Arizona-raised, New York City-based singer-songwriter Elizabeth Winterbourne won $1,500 from the solo portion of the Carteret Battle of the Bands on Sept. 18 during the borough’s annual Charity Carnival. PHOTO BY ELHAM HUSSAIN
Deeply personal and always authentic, Elizabeth Winterbourne has been writing music since she was 12 years old. Growing up in Tucson, Ariz., surrounded by folk, mariachi, and old school rock music, she found her roots in the folk music scene of the Southwest. She was a staple of folk music festivals in Arizona until she left to study theater and vocal performance in Upstate New York, where she performed at The Little Theatre in Rochester and Bob Dylan's infamous spot, the historic Caffe Lena. After finishing her studies this year, she moved to New York City, where you can catch her at Bar Nine, The Local, and Starr Bar Brooklyn.
She recently released her debut EP, “Christina's World,” which she self-produced, and was mixed and mastered by fellow SUNY Rochester grad Hannah Jocelyn. While Elizabeth still holds onto some of her folk beginnings in the acoustic instruments layered on the EP, she brings in a dreamy pop sound, as well as her classical voice training to create something almost ethereal at times, a landscape of sound and words over a foundation of incredibly personal storytelling.
Her vividly cathartic, otherworldly music impressed the judges of the Carteret Battle of the Bands to award her the $1,500 grand prize for top solo artist performer on Sept. 18 during the blossoming borough’s annual Charity Carnival. Organized by the borough’s Central Jersey Arts Council, the battle also awarded $1,500 to New York City-based Babyllon as the top band winner, as well as $1,000 each to second place finishers Mel Rose, a singer-songwriter from North Jersey, and This Island Earth, a band also from the Garden State.
In the following interview, I spoke with Elizabeth about her recent successes that are leading to a bright future along her path of love, life and empathy.
Why did you want to enter the Carteret Battle of the Bands?
I honestly just wanted another opportunity to put myself and my music out into the world and maybe reach an audience that wasn’t aware of me yet. Any chance I have to play in front of new people to me is a great one because even if I only walk away with one new fan, if I’m able to connect with anybody through my music, it’s a really good day for me, and I’ve done what I came to do.
How did it feel to win?
It felt wonderful! I didn’t really go into this thinking about winning or expecting to win, so it was just really nice to know that so many people in the audience enjoyed what I played for them.
Besides winning the Battle of the Bands, what did you think of the Carteret Charity Carnival as a whole?
It was such a lovely event! The stage and music set up were absolutely great from a performer point of view, and I felt really taken care of. It was also very fun to have the carnival and food vendors going on at the same time as well as knowing that all of it was for charity. I really love events I can be a part of that have so much to them like that.
When did you move from your native Arizona to New York City?
So I actually went to college in Upstate, so I’ve been in New York for about four years, which made the transition to NYC much easier! I moved from AZ to New York State when I was 17 for school, and then I moved to NYC about six months ago.
Who has been the greatest influence on your folky dream pop, why and how?
That’s a tough question to answer because I really feel like the music I create is a giant amalgamation of all the ways in which I’ve experienced music throughout my life. I grew up in the folk and bluegrass scene of Arizona, which I think will forever live on in the music I write in some way or another. But I am also classically trained both as a singer and in other instruments, and classical music is something I really love. I think my music style comes from combining the ethereal quality that my favorite classical music holds, as well as traditional folk music, and then making it something modern at the same time.
But if we’re talking about specific people, I grew up in the music world more or less by playing with the Ronstadt family, as well as some of the other people she worked with. Linda Ronstadt has been one of the biggest inspirations for me as a singer, and I will forever look up to her as an artist.
What other artists would you compare yourself to on the ‘for fans of’ tip and why?
Most people compare me to Taylor Swift because at the end of the day, I’m a kind of folky female singer-songwriter who plays guitar. And I definitely do think that she's a decent reference point for my style, but I feel like it’s better to say I’m some sort of mish mosh of Taylor Swift, Brandi Carlile, and, maybe, Kate Bush, especially with the new music I’m working on.
What has the response been to your debut EP, ‘Christina’s World’?
In all honesty, it’s been kind of great and kind of disappointing at the same time. I feel very thankful that from the people who have heard the songs, I’ve gotten really great responses, but I definitely feel like it’s still hiding in a little corner of the Internet that I haven’t quite been able to shine as much light on as I’d like. I really loved the variety of the songs on the EP, and I’m proud of what I was able to create on such a small scale with so few resources. I did genuinely record it in my bedroom at college.
