A little indie, a little Gaga, a little Alanis Morissette, singer/songwriter Elizabeth Moen has been crisscrossing the country throughout 2019, with a couple of hops into Ireland and Italy. And the Vinton native will hit the road again at the end of January.
But on New Year’s Eve, the sultry chanteuse will be ringing in the new year onstage at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids. She’ll be pumping up the party by pumping up her band, with lead guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, backup vocals, sax and trumpet.
“I figured with that space and New Year’s Eve, I’d try and make it fun — do some surprises, and have a good time with it,” she said by phone from a friend’s house in Iowa City. Moen gave up her apartment there when she found herself spending more time on the road than in her own digs, so now she couch surfs between friends.
“It’s really just go, go, go, then stay with friends, then go, go, go,” she said. And she’s loving it.
Now 26, she graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in French, intending to teach or be a translator or work for a business in France. Toward the end of her college days, however, the self-taught guitarist started writing her own songs and playing around town. When her music began taking off, she switched career gears.
“At first my parents were a little hesitant,” she said, “but they saw how much I was working at it and they saw that I was doing what I love. At one point this year, my mom was like, ‘This is what you’re supposed to do. This is what you’re made to do.’ That was really nice to hear. I’ve been working really, really hard, and they recognize that and are just really supportive.
“I’m really, really lucky to have such a supportive family — not just my parents — my brother, my grandparents, my cousins, my uncles, aunts. Locally and also around the country, I’ll have friends and family come to our shows. I’ll see them post about it and tell their friends to come. Yeah, I’m really lucky.”
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She’s looking forward to seeing familiar faces in the audience Tuesday night (12/31), too. She headlined at CSPS in May 2018, in a setting where the audience was sitting. That won’t be the case on New Year’s Eve, when chairs will be set up on the risers, but the floor in front of the stage will be for standing and dancing to some of the more up-tempo tunes.
“Some of our songs are a little slower, folkier, kind of sad, but we also have some upbeat, up-tempo kinds of songs,” she said. “We’ll do a little bit of everything, but definitely try and make it a fun show. With the saxophone, trumpet and keys, we’ll just have some fun up there, for sure.”
She describes her sound as “a hot mess.”
“I really love punk and I really love old-timey country, I really love R&B, I really love soul, I really love jazz, I love rock,” she said. “I’m sincerely inspired by and enjoy all kinds of music, and it inevitably makes my music vary from song to song. Some songs are gonna be more country, some songs are gonna be more punk, some songs are gonna be a little more soulful — it just really depends. I like to have just a combination of all of them.”
That makes it harder to market herself, but she’s not too worried about that.
“If I were to focus on that, I don’t think my music would be as good,” she said, “so I try and just let the song be what it is. There’s a line in a new song of mine where I say, ‘I’m sick of singing songs about my exes, should join somebody else’s band, play songs about their life instead of mine. be part of a very marketable brand.’
“It’s definitely something to keep in mind — music does have the business side of things, but I’ve found when I try and write a song with the intent of it being marketable, it ends up being bad song and then I never sing it.”
She’s coming off a banner year where she acquired an agent and a manger; launched a headlining tour; played the Hinterland Music Festival south of Des Moines; headlined again at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City; sold out a couple of venues in New York and Chicago and Wisconsin; opened a few events with Bernie Sanders; and played at 7th St Entry in Minneapolis, where Prince played and filmed many scenes for “Purple Rain.” Moen also saw a couple of her songs placed on a TV show and in a movie trailer.
“That was fun,” she said. “To see actors do their thing while my songs were playing the in the background was kind of surreal.”
With one foot in 2019 and the other in 2020, she recorded a few songs for her next album at Muscle Shoals in Alabama, where Aretha Franklin, Etta James and other greats from the 1950s and ’60s recorded their music.
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“It was really special, to just be in that studio and feel that energy,” she said, adding that she’ll also be recording in California next month and is hoping to catch the ear of a recording label.
“I feel like next year will be even bigger,” she said. “My bandmates and I just keep learning and growing. The more you play and the more you tour, the better it gets, because you just learn from it.”
• What: Elizabeth Moen New Year’s Eve
• Where: CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
• When: 8 p.m. Tuesday (12/31)
• Tickets: $15 advance, $20 door, CSPS Box Office, (319) 364-1580 or Legionarts.org/events/upcoming/
• Artist’s website: Elizabethmoen.com
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