Elizabeth And The Catapult: Childhood’s End

Elizabeth And The Catapult’s Keepsake is part memoir, part dream journal—and all rejuvenating

Keepsake (Compass), Elizabeth Ziman’s fourth record, began when her landlord was considering jacking up the rent and she had to move across the street into a tiny apartment, far away from her recording gear and the baby grand piano on which she loved to write. Or it began when she started keeping a dream journal, writing down snippets of visions in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning on awakening. Or it began when she started leafing through old journals and diaries, little half-finished snatches of lyrics and couplets and freewriting, and tried to see if she could shape them through to some kind of completion.

Well, who’s to say where anything begins or ends? But for Ziman, who records as Elizabeth And The Catapult, Keepsake was definitely a milestone record—the end of one thing, and the beginning of something else.

“That was the reason I called it Keepsake,” says Ziman, an ebullient and thoughtful conversationalist, from her studio/loft in NYC (the landlord relented; Ziman’s back home). “I was sitting across the street from my building, looking back at it, trying to imagine what it would be like not living there anymore. I’d started having all these bizarre kinds of anxious dreams about being in an unfamiliar place. I’d recently come across all these writings from when I was a kid, and all these unfinished lyrics and poems. When I began writing the lyrics for this record, they came out as distorted memories of the past. And the songs ended up being about memories and expectations, the ways we try to rework the past.”

Every time you make an album, Ziman says, you’re freezing a moment of your perceptive history: “Making a record immortalizes your memories. Even if they’re skewed.” As the lyrics for Keepsake came together, Ziman found herself layering current memories and perceptions atop ones written down by her younger self. The result is a densely layered song cycle in which youth speaks ahead to experience, and experience looks back forgivingly on the indiscretions and passions of youth. Sometimes the lines get hopelessly crossed. “Mea Culpa,” a filigreed piano-driven tale of screwed-up folks trying, or refusing, to apologize to people they’ve hurt, is emblematic of the desire to make sense of the past that permeates the album: “There’s plenty more bad mistakes for us to make before we come undone/Plenty more bad mistakes for us to make, it’s our idea of fun.”

“The songs that came out of that period (living across the street) mostly had to with falling down, and figuring out not only how to not fear falling but actually daring yourself to fall, because you’re getting pretty good at it.” Ziman laughs as she chases the thought. “There’s nothing that feels worse; but this is who we are, this is what we have to do. Don’t worry so much about falling gracefully. You’re kinda clumsy, so you might as well think of it as empowering. You’re not scared of it anymore.”

The video for leadoff single “Underwater,” directed by portrait artist Meredith Adelaide, visualizes that theme—a long depiction of Ziman coming through a period of introspection, worry and gradual creativity, finally ending up on the roof of her apartment surrounded by a gang of friends, dancing around happily with glow sticks.

“That was what I had done in those old journals, too,” says Ziman; “I’d be writing about running around with my friends in the neighborhood park, but even at the time I was fictionalizing it, almost like we were kings and queens running through the woods. Some of the record is very autobiographical and real, and some are fictionalized memories, and some are me trying to work through the shame and guilt that haunts us all, through made-up characters. ‘Ambrosia,’ which I recorded at my apartment, was one that I thought summed it all up—the mother who’s dying and tries to get her family to celebrate it instead of mourning. That song’s really about how to make the best of loss. These are the things that are important, right? And that song became a keepsake of this time. We keep coming to terms with the past. Over and over.”

—Eric Waggoner