Five years ago, Liv Lombardi was onto something . She'd recently returned to Santa Fe after a disastrous relationship in Cyprus, she'd formed a band and was performing relatively often. She'd just self-released an album, Self Medicate, about her trials and tribulations as a human person roaming the planet (Music: "Liv and Let Liv," June 12, 2012).
History, it seems, repeats itself. Lombardi has once again returned to Santa Fe with a new band and a new EP, titled Freedom Girl, and a fresh heartbreak from which to cull song material. Life is funny like that.
"At the beginning of 2013 I was like, 'I've gotta get out of Santa Fe; I want to keep doing [music], but in Europe.'" Lombardi booked a one-way trip to back Cyprus, then made her way throughout Germany, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Hungary and beyond by playing shows, crashing on couches and staying in hostels. "Freedom Girl is based on that trip," she says. "Cyprus was kind of like home since I'd studied there in college, but Budapest was the complete unknown." She met a woman there, fell in love and, she says, "it turned into this really profound thing—the perfect stranger kind of thing—but it took me a long time to home in on and figure out how much that meant to my story."
That part, of course, is beautiful heartbreak-spurred inspiration, though it's not entirely innovative to write songs about sadness. It doesn't end with the breakup, though—far from it.
"When I went to Turkey, I was there with a lot of people who were escaping Istanbul, and that was teaching me a lot about my freedom," Lombardi recalls. "My message, I suppose, with Freedom Girl is that when we choose to follow the thing that feels most true, to be free, the opposite side of the coin is that there's a lot of pain."
Lombardi was sexually assaulted in Turkey by a man who ran a hostel in which she was staying. "Learning how to look at that, like, the worst thing that could ever happen to you, and to say, 'OK, that happened, but I'm still alive, I need to heal, I need to persevere,'" she says. "The more I started talking about it, the more I realized how often it happens; how much shame and guilt there is, and it's not anyone's fault but the person who does the attacking. It's been a tough passage to navigate."
Cut to one year ago, and Lombardi was in the midst of a musical residency in Summer Lake, Oregon—the middle of nowhere. "I kept having this conversation with myself, and saying, 'The reason I'm not touring is this, the reason I have anxiety is that.' And I just remember finally thinking, 'I'm done, I'm ready to move on,'" she explains. "I feel like that allowed me to empty out all the stuff, and when I started filling back up again, it was with this incredible sense of self."
The story, as it were, comes across in Freedom Girl's five songs like a pop-heavy evolution of a folk-esque performer who's had her fair share of troubles and sadness. Melodically and musically, it's tight and catchy thanks to help from audio engineers Kabby Kabakoff and Will Dyar, Treemotel's Mark Williams and David Badstubner, and California-based musician Daniel Siuba, a longtime collaborator of Lombardi's. But beyond the upbeat melodies and reverb-laden guitar sound are lyrics that describe a deep intensity tempered by hope.
Lombardi does bring happier material to the forefront, but she's not shying away from the bad that shapes her. It's all at once technically notable in its production values and lyrically raw and open in a way that most musicians fear to explore. The only real downside would be that the listener might want more. But is that bad? Better to want more than less.
And anyway, she's got enough material for a full-length; Freedom Girl is more like the prologue. "It's exciting," Lombardi says. "It's exciting to have this piece that's like, 'Hey, this is where I've been, let's keep going.'"
And keep going she shall at an upcoming Zephyr performance alongside stalwart local harp weirdo ppoacher ppoacher (Caitlin Brothers of Storming the Beaches with Logos in Hand). Lombardi's twin sister Ariana, who has been living in China, comes along as well to recite poetry to her sister's music.
"There's a way to be hopeful," Lombardi adds. "I've found my music is my hope that I'm finding in the dark; how I speak truth to the awful things, but how it makes visible the love and the strength in my life."
Liv Lombardi: Freedom Girl Release Party
8 pm Friday Oct. 20. $5-$10.
Zephyr Community Art Studio,
1520 Center Drive, Ste. 2