March 3 (UPI) -- Liz Phair is returning to the spotlight with her first-ever live streamed event, "Hey Lou Hey Liz," and the singer-songwriter said the virtual concert will be "a highly imaginative endeavor."
Phair, 53, said the COVID-19 pandemic put her career on hold, causing her to delay the planned release of Soberish, her first studio album in over a decade, from 2020 to later this year. The pandemic also forced the postponing of a tour alongside Alanis Morissette and Garbage, which is now scheduled to begin in June.
Phair said she discovered the isolation of the pandemic made music more difficult to pursue.
"I always thought the source of my creativity was me, but it's actually the people that I'm around, the circumstances I go into, the parties, the family, the relationships, all that out-life that I wasn't doing in 2020 is actually the source of it, and I just process it," Phair told UPI in a recent interview.
She said the pandemic left her feeling creatively "stunted" and bereft of options, since she lives with her 24-year-old son, whose reactive airway disease makes him particularly vulnerable.
"Everything that people were suggesting to me, I was saying, 'I can't do that, because I don't want to expose myself and then therefore my son,'" she said. "There was a lot of stress, because business side was trying to keep my career going, and I'm on the other side saying, 'You don't understand, we have this issue, and it's more important to me than anything.'"
Phair said she initially resisted the idea of a live stream concert, but the inspiration for "Hey Lou Hey Liz" came from some out-of-the-box thinking.
"The epiphany was if what we're going to do is just going to be a less good version of what we would have done normally, I don't want to do it. I don't want to do something that's going to remind you of a better thing, like the concert you saw me in the year before," she said.
Phair said fans can expect "Hey Lou Hey Liz" to be "a highly imaginative endeavor" that bears little resemblance to her live shows, but she was tight-lipped with details.
"We went all the way a different way, and then it was so much better, we just suddenly started flowing and we could imagine creative things and execute them," she said.
An accidental song
The songwriter compared the "world of imagination" she put together for her live stream show to her recent video release for "Hey Lou," the latest single from Soberish. The song details Phair and producer Brad Wood's imaginary version of the relationship between legendary musicians Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, who married in 2008 and remained together until Reed's death in 2013.
"It was actually an accident that happened in the studio," Phair said of the song's genesis. "I had written that song with the music, but totally different lyrics ... and I wasn't really happy with it."
Phair said she and Wood were listening to a sample of the song when they realized there was an artifact -- a result of the way the loop was put together -- that made it sound like the singer was exclaiming "Hey Lou" in the chorus.
"Brad goes, 'What if it's Laurie Anderson looking at Lou Reed like, what have you done now?' And I just started laughing. After literally days of being stuck, we started riffing on lyrics in the story scenario of what Lou Reed was getting up to and how Laurie was loving but exasperated," Phair recalled.
She said the song is an imaginary scenario, but it's also a tribute to two artists who were highly influential in her own career, as well as a relationship that she finds inspirational.
"They were sort of guiding lights for me on my own musical journey. And then when they married, I remember just being floored. I was like, 'You can be a strong artist and marry another strong artist and be happy like that?'" she recalled. "I had always been deeply curious and longing for a relationship like that. Like it's sort of peak relationship goals for me."
The video for "Hey Lou" stars puppet versions of Reed and Anderson as the former finds his way into shenanigans and the latter lovingly reprimands him for it. Phair said the puppet concept was born partially out of necessity, from her desire to keep her son safe from potential COVID-19 infection, and partially out of "creative inspiration" on the part of creative director Kathy Angstadt.
"This seemed like a really great way to depict their love story without making it seem too real, because I don't know what their life was like together; this is imaginary," she said.
Phair said she is not sure if Anderson has heard the song or seen the video, but believes she is aware of its existence.
"My sense is she's tolerating it," Phair laughed. "That is my sense. I did write her, but I didn't hear back. I'm sure she is aware of it, but was like 'OK, well, alright, moving on.'"
Able to engage
"Hey Lou" was Phair's first single from Soberish since "Good Side" in October 2019. She said the long delay in getting the album out was borne out of her desire to give the record a proper release.
"We wanted to be able to perform, we wanted to have it be a part of the tour with Alanis and Garbage, I wanted this record to have a real cycle, to do all the things. Interacting with fans," she said. "I waited a long time to make this record, and I didn't want to just put it out and not be able to engage the way I want to be able to engage with it."
Soberish has yet to receive an official release date, but Phair said she is committed to releasing it by the end of the year, regardless of whether her tour is postponed again. She said there are also likely to be more live stream events on the horizon.
"I would love to continue doing work like this creatively even after COVID is over, because once we've gone into this realm of the imagination, why leave?" she said. "But at the same time, I'm starting to really -- I hope I'm not disappointed -- get a taste for getting back out there. I hope that's what's coming, shortly-ish."
"Hey Lou Hey Liz" streams live Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST. Tickets can be purchased at Mandolin.com.