Singer/songwriter/guitarist Liv Miner was a seasoned professional onstage and in the studio when she joined Drayter a year ago. Growing up in a musical household, she was instinctively drawn to piano and guitar, and quickly mastered both. She played in numerous bands around Dallas, Texas, and even opened for a previous incarnation of Drayter. When the group, founded in 2008 by guitarist Cole Schwartz, found itself in need of a new lead singer, Miner auditioned and was a perfect fit.
Drayter’s full-length studio debut, NINE, was released on December 18. Recorded in Los Angeles, California, and Mandeville, Louisiana, it was produced by Matt Squire and Dave Fortman. Tracking with A-list producers on an independent album is a Holy Grail for any band, but Drayter came in with years of industry credibility. Over the course of their history, they’ve played sold-out shows, shared stages with the likes of Stone Sour, Chevelle, Three Days Grace, and The Pretty Reckless, and were nominated for an IMEA (International Music and Entertainment Association) award for Best Rock Album in 2014. The widespread appeal of their guitar-driven, pop-rock music has resulted in sponsorships from Vuka Natural Energy Drinks, Rhythm Super Foods, MAC Cosmetics, Ernie Ball Strings, and Music Man Guitars.
Just days before the album release, the band announced their partnership with the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center (NBPC: www.pacer.org/bullying). Drayter pledged 100 percent of sales proceeds from pre-orders of NINE to NBPC. The track “Not Alone,” which addresses isolation and loneliness, is being used to promote PACER’s NBPC You’re Not Alone, We’re Here For You campaign.
Liv Miner spoke to Guitar Girl Magazine about recording NINE, her passion for guitars — in particular her Music Man Armada — and why the PACER campaign is so important to Drayter.
You joined Drayter in February 2015. Half of the songs on the album were already written by that time. What was the band’s direction and did it change when you came in?
When I joined the band, it had a harder rock vibe. With the album, we decided we wanted to go in a more pop direction. Some of the songs we already had were a good mix of pop-rock. Over the summer we started to write what is now the first half of the album. Those are the more poppy and bright tracks that have a lot more post-production on them. That’s how it’s changed. It’s moved from being pop-rock in the rock direction to pop-rock in the pop direction. We made the decision because we could cross over more and be played on five different radio stations instead of just the rock station. It was a smooth transition, and it’s not a huge difference from our old sound.
What was the recording process like for you? Had you done much recording in the past?
I’ve been playing in bands since I was 10 years old, and I’ve been recording on a regular basis since I was 14, so it was nothing new to me. For the songs that were written before I was in the band, all the instrumentals were done and they are a key higher than what I typically sing. I went into the studio in October and sang those songs a key higher than my normal key, so that was fun! In August, when we were in California, we laid down the guitar first, which is not how we usually do things, because the drums were already set in a studio on a different day. We got all the instruments recorded, I did vocals, and we did some overdubbing on guitar. It was a laidback process, but being in the studio is taxing. We would leave beat and tired every day, but it’s so rewarding when you hear it mixed and mastered, so it’s all worth it in the end.
Are you transposing the songs live?
We perform all the songs in Drop C, so for the poppy songs, the key that I sing on the album is the key that you’ll hear live. The ones that I sang a key higher we just bring back to my key live. When I pick a key for a song, I choose something that’s going to be safe for me to sing every night on the road. While I can hit the higher notes with no problem, I don’t want to do that and strain my voice night after night and hurt myself. I like to bring it to a key that’s still impressive and that I’m more comfortable with and is more my forte.
You are also taking voice lessons.
I started taking lessons two months ago to make sure my technique was good and would be good on the road. It’s been helpful. I’ve made little tweaks here and there. I still take weekly lessons. We’re preparing for tour season and I’m making sure I’m in tip-top shape. Warm-ups are a huge part, and sometimes you have to do warm-downs if you’re playing a lot of shows in a row, so my lessons have taught me a lot more exercises. Sometimes I sing a song off the album for him, and he helps make it as easy as possible so that I feel as comfortable as possible. I was in a three-piece before Drayter. My brother was the drummer, we had a bass player, and I played guitar and sang the whole time. Coming into Drayter and being a front person without a guitar for some of the set was new to me. Singing correctly requires a lot of core engagement. When you have a guitar around your neck, you are automatically grounded and weighted and tightening your core, so it’s easier; it’s happening naturally. Without the guitar, I have to think about tightening my core. That’s something I had to get used to, but it’s been fun.
