Gospel soul singer, Liz Vice, recently released her first album, There’s A Light, and is gearing up to play a show at NYC's Rockwood Music Hall next week.
Her fortune is one any young artist would envy. However, Vice’s path toward music was not a straight one, but, rather, shaped by the dreams others had for her.
First of all, the 32-year-old from Portland was not always the confident and charismatic performer she is today—she used to have severe stage fright.
“I hated singing in front of people, it was always terrifying,” Vice told NBCBLK.
Despite this fear, a few years ago she agreed to sing a solo in church and remembers this moment vividly, pinpointing this experience as the beginning of her musical exploration.
“I remember how nervous I was. It just felt like all the pores in my body opened up and then it was just me in a room alone and I was singing to Jesus. When the song was over, I realized I was in front of a congregation," recalled Vice. "Afterward, one of my friends came up to me and asked ‘What was that?’ She was teary and I said ‘I don't know.’ That was kinda the beginning of the beautiful journey.”
After that solo, it seemed that everyone she knew urged her to be a singer. Vice never thought she would pursue it as a career until her friends and family convinced her that this might be her calling.
“I was going down a path that I had sketched out for myself. But people would take me aside and say you really should consider doing music," said Vice. "Then I had people reaching out to me asking if I would sing back up vocals on their album. I never thought I would be singing on any kind of professional level. Now, I’m here and it’s been nearly two years.”
Her professional journey started when she sang the lead on an album her pastor was working on. Once Josh White heard her solo in the song called Unfold Me, he approached her with his own music, asking her to be the lead singer on There’s A Light.
These songs remind me that life doesn’t revolve around me. These songs, these truths, save me from myself, my doubt.
Even in the studio, recording her first album, she still wasn’t totally confident in her abilities: “I am singing these songs and I’m like staring around me, thinking all these people are professionals…Being in the studio, I’m like I guess this is how I sing this, but I don't really know. It’s just sort of weird to me.”
The show for the album’s release sold out within ten days. This response was overwhelming and assuaged a certain amount of her doubt.
After that concert, her career seemed to have a snowball effect. Every time she would perform, someone would come up to her afterward and ask her to open for another band, perform at another festival, or offer her another amazing opportunity. Still, Vice assumed the attention would fizzle out by the end of the year.
She decided, while she still was singing professionally, she would try to write her own material. She partnered up with another musician who helped her find her voice. “I want to be honest. I can’t write songs where everything is cotton candy and bubble gum," said Vice. "I want to write honest songs about where I’m at.”
In the process of creating these soul-bearing songs, she understood how the autoimmune disease she struggled with during her formative teenage years influenced her views on songwriting and life.
“I think that having health problems, being near death from the age of fifteen to twenty-two, makes me curious and makes me want to take risk," she said. "Even though I make less money than most of my friends, I’ve still been able to pay my rent and pay the bills and even travel the world... But these songs remind me that life doesn’t revolve around me. These songs, these truths, save me from myself, my doubt, I can’t waste my time on these lies.”
Being black and singing gospel soul is not a fad to me. I don't want to be a commodity.
For Vice, music is not about becoming successful in the traditional sense, so when she sat down with an interested manager, she was very clear about her concerns with the music industry.
“My fear is that I’m going to be taken advantage of: I won’t be taken care of and I won’t have a voice. This is not about me being rich and famous. I’ve been poor my whole life. Being black and singing gospel soul is not a fad to me. I don't want to be a commodity,” said Vice.
Surrounded by a supportive team, Vice has been able to navigate the music world with her autonomy intact. It’s still not an easy life, but her fans are what keep her coming back for more.
“I like the community aspect of what music does. Dancing together, laughing, smiling together. For that moment, you get to put aside the stresses of the day. To just be and to just play. And that's my favorite part of doing music.”
After two years, she still cannot believe that she is doing music professionally. But even with her success, she refuses to lose the passion that drove her to music in the first place. She wants to use music to create a powerful and emotional connection to her audiences, one that can help them through their daily lives.
“I don't think about fame. I don't try to convince them to like me. If you want to celebrate life, if you want to mourn with me, if you want to cry with me, if you want to laugh with me, if you want to dance with me, then you’re invited.”