One of the remarkable, feel-good Gospel music stories in 2015 is the debut arrival of West coast native, Liz Vice, and her soul-stirring, Billboard chart-topping album, There’s A Light. The title of the release reflects the sincerity in her story telling and an agonizing testimony unique to Liz Vice. Liz overcame crippling poverty as a child, and survived debilitating health issues as a teenager, to stumble into a rewarding recording career in the last couple of years that has taken her in a new direction with clear intention.
Understanding her humble beginnings and trusting God’s miraculous ways, Vice has accepted her new calling in life to plant seeds for the Lord and allow her voice to be an instrument for His purpose. BlackGospel.comspoke with the Portland-native about her astonishing road to the music stage, her health battles that brought her to believe in Jesus and her music that’s resonating with an unconventional audience.
Christopher Heron: Liz, your album is one of the most original and refreshing sounds I’ve heard released in Gospel music in 2015. What is the evolution of your music?
Liz Vice: The initial creation of the album was in response to me singing on another album called Wounded Healer on a song with Josh White called Enfold Me. I didn’t enjoy singing in front of people, and keep in mind this is only a few years ago. It was something that was really scary to me and very vulnerable. And so after I sang the song people responded in a very positive way, in a way that they were really touched by how I was able to interpret the song. I don’t even remember how Josh sang it because I kind of took ownership of it.
I sang it from a really honest place, especially coming from a background of dealing with ill health issues. To be able to sing a song that just said, ‘you who created the moon and the stars, all power is in your hand. You only say the word and I shall be healed’. I would sing this from a vulnerable place. I am struggling with doubts, with fear and anxiety, and I know you just say the word and all those things will go away. So it was just like an honest plea asking the Lord to show up and rescue me. So, I sang the song and I got choked up and teary eyed, because like I said, I never thought about having a good voice, I never thought about one day being a singer. it was just this pull.
Christopher Heron: Your sound and delivery is quite eclectic, yet it’s attractive, it’s engaging. I’d love to know who are some of your musical influences, both in the secular and in the spiritual music world?
Liz Vice: I would start with my mom. I feel like when I listen to the album I hear her voice. My family is from L.A. and my dad was in a band. I never grew up with my dad but genetics are pretty strong. My mom would sing every morning ‘Rise and shine and give God the glory’. So hearing her sing that and hearing her write songs and work in the arts community in Portland since I was a kid, I know that that has influenced me.
I loved Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge, Roberta Flack and even Michael Bolton. I just love Top 40 music. I would listen to the radio all day as a kid. I also love movie sound tracks featuring Bette Midler,Barbara Streisand,Michael Jackson of course, Lionel Ritchie and James Ingram. I didn’t really start listening to spiritually based music until I was 15 years old, and that only lasted maybe like four or five years until I realized I liked the spiritual music more. [Laughter]
Christopher Heron: As soulful as your sound is I sense that your audience is not what would be considered a conventional Gospel music audience. Who are among the first to respond to Liz Vice?
Liz Vice: Well, for starters the church that I serve at. And also the city of Portland, so welcoming, so inviting. I’ve been told I have a sound that’s very nostalgic, very familiar…but believe me, when people would ask me to sing at certain events I was like, “But, you want me to sing my album? I’m singing about Jesus, you’re okay with that?” And this is coming from Portland, being the most unchurched city in America. It’s cool that I’m getting interviewed, it’s cool I’m in magazines and on the radio. Sure it’s cool, but it’s not enough to motivate me to keep singing. What motivates me to keep singing is “I’ve been feeling so depressed and I just listened to your song and I cry and and I feel hopeful.” I’m like, “I listen to your story and it makes me feel like the seeds that are being planted are actually taking root.”
Christopher Heron: Music as a career wasn’t always at the forefront, in fact it’s frequently had to be on the back burner as you battled physical afflictions. Were you aware of your ailment growing up or was this more of a recent development, and how has it impacted your faith?
Liz Vice: I grew up poor, all five kids in a single parent home where my mom did the best she could to raise us without a father figure in the picture, where we went to private school, had clothes on our back, food in our bellies, where she gave up her dreams of being a singer and writer and actress to make sure we kept breathing. So I became a believer when I was 15 years old. I had this pull. I wondered what it would look like to follow this Jesus. What’s around the corner of the unknown? I got sick, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease six months later. Four years after that, I was on dialysis and my health got even worse and they were like, “You’re going to need a heart and kidney transplant”, then it was, “You’re too sick to get a transplant”. I was ready, “Jesus take me. I don’t have kids, I’m not married, I don’t have a career, there really is no reason for me to continue to keep living on this earth. I’m ready.” These are the thoughts that I had.
I finally got a kidney transplant, and I remember being in my room and just weeping wondering what it was all about. Then it dawned on me, this is a bonus life so I’m going to go to school for what I want to do. I decided to go to film school. That kind of career doesn’t come with health insurance, doesn’t come with security and stability. I was elected to give the graduation speech in my class and I remember that I told the story of me not knowing whether I would live past the age of 21. To this day there are people that I barely know that say, “I remember you from your graduation speech”, and that was 8 years ago. So it’s been really awesome for people to see me then and see me now. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be known for someone who was a good singer who had a good voice. I want to be known for someone who loves Jesus and loves people, and I really do love people. It’s not so much being on stage and singing with a cool band. It really is I love engaging with the audience, I love when the audience are dancing and yet have no idea I’m singing about Jesus.
Christopher Heron: What kind of impact are you hoping and praying your album and your songs will make with those who encounter it for the first time?
Liz Vice: I still struggle with, “Am I supposed to be doing this?” Honestly I was waiting for music to kind of fizzle out last fall. Now I have management. And I still don’t think about who is going to accept this music, how can I convince people to listen to this message. As a believer, the things I’ve gone through I realize that my job isn’t to convince anything and anyone. My job is to plant seeds. My job is not to separate the wheat from the weeds because Jesus knows we would do a horrible job because we’re so judgmental. He says, “spread the seeds of the Kingdom and love people well. I want you to love people who are totally opposite of you, I want you to love people well.” That’s what I’m learning how to do.
I also have to love myself well and allow myself to be a human being because Jesus Christ is a human being. He came in the form of a human, and even though He does things that I can’t do, He can do those things through me. And if He has given me a gift to sing and I’ve given my life to Him, I don’t get to say how my gift is used. Every day I wake up and I say based on my experience of You, I will trust You and whatever unfolds today, I will get through it. We don’t ever think about the mechanics of how we breathe unless someone brings it up. I don’t think about the mechanics of what makes my heart beat or why do I laugh or why do I have dreams, it just is a part of an everyday thing that I carry with me so. I don’t know maybe I should think about some of these things. [Laughter]
Christopher Heron: I almost forgot to ask. Is Liz Vice your stage name or is that your real name?
Liz Vice: I know, I’ve had people ask me this too many times. It’s my real name. It’s Elizabeth Lorraine Vice.
For more information on Liz Vice and her album There’s A Light, visit her official website at www.lizvice.com.