LA-based drummer/singer Liv Marisco’s sound is hard to place — and that’s a good thing.
By Nada Alic
Photos by Michael Delaney
LA based artist Liv Marsico is sonically hard to place; the drummer/singer exists somewhere in the realm of experimental jazz, pop and R&B and more recently, she changed her name from Liphemra to phem to mark a new beginning of her sound. phem is a nod to the ephemeral, a moment that wasn’t meant to last, which makes sense, she doesn’t want anyone to trap her into any one identity. To Marsico, the ephemeral, temporal nature of everything is exactly what gives it it’s magic and the act of listening to a song can feel like time traveling back to an experience like an emotional tourist, never staying in one place too long. I caught up with her to learn more about phem and find out where I could get her “dis clit is lit” shirt so that I could wear it to when I go home to visit my parents to prove that I am still punk.
I remember being super into your music when I discovered it through GIRLSCHOOL, then I checked out your Instagram and was like, damn, I love this! Felt like a visual art project. Now you’ve updated it quite a bit and you’ve changed your name too, can you talk about that change?
I always think about making music as creating an ongoing soundtrack to something bigger; having an aesthetic and visuals that assist something bigger than just a song. I like creating stories.
phem is a play on ephemeral, can you tell me what it is about the ephemeral that you’re drawn to? How does it play out in your sound?
I love that you know that : ) Ephemeral is a really powerful word. It essentially means: something lasting a short time, something fleeting. The moment you feel it there, it’s already gone. Every song holds a place in time, and a memory with it. In just a few minutes, it can trigger all sorts of emotions and flashbacks to relationships, locations, and even emotions you haven’t felt in years. it sometimes can be bitter-sweet listening to a song that was a soundtrack to a great memory. You can feel what it was like to be there once again, but before you know it, it’s over and you can’t actually relive it. It’s almost like nibbling at a poison that has the ability to destroy you if you don’t use it in moderation.
Your sound has so many elements to it, it’s like jazz, electronic, R&B, but it can also be kind of spooky and brooding at times. What’s the best description you’ve ever heard about your own music?
Honestly, I’ve always had a hard time describing my music. By default it will always have some jazz influence as well as hip hop. I like to think of it as its own genre. There is always an aggression and tension behind every song I make and I think that will just be inherent in the art I continue to make because I feel things rather intensely.
“There is always an aggression and tension behind every song I make”
It’s obvious that aestheticism plays a big role in your work, everything from your sound to the visual elements of your music videos, Instagram, merch (“dis clit is lit” is maybe the best merch I’ve ever seen). How much of that is intentional and where does your inspiration come from?
It just started happening pretty organically, I just really wanted to put things on my merch that were bigger than an artist name. I find that quite self indulgent and boring, to be honest. I wanted to put statements that meant something, that other people couldn’t help but ask about. There wasn’t a day that went by when I wore my ‘did u cry’ shirt that someone didn’t approach me and say “yes” or “no”.. or “did u?”
“I always want to be as sincere as possible though and not play on what’s trending or in style at the moment.”
Speaking of visual elements, there’s a very feminine sexuality that plays out in your work and I feel like it’s only been recently that ‘the female gaze’ has come into the mainstream. Do you feel like you’re apart of that movement to sort of, reclaim the female form or do you not see it in those terms?
I really don’t see it in those terms, but I’m happy to be a part of that community and a safe space for other people to feel comfortable in and relate to. I think I’m filling a void I tried to find for myself growing up, but now there are so many artists who hold a similar space, it really feels nice. I always want to be as sincere as possible though and not play on what’s trending or in style at the moment. When people try to claim femininity and capitalize on it, it really turns me off.
“There wasn’t a day that went by when I wore my ‘did u cry’ shirt that someone didn’t approach me and say “yes” or “no”.. or “did u?”
How would you describe the LA music community? Do you feel like you’re apart of a bigger energy or do you mostly like to go off and do your own thing?
I feel fortunate to be a part of the LA music scene. It’s constantly changing and developing into something new. There are always different ebbs and flows in the trends, but I’ve always been on the outskirts of that, fitting into a much larger picture than just one town. I love my city though, and admire all the artists in it.
You’ve played with a ton of different bands like Cold War Kids, Hanni El Khatib, Deap Vally, Gothic Tropic, etc. what’s it been like going out on your own and doing your own thing? Did that feel like a natural evolution or were you nervous about it?
I started playing drums at a very young age, and did that with other projects for a long time. I love having my own thing, it feels so right now, and I love being able to play drums for my own music. I learned so much playing with other people, but i think i feel most at home now.
There aren’t a lot of drummer/singers out there, would you say that drums are your go-to when you sit down to write a song?
The way I develop a song is always different. Usually, I start with chords and then build the vocals on that, but a really interesting drum groove can inspire so many different ideas.
What’s next for you? Do you have any shows or tours coming up?
I recently put out my first song under “phem,” it’s a collab track with G-Eazy called “just friends”. I will be releasing a few more collab tracks and then my own material as well. I’m also working on the live set but my main priority is putting out music and growing.
Check out phem’s latest below: