Norwegian-born singer-songwriter Liv Austen is one of the most popular acts on the UK country scene at the moment.
Recently signed to NUA Entertainment, she’s been winning fans around the country with her energetic live performances and catchy, uptempo songs since releasing her debut EP in 2014. Her latest single, Don’t Regret A Single One, was released earlier this year and has been supported by Chris Country as well as Radio 2’s Paul Sexton.
I caught up with Liv recently ahead of her performance at the first Nashville Meets London Presents to talk about her new music, playing at C2C and her songwriting process.
You’ve just played at C2C Festival – how was that?
It was amazing! Yeah, it was a super-busy weekend but we had so much fun. We did full band shows on Friday and Saturday, which were amazing because we played the Big Entrance stage which was completely packed out both days. So there was really great energy. And then we finished with the Sunday close up stage, which was more of a round, and it was so perfect to end on that I think. Yeah, it was brilliant. I love C2C, I’ve gone every year and it’s the second time I’m playing it. It’s just really, really fun for an artist when you get to play it every single day, and just meet so many new people and play your music to new people as well. So yeah, we had a fantastic time!
What do you think it is that makes C2C particularly special?
I think the thing that was special about it to begin with was that they were quite quick to catch on to people’s interest in country music in the UK. In 2013 it was quite brave of them to bring over some of those big acts that played the first year, like Darius Rucker – obviously Leann Rimes was maybe a slightly bigger name and then they had the really well-known headliners. But they were really brave to put that on I think, because at the time it wasn’t necessarily such a big thing. But then they really picked up who people were listening to in the UK, brought exactly the right people over, and they’ve kept doing that every year I think. They’ve been really good at just choosing the right acts to play it. I think that’s just really spread the word. It’s been so fantastic, so successful every year, and I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s just grown so massively every year and it’s just showing that more and more people are understanding that this is a massively broad type of music and a genre of music they can be interested in. It kind of started with the hardcore fans and I think everyone’s just converted one of their friends to become this massive community.
Do you find you get a different response from the festival crowd compared to other shows?
I think it’s really, really great for an artist to get to do a festival in general. I love doing festivals because you’re going to be playing to some people who have no idea who you are, whereas with other gigs it’s more you have your fans who come and see you and people who know who you are – they’re the ones who know about your gigs. But if they’re there for the festival – say if someone’s come to see Faith Hill and they show up early and I’m playing on a stage and they have no plans to see me at all, but they might stop for a song, stop for two songs and if they like it I’ve picked up a new fan or someone who’s interested in listening to my music. So for me it’s a fantastic opportunity. And it’s just the best way to do it because you can obviously just promote yourself as much as you want and you can do all the stuff online, but nothing beats just being live and playing your music. That speaks so much louder than everything you say about yourself on social media or whatever. So yeah, it’s a really great opportunity and I think C2C is great because you know that people are gonna be into your type of music. I think it’s also great with other festivals because then you really do pick up a very different type of crowd, but I think C2C is just such a friendly environment which I like about.
What’s the lesson you’ve learnt from playing festivals and being on the road?
Ooh, that’s a very good question! I think what I’ve learnt is to never underestimate any kind of place that you haven’t heard of, or any festival. I’ve had a few experiences where I’ve been booked to play festivals. Two especially come to mind – there was one called Monmouth Festival in Wales and one called Dent Music & Beer Festival in Densdale up north. And both of those I didn’t really know anything about them, but they were really lovely to me, they offered me a decent price to come and play and do some sets, and I said ‘yeah, why not? I’ll try it’. And both of those festivals turned out to be massive festivals, kind of in the middle of nowhere, charming little villages or whatever, but tons of people would come to those festivals and they were really well-organised, great music, great people. So I think that’s what I’ve learnt – that it’s not all about playing the famous massive festivals and some of those you’ve heard the most talk about. When I played Dent Music & Beer Festival for instance, I said to them ‘This is amazing, I can’t believe I didn’t know about this before’ and they said ‘yeah, we don’t promote it at all because we have too many people coming to it’. So yeah, now I’m kind of thinking that if I get some kind of obscure festival somewhere I’m gonna say yes to it because you never know, it might be the best thing I do.
Do you prefer those smaller acoustic shows or bigger venues with a full band?
Yeah, I kind of like a combination of both. I really, really enjoy full band – I love having a band backing me and kind of going for a full show. I can’t deny that’s really what I love and that’s essentially what I want to do when I go on tour myself. But I really do cherish those acoustic shows so much, I really do love it. I think sometimes it might be easier to connect with the audience when you do that, and I just really enjoy being up there with my guitarist and just focusing on the songs and what the songs are about and stripping it down. So yeah, I really love both. I wouldn’t want to have to choose because I think any artist who does my kind of music should try and do a combination of both, because they bring out different things in the songs.
You’ve mentioned you’re working on new music – are there any new songs you’re particularly enjoying playing or that are getting a good crowd reaction?
