the keyboards. How did you get connected to that opportunity? 

LC: First, I need to mention that Wesley Stace was previously known as John Wesley Harding. He’s had a long and successful career and is a super-prolific songwriter, as well as a writer (with several novels and an opera to his credit). His bassist, Eddie Carlson and I were both in the Chicago-based indie pop band The Aluminum Group for over a decade, so that was my ‘in’. I’m fortunate that Eddie’s recommendation was all I needed to get the gig. David Nagler is the music director and composer of the music portion of Wesley’s newest release “Late Style”, and after I spent a few weeks with the music, he and I met in Lenox, Mass – which was halfway between our homes – to run through the book and get to know each other. A few weeks later the whole band met in Brooklyn to rehearse the set. It feels like it all happened overnight. The musicians in the band are all top-tier players and I’m really honored that Wes had faith in me before he even heard me play one note. 

RRX: You’re also preparing to do a cool improv gig in Chicago. What’s that about?

LC: It’s about always saying “yes” when people ask me to perform! Stephanie Rogers is the producer of Story Jam, a long-running storyteller’s showcase in Chicago, and when she heard that I was going to be in town performing, she asked if I would play for Story Serenade, which has more of a workshop vibe. A storyteller will read, and then right after I will improvise a through-composed song on the spot which relates to the story. No safety net here! And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kinda freaked out about doing it. But I’ve done singing telegrams, hosted radio programs, MC’ed events and fronted bands. I’ve got to trust that the material is in me somewhere. At this point in my life, I’m feeling the mortality clock ticking, so I have to jump into all good opportunities feet first.

RRX: You grew up in a musical family. How did that influence your art and your growth as a musician?                                                                                                          

LC: My father was a Baroque harpsichordist, and I studied classical piano from an old-school Viennese concert pianist; those things gave me a good degree of skill and musical knowledge. I still find Baroque music the most deeply beautiful music on the planet. When I was 12, my father took me to SPAC to hear McCoy Tyner and Oscar Peterson, and I can say that it opened my eyes to a whole new world of music. My dad also used to play the Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s” and “Magical Mystery Tour” albums for me as a young girl, so I can thank him for a lot of musical education. 

RRX: I love your work with the music community through The Studio in Greenfield Center, a treasured family music space. What were your favorite moments, and/or what were your most memorable challenges or funny stories in managing that space?                                                                                                                                                     

LC: Where on earth to start? My father built the venue in 1974 to present his Baroque music festival, and after he died in 2013, I inherited it. I’ve had to do everything myself – from admin tasks to mopping floors and everything in between. The payoff is when the place is filled with happy people and the music is so good… There’s a glow in the room, the feeling in the air is amazing. This is precious stuff, and it’s what makes it all worth it. Also, I love the idea that the Studio has been host to such a huge variety of performances: Baroque ensembles, classical groups, twentieth century music, jazz bands, folk music, blues and rock, spoken word, rap, even dance and theater productions – not to mention the yoga classes. The space is a hidden treasure in the woods, and so many wonderful memories have been made there. COVID changed the nature of the room however, and now I’m not producing shows but rather offering the venue as a rental space and as an artists’ Airbnb. 

RRX: You’ve had a dynamic music career. Is there anything that sticks out in your memory you can share with us about your evolution as an artist? 

LC: My career has been multi-faceted; I find that if you want to work as a musician, it helps to play a wide range of styles. Of course, that’s not true for all musicians, but it enabled me to work and collaborate with a whole lot of people I might not have otherwise if I’d just stuck to one genre. And I highly value that diversity. But the other side of that coin is that it can be a bit confusing to folks; am I Liz Conant, pop rock keyboardist, or Elizabeth Conant, sultry vocalist and frontwoman of a swinging jazz trio? My marketing strategy has to change with the gig. But at the end of the day, I really just want to play good, engaging music. Doesn’t matter what it is. Performing a wide range of material also expands your musicality and intelligence as a player.                                        

RRX: One of the things I admire about you is that you did a lot on your own. You are definitely a DIY support system for the music community. Do you have any advice for artists who are starting out? Can you tell us what about music helps you keep at it despite the challenges of being an artist in today’s world? 

LC: Ah, the “advice for artists starting out” question… There’s never an easy answer to that! I think folks all know the value of networking. Making relationships is key – but the second and equally important part of the equation is follow-through. If you don’t have your thing figured out – then book a gig. Put a show on the calendar, a firm commitment, and I guarantee the material will come together. And as for what keeps me going – I just love the feeling of playing music, the sound, the camaraderie, the joy. We all know that making money from music is really not an attainable goal for most of us, but there is a real value in the process and experience of simply making music with other humans. That being said, I think we musicians should always endeavor to earn money from our recordings and seek out gigs that pay. It is a service, after all. Imagine a world without music! And whenever someone suggests that you play for free at an event – tell them it’s your job, and that you need to be paid. Simple as that, really. 

RRX: Thank you so much for sharing with us. Is there anything else we should keep an eye out for to catch your next project? 

LC: Thank you for the interview! It’s been a pleasure. I have a new post as keyboardist for the Cabinet of Wonders, house band at the City Winery in Manhattan, with Wesley Stace as front man. We’ll be backing up some pretty well-known artists, so I’m really looking forward to it. When I’m home in the Saratoga region I hope to find a few piano bar gigs to keep me busy. I’m going to spend my down time writing for my memoir blog The Hillhouse in Greenfield and enjoying the long-awaited summer weather.

Current track