How did Matt Squire and Dave Fortman get involved, and how are their production techniques different?
The band had worked with Dave Fortman before. He’s worked with Evanescence and Slipknot, so he did the harder rock tracks. When we decided to go in a more pop direction, Matt Squire came into the picture. He’s worked with Ariana Grande, Kesha, and Panic! At The Disco. How they are different: Matt lets you do what you want to do, and then he will come in and critique you, where Dave is more hands-on during the whole process. And obviously the genres they produce are completely different. I prefer either or. You’re going to be critiqued and told what to do at some point, so I don’t care when it is! I was worried about how it was all going to come together because of the two different producers. I wanted it to blend and sound like a whole album, and it did, so I’m super-pleased.
Did they take you to the next level as a singer, songwriter, and musician?
Being a performer and a recording artist are different. In my old band it was straight-up rock and roll, so the vocals are very raw. You don’t go over the same verse twenty times. You just lay it down, balls to the wall, and that’s the style it is. With these more polished pop-rock tracks, it takes a lot more repetition because you want pristine vocal delivery. That was different. They were getting it out of me. I thought the takes I was doing sounded the same, but I would sing the fifth take and they’d say, “That’s the one.” I would think, I could have sworn that sounded like takes 1, 2, 3, and 4, but OK. So it’s that repetition to get the polished and perfect-sounding vocal take.
Was it difficult to maintain the spontaneity and enthusiasm of a vocal track, and make it convincing, when you had to sing it so many times?
It is so exhausting, and they’re critiquing it, too. You do a take and they say, “No, do it this way,” you sing it again, and they critique. You have to put all ego aside, and that’s for a lot of aspects of being a musician. You have to be able to take that criticism. As far as keeping my energy and personality, I just have to keep my head in the game. I get lots of rest, and I’m super-focused about what I’m doing, because I know it’s going to be brutal and exhausting. I have to stay lighthearted and keep that personality in there. It’s always been easy for me to emote on vocal tracks, and to get my attitude and personality across, so that’s a plus. They don’t have to pull that out of me so much. It’s more about keeping my head in the game and not getting discouraged.
You began as a piano player. Did piano provide a basis for learning to play guitar? Does it factor into your guitar playing and songwriting?
I started banging around on the piano as soon as I could reach the keys. Most people would say it was a good foundation, because piano is kind of like the ballet of music. Ballet is a foundation for dancing, and that can be said for piano and music. I took piano lessons for quite a few years, but it’s surprising how little information I’ve retained from that. My piano playing hasn’t made guitar any easier, but being a musician runs in my blood. Both my parents are professional musicians, all my siblings are musically inclined, so it’s always come naturally to me. I picked up guitar when I was 9, and before that I played piano and sang. I don’t play piano as much these days. It’s more guitar and focusing on Drayter, but I occasionally sit down and play.
How has your working relationship with Cole grown over the course of a year together?
Cole and I are very different as guitar players, and that’s how we complement each other. He is more metal and I’m more laidback, bluesy rock. He is into all of his sounds and the ambience, and I’m into the straight-up rock and roll vibe. He plays what you hear on the album, and I come in and beef up the rhythm, or add a harmony guitar part, and it works quite well. A lot of people say we’re the same person, just male and female versions, so we work easily and there’s no ego involved. Every guitar part I come to him with works so smoothly. There haven’t been any conflicts. Onstage, our personalities come through on guitar. I typically configure what I want to play around what is needed live. There are a few songs on the album that I have come up with guitar parts for, so when you see our live show, when I play, it’s not going to sound exactly the same as the track because I’ve added some stuff.
When did you start playing the Music Man Armada?
Cole is sponsored by Music Man as well. We went to a guitar show a few months back and I met some of the Music Man guys. I played for them, and a few weeks later they sent me an Armada, which I had picked out before. It obviously helped that Cole is sponsored, and it only makes sense that I should be endorsed, too, and we can have two beautiful Music Man guitars onstage!
What do you need from a guitar?
