Liza Owen knows just the right things to say, the singer-songwriter has written hits for K-pop groups such as BTS and Got7 and popstar, Selena Gomez. Now she’s here to make her introduction as an artist with her single ‘Why Aren’t We Having Sex?’ and there’s no way you can listen without singing along eventually; it’s that catchy!
We caught up with her to talk about her latest single, her songwriting process, her Cambodian heritage and the double standard reactions to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s song ‘WAP’. Liza was open, honest and easy to talk to even over Zoom, which she like the rest of us is tired of. If the rest of the songs on her upcoming debut EP are as good as ‘Why Aren’t We Having Sex?’ then we can’t wait to hear it!
Tomi: Your single ‘Why Aren’t We Having Sex?’ is such an introduction! Why did you pick this song to be your debut single?
Liza: Honestly it was a timing thing, I’d written the song just before the lockdown happened and I don’t know if this song would have been the first look, had everything that happened this year didn’t happen. A month into quarantine I just…I was reading a lot of news stories about brand new couples in lockdown that have been on a few dates and now they’ve been quarantining together so all this new romance was blossoming. There were articles about how there was going to be a baby boom because everyone is at home having sex apparently so that was month one when it was all still fun. Talking to my friends who were single about how they’re not doing it anymore, struggling and trying to figure it out and the concept for the music video came into my mind at that very moment. I felt like this was the first move and I felt like there was an interesting narrative behind it, timing wise, so I just felt like it was the time to go. You know, kinda gave a sexy, fun song a new meaning for me and started a conversation.
T: I’d love to hear this live with the crowd singing the chorus. How fun was it putting the song together?
L: I mean so fun as you can imagine! It was an amazing process, I wrote it with some of my best friends who are my main collaborators, we went on a writing trip to Palm Springs in California. We were just setting up, it was the first night, we poured some cocktails and had some drinks, and I had this huge neon sign that said ‘why aren’t we having sex?’ that I had made for a party. Basically I threw a New Year’s Eve party and it was Studio 54 themed so I was like I need this mad centerpiece, I had this sign made and I was like fuck it I’m going to bring it to the camp to add some vibes. So we were sitting there, starting to play some music, play some instruments and started to talk about what the first song was going to be and then someone looked over and pointed at the sign, and was like ‘that’s the first song’. The house that we were in was just the sexiest pad I’ve ever been in, it had this sort of James Bond vibe to it so we were like damn, the song just kinda wrote itself. The mood was right, the lighting was right, there’s never been a more perfect setting to be getting it on with someone so ‘why aren’t we having sex?’. It’s one of those songs that just wrote itself in like 20 minutes, everyone played a strong part in putting instruments down and we all did group backing vocals together, it came together really quick in that one night.
T: Have you ever actually asked someone why aren’t we having sex?
L: Probably I’m sure [laughs]. I don’t know… I feel like I probably have at some point. I can’t remember a moment where I asked it in the sense of ‘what’s wrong with us, why aren’t we having sex?’. I must have said it in the sense of you know ‘hello, let’s get to it!’. The answer is I’m sure [laughs]!
T: I saw the small clip of your mum reacting to the music video for ‘Why Aren’t We Having Sex?’ and it was hilarious. What’s your favourite scene in the video?
L: My mum is amazing, I love her! She’s the most traditional Cambodian woman so I was a bit nervous to show her but she also loves a good time so it’s fine. My favourite scene with me in it, is probably me dancing on the bed in the mountains because it was shot at the beginning of quarantine and it was super DIY as we couldn’t have a lot of people around. I had to build that bed from scratch with my best friends and it felt like a labour of love, we bought fabric and we really designed the whole set together. It was so fun to be jumping around on that thing, biting flowers and owning that sexual energy. Then the other scenes with the couples, it’s so hard to choose one because they’re all my good friends so it was hot and steamy and I was literally screaming watching them make out. All of them were amazing!
T: The song ‘WAP’ by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion has been getting a lot of criticism. Why do you think that is?
