Elizabeth Moen taught herself guitar as a teenager. She noticed this innate need to make noise at a young age, and affectionately referred to as “an emotional journey with no destination.” But Moen did arrive somewhere: at her first performance. She credits the experience with transforming her relationship to songwriting.

“I felt understood for the first time. I realized songs were the best way I could explain my thoughts and feelings to others — and to myself.”

She dedicated herself to the process, writing incessantly, recording prolifically, and performing as much as the public would have her. She then spent the next few years playing music all over the United States, Ireland, Italy and France. She recorded at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco, Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Hellfire Studios in Dublin, Ireland and Flat Black Studios in Lone Tree, Iowa.  (The tracks from these various recordings will all be featured on her upcoming album to be released later this year [pre-order Wherever You Aren’t here]. She broke through with an official showcase featured artist booking for South By Southwest (SXSW) and was listed as an NPR Top 100 at Austin … and then came the pandemic with this festival and venues all over the world in lockdown. Like so many artists (and humans), Moen felt derailed, but her focus remained steadfast and her default coping mechanism as relevant as ever; she kept writing songs.

“I’ve realized there are only certain things I have control of in life and I gotta just keep growing, healing, and learning. These songs helped me while I wrote them in quarantine.” 

The resulting EP Creature of Habit approaches mental health with a balance of accessible candor and existential profundity. Enticing, mundane titles like “Eating Chips,” “Who Wants Takeout?,” and “Studio Apartment” take on the hard questions hidden in easy settings; Chips on my shoulder and a few in my mouth / Am I bored or am I boring? … How do you sit so calm so still / Knowing time is bound to kill / You me and the sun someday? In its elegant mash of abstract and straightforward, her perspective is brutally relatable.

Looking inward for lyrical inspiration, Moen looked outward for musical growth, delving into soundscapes she had not yet explored.

“I’ve never really toyed with DAWs, keys, or synthesizers until I wrote the title track. I’ve always been a guitarist and I wanted to explore new sounds while I looked into my thought patterns and tendencies.”

The songs are ultimately an expression: not only of what the world means to Moen, but what she means to herself.

“There are lots of parts of us that people think can’t coexist but they do. We’re all fierce and vulnerable, happy and sad, right and wrong, serious and silly. In my music, I’m searching for all of those things and finding a balance of what I actually am.” 

6 Things You Don’t Know About Me:

Based in Chicago. From Vinton, IA. Making music means connection and introspection to you. “I felt understood for the first time. I realized songs were the best way I could explain my thoughts and feelings to others — and to myself.” Can you describe the moment you felt this strong bond with making music?

I felt it first with my first ever song. The writing process felt fluid and effortless. I wasn’t thinking, I was just feeling and letting words plop out over a fingerpicking guitar pattern. I looked down after I finished the song and realized how I was feeling. Letting go of things really helped me process fully.

“Songbird.” The song, the first you wrote as a student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, allowed you to let go of your anxiety and find joy in the process. What inspired you to write the song?

The song I just explained in your first question was “Songbird!” I was wanting to connect with someone who I had a bit of a crush on. We didn’t have a lot in common and I was (and still am when it comes to flirting) shy. I wanted to go up and say something but I never knew what to say or when to say it. 

I’ve always been able to sit alone in my thoughts, but I can’t sit in silence.” You’ve shared this is your emotional journey, one with no destination. Where has been your favorite place to write and why?

I love writing on the floor in empty rooms. Living rooms tend to be where I write most. I love writing in my current living room. The front window is really big (where a lot of my promotional photos for this record were taken, including the art for two of the singles off my new record) and watching life outside is really inspiring.

“Sorry That I Love You.” Your heartbreaking tune about being available to someone who will never be that. What is the backstory to this song?

I was driving home after staying at someone’s house. The ‘situationship’ went on for a while and I always knew it was never going to be something full on. I always left rather than staying the night and that felt like a sign. I was too available and they were never going to commit to someone who wanted to be with them. Not just them, but others before and after them too. People often want a chase because it’s hard to admit you’re worth loving without one. You can just exist and be worthy of love. I’m guilty of this too so the song is a bit about my own patterns as well. 

Touring (and recording) across the world. Which recording studios are on your dream bucket list?

I’ve heard Sonic Ranch in Texas is dreamy. Altamira Sound is a new studio in LA people say is really special too. Electric Lady Studio in NYC of course! Sam Evian is one of my favorite sound engineers. He has a studio in upstate NY that is on the top of the list. Would be a dream come true to have him record a song of mine.

“There are lots of parts of us that people think can’t coexist, but they do. We’re all fierce and vulnerable, happy and sad, right and wrong, serious and silly. In my music, I’m searching for all of those things and finding a balance of what I actually am.” Besides music, where do you find balance in your everyday life?

I try to find balance in the time I spend working on music/business for my music and just enjoying life. In order to write songs about real life, you need to allow space to truly live. Long walks are important to me. They help me move my body and process thoughts or listen to podcasts. Good rest and movement help my body and brain feel balanced which helps everything else feel more balanced too.

Can you share 12 songs that have influenced your life and career?

“Sound & Color” Alabama Shakes

This song shook me when I first heard it. Brittany Howard is my all time favorite musician and inspiration.

“I’m on Fire” Bruce Springsteen

Bruce knows how to write a song that is approachable to all and still damn good. He’s the greatest and for good reason.

“Hands on the Wheel” Willie Nelson

This song and record (Red Headed Stranger) is big for me now and when I was a kid. I grew up on Willie and his tasteful country writing will always inspire my lyrics.

“Depreston” Courtney Barnett

Seeing her play Bonnaroo years ago was what inspired me to finally write a song. Her recorded music and live set literally made me finally just go for it. She’s such a badass.

“Tangled Up In Blue” Bob Dylan

I remember trying to learn how to play this on guitar when I first started. Incessantly playing it inevitably inspired me to want to write folk music down the line.

“Suzanne” Leonard Cohen

This was the first song I realized I could successfully play on guitar. The fingerpicking pattern came after playing it over and over. It was exciting to finally lock something down on guitar!

“Golden Years” David Bowie

I mean…. C’mon. I heard this on A Knight’s Tale and it made me get into classic rock and pop after looking up the soundtrack as a teenager.

“The Story” Brandi Carlile

Her music and career is inspiring to me. She’s been working hard for many years and continues to find new success and collaborations. She’s a great example of perseverance and kindness. 

“Voodoo Child” Jimi Hendrix

This was the song that made me want to learn guitar. I’ve yet to learn this solo but it’s always my New Year’s Resolution. Ten years running, haha.

“Black Hole Sun” Soundgarden

His singing style is extremely influential to me. The raw emotion and power. 

“By Your Side” Sade

I remember being a little kid and always being soothed by this song. Her voice has always been inspiring to me. 

“Cupid” Sam Cooke

His Top Hits CD was the first CD I had. He’s simply the best.