Elizabeth On The Allure Of Ruining Your Life, And Being ‘The Debutant Divorcée’
Incredibly lush and dramatic, Elizabeth's debut album is all-in dream-pop, perfect for the heartbroken.
“It’s very hard to be kind to yourself when your life is falling apart.”
It’s the first moment where the conversation has dipped during lunch with Elizabeth. She’s pausing to think of where to go next, more or less echoing the process behind The Wonderful World Of Nature, her first solo album.
We joke an alternate title could’ve been ‘The Debutant Divorcée’, a descriptor pulled from the album’s PR package. A lot has changed in the past year — her 2018 album with the now defunct band Totally Mild, Her, was filled with dream-pop domestic devotionals to her now-ex wife. But that’s not to say it was ever perfect.
Elizabeth describes Her as a curdled mixture of “love and entrapment”, something echoed in the cutting line on …Nature‘s ‘Meander’: “A band of gold…what a thing to hold me back”.
But she’s quick to say it wasn’t a one-way restriction: writing the album, Elizabeth didn’t want to paint herself as the wilted rose, even if that would’ve made things a little easier.
“It is a break-up album,” she says. “But it’s also an album about reflecting on what you’re bringing to the situation, and whether you’re the monster or whether the other person is a monster — and why you’re so monstrous together, really.”
“For me, [break-up albums] have blurred edges, and so do your feelings about whether you’re going to be with someone or not… But I would say as much as it’s about a break-up, it’s also about trying to figure out how to exist by myself outside of something — whether that’s a relationship, you know, or a multitude of other dynamics.”
Across …Nature, Elizabeth isn’t very kind to herself. Its eleven tracks are extravagant in emotion and sound, as Elizabeth’s devastating voice and lyrics (“How could you love me/so far above me”) cut through a dream-pop haze of twangy guitars and pining piano.
On The Wonderful World Of Nature, Elizabeth sifts through pain. Unsurprisingly, it’s a non-linear journey, where emotions bounce back and forth between contentment and deep pining, self-blame and self-acceptance. In her own words, it’s a messy album about a messy situation.
‘Everything Is Embarrassing’
While ‘The Debuntée Divorce’ provides context, The Wonderful World Of Nature — and its cover, a close-up of Elizabeth’s face peering out from a wall of florals rich with detail — better carries the album’s tone. Elizabeth tells me she wanted the album to sound “super lush to an excessive level”, to match that all-enveloping obsession and heart-break she finds herself ready to indulge in at any opportunity.
“It’s a cycle of being like, ‘Oh my God, why am I so dramatic?’, and also, ‘Wow this hurts just so much’,” she says. “There’s also this weird allure to everything getting destroyed — there’s a huge desire if your life is good to ruin it. I don’t know why for me, but there is. I’m trying very hard to not do that anymore. But to me that mostly just looks like not having any partners, and just being like, ‘everyone stay away, because I need to sort this shit out’.”
“Honestly on a really base level, I liked the way that [album title] phrase sounds. It really casts a mood, but I think it’s a bit sarcastic in some ways. It’s about trying to dissect whether you’re terrible because it’s just in your nature and whether you can ever really get away from it… It’s also something a five-year-old said to me once, ‘We should call our band ‘The Wonderful World Of Nature’, and I’m like, ‘I’m going to call my album that’.”
To reach that excessive sound, Elizabeth worked with producer John Castle (Hatchie, Cub Sport, Jack River, Washington) to establish an overtly cinematic soundscape, inspired in part by Lana Del Rey. One stand-out is on the melodramatic ‘death toll’, where a line about a screaming match on the street has a high-pitched yelp in the background.
“I’m not really interested in desire unless it’s so consuming, and I think that’s maybe problematic.”
“I just wanted it to have this element that was weird,” she says. “And I don’t know if you’ve ever screamed with a partner in the street about something — but it’s so raw to realise that you are just people standing in the street screaming at each other. It’s so animalistic and I want that to be conveyed somehow on the record. We tried to get me doing it, but honestly I couldn’t get a good sound.”
A large part of …Nature, Elizabeth says, is working out who she is and can be outside of that relationship, or just outside of obsessing over someone. “I’m just trying to make more conscious decisions in terms of not becoming derailed by obsession,” she says, “because honestly, I’m not really interested in desire unless it’s so consuming, and I think that’s maybe problematic.”
“There is something about queer relationships that do seem to be lacking in the same kinds of boundaries that um, maybe hetero relationships have,” Elizabeth says. “Maybe it’s because we have existed outside of the bounds of what heteronormativity has told people relationships have to look like.”
“For me, I’m definitely guilty of just becoming completely obsessed with lovers but also completely obsessed with friends — not in a way that’s unhealthy but, also, maybe unhealthy just in the breaking down of, um, intimacy… I honestly don’t know how to, um, experience desire without it becoming consuming. I’m trying to learn that because I think actually that just means you don’t have any boundaries.”
One thing that’s helped has been a support network of friends — in the music video for ‘meander’, a coven of friends surround Elizabeth and feel a collective pain, as if from the grieving scene in Midsommar. The Wonderful World Of Nature‘s release might be the next step; 10 songs for fellow debutante divorcees.
Elizabeth’s The Wonderful World Of Nature is out now, via Our Golden Friend/Universal Music. Feature image by Naomi Lee Beveridge.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. He is on Twitter.