“Most slept on black folk singer. I listen to her when I want to be high on my soul.” A quick youtube search on the Lilli Lewis moniker will reveal plenty of earnest little morsels from the artist, and comments like this one followed up with the inevitable “Why haven’t I heard of you before?”
It could be because for the last 5 years, the deceptively shy soul/folk songstress from Athens, GA has been living in Louisiana, making “hallelujah and shake your booty” music with The Shiz, an original roots rock and soul band said to have “enough energy to power a large city.” (indie-music.com)
Lilli formed The Shiz with her wife, Liz Hogan in January of 2009 when they moved to Liz’s hometown of Hammond, LA after spending one and a half years working at a Buddhist retreat center in Northern Colorado. Hogan, herself a folk artist to the bone, with a penchant for silt rivers and old songs in minor keys, says they found their indie rock alter-ego because “being an artist and being gay in small town Louisiana makes people want to be loud sometimes.”
The two were already mutually inspired by the likes of Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone, Indigo Girls, and Toshi Reagon, but on long road trips across the country they began to discover deeper resonances in their respective musical languages. Liz shared artists and icons like Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, and her personal giant, Neil Young, while Lilli handed down the likes of Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Giant Steps himself, John Coltrane.
Hogan and Lewis found in each other’s writing, a compulsion to speak on weighted truths more elusive than what they tended to hear from their peers, and when they finally started writing together, they found the substance in their differences made it real.
They called their collaboration The Shiz, and released their first eponymous EP as part of the 2009 RPM Challenge. Over time and after a rotating door of guest members, they found their deepest kindreds in their own back yard, almost literally.
Multi-instrumentalist and current drummer Wade Hymel came on board by way of the band’s original drummer Melinda McElveen. Hymel was a talented composer, arranger and frontman with an infamous gift for being able to make music out of anything, easily found performing on anything from to cajon to car keys. Wade was an early fan who seemed to know all the songs better than the band. But it wasn’t until after the Lewis and Hogan caught Wade live with his original band “204” and his White Stripes tribute project “Black Polka Dots” that they knew he’d be an invaluable musician to have around. He played bass with the band for over a year before taking his inevitable seat as the band’s drummer in the fall of 2012.
Bassist Alan Craig, a fellow tenant in Hogan and Lewis’ apartment building, joined up shortly thereafter, due in part to an impormptu front yard conversation about the value of a good song and live original music. Craig had lived in the building for over a year before they knew he was a musician, but unassuming as he was, they quickly learned that Alan was the son of singer/songwriter David Craig, a local legend whose songs have been recorded by any number of rock, country and blues artists including Memphis Slim and Clarence Gatemouth Brown. From the very beginning, Craig provided a grounding in the bands sound, with a no frills, only play what serves the song approach to his instrument that is directly influenced by the authenticity present in the music that has for him, had always been around.
ROOTS & BRANCHES
A 2010 transitional hiatus allowed Lilli and Liz to form “Self Evidence,” an acoustic duo with a focus on activisim and social justice. The two did two short stints in the Midwest and were invited to perform for various events around the country like IDAHO Atlanta and Toledo Pride, (opening for BITCH at OUTSKIRTS Toledo). They also engineered and co-produced the debut album from Oberlin, Ohio’s feminist garage band BACKBONE.
They also took the opportunity to complete a longtime dream of Lilli’s, which was to record a collection of Spirituals from the African-American folk tradition that resulted in “The Promised Land: Songs of the Sacred South.” Enlisting fellow band mates and local talent, the album launched the jazz/bluegrass offshoot “The Promised Land Players,” and features violinist Andrew Robin and flutist/composer Nicole Chamberlain.
The Shiz has become an active presence on stages throughout the gulf region. They’ve completed Midwest and Southeast tours in support of their debut album “Where We Stand,” and a West Coast tour in support of their most recent EP “I AM,” recorded by Ben Mumphrey at Studio in The Country, Bogalusa, LA.
In 2013 the band climbed to Reverbnation’s Top 10 New Orleans Rock Charts, was a regional finalist in the Hard Rock Cafe’s Hard Rock Rising Global Battle of the Bands, was an inaugural feature for the re-launch of indie-music.com, and gained “Next Big Thing” kudos on AfterEllen.com. Recent singles can be heard on radio all about the region, including New Orlean’s signature station, WWOZ.
Lewis and Hogan agree that the band name first designed to keep them from taking themselves too seriously has now come to represent a calling. It calls for its members and fans alike to invest in things that are good, things that matter. They say art still matters, music still matters, and people pouring their everything into something for no other reason than the love they may hold for it still matters. Any music born in that room is what this band proudly calls Shiz Rock.