Eliza Carrington on blending her classical guitar background and love of pop music on EP “Island of Mine”

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Eliza Carrington - Photo by Olly Shou

My name is Eliza Carrington, and I’m a singer-songwriter and classical guitarist living in LA. I’ve been playing classical guitar since I was 11 years old, and I studied classical guitar performance when I was at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I always loved pop music, and while I was at school in San Francisco, I decided that I wanted to put the beauty of classical music and the fun of pop music together in my own original work. I started working on my pop songs and used my classical guitar background to create something that I’m really proud of, and I feature some of my fingerstyle-guitar songs on my new 5-song EP, Island of Mine.

You just recently released a five-song EP titled Island of Mine.  Tell us about the inspiration behind the EP.

Island of Mine features four original songs that I’ve written over the last few years, and one cover of the Britney Spears hit, “(You Drive Me) Crazy.” I’ve been growing a following on Instagram for a while by sharing classical guitar videos, but I realized that my following only knows me as a classical player, and doesn’t know much of my original style. I decided that I wanted my EP to be something that represents my classical background that I’ve shown for so long, but also represents where I want to go in the future with my music, so I took my pop songs and transformed them into fingerstyle-guitar songs. After this EP, I will be making more produced pop music, and I’ll be reimagining some of the songs on my EP with a new sound.

Eliza Carrington – Photo by Charlie Sehres

The official music video for one of the singles “I Need Some Time” was also just recently released, which at about three and a half minutes into it, there is an unexpected change. What is behind that?

The concept of “I Need Some Time” is about a girl who, after feeling overwhelmed and anxious with life on Earth, decides to run away to space. The concept was inspired by a tattoo I saw that shows a space helmet with the words “I Need Some Time” written inside. The song lyrically takes the listener from the point in which our main character is feeling overwhelmed and wants to leave Earth to when she’s floating through space and looking back at Earth. The change at the end of the video represents the feeling of finally being at a place of safety, but not being disconnected from the world, which is what happens at this point in the song. The message of the song itself is that one can take time away from a stressful situation or place in order to face it later with a clear mind. It’s really difficult to work on something when you’re confused and scared – and it’s okay if you need some time to clear your head.

Why did you choose to cover Britney Spears’ single “(You Drive Me) Crazy)”?

I decided to cover “(You Drive Me) Crazy” because I love Britney Spears and believe that her influence in pop music and American media is beyond incredible. Along with her catchy, fun songs, we see someone whose nostalgia is found widely in my generation.

I found a love for arranging pop music when I was at school in San Francisco, and I realized that sometimes classical musicians and those that like classical music tend to strongly dislike pop music. It seemed like people thought pop music was really vapid, and I wanted to show that it is really complex and interesting – so I took pop music’s biggest icon, Britney Spears, and turned her hit “Toxic” into a guitar quartet (which you can find on YouTube!). I really enjoyed making this arrangement and felt that I wanted to do more arrangements for solo guitar as well, so I could perform them at my live shows. I’m still making guitar ensemble covers as well, and I just released my latest cover of “Thriller” on YouTube!

Having a great teacher is so important,
and I’m so grateful that I had
such an awesome teacher.

With a background in classical guitar, when did you begin your musical journey?

I started playing guitar when I was 11 – my dad is a classical guitarist (he studied with a famous guitarist named Regino Sainz de la Maza), and we always had guitars around the house. He taught me a common beginner’s piece called Romanza, and I practiced that over and over until I got a formal teacher, Pat Bianculli. Pat taught me from the time I was 12 until college, and he had a clever teaching strategy that he used when I was first starting out: every week, I had to learn a new classical piece, but at the end of the lesson, he would teach me whatever pop song or Beatles tune I wanted to learn. That way, I kept progressing with classical music, but I still got to learn songs I loved already. Having a great teacher is so important, and I’m so grateful that I had such an awesome teacher.

On your website, it mentions you were influenced by pop music. What drew you to the classical guitar?