Yeah, I do have a few songs that I’ve been gigging lately that seem to be getting a good reaction from people. There’s one song called Detour that I’ve done quite a few times in the last year or so which I think works really well in both settings – it sounds very different in different settings, and people do love that one. I think there’s something in it that people relate to. I’ve got another one called Same Story which people really seem to like – I think because it tends to get stuck in people’s heads. And I love playing my singles The Next Time and Don’t Regret A Single One, because quite a few people know them now and the best thing is hearing people sing your songs back to you. That’s always my favourite part of the show, when I hear people sing the words. So yeah, it’s nice to kind of share the new numbers as well. I’ve got a couple of songs that I’ve hardly even gigged yet and I’m really eager to play them to people.
Your new single is Don’t Regret A Single One – can you tell us a bit more about that?
Yeah, it’s a song that I released quite recently. I wrote it quite a while back and released it when I was still independent, so this is kind of a new version of that song that I’ve now done as my second single since signing. I wrote that as a bit of a cathartic thing maybe, because I was kind of upset about this guy who broke my heart and I was kind of annoyed at myself. I kept making mistakes in love and thinking that these guys were good for me and they were not, and I just had a day where I thought, ‘you know what? I’ve learnt from these mistakes and I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for thinking that something was gonna be good and then it wasn’t’. That’s the kind of stuff that shapes you into the person that you are. So it was a slightly different take on it. I didn’t want to focus on the heartbreak, I wanted to focus on the fact that we can’t avoid making these mistakes and actually it’s quite a good thing.
You’ve also recently shot the video for the song…
Yes I have, yeah. It was actually really good apart from the fact that I was really ill the day we shot it. I’d been lying in a bed with a fever the day prior to it so I was quite worried, but my manager just kept me on painkillers the whole day. So I kind of stayed alive. But everyone at the shoot just made it worth it – my team were fantastic, my band were really great, and because we did a band performance video we had tons of people come down and be extras in it. So there were fans and friends and people that came down. We got a really good crowd and they were super-energetic and they just kept me going I think, because I was just so blown away. We shot it on a Sunday morning so I was quite surprised how many people showed up! But yeah, it was really fun but I was just pretty wiped out by the end of that day. If you see the video there’s a bit that we do outside walking down the middle of Regent Street, and I just thought to myself ‘I’m gonna be so ill’. But that was the last day of illness so I was kind of unlucky, but it was totally worth it!
How did you get into music, and what made you decide to pursue it as a career?
Well I was always really into music from a very young age. I come from quite a musical family so it was always a really big part of my life at home, but my parents don’t do it professionally or anything like that – I don’t think they would ever want to do that. I think what made me choose to do it as a profession was the fact that I write songs. I just really love writing my own music and that is such a big part of me, and I just couldn’t not do it. I spent so much of my time doing it, and it’s really not for the faint of heart because it’s such a tough job to have. It takes a long time before it even pays any kind of money or anything like that. But I think what made me choose it is how hard it was for me to not spend time doing it. I kind of just had to realise it was what I wanted to spend all my time doing.
What’s your typical writing process?
It’s a bit of a combo. I started out writing completely on my own – in the past few years I’ve started co-writing but before that I was just writing everything myself. So I still love that, but I do that more if I just get an idea and it just kind of happens – I get an idea and I have to write it down. But it’s quite rare that I sit down these days and just go, ‘right, today I’m gonna write a song’. Whereas I do book writing sessions with other people and then you make yourself meet up with somebody and sit down and write a song together. So I do a bit of both.
Is there anyone you’re listening to at the moment who you think more people should know about?
I’m a big fan of some of the UK acts. People might know about them – full disclosure, they are my friends, but I think they are fantastic artists. Clara Bond, I think is really great and Keri Watts as well, who’s Scottish – she’s fantastic. So both of those; brilliant songwriters, amazing singers and really inspiring to watch them.
If you had a career bucket list, what would be on that?
I really would love to do a gig at the Roundhouse in Camden. I think that’s one of my dream venues – I just love it in there. I’ve only been there twice but it’s fantastic, and just such a cool space. I’d love to share the stage with Shania Twain [laughs]. I know that’s aiming high but if you’re going to have a bucket list then why not? And I could go on – I could name some massive venue and that kind of stuff, but when I picture a really cool stage I’m picturing the Roundhouse.
What’s next for you – are there plans for another EP, more touring etc?
Yeah, we’re working towards an album. I think there’s gonna be another single before that, but there’s definitely gonna be some new music if I get my way. It will be an album for sure. It’s a bit of a timing thing and a lot of work to get it all done, but I have so many new songs and definitely enough to fill an album. So ideally that’s what’s gonna happen, and that’ll probably be within the next year. I think this year is gonna be quite a lot of gigs as well – it’s filling up pretty quickly. I’ll probably come out around the UK a bit more as well and not just London. So that’s the plan really.
Liv Austen’s single Don’t Regret a Single One is available now. Austen performed at the first Nashville Meets London Presents, which takes place monthly at Pizza Express Live in Holborn, London.