I come from a three-piece band where I was the only guitar, meaning I was the only melodic instrument. I switch from rhythm to lead, rhythm to lead, so I need the lead to cut through the rest of the sound, but I need the rhythm to be beefy and really hold it down. That’s the basis of what I look for in a guitar: I need the beef. What immediately caught my attention about the Armanda was the look. It’s stunning. The body shape is unique, and I was worried about how it was going to play. This is Music Man’s first neck-through solid-body guitar. It looks so sleek and slender that I wasn’t sure if it would have that beef, but it absolutely does. When I picked it up, I was surprised at how heavy it is. It has two humbuckers, it’s maple on mahogany with a rosewood neck, and the clean tone is heavenly. It’s warm and bright in all the right places, and the diversity in the pickups is interesting as well. It’s an amazing, well-rounded guitar that is incredibly nice to look at. I’m super-happy with this guitar. I’m so obsessed with it! Because I played a Les Paul for so long, that’s the feel I’m comfortable with. I like my action pretty low, much lower than Cole’s. When I picked the Armada up and played it, I was truly shocked by the thickness and warmth — and the beef. Beef is a really big word for me when it comes to guitars, because that’s what I look for. I was surprised because I didn’t know it was going to have balls like that.
What else is in your rig?
I used to play an Orange Rockerverb head through a Marshall cabinet. I just love Orange and Marshall. I used a Marshall half-stack when I first joined Drayter. Currently I am using an Orange combo amp. I’m a very simple person when it comes to my rig. I need a glorious clean tone and a good, crunchy, dirty tone, so that I can be diverse with my playing. Cole has his Axe-FX, he probably has twenty different sounds, and he uses a lot of them throughout the set. I’m completely opposite. I have a foot switch, I have my awesome, diverse, dirty tone, my wonderful clean tone, and I’m set. That’s just how I roll!
At 9 years old, what did playing guitar mean to you? When did you begin to understand the technical side and the importance of finding your style?
There were guitars around my house, so I picked one up and started learning to play. When I was 15, I got serious about going in a more rock and lead guitar direction. I say this all the time: I’m the least technical guitar player that you’re ever going to meet, but it works for me. I’ve been in a bunch of rock and roll bands, and you don’t need to know a lot of theory. You need to know how to throw down, keep a solid groove, and do a solo here and there, and you’re good. I like guitarists like Slash, who are very melodic, but again, I go back to the straight-up rock and roll roots. Slash, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Stevie Ray Vaughan — those are artists I looked to to give me direction and navigate my away around when I was in a three-piece: How do I sound diverse and full, being the only guitar player? I looked to them to try and help me in that way.
Have you noticed changes in your playing since joining Drayter?
I’m trying to open my mind and steer away from the straight-up rock and roll that I adore. I’m listening to more pop artists that incorporate real instruments, such as Maroon 5, and I’m trying to create riffs that will fit into these pop-rock songs but are still true to me. It’s honestly been a challenge because I love my rock and roll, but there’s not a lot of guitar soloing or riffage going on in songs on the radio. It’s interesting how pop-rock acts use their guitars, as opposed to the rock and roll bands that I love.
How often do you practice and what does it consist of?
Mainly I’m writing my own songs or practicing Drayter songs. Sometimes I learn solos that I like, because it teaches me how to do something different, but practice is picking up the guitar and playing. I practice a couple of times a week, and we rehearse a couple of times a week, so outside of practice I try to pick up my guitar as much as I can.
How do you balance the creative side of music with the business side, which seems so removed from everything that music is supposed to be?
Luckily, we have an amazing manager who handles those things, but I’m aware of all that’s going on behind the scenes, and because I grew up with parents who are professional musicians, it was nothing new to me. They’ve been warning me my whole life that if this is really what you want to do, get ready for hard work that could possibly not pay off. But I’m stubborn, I don’t accept no for an answer, I’m extremely persistent, so there’s nothing else that I’ve ever considered doing besides music. Drayter is a great project because I get to focus on the music. I don’t have to stress out about the business side of it, and that’s a blessing. But for people who think about being a musician, I always say, “If there is something that you would rather do, then please go do that other thing,” because this is stressful. You don’t go to college and get a degree in being a rock star, get an entry-level job in it, and plan your career. Being a musician entails putting all your eggs in one basket and going for it balls to the wall. There can’t be any reservations, no hesitation, you have to be 100 percent dedicated and open-minded, because being an artist is different from being a working musician these days. You can’t come at record labels with twelve-minute songs and two-minute guitar solos. You have to be open to criticism and be able to mold your music into something that is marketable. That’s something I feel a lot of people don’t understand. There’s more that goes into being a musician than just singing, playing, and having fun onstage. When you’re on tour, that’s 5 percent of the job. The rest of it is waiting around, doing interviews, all of those things. People need to know what they’re getting themselves into, or they’re not going to last two minutes.