I was drawn to the classical guitar at a young age because I always heard my father play guitar so beautifully; as I got older, I was drawn to classical guitar because I found so much joy in performing such incredible works. The music written for classical guitar is beautiful, haunting, intricate, and fun. And now, I’m drawn to classical guitar to use it as a tool for my original work – still keeping all of my inspirations in hand.

Who were your musical influences?

For classical music, my biggest influence was (and is) Ana Vidovic. Her performance is so flawless and beautiful – she has such an amazing expression in her playing, and her technique is always precise and clean. Her technique, speed, and masterful interpretation when performing is nothing short of genius.

For pop music, my biggest influence is Lady Gaga. She was a classical musician who transitioned to pop, which is what I’m doing now. Gaga’s continued passion towards driving together the forces of pop and art is so inspiring: the costumes, makeup, sets, glamour, dancing, aesthetic, story, and music all come together to create an unbelievable force of artistic energy. When I wasn’t feeling my best, I would watch her interviews and listen to the advice she gave to young artists: when you’re trying to find yourself, go to museums. Read books. Look at other artists in different mediums. Find your influences. Believe in yourself. Never give up. Live and breathe your art. Write every day. Change the world, one sequin at a time.

She’s what kept me going – and for that, I’m forever grateful.

What music are you listening to today?

I’m listening to a lot of songs that I listened to when I was a teenager. It might sound odd, but I honestly don’t go searching for new music too often; I often resort to things that I loved growing up. For classical music, I love listening to really mysterious and beautiful pieces, like the classical guitar piece Koyunbaba by Carlo Domeniconi, or the choral piece Northern Lights by Ola Gjeilo. For produced music, I love Lizzo, The Ready Set (who now goes by Onlychild), and Maggie Rogers.

What brand of guitar are you currently using and why?

I actually use a guitar that was custom-built for me by luthier Steve Connor! He builds the most beautiful instruments in his shop in Cape Cod. At the time I was interested in investing in a custom guitar, he was working on a series of guitars that he called his Portrait Series, in which he would learn about his client and then design the aesthetic of the guitar based on what he interprets about their personality. When I decided that I wanted him to build my guitar, I started showing him paintings and art that I loved, and I also told him that I loved to doodle little flowers everywhere. He loved the idea of my little flowers and designed the whole guitar to have a floral aesthetic – the rosette has a floral shape and is colored with matte black but filled with crushed pieces of abalone shell, so it looks like the night sky. You can see my doodle flowers and designs of moons all over the guitar; it has a very mystical and beautiful aesthetic.

When choosing woods for the guitar, I chose a German spruce for a bright sound; the lining also has Tiger and Koa woods as well. The guitar itself is very loud (and normally classical guitars are very quiet), which I absolutely love.

Having a custom guitar was really important for me because playing guitar was always so painful – classical guitars are often designed with thick necks and big bodies, which makes it really difficult for someone small like me to hold it properly. I was always in pain when I was playing guitar as a teenager, and the smaller dimensions of this guitar allow me to not feel pain when I’m playing anymore; and for that reason, I named this guitar Joy.

I also encourage young girls, in our state of social media, to always remember to believe in yourself.

You had mentioned to us that you began a few years ago posting classical guitar videos to Instagram in order to encourage young girls to pick up the guitar and play. You’ve been quite successful in that venture – keep up the good work. What is your advice to young girls who have the desire to play guitar?

Thank you so much! My advice to young girls who want to play guitar is to make practicing fun. We all have parts of practicing we don’t like, but if you can find something you love, whether it’s practicing those chords to the song you love or practicing your favorite part in a solo, always enjoy your practice sessions.

I also encourage young girls, in our state of social media, to always remember to believe in yourself. You’ll see people all over the Internet leaving really rude remarks on the pages of female guitarists, and I want you to know that they’re coming from a place of hate. Keep your head up. Only take critique from people who want to uplift you (like your teacher and other guitarists like you), not people who want to tear you down. Being a part of a movement of women who fight the status quo is so empowering and inspiring; be a part of it and believe in your art, your music, and yourself.

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