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Posted March 10, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Sweet Lizzy Project’s Opportunity of a Lifetime

Sweet Lizzy Project
Sweet Lizzy Project

The filming of Havana Time Machine, a PBS documentary about Cuba’s music scene, gave the Cuban group Sweet Lizzy Project some terrific exposure. It also introduced the band to one Raul Malo. The frontman of the roots rock band the Mavericks, Malo has roots in Cuba and he was drawn to Sweet Lizzy Project’s story. He sponsored the band for U.S. work visas and signed the group to his band’s record company, Mono Mundo.

The band’s U.S. debut album, Technicolor, draws from rock and pop, adding subtle Latin undertones. Singer and lyricist Lisset Diaz composed the tunes with co-writer and bandleader Miguel Comas, a respected record producer and rock guitarist. The group also includes Wilfredo Gatell on keyboards, Alejandro Gonzalez on bass and drummer Ángel Luis Millet.

Malo’s longtime recording engineer Niko Bolas (Neil Young, Melissa Etheridge) produced the songs that the group recorded at Nashville’s Blackbird Studio. Two Spanish language songs are featured (“Tu Libertad” and “Vuelta Atras”) as well as a duet with the Mavericks, “The Flower’s in the Seed.”

During a recent phone call from her Nashville home, Diaz talked about the band’s remarkable journey.

How do you like living in Nashville?
Nashville has been like a second home. It was very hard to leave the country. For the first month you miss home a lot, but we’ve met so many incredible and really nice people. It’s been really nice. I really like Nashville.

Is your family musical?
No. My parents are not musicians. They were not scientists either. I decided I wanted to study biochemistry, and then I decided that I wanted to start a band and write songs. This has nothing to do with my parents, but they’ve been really supportive and have told me that I should do whatever I like.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
To be honest, not a lot. We were very poor, and there was not a lot of music in my house. We had this one cassette and it had Shakira on one side, so I grew up listening to that first Shakira record. That was what I was listening to. It’s not like I was surrounded by instruments or people playing music. We didn’t have any of that. Later, when I was making new friends and meeting new people, I was exposed to different types of music. I always loved to sing. That’s something I noticed when I was really young. I liked it and I could do it, but it was never for real. I wasn’t thinking I was going to be a musician or singer.

Even when I started writing my own songs, I wasn’t expecting other people to listen to them. They were just for me.

How’d you meet your producer Miguel and what were your first impressions of him?
I was studying at the university and I started writing songs. I had two songs. I was breaking up with my boyfriend back then. It was a complicated relationship and I didn’t know how to get out of it. Writing a song was a way to liberate myself. I did that. Again, it was not a serious thing but I thought I should record it to share with my grandchildren when I’m old. Through a friend, I met Miguel. He was in a band and had been playing music forever. He was so great. He loved the songs. You know what, though, I was so happy. I wasn’t expecting people to listen to them but it felt good that someone loved them, especially since he was a musician. He said I should make a record. I told him that I was studying biochemistry and that I had a lot of books to read. He insisted. He said we would do it together. He had a few songs by himself. We put them all together and we created that first album. It got a lot of attention in Cuba. It’s a very simple record. It’s also a personal record. It was in English and indie rock, so I wasn’t expecting the Cuban institutions to like it or pay attention to it, but they did. Eventually, we started getting gigs, but we didn’t have a band because we didn’t have a plan at all. We needed a band to play the music and that’s when we got the band we have today. That was six years ago.

How’d you wind up playing on a PBS program with the Mavericks?
That was maybe four years ago. PBS was doing some research in Cuba looking for bands. They had this project called Havana Time Machine. It would be a documentary about the Cuban music scene. We met the producers through a friend, and they came to the little crappy apartment that we used as a studio. They were there and they were so nice and so impressed because of the kind of music we were doing and how we recorded. All the gear was super-old and refurbished. You didn’t have a music store in Cuba. They loved the music and said we could be part of the documentary if we agreed. We said yes but right after we closed the door, we looked at each other and said we wouldn’t see them ever again. We totally forgot about it, but a year later they were back with huge television trucks. Raul Malo was there too. The connection with him happened immediately. He is a really nice person, but he’s also half Cuban. He spoke Spanish like a Cuban person. That felt so familiar. He had his own label and he told us we could finish the new album that we were working on in Nashville. We came here to Nashville and went to Blackbird to see where we would be recording. We met Nico [Bolas], who was working with them, and would work with us. It was such an honor. It felt great. It felt like a lifetime opportunity. We came back to Cuba and started getting visas for the rest of the band. Two days before our interview at the American embassy, Trump shut it down and we thought it would never happen. But we made it and they finished a few cases, and we were one of them, thank God, and that’s how we came here.

You wrote the songs for Technicolor in Cuba?
Some of the songs we wrote in Cuba and others like “Turn Up the Radio,” which is an English hit by Enrique Iglesias. We have our version of that song. That song was huge in Cuba. A lot of people heard us for the first time because of that song. Every song tells our story. “The Flower’s in the Seed” was written by Kostas and John Goodwin, two incredible songwriters. It’s a beautiful song. That was the first song we recorded at Blackbird. That was pretty special.

Coming from our crappy studio to the incredible Blackbird Studios was amazing.

Songs like “Travel to the Moon” are so lush. What was it like arranging the songs on this record compared to the first record?
The first record was very personal. It was just me and Miguel working on the record. This record is the band talking. We’ve been together for six years, and I can feel that. When we were recording together, that connection is there. We all have our own influences, so when we are creating the song we put a little bit of ourselves into it. That’s why I think the album sounds a little more complex.  

Do you like the idea of touring?
I’m very excited about it. We’ve been in Nashville for a long time now. We toured last year even without the record out. By the end of the year, we decided to stay in Nashville to get ready for the first release. We make our own videos [and] it’s a lot of work. I’m lucky because I’m surrounded by very creative people like Alejandro Gonzalez. He’s been a songwriter with us and is a director of the videos. He’s very creative.  At the end of the day, it’s fun, but it takes a long time. We have been at it for a while now, and we need to get out of Nashville and start touring. Last year, we went to 19 different states, and I want to beat that this year.


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.