New York native, Tallia Billig is many things: diehard vintage collector, DJ on-the-fly, self-proclaimed “bad kid,” singer-songwriter, hardcore feminist, bookworm, travel aficionado, LES resident, the list goes on and on. Most importantly for Billig, though, is what she learned about herself during creation of her most recent album, The Ripple Effect.
“No matter where you are, it’s always the same,” Billig says. “I kinda had this idea during those years, and it’s kinda what I struggle with always, this instinct of, if I run I can escape it. And I sorta learned with the record that you can’t. No matter where you are you’re still you.”
As a musician, this realization has been more to Billig than just a coming of age. She has taken this life lesson and transformed it into a “ripple effect” for others to experience and enjoy.
“Generally the themes that I center around are movement, confusion, movement is a big one. It’s like the big Talia key,” she explains. “My dad suffers (or benefits) from wanderlust, so we traveled when I was a kid and we flew a lot. I sort of began to associate those things with home more than I did a house. Then as soon as I got out of high school I ran, myself. So it’s very difficult for me to stay in one place. The lyrics are largely based on that. This record specifically was at a weird point in my life, so there are quite a few songs center around those ideas of confusion and a lack of axis. This record that I just put out, The Ripple Effect, is from a point of travel.”
Transforming experience into music seems to be a strong suit of Billig’s. Following her flight from high school around the globe, she made the choice to return to New York for jazz studies. With a lack of jazz roots, Billig found this to be more challenging than she had expected.
“I didn’t come from jazz,” Billig admits. “I went to jazz school because I love music, and it was clearly what I wanted to do but I didn’t know anything. I guess I’ll start saying this in public: I sort of looked for what was the coolest school in New York. I had a really difficult time, because I don’t know anything about jazz, and jazz is a small and specific world, and I’m not a jazz singer. I was with all these prodigies from their own towns, and I had no fucking idea what I was doing.”
Whether she knew what she was getting into when she enrolled in the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, Billig certainly left with more knowledge about her music, some of which has led her to where she is now.
“I kinda fostered a bit of an animosity towards jazz,” Billig shares. “I wasn’t playing bebop and I didn’t understand why everyone was so rigid and not understanding. I felt pretty left out and not understood. Quite a few people who went to jazz conservatories have difficulty with jazz. I’ve come back to it on my own terms and realized that music is music, and good music is good music. I love jazz, but it’s very much not what I’m doing. My sound and my band came out of fighting against it, so it really bothers me when people say that it sounds like jazz, because there’s no swing, there’s no improvisation, the harmony is fairly complex, I guess, but not really.”
Not only did Billig find her groove through discovering that jazz wasn’t it, she also had quite a career scare during the last semester of her school experience. She explains that after a 14-hour recording session due to lack of funds, she began to notice certain symptoms like quick hoarseness and inability to reach certain notes. While doctors worked to diagnose her, Billig dealt with both the physical and mental repercussions of a short-term life of silence.
“I was in Holland not really allowed to speak, and I wrote four of the songs not being able to sing them, which was really painful, but good,” she remembers. “It was horrific, frightening and brought me back to knowing that I wanted to sing.”
Now that she’s treated her vocal issues, Billig has customized her sound and dropped her new album, a combination of her autobiographical lyrical motivation and crafted ubiquitous lines to open her songs to a wider audience.
“The lyrics have become the more important for me, which I didn’t think would be the case, but that’s the most important part for me. That’s the catharsis,” Billig explains. “I think my lyrics are just about as clear as they could get. I try really hard to make them less specific and more universal.”
Billing maintains that her writing style most likely originated from the musicians she has always found inspirational.
“Joni Mitchell is the love of my life. I grew up on her, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen. Largely honest, fairly direct while still poetic, songwriters, so I think that’s kind of present in my own writing,” she shares. “There’s almost no level of abstraction. It’s just pretty honest accounts of what’s going on.”
While Billig is mentally building a new album, potentially with the theme of changing seasons, she is also careful to maintain a presence in the world of performance. With an upcoming CMJ show on Tuesday, October 16 and an appearance at The Living Room on November 15, Billig is participating in what she feels is one of the most important parts of being a musician.
“It’s really important for me to play out,” she says. “That’s the most important part of it for me, because then you’re sharing something with someone directly, and that’s a really powerful thing. Although it’s been a really interesting thing to figure out how people register singer-songwriter music live. I wish I played dance music. I’m a performer, and my stuff is relatively quiet and requires you to sit still for at least 4 minutes at a time. But you can only make what you’re making. You can’t control it, so I just don’t.”
Just let it flow, Talia. We like it like that.
Originally published October 14, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com