Drayter has a partnership with PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. In the press release, you stated, “Bullying can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and even self-harm. I know; I was bullied.” Many people would look at you and think, She’s too beautiful to have ever been bullied. Are you OK with discussing what you went through?
Yes. To think that anyone has it easy is stupid, because you have no idea. When you look at a person and judge them by the way they look, that is so ignorant. I’ve been through a lot, although not all of it has to do with bullying. I wore coke-bottle glasses until I was 11. I had a bunch of eye problems when I was an infant and I’m legally blind. I only can see with contacts or my glasses. Without them, I could never function. I was picked on and teased for having these big glasses, and people would tease me about my voice because I guess it’s obnoxious when I talk. It’s so funny, because the two most complimented things about me today are my big blue eyes and my beautiful singing voice, so it’s funny how things turn around. Bullying is a bigger issue today because you have idiot bullies with huge computer balls that will type anything and degrade people and make them feel like absolute crap. I’m not saying, “If you’re going to say something mean, say it to their face,” but people behind these computer and phone screens develop a whole persona. Obviously, adults know that what people spew negatively is usually a reflection of how they feel about themselves, but kids don’t know that. Yes, being picked on is a part of growing up — I know this. I have a lot of siblings, and we would chase each other around, beat each other up, and pick on each other. That’s why I have such thick skin today. But bullying is a much more relevant and intense topic than it used to be, so it was really cool to come out with “Not Alone,” and join up with this anti-bullying organization and get the awareness out. Everyone needs hope. No one wants to feel isolated, lonely, picked on, degraded, and all these things that are happening because of the Internet. It’s good to be able to have a positive impact. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback for it, and for the album as a whole, and it’s been wonderful.
With so many young fans, are you cautious about what you say and what you post on social media?
Yes, to an extent. I am 22 years old, but I have nieces and nephews, and I want to have kids in the future, so I’m conscious in that regard because I don’t want my little niece to say, “You posted this on Facebook,” and be embarrassed that she saw it. I do feel a bit of responsibility, but I’m also not a degenerate, so I don’t have anything to hide. My word choice … I’m brutally honest and I’m harsh, so I scale it back to sound a little more appealing, I guess, but I have to stay true to myself and have that honesty and realness. It’s definitely a balance. There are always people that are going to be offended, so I don’t really care about those people, but I want to be appropriate for my niece and nephews and future children, and for my young fan base, so I definitely think about that.
In July 2015, you posted, “I’ve been listening to a lot of pop radio lately, and I just wanted to say to any young guys and gals that follow me…SEX is a PRIVATE thing for people that are IN LOVE with one another. I’m getting so freaked out by all these songs I’m hearing on the radio. Just because you think someone is hot, isn’t a reason to have sex. Having a few drinks is not a reason to have sex. Having fun dancing with someone is not a reason to have sex. Sex doesn’t make you cool. BEING WHO YOU TRULY ARE IS WHAT MAKES YOU COOL.” That’s a strong statement, and not one that we hear often from a rock musician.
I stand by it 100 percent. I have a past, I’m not perfect, I’m not saying I haven’t done some of those things. I’m saying that’s not what brings you happiness, that is not what brings you true peace, that’s not what makes you cool. I’m not going to sing songs that glorify sex in that light, and that glorify drug use and partying, because I know from experience that is not the way to live. It’s not. It’s a very dangerous road, it’s a slippery slope, and they’re going to get that brutal honesty from me. I just can’t help it!
What is ahead for Drayter? Will you be on the road soon, and who else is in the band?
There will definitely a lot of touring. Cole and I are the two official members of Drayter, and that’s how it will stay for the foreseeable future. We have Cam Covello and Darrick Castor, our incredible bassist and drummer, who are local to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with us, and we are thrilled to have them as part of our project. Cole and I are going crazy, because we’ve been working so hard on this album, and doing press, and we have not played a show in six months, so 2016 is hopefully all about the live shows. We are itching and dying to get out there very soon, which we will, so check our Facebook and Twitter. Look for us during tour season this spring and festival season this summer.
Drayter is performing on Friday, March 18, in Austin during South By Southwest. Keep up with tour announcements and other news by following them online.