Brooklyn-based band Eliza and the Organix have a unique sound that blends funk, rock, and hints of folk and jazz. Their second album, Present Future Dreams: Part II, is set for release on May 1 and will include their new single, “Broken Sky,” which vocalist and guitarist Eliza Waldman describes as a song about intergenerational trauma.
Waldman, who has a powerful voice a bit reminiscent of Alanis Morissette, sings of disillusioned dreams in the track: “Broken sky, paper dolls / When your whole life feels too small / When the best you know becomes the worst of all.” Due to the hit musicians have taken because of the coronavirus, Waldman is encouraging listeners to support the arts and download the track on Bandcamp for $.99 or more.
We spoke to her about her music, the impact of intergenerational trauma, and what having a female-fronted band means to her.
AF: Tell me about how your band got started.
EW: The band started originally at Vassar College in 2011. Me and my friends Kristen Tivey and Vanora Estridge were all in the jazz program, which was a mostly male program at a college that was historically all-female until the 1960s. That was, to say the least, a disappointing dynamic. So, immediately part of the band landscape for us was wanting to create a place for ourselves that felt more comfortable to improvise and explore what we could DO making music, and we found that with each other.
At the time, I was listening to a lot of the bands Cake and Morphine, and I was in love with the saxophone. I was really getting into textures, horn arrangements, all the layering that Cake would do on their albums. The saxophone really appealed to me because it’s like a musical gut punch. It’s a very forward instrument, and I found that aggressive energy very appealing. I was also really into Amanda Palmer and the Dresden Dolls at the time, which attracted me for a lot of the same reasons. She was loud, she was angry, she had a lot to say.
I had just really started writing songs in college – for years before that, I was very focused on classical guitar and did not really think of myself as a songwriter. But it started to come together part-way through college, and I realized, Oh hey, actually, I’m pretty good at this and I love doing it.
So it started out with me on guitar, Kristen on saxophone, and Vanora on keys jamming with a lovely drummer Erik Snow. When we started out, it was all super new, and our sound was very raw. Funk-punk energy is how I would describe it. It was a mix of soul grooves and me being super loud and playing around vocally. I was just having the best time.
AF: What made you want to write about intergenerational trauma? Is it something you’ve dealt with?
EW: I’m really glad to have the opportunity to talk about this subject, because it’s something I care deeply about. I think for years I was writing about intergenerational trauma without ever knowing it. I look back on my earlier work, and I can hear it everywhere in the songs, how I was trying to process things without really knowing how to. “Broken Sky” is one of those songs where I didn’t realize what I was writing about at first, and I was listening back to it, and it suddenly clicked for me. Oh, it’s about these patterns that got passed down to me that I now find myself living out over and over.
I’ve had quite a journey over the past few years emotionally. I think that the way we’re raised affects so much in how we think about and process the world, and it’s so ingrained that it’s easy not to realize. Both of my parents had rough childhoods, and I was raised with this mentality that no one will give you anything. Don’t ask for help. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Never show emotion, never let them see you cry. And several years ago, I went through some very rough stuff involving a relationship that I found myself completely unequipped to handle emotionally. I didn’t know how to be kind to myself when I wasn’t doing well. I didn’t seem able to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and I was really hard on myself about that for a long time. I didn’t know how else to cope. I realize now that my coping mechanisms and my mindset were not letting me break free of these painful patterns.
I was lucky that I discovered therapy, and I have to say it was an incredibly liberating experience. I feel like these patterns from the past are something I may always be dealing with, but I feel much more in control of my life at this point. I learned as a child to avoid conflict, and that’s something that has been the hardest pattern for me to break free of, to actually get to a place where I believe that my thoughts and my feelings matter. I know that’s something a lot of women can identify with. But I’m in such a better place with myself at this point, and I feel incredibly lucky to be living my best life, out there making my music in the world.
AF: Do you think a lot of women are dealing with intergenerational trauma right now?
EW: I don’t know if I’m just more attuned to it than I used to be, but I feel like I see and hear women dealing with trauma pretty much everywhere recently in the arts and media. I read an article a couple days ago where Reese Witherspoon was talking about how every woman on the set of Big Little Lies was dealing with some form of trauma. That really hit me. Millennials have been called the therapy generation, and I think there’s so much that’s been pressurized in our culture for so long that’s finally starting to come out. There’s been a cultural shift where things that used to be seen as normal, women are starting to say, “No, actually, this isn’t normal, this isn’t acceptable.”
AF: What would you say the rest of your album is about?
EW: This album is actually rather high concept! It’s a two-parter. The first half of it came out in 2017 and was called Present Future Dreams: Part I. And now, in 2020, finally, Present Future Dreams: Part II is coming out. The artwork was done in collaboration with my good friends Nick Cohen and Marlee Newman and features a rubber chicken under a car tire, the concept being that for millennials in their 20s, you are this rubber chicken out there on the highway of life getting run over and bouncing back and run over and bouncing back. There’s so much learning and processing that’s going into finding your place in the world, and sometimes learning experiences can be brutal, so there’s a kind of dark humor to it. But the chicken always bounces back and tries again, so it’s hopeful, too. The songs are really a series of vignettes about those experiences of growing up in your 20s.
AF: You’ve played at a few different women’s music festivals — what’s that like coming together with other female musicians like that?
EW: It feels really great! I’ve met so many really talented, badass human beings through festivals like Womxn Fuck Shit Up DC, Swan Day CT, and Ladybug Festival in DE. I really appreciate those festival organizers for putting in all the time and energy it takes to create these amazing spaces where we can come together and nurture each other. It’s such a special experience.
AF: What do you have coming up next?
EW: Our local NY release show for the new EP is happening May 1 at Pianos with our friends HARD NIPS and Sarah FM, and then we’ll be performing at Froggy Daze Festival in Narrowsburg, NY May 15th. April 24th we’ll be in Somerville, MA at the Jungle and April 25th, we’ll be appearing on WECS FM (Eastern Connecticut State University) and playing at Gaiafest in Southbridge, MA with some NYC locals Basic B-tches. We’re also planning out some dates for our summer tour, so we’ll be doing some traveling in July, those dates TBA!
INTERVIEW: Alice Ivy Talks Dreamy Debut Ahead of SXSW