At the end of the day, what matters is how I feel about it. But when you create something that you hold really dear to you, it makes you want to share it with people all the more, so that is kind of the irony of it. I’m hoping I can get more traction with the next release and that maybe people will be able to go back and discover “Christina’s World” through what I make in the future. I think no matter what, this EP will hold a place in my heart that no other compilation will because of what I was going through and what I was able to say as a result.
What inspired the song ‘Christina’s World’ and why?
I’m very happy you asked this because this EP in particular genuinely has some really good stories associated with it. Without hopefully making this too long of an explanation, I write most of my songs starting with a title. To me, the title is everything – it gives me a framework on which to build the rest of the song, and given that I often write with lots of metaphors, it really helps me to stay focused with what I’m trying to say.
‘Christina’s World’ is an Andrew Wyeth painting that used to hang on the third floor of MoMA, and the first time I saw it, it just struck me. Almost nothing is happening in it, it’s a girl laying in a dry field looking at houses and a barn, her back facing the audience, and yet it just says so much, and to me, it conveys such a powerful message, one that hinged on the title that Wyeth chose. I immediately wrote the name of the painting down, and I knew I had to write a song about the painting. I felt like I related so much to the girl he painted and like that image tied so much to experiences I’d had of trauma, loss, and trying to still walk through life amidst all of that.
You often write about love, life, trauma and mental health. Why do you prefer those topics, what impact has your songwriting had on you, and what impact has it on others?
I used to get told a lot that I should ‘write happier songs,’ which I always found kind of baffling because to me, music was a way to heal and to process difficult things. If I only wrote songs about being happy, then what was the point? And this isn’t to say that happy and joyful songs aren’t great or have an important place, but that just wasn’t and still isn’t the majority of what music is for me. To me, writing stories about emotions, turning them into metaphors, making them into something more abstract or tangible is a means of working through them, feeling better about them, understanding them more. From my experiences, it seems like other people are able to use them in a similar way, which is really all that I can hope for. If I’m able to take something that I created from my own pain and struggle, and it can help other people through theirs as well, then that to me is the most wonderful thing.
Dealing with trauma and mental health are some of the biggest struggles and most pervasive experiences for me in my life. They are also incredibly complicated, so writing music is this wonderful means of tackling these. I also often feel like I can’t find enough music that deals with these issues, and since I process difficulty through music, I wish there was more of it. That makes me want to talk about these things even more.
When and how do you expect to follow ‘Christina’s World’ with your next release, and can you share any creative details?
I’m actually in production right now for my next EP! I’m working with a really talented, young producer out of Brooklyn named Christian Reccasina, and I’m super excited for what we are making. ‘Christina’s World’ was a kind of bridge for me from being very acoustic and very folk-oriented to letting myself play with my other influences and allowing something perhaps a bit more unique to come out of it. I’m trying to really let myself be fluid with genre and focus on creating sounds and telling stories through music that I am really happy with as opposed to being tied down to a particular label and what is sonically associated with that. I have synesthesia, so music is incredibly visual for me. Because of this, I really love elements of production that create an atmosphere and make the listener feel as though they are in a complete world, not just a song where the ‘dream’ of how I describe my music comes in. I want music to feel immersive, floaty, almost like a dream itself.
New York City-based folky dream-pop singer-songwriter Elizabeth Winterbourne is pictured with her check for $1,500 from the Carteret Battle of the Bands organized by the borough’s Central Jersey Arts Council. Photo by ELHAM HUSSAIN
Will the $1,500 you won from the Carteret Battle of the Bands help finance your next release?
Oh definitely! The hardest part about being an independent artist, I think, is the money. When you don’t have a label doing all your promotion, distribution, licensing, fronting a tour, costs can really become prohibitive, especially when you have a smaller following. Any amount of extra money really helps me cover those things on my own, as well as bring in other people to work with who have knowledge and skills I don’t.
How else will you utilize those band battle funds?
I definitely am very diligent when it comes to saving money for a rainy day, but whenever I get money like this, I really want to use it on the people around me who have supported and helped me, especially when they had nothing to gain. I’m forever grateful to my support network who help me in such immeasurable ways. When I have the chance to do something extra special for them and pay them back for everything they’ve given me, that’s something I really want to take advantage of.
When and where will you be performing?
My next show at the moment is at Bar Nine in Hell’s Kitchen on Oct. 18. I’ll be playing as a part of a monthly artist showcase held there. But I’m always scheduling new shows, so if you’re interested in catching me live, you can always go to my social media or website to find where and when I’m performing!
Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
I just want to thank the Central Jersey Arts Council again for putting on this awesome event and offering this support to independent artists like myself!