L: I don’t know, it blows my mind and I’ve talked about this a lot because I feel like there’s this double standard that men can talk about certain things, can talk about sexuality and sex quite openly and no one cares. Sometimes when a woman does, it’s like ‘woah, excuse me’, it’s like we’re not ready to hear this from you. I really don’t know and it frustrates me, I felt like I had to explain that a little bit with my song ‘Why Aren’t We Having Sex?’. The reaction is like ‘very daring title’ and ‘wow you’re so bold’ but it shouldn’t be that shocking at this point. You know, women like sex too! I love the song ‘WAP’ by the way, it’s sick!
T: You’ve written for K-pop groups such as BTS and GOT7. What is the process like and how is different to writing for Western artists?
L: It’s just different because I’ve never met them so the whole process is done via sending files and sharing online, it’s done remotely. You don’t have that connection of obviously being in the room and actually writing the songs together with the artists. But it’s also really cool to see it come together like that, you get sent a track and they let you know what they’re looking for and you send some ideas. I think the whole idea of sharing, throwing ideas back and forth, it’s really cool to see the finished product come together and obviously they just crush it! It’s cool to hear your song come to life with such amazing artists singing and performing it.
T: How has songwriting been for you currently and can we expect a project this year?
L: It’s definitely different! For a long time I just stopped doing sessions, I normally would go to the studio and meet up with my producers or some people that I love to write with and we’d sit in a studio for a day, vibe and make music. Then everything went online, Zoom sessions, which was hard to adjust to as I really thrive off of other people’s vibes and their energy and you just don’t have that over the phone or Zoom. It’s just a little harder to capture those magical moments but when you’re in a room with someone, I might sing a melody or a lyric and someone else would be like ‘ooh that was sick’. Whereas with the Zoom sessions, I feel like a lot of great stuff can get missed so that’s been tough and I feel like I can’t do it for as long, I get burnt out on Zoom quicker. My max is like four hours, that is my absolute max [laughs]. So that’s been a lot of different but it’s also awesome to write a lot by myself, you know just pick up the guitar and form ideas alone. That’s been really cool, I feel like I’ve definitely grown because of that.
T: Are you releasing a project this year?
L: Oh yes! I’m working on my debut EP, that’s what I’ve really been focusing on for last year and my next single is coming out very soon.
T: What do you love most about your Cambodian background and can we expect Cambodian influences in your music?
L: I mean all of it, it’s such a huge part of my identity. My brother and I were raised by my mum, a single mum in the UK but she totally made our home function like a tiny Cambodia in the middle of this English village. I love the food, music, the history, the history is so rich but I guess all of it, I’m just really proud to be Cambodian and I just think they’re strong people, they’ve been through a lot. In terms of influence I would say…traditional Cambodian music is amazing but it’s a whole different thing, it’s wild and the way that they sing and perform, they sing in scales that we don’t. So I don’t know if my music at this point is influenced by Cambodian music but I’ll say aesthetically I definitely will be paying homage to my heritage along the way. I’ve always wanted to go and shoot a music video over there and just incorporate some of the culture into my visuals.
T: How would you describe your hometown of Headley to a first time visitor?
L: Small, quiet and sheltered [laughs]. I mean it’s just this tiny place in the middle of nowhere in South England and it was a really amazing place to grow up because we were outside all of the time so my imagination really got to run free. I’m grateful for growing up there but it was different, you know we were the only people of colour in the village and in my school. I think by the time I got to secondary school, it was a little bit more widespread culturally but it was a predominantly White town so that was just very interesting growing up realising I was a bit different. But it builds resilience! Amen!
T: When you get a chance to PAUSE, what do you like to do for self-care?
L: I’ve been trying to do a lot of that, in the last few months, I feel like we’ve all been forced to pause which is much-needed because I don’t usually give myself that time, I’m always go, go, go! But I feel like for me, the things that get me in the zone, I like to do yoga, I love to just watch old movies like Quentin Tarantino movies and lately picking up the guitar. I’ve been trying to teach myself guitar over the quarantine and that’s been a really nice form of therapy.
T: You’re good with words so what words of encouragement would you like to share with your fans? Maybe something tongue in cheek…
L: You know I heard a good quote from a friend recently, she said ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ and I thought that was really cool. So I would just say stop comparing yourself to other people, there’s only one you baby and you’re the shit!