Yesterday at Left Bank Magazine, we had the honor of premiering Brooklyn-based band Gesserit’s debut single “Silence.” Today, we are featuring the woman behind the music, Eliza Black. Between preparing for her single release and touring down to Austin, Texas for SXSW, she sat down with us to answer all of our questions about her story and latest musical project, Gesserit.
“Gesserit” is such an interesting name, how did you come up with it?
EB: Gesserit is taken from my favorite sci-fi novel Dune. The Bene Gesserit are a mysterious sisterhood and masters of destiny. They exist to serve, their goal being the liberation and awakening of the human race, while remaining loyal only themselves. I was drawn to this word and its implications.
Oh, I still have yet to read Dune! You play and sing with a ton of other Brooklyn bands; what are all of the groups you’ve worked, sung, and played in?
EB: I used to write, play guitar/bass, and sing in Fruit and Flowers. I played guitar and sang in Darkwing for a while. Played guitar in Fraidy Cat, Plain Dog, and Birds. The War on Tom Petty’s Drugs, which is on an indefinite hiatus. I’ve made some appearances with Gustaf. I currently play keys in Ecstatic Union and Cindy Cane as well.
Wow! That is a lot! Is this your first time fronting a band?
EB: This is my first time fronting my own project in the context of a full live band. I have been writing music for as long as I can remember and self-recording since I was about 15. I played everything on my tracks until spring of last year. I have also performed a number of solo shows and I still do, but I always wanted a band comprised of people I loved and trusted the most.
Did you write and arrange the songs completely or work together with others?
EB: I wrote these songs over the course of years and years. The song structures were present but, of course, sharing my vision with others, dynamics of the song will inevitably evolve. We recorded with Drew Vandenburg in a wonderful little church outside of Athens, Georgia and he played an important roll in the arrangements of some of the songs.
What is your songwriting process like? Do you have a usual time of day/place you like to be/instrument to write with?
EB: Over the years my process has changed. I used to sit with an acoustic guitar and work to combine a cool riff or progression with some journal entries or poems, the lyrics being the focus of the songs. Lately, I’ve been beginning with my drum machine and improvising bass lines and layering on top of that using loops pedals to compose portions of songs. I’m experimenting with meshing these different “sonic sketches” together without having a specific narrative in mind. The instrumental aspect of the songs is in the forefront of my priority at this time. I want to score films and create compositions that go beyond the typical formula of verse, chorus, verse, chorus.
Your upcoming LP is titled I Roam The Purple Evenings Alone. Can you describe where that title comes from?
EB: I saw it on a street sign in Amarillo. There is something romantic about loneliness and roaming. An underlying theme of this record is essentially about being your own undertaker and traversing the mountain of your mind in solitude; that’s a setting where I can imagine my own mountain existing.
Oh nice, I like that theme! Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
EB: I grew up in Amarillo, TX. My dad lives in the country, which is where I spent a lot of my time in solitude. My mom moved around a lot and I would change schools every year. I was an only child for most of my life and I didn’t have a lot of friends. I started getting myself into troubling and risky situations as a teenager. By the time I was 17 or 18, I decided I needed to leave and go after better things in life. At 19, I sold everything I could and moved to New York City.
I can definitely hear the country influence in your voice. If you could travel anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
EB: I would like to see Alaska and New Zealand. I’m not sure why. They seem beautiful and I’m drawn to them.
Were you exposed to music at a young age or something that started later in life?
EB: My dad was a musician and played in bands when I was a kid. I remember going to their recording studio, band practices, and shows. Cher and Elvis were my idols. I can remember I was about 5 when I wrote my first little tune. I had dreams of making it to the Grand Ole Opry. My grandmother was obsessed with Elvis. They both were a huge influence on me as a kid. We had all his music and movies on Vinyl, CDs, and VHS. I always knew this was what I was going to do.
Who are your biggest influences musically?
EB: So many…Cher, Prince, Kate Bush, Roxy Music, Simon and Garfunkel, Love, Beach Boys, Elvis, Liars, Björk, Timber Timbre, Weyes Blood, Dirty Beaches, Sonic Youth, Scott Walker, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Patsy Cline, The Byrds, Marty Robbins, Bach, Godspeed You! Black Emporer, Meatloaf…the list goes on forever.
If you could grab a drink with any musician dead or alive, who would it be and why?
EB: I would have tea with Freddie Mercury and ask him to teach me his favorite vocal warm-ups.
Nice, let me know what he says! Any other news you’d like to share with the readers?
EB: We are going to SXSW!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Eliza! Check out Gesserit’s single, “Silence” below, as well as all their upcoming performance dates at SXSW Festival: