January/February 2016 Lyric Contest Spotlight: Winner Lizzie Quinlan

“Outlaws” written by Lizzie Quinlan

Interview by Caine O’Rear

Where did you get the idea for this song, and when did you write it?

I wrote this song last winter when I was holed up in my apartment nursing a broken heart and binge-watching Sons Of Anarchy and Peaky Blinders. My life is absolutely nothing like a gangster show but for some reason, the stories really struck a nerve with me. I think we can all relate to the romance of wanting a life that’s dark and free, and to the disappointment of knowing that for so many reasons, that kind of life isn’t possible.

Was this your first lyric contest entry?

Yes, first entry.

Are you a performer as well?

I sing and play harp with an indie-folk trio called Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. We’re based in Brooklyn, New York and you can find our music at devilandthedeepbluesea.bandcamp.com.

Did you flesh out a melody for this and did you record it?

I do have a melody for the song, and I’ve been playing it at shows with my band for the past few months. But I haven’t recorded it yet. It’s at the top of my to-do list for 2016 so stay tuned.

Do you do any other kinds of writing?

I write poetry, too. Mostly free verse these days, but formal poems can be a fun challenge every once in a while.

Do you have a line or couplet from the song that you’re particularly proud of?

The couplet, “From across the table you said I was like a train / I said ‘there’s nothing to me now but aches and pains’” is the line that always rings the most true when I sing it live.

What are your goals for your songwriting?

Every finished song is the result of a battle between the forces of creativity and my loudmouth inner critic. I start off excited by a snippet of a melody or some lyrics, and before I know it, I’m convincing myself that not only is my song-in-progress no good, but also I’m a lousy songwriter and I’ll never amount to anything, etc. I think most artists deal with this. I’m constantly trying to get better at keeping the critical voice at bay. So I guess my primary goal is to not get in my own way.

What is one thing you’ve learned about songwriting that you wish you’d known when you got started?

I wish I had understood that the clever thing is rarely better than the simple thing. Once I draft a song, I usually have to spend a lot of time going back and un-cluttering the lyrics. I wish someone had told me early on that it’s okay not to demonstrate how many five-dollar words you know in every song you write, and that I don’t have to be afraid of catchy and unpretentious hooks. 

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