Interview with Earth Girls vocalist/guitarist Liz Panella | By Nick Harrah
So much of talking to bands is about looking back and, at the same time, looking ahead. Looking back at writing songs and making an album, all the emotions and struggle therein, and looking ahead to touring and all that entails. But, maybe more importantly, it comes back to who they are, where they’re from, and what it took them to get here.
Such is the case for the Chicago-based power-pop outfit, Earth Girls.
Fronted by singer and guitarist Liz Panella, founded in 2013, and now, with a few EPs under their belt, the band saw the very inspiration behind their debut full-length, Wanderlust prove to be the only thing holding it back: the idea that, sometimes, you need to leave home.
Panella admits as much. Shortly after recording the 12-song effort in a friend’s house in January of 2015, drummer Joey Kappel moved to Tokyo, Japan, thus ensuring the band would go on hiatus.
After returning from a “glorified summer vacation,” in Uppsala, Sweden—her family’s native land—in July, Panella says it was that restlessness to leave that inspired some of the songs. “I’m the type of person that doesn’t like sitting still for long periods of time,” she explains. “So, even though I like Chicago and this is my hometown, it’s still nice to get away and kind of see the world and experience other things. I think it helps [you] appreciate home when you can get away for a while, too. It’s all just part of restlessness, I guess.”
With a roughly 18-month delay getting the record out, Panella describes a surreal excitement looking back at the effort. “I almost can’t believe it’s real,” she says. “It’s also interesting, because, when you’re doing something like writing a record, it consumes your whole life. It takes almost all your energy.”
“Then, when there’s like a little bit of a delay before it comes out, it’s like you almost have forgotten about what you were feeling when you wrote it,” she continues. “It almost feels kind of like time-traveling, to go back and listen to the songs again and try to remember what I was feeling when I wrote them. It’s cool,” she says, as if surprised and in awe simultaneously. “It’s almost like a snapshot of my own life I can go back and look at.”
Even the songs straddle time itself. Some, like “Say Goodnight” and “For Granted,” predate Earth Girls and are from a different, maybe happier time for Panella. Others, like the title track and “Öland,” which closes the album, romanticize the unknown and new.
But Panella couldn’t maintain the band once Kappel moved across the sea, as if they were, like a photograph, frozen in time. Having been cohorts in previous bands like Broken Prayer and Embarrassed Teens, she wouldn’t have it without him. “Joey is one of my best friends, and that’s why it’s so fun to play with him,” she says. “When he left the country, it was weird. At first, I was trying to find people to fill in on drums, but it just didn’t feel right.”
“It’s important to have someone you can trust,” she continues, “that you can feel comfortable working with, spending that much time with, especially if you’re touring a lot, spending time in a van together, sleeping in small spaces together. You gotta do it with people you like.”
With Kappel, bassist Antonio Holguin III, and recently recruited friend, Mark Plant, coming on for guitar duties, Panella says Earth Girls remain all about one thing: fun with friends. “I’ve always just wanted to play music with my friends,” she asserts. “That’s the only reason I’ve ever started bands, was to have fun with friends and be able to express myself.”
Panella admits to feeling out of place on her own, in her own hometown, with a record coming out but without her band together; it’s a mixture of hope and anxiety, but she is still looking ahead to the future. “It’s interesting,” she begins, “it’s just kind of been me, on my own, thinking about what to do next, where we want to go next, what’s the next step.”
The next step is for Panella and Plant to take the songs out in August for some stripped-down shows. Then, looking ahead to Kappel returning to Chicago in early 2017, starting the writing cycle back up and lining up a proper Earth Girls tour with everyone reunited in sweet home Chicago. “Most of these songs, we haven’t played live before, but it does still feel fresh to us, even though it’s been a year and a half since we recorded it,” she admits.
As the truism goes, even when you feel alone, the love of music has the power to unite. With Wanderlust receiving favorable coverage from press outlets and love from fans, Panella says that’s what it’s all about. “It’s just so amazing to feel supported by a community, whether that community is punk or whatever,” she says. “To know that there are people who not only want to hear the songs, but people who have a stake in it, that they’d spend the money to put the record out and support us.”
“It’s not like you need proof of anything that you’ve done or created in the past,” she clarifies, “it’s just nice to have something to show for it, as something you’ve created and something that you’re proud of. I just feel very grateful, more than anything else.”
And about that affection for something or someplace new? Panella admits to wanting everyone back together so Earth Girls can get where they want to go. “It’s nice to know that, even when things change, they can kind of stay the same, you know?” she says. “That’s kind of part of, like, wanting to travel, but also liking to come back where you’re from.”
Order Wanderlust now via Grave Mistake Records.