Laura Press Photo - Allis Chang

Philly’s Laura Lizcano – Colombian jazz-folk vocalist and songwriter – has “Heart” to spare on her new album

Along with musing on issues of mournful heartbreak and upbeat heart-make in English, Lizcano shows off her Latin language skills and the lyrical depths of passion on self-penned tracks in her native tongue.

Ever since her appearance on WRTI-FM’s “Live from the Performance Studio” showcase in 2018 with her small band, I have been mad for the ethno-centric jazz-folk (Jolk? Fazz?) of Colombian-born, Philadelphia-transplant Laura Lizcano. The one-time Temple University Big Band singer – a young, smokey vocalist with notes of mid-period Joni Mitchell and Natalia Lafourcade in her voice and Laura Nyro in her compositional skills – during that radio program showed hints of the intimate emotional reverie that she soon would lend both 2018’s “Chance on Me” EP and this month’s new album release, “Heart.”

Along with musing on issues of mournful heartbreak and upbeat heart-make in English, Lizcano shows off her Latin language skills and the lyrical depths of passion on self-penned tracks in her native tongue.

I caught up with Lizcano on the mess that was Election Day, talking about Heart, her livestream release show and more.

A.D. Amorosi: Tell me about yourself and your roots. I know you are Colombian. Were you born here or there? Same with your parents. And where did the Lizcanos settle in Philadelphia? 
Laura Lizcano: I was born in Bogotá, Colombia. My mom and I moved to the U.S. when I was ten years old, so I grew up in a tiny little town called Lykens. It’s about 45 minutes north of Harrisburg. I came to Philly by myself to pursue a degree in Jazz Voice Performance at Temple U, and I’ve been here ever since.

A.D. Amorosi: How would you say that, as a writer, singer, musician, you showed off and-or portrayed your heritage before the release of Heart?
Laura Lizcano: I didn’t really grow up with my Colombian heritage around, since I came to the U.S. when I was pretty young. And I’m not very familiar with traditional Colombian music. However, I do have a special love for Latin American folk musicians: Mercedes Sosa, Silvio Rodriguez, Facundo Cabral, Violeta Parra, and Chavela Vargas. None of these folks are Colombian, but, I heard them a lot when I was a teenager and in college, and so I feel that their songwriting has infused itself into my own writing here and there. I think you can especially hear this in “Corazón.” 

A.D. Amorosi: When and why did you first become interested in performing, singing live? And who were your initial influences?
Laura Lizcano: I can’t really remember a time that I didn’t want to sing. So, I’ve always, always wanted to be a vocalist. My first big influences were Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. 

A.D. Amorosi: How is crafting lyrics in Spanish so different from penning those in English? 
Laura Lizcano: Crafting lyrics in Spanish is different because it’s an entirely different language with its own rules. It’s often harder for me, because I didn’t have my formal schooling in Spanish, and so my written Spanish is less proficient than my English. I’m often a bit self-conscious about it, actually, because I’m worried I misspell things or that I will make grammatical errors. But it’s also very satisfying to be able to convey ideas in two different languages. 

HEART albumcover - Allis Chang

A.D. Amorosi: The music on your live EP and your Heart LP moves from folk to jazz to soul-pop to music that lingers on its ethnic origins. Please tell me about the journey to find versatile, sympathetic players to aid you in your quest. 
Laura Lizcano: All the people I play with are jazz musicians. I’ve built playing relationships with them through college/ jam sessions/ gigs. I’m very grateful for them because they’re super versatile and flexible. It’s so nice to have a band that I can say “I’m feeling this very specific groove” and they can reproduce it and make it their own in very special ways. 

