Lizzie Huffman on her new album Pretty Old Soul, and her love of hip-hop and country

Although these days Lizzie Huffman plays what she calls "country folk pop," the 22-year-old singer-songwriter says she was more into hip-hop and R&B artists like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill early on. But just as she was becoming a teenager, she discovered classic country singers like Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn, and that's when she began writing her own songs.

Inspired by her mother, who loved jazz and studied opera, and her brother Kirk, who plays in Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, she started developing the soulful, expressive croon she boasts today, which at times recalls Adele. We spoke with Huffman, who moved to Denver from Seattle about six months ago, about her new Suburban Home Records release, Pretty Old Soul, which she'll celebrate the release of this Friday, November 4 at the hi-dive.

Westword: You moved out here from Seattle about six months, right?

Lizzie Huffman: Yeah, six months ago, as of about two weeks ago.

How do like it out here so far?

I love it. It's kind of like when I moved from Seattle I gave myself this six-month window and was planning on possibly moving back to Seattle, but I'm just accomplishing so much, and I love it here. I'm going to stick around.

It sounds like you moved out here to pursue your musical career, right?

Yeah. I've been working with Suburban Home for about two years, and it was just hard long distance. I was coming out about once every eight weeks to do shows. I was having more success with shows and whatnot out here. Yeah, that was the goal.

Do you think you'll stick around for a while?

Yeah. I just renewed lease to that's six more months at least. I'm kind of a wanderer, so who knows after those six months.

Tell me about Pretty Old Soul.

I started recording it when I was twenty and came home from design school. It was basically my first record. I recorded it when I was eighteen and nineteen and my brother produced it and arranged a lot of it, since I had no idea what I was doing. And this time around, I have full creative control about what I wanted to do, so this is the direction I definitely want the music to go. It's a little bit more country. It's a little more stripped down. There's not as much instrumentation.

I was reading how you said you've found own sound with this album, or at least for now.

At least for now. I'm 22 years old. So I expect my sound to grow throughout my life. For now, I'm really enjoying playing these songs more than the first record. They just feel more like me. They feel more grown up.

You've been writing songs for awhile, right?

I'd say about ten years. I think I recorded my first real song when I was twelve.

Does songwriting come fairly easy for you?

Yeah. It's always been something that I've done. I had a little girl singing group when I was eight years old. I just always wrote music. It's incredibly easy for me, I feel like.

I guess some of that rubbed off from your mom?

Yeah, my mom loved jazz music growing up and also studied opera, so she has the most beautiful voice growing up. So that inspired me to start singing, initially. Then, my oldest brother Kirk Huffman, who's in Kay Kay and his Weather Underground -- also on Suburban Home -- has just been an amazing songwriter his entire life. He's literally been a professional musician since he was eighteen. So having that influence was really cool, too.

I could hear a little bit of jazz in your phrasing, which I thought was cool, and mixing that country. What kind of stuff influenced you early on.

I think before I discovered classic country like Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynne, I really listened to Erika Badu and Lauryn Hill. Hip-hop is my first love. Hip-hop and soul and R&B. I think I bought my SWV -- Sisters With Voices -- when I was around seven years old. I was into a lot of R&B and soul stuff. I think that comes through a lot in my music.

Definitely, especially in some of the phrasing and that kind of thing.

Totally. So Erika Badu is pretty much my favorite person on the face of the planet. But then I discovered classic country when I was eleven or twelve. So I kind of mix the two.

Did you ever think about going down the R&B/hip-hop road?

I've actually been invited to sing on a lot of hip-hop tracks by a few MCs that I worked with in Seattle who have asked me come and sing on their tracks. So it's something that I've done, and I'm trying to explore more, I think.

How would you describe your own stuff?

To put it simply, "country folk pop" is kind of how I explain it. Yeah, that's the best I can do, because I feel like I mix a lot of genres. Sometimes they're genres that people don't fully understand if they're not really into music, too.

The title of the album is Pretty Old Soul. Would you consider yourself an old soul?

I think so. I believe an old soul is someone who has been reincarnated many times on earth as a human, and so they've been able to experience things many times, even if it's subconsciously. I don't want to say this facetiously, but I believe I've seen a lot and I can apply those things to my songwriting, to my relationships, to the way I work, to the way I study -- all of those things. I don't want the title of the record to come across as facetious at all. But, yeah, I just think I've done a lot and this is a diary entry kind of record so I'm really spilling my guts, you know? So, yes, I feel like an old soul.

Would you say that some of the songs on the record reflect that?

I would think so. I want people to interpret the music and the lyrics however they want, so that's why I don't really tell the stories behind my songs. There are some songs on that record that when I was writing them I know what they're about. I think it's some pretty heavy shit. But I want people to make their own interpretation of the lyrics and whatnot. It's been interesting to hear how people interpret things because it's so different.

Have you been surprised on how people interpret them?

Absolutely. But it's nice to hear that people are taking things to heart and that they've thought about it. But it's been surprising a few times.

Do you have any particular ingredients you like to have in songs, or do you really even worry about that kind of thing?

I never really think about that when I'm writing. I honestly want there to be a really strong emotion to be there when I'm writing something, because that's when the best stuff comes out anyway. I have the country clichés. I'm talking about being drunk. I'm talking about Montana and Wyoming and whatever, but it's, like, at the same time, that's truth. I don't write a song about being too drunk, because that's not true, just to sound country or whatever. So yeah, just being strongly motivated by emotion is really the only ingredient I need to write a song.

I heard you already have a new record written.

I have another six-song EP ready. If someone said, "Here's $3,000 to record it, I could." But I think I'd like to take my time. With Pretty Old Soul, I recorded it over the span of about a year and a half, and I think that's the way I'd like to do this next one. Just one song at a time, when things feel right, is when I go into the studio to record a song. I'm almost too intuitive as a person. I don't ever think rationally as a person, ever. So when it feels right, I'll start recording. I think I'll do a track when I'm back in Seattle in November, and Virgil is talking about giving it away for free around Christmas time, because it's kind of a family, personal song.

MP3: Lizzie Huffman - "Tumblers and Tea"

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon