Led by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist James Li, the Grand Rapids alt-rock band fueled by folk’s narrative style releases a new EP at The DAAC on Thursday. (Story, podcast, video)THE BAND: Liance
THE MUSIC: Haunting folk-driven alt-rock
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THE BAND: 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The DAAC, 333 Rumsey St. SW, Grand Rapids, with special guests Parlor Voice, Sleepover and G’itis Baggs, $7, all-ages
The music of Liance connects with listeners so profoundly that fans at live shows often are “moved to tears at the end of some of the songs.”
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Frontman James Li has come to realize that his folk-fueled alt-rock songs about death and deeply personal subject matter have a healing power for those who relate the lyrics to similar experiences in their own lives.
“The response has been surprisingly good. I’ve made a lot of friends through this album,” Li said of his full-length 2015 recording, “Bronze Age of the Nineties,” which was triggered by the tragic death of three friends. “When people have been coming up to me after shows and say, ‘Hey, I really connect with this,” it’s been really healthy I think and very alive to have this community after writing about death.”
Li, 21, who just graduated from Calvin College where he formed Liance with fellow students, said his high-context, narrative style of personal story-telling comes through in his songs, a style inspired by acts such as Sun Kil Moon. It’s his way of working through dark times such as the death of his friends.
“I didn’t really know how to cope with it, to be honest,” he said. “There was a lot of unsolved grief.”
Friend, classmate and one-time Liance band member Jared Haverdink said audiences “reflect the emotion of the songs,” often crying at performances.
EASY TO RELATE TO, GENUINE AND PERSONAL
“With a lot of pop music, I feel like the lyrics are emotive but in a vague general sense,” he said. “In a counter-intuitive way, making the lyrics very high-context instead and so distinctly about a personal experience makes it easier to relate to and sort of draw out the same emotions because you know it’s genuine.”
Li, with Haverdink on harmony vocals, proved that during this week’s edition of Local Spins Live, performing an acoustic rendition of the song, “Pine Rest,” in the studios of News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW). Listen to the full radio podcast here, with a video of the song below.
PODCAST: Local Spins Live with Liance
Interestingly, Liance’s music rocks much harder in a full-band setting, which will be the case on Thursday night when the group plays The DAAC, 333 Rumsey St. SW, in the official release show for the new four-track Liance EP, “The Golden Flesh.” (Details online here.) That owes to Li’s proclivity to mesh alt-rock with elements of the folk tradition.
“I love narratives and folk music to me is about narrative and stories and I use a lot high-context lyrics,” he said. “But what I listen to at home most of the time is alt-rock. I like loud music. I like the energy and hidden violence of loud music. I’ve been trying to combine the two.”
What results is authentic and confessional “haunt-folk” that “reflects on some of the most basic and important aspects of humanity,” Li suggested. “Listeners have responded in a way that I secretly wanted them to but never expected.”
Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong, and started writing music as a teenager.
“As an adolescent, I dealt a lot with depression, bullying and isolation. Music was my escape,” he explained. “I would re-watch videos of Arcade Fire play Glastonbury to sleep and endlessly read on The Beatles.”
With connections to Sufjan Stevens (Stevens’ brother-in-law, musician Steve Ross, was Li’s high school teacher and mastered “Bronze Age”) and inspiration from artists such as Sun Kil Moon, Nirvana, Father John Misty, The Smashing Pumpkins and Car Seat Headrest, Li’s music has grown from its seeds of “depression and lack of connection” to striking musical tales that range from viewing the political protests of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement to spending a week in a psychiatric hospital.
Li, a classically trained cellist who also plays guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, came to Calvin College in Michigan partly because he was captivated by the college’s vibrant concert series, overseen by student activities director Kenneth Heffner. After he arrived, he found other musicians who shared his passion.
“Being in a creative community that really pushes itself to thrive and create good art has been very important to me, and Calvin College has been a good place for that,” he said.
The band’s current lineup – featuring Li, drummer Miles Coleman, bassist Cam Frank and guitarist Ben Abid – can “get very, very loud,” Li conceded. “I certainly appreciate the dynamics and musical range of rock music more than the intimacy of folk now, and I doubt I’d ever make another acoustic album again.”
Liance hopes to book a tour and additional shows in support of the new EP later this summer, with Li planning a move overseas to England next year.
“I’m planning to focus wholeheartedly on music for the next five years in the hope of getting signed to a label that I like,” he says. “It’s very much a clean slate for me. It’s literally a new beginning, but I know that the only constant factor in my life will be Liance.”
Listen to more of Liance’s music online at liance.bandcamp.com.
VIDEO: Liance, “Pine Rest”
Copyright 2016, Spins on Music LLC