After over three decades collaborating with late partner Alan Vega on his solo works, Liz Lamere has finally made the album he often suggested, with their son Dante engineering.
Recorded in their lower Manhattan home in the space where the Suicide singer constructed his spectacular sculptures, Keep It Alive took shape after Liz and Dante found themselves together in lockdown, emerging with a riveting set of songs that, while flying Vega’s dense layered purity, are charged with Liz’s irrepressible lust for life and feel for the contagious hook.
Keep It Alive courses with the defiant energy that motivated Liz through her early double life as both high-end Wall Street lawyer and downtown New York punk before meeting and falling in love with Vega led to her becoming his manager, creative foil and keyboard manipulator on solo albums beginning in 1990 and including Deuce Avenue, Power On To Zero Hour, New Raceion, Dujang Prang, 2007, Station, IT and recently exhumed Mutator that launched the Vega Vault she curates with Jared Artaud.
After Vega passed away in July 2016, Liz found it “cathartic” adopting his habit of writing down thoughts and observations in notebooks. Simultaneously, she and Jared started collaborating, overseeing the mastering of ‘IT’ and then co-producing “Mutator”; and during this time they naturally discussed an alliance on the solo album she knew would be forthcoming. Meanwhile, after Dante started studying sound engineering in 2017, he took to producing young hip-hop acts at the studio mother and son built in Alan’s former work space where several of his sculptures light up the walls.
“When we were recording together, Alan often said ‘You should do your own album,’” explains Liz. “Then suddenly, when Dante and I were home alone during the height of Covid I had a captive engineer! So I asked him to help me execute my vision. I wrote and performed all the lyrics and music, and he was awesome capturing it all so seamlessly. It felt so right because we set up a recording studio in Alan’s space where he created his sculptures. When he was little, Dante would help him, like an assistant. There’s something very magical about that space and its energy inevitably impacted on our recording. We were living through unprecedented times and Keep It Alive took adversity and uncertainty and turned it into a message of resilience and empowerment.”
When the tracks were recorded, the final step was, “Jared working on the mixing and arrangements with me remotely…He was amazed how formed it already was and we were able to very fluidly complete it together!”
Running concurrent with her musical activities, Liz has been hyperactively involved in the boxing world for over fifteen years, including competitive sparring, managing professional boxers, and getting the nod from the NYS Athletic Commission to make a run at being licensed for her pro-boxing debut. Realizing that her impact would be more powerful (and taking what she felt would be more risk), she pivoted to the challenge of making solo records.
Upfront positive spirit and deftly-brandished aggression imbue the whole album, starting with opening track ‘Lights Out’ going straight in with its brutal drum machine tattoo and Liz’s forceful treated vocal countered by eerie melodic textures. Starting out playing drums in punk bands, Liz has made a New York punk album for 2021, its title Keep It Alive resonating on several levels.
“’Lights Out’ was the very first track I did,” says Liz. “There was comfort there in that it’s boxing themed. When you step in the ring your life is literally on the line – ‘fight for your life’” We’ve got one life. ‘Let your hands go’ is a boxing term and a great metaphor for going full tilt in whatever you set out to do. ‘Keep It Alive’ was a track on Alan’s New Raceion album; he and Ric Ocasek co-wrote the lyrics. That was a key line I would sing on stage with Alan regardless of what song we were performing. Over the years, in concert, there were several Vega lyrics that resonated so strongly with me and I would perform those one liners that Alan would pick up and riff on! I’ve used that phrase ‘keep it alive’ many times since Alan passed away. There’s also the connection to IT; his last album which he felt was his greatest masterpiece. Everything that had come before culminated in IT. So it’s an homage to that as well. Keep it alive, whatever ‘it’ is. The true vision behind the album is about preserving your own inner fire. I’ve long dreamed of making my own records but waited until the time was right as I have been dedicated to preserving Alan’s vision - now it’s my time to turn up the burner to fully honor Alan by seeing my vision through”
Liz’s musical approach knows no genres; Keep It Alive is genreless. For instance, ‘Stand’ somehow manages to combine motoring electronic drum patterns, glistening synth sprinkles and Siouxsie-like vocal melody as thick bass snakes writhe in rolling clouds of subterranean sound. ‘Sin’ emphasises the role of prominent bass-lines throughout the set as it bubbles over an infectious disco beat. Keep It Alive wouldn’t have sounded out of place following Suicide’s second album on the groundbreaking ZE Records forty years ago, affirmed by the locomotive chug and 80s synth motifs driving ‘Subway Cyanide’. Grinding down to a smouldering funereal pulse, ‘Heat Beat’ looks down from the rooftops on a New York flaming in turmoil (“My city is burning”). The ghostly ‘Cruise Screen’, the album’s other slow burn, sounds like a smoking Alphabet City tenement ruin after the Apocalypse, both tracks showing the inevitable shadow of pandemic panic or even recent political chaos on the album, compounded by ‘Freedom’s Last Call’’s astonishing finale, lashing its insidiously booming Moroder/Blade Runner bass-line with jaggedly ominous washes of fathomless, drifting sound.
“Making this album makes sense in so many ways,” says Liz. “In my heart I know how happy Alan would be, and also because my personality comes through. I learned so much working with him, including principles such as minimalism that were really important to him. Music is movement and placement of sound. Whether it was the sounds or vocals we were creating, they were driven purely by feel in the moment and that’s a very freeing thing. Believing there are no mistakes – that’s where the magic happens. Making this album in isolation it was very empowering to rely purely on instinct.”
When Liz sent the tracks to long-time supporter Henry Rollins he was instantly so impressed he asked if he could share the album with Larry Hardy at LA’s In The Red imprint. As it turned out, Larry was hoping Liz’s day would come and will be releasing Keep It Alive in May.
- Kris Needs