Nashville-based Liz Cooper & the Stampede took over four years to follow up a debut EP, Monsters, with last summer’s impressively accomplished full-length Window Flowers—the musical differences on the two releases dramatic.
When she first hit the studio in 2014 armed with a batch of songs she’d woodshedded with players around Nashville, the Baltimore-raised singer sounded perfectly at home under the umbrella of folk-based Americana. A former golf prodigy who decided that music was her true passion, Cooper moved to Nashville at the beginning of the decade. Immersing herself in songwriting, she hooked up with a friend of a friend of her dad’s who was happy to provide some guidance.
“She was a songwriter living in Nashville who was kind enough to listen to the songs that I had,” she recalls, on the line from an Austin, Texas, tour stop. “That got me learning from people that were more in the country world, so that’s what I sort of started to become familiar with. But the more I learned about Music Row, the more I was like, ‘I never really grew up with listening to country music, so why do I want to make country music?’ Through trial and error, I started to figure out what I really enjoyed.”
Window Flowers isn’t entirely devoid of the country flourishes that marked Liz Cooper & the Stampede’s early material, with standouts like “Outer Space” flared with desert-twang guitars. But overall, the full-length suggests Cooper was eager to expand her boundaries as a songwriter. The album draws on everything from dime-a-dance retro jazz (“Lights”) to bright-eyed garage (“Hey Man”).
What you get is a record you might expect from someone raised in a no-boundaries household where Neil Young and the Ramones got as much airtime as the giants of classical music and ’60s rock.
Noticeably, especially when compared with Monsters, Window Flowers also establishes Cooper as something of an emerging guitar hero. The impressive thing is she only started playing electric a few years back.
“Part of it has been just a lot of practice—I’ve learned from playing a lot,” Cooper says. “But I’m also lucky enough that I have the kind of ear where I can translate what I hear when I sit down with a guitar. I don’t know why I’m able to play the way that I can, but I’m excited to see the way that my playing is going to develop.”
Her blossoming confidence led to a willingness to experiment when the tape was rolling for Window Flowers. Indeed, it’s often the little moments that stand out, whether it’s the Technicolor strings in the deliriously woozy “Motions”, the pillow-soft piano in the slow-dance delight “The Night”, or the extended stun-guitar salvos, well, everywhere.
Just as important to the way the record turned out was Cooper’s decision to embrace Nashville as her home. That’s included finding herself Stampede bandmates (bassist Grant Prettyman and drummer Ryan Usher) who’ve become trusted friends, as well as realizing sometimes you’ll find talent where you least expect it. Nashville is recognized as the official home of commercial country, but Cooper has discovered it’s a gateway to so much more if you expand your horizons.
“On ‘Motions’ and ‘The Night’ I knew I wanted strings, and I had an idea of the melody that I was after,” she says. “Emily Kohavi played strings on the record. She was my Lyft driver—one night we started talking and she was telling me about herself, and I was like, ‘We’re about to go into the studio.’ She sent me some of her stuff and it was really good. So she came in and did an amazing job. She’s someone who knew exactly what to do, and that made things so much better than what I was imagining.”
Liz Cooper & the Stampede play the Biltmore Cabaret next Thursday (May 16).