A.D. Amorosi: What stories did you always want to tell as a singer and as a lyricist? I get that you are going for something intimate and tender as a line such as “Quieres escuchar mis versos, quieres ver mi corazón abierto,” translates into the question, “You want to hear me singing, you want to see my open heart?” 
Laura Lizcano: I just want to tell my story and speak my truth. For me, music has always given me a space to be myself and a space to express myself safely. As a woman and as an immigrant, I don’t always have these safe spaces to be who I am. So, that musical space for me is very sacred. That lyric is about the vulnerability of being a singer-songwriter. The expectation that you must bear your soul on the stage while making it beautiful. But sometimes, being that vulnerable can be very raw. While the song is very tender, I’ve always felt that specific lyric is defiant. You want to hear my verses. You want to see my open heart. With this song, I was thinking you might not want to hear the truth, or you might not like what you see. But I will tell it like it is. 

A.D. Amorosi: Are you doing our own arranging on the new album? Heart runs a good gamut from the richly orchestrated to the spare, and seem to focus on which tunes to best achieve a desired effect. 
Laura Lizcano: Yes and no. Haha. By playing through the tunes, the band kind of came up with their own ways of playing specific parts, within the direction and vision that I had for each song. In “Lullaby,” for example, Joe Plowman (bass) and Silas Irvine (piano) came up with some very specific melodic lines that they play together. I feel this kind of happens with jazz musicians a lot, because we tend to just have one lead sheet and a groove and maybe some hits written in. The rest is left to the band to figure out on its own. The more you play the tunes, the more the arrangements start to evolve. The horn arrangements were written by Andrew Carson (True Love, Overworked & Underpaid, Hello Old Friend, and Corazón), and Nick Lombardelli (Song of Gratitude). 

Laura Press Photo upright - Allis Chang

A.D. Amorosi: Tell me please about writing and singing “Overworked & Underpaid.” It’s breezy and enterprising in a way that is different from the rest of Heart. 
Laura Lizcano: I wrote “Overworked & Underpaid” when I was nannying, teaching private lessons at three different places, and gigging restaurant-type gigs. I had also recently quit a coffee shop job and a different teaching job that was just really not working out. It was crazy, and I couldn’t keep up. But I was also comforted/ horrified by the fact that a lot of my friends were in similar situations. Millenial burnout is super real. The whole thing is ridiculous, which is why that song is a bit funny. I needed to make it funny in order to cope with it, I suppose. 


A.D. Amorosi: Tell me please about writing and singing “Overworked & Underpaid.” It’s breezy and enterprising in a way that is different from the rest of Heart. 
Laura Lizcano: I wrote “Overworked & Underpaid” when I was nannying, teaching private lessons at three different places, and gigging restaurant-type gigs. I had also recently quit a coffee shop job and a different teaching job that was just really not working out. It was crazy, and I couldn’t keep up. But I was also comforted/ horrified by the fact that a lot of my friends were in similar situations. Millenial burnout is super real. The whole thing is ridiculous, which is why that song is a bit funny. I needed to make it funny in order to cope with it, I suppose. 

A.D. Amorosi: What was the most complicated, most challenging song to get through in terms of both arrangement, melody and emotion? And why? 
Laura Lizcano: “Funeral.” That is the only cover song on the record. It is by a Chilean singer-songwriter. Her name is Mon Laferte. It’s a difficult song because I wanted to do it as a duo with Dariel (guitar), and it was super exposed and vulnerable. The lyrics are also about the end of a relationship, and wanting it to just die. Hence, the title. So, it’s a lot of back and forth between the agonizing parts of wanting it to end, but also these moments of clarity where the couple has to sit down and talk about what they’re going to do with the two cats and what the future will look like. 

A.D. Amorosi: I know that a pandemic screws up most plans. What’s next? 
Laura Lizcano: Hahaha, I don’t know! I’ve been writing a lot and feeling particularly creative, so I have a lot of ideas floating around. Hopefully, over the next few months, I’ll have a plan that I can execute. This whole pandemic thing seems to be lasting way longer than expected, so I’d like to lean into that a little bit. Rest assured that something new will come. I just don’t know what it is yet.


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