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Liza Lives!

Stewart Oksenhorn

By her own self-assessment, Liza Oxnard was a shy thing, without much of a stage presence, when she embarked on her music career just over a decade ago.That should come as a revelation to the many Aspen area music fans who have known Liza as the seductive, charismatic dynamo who fronted the Colorado funk band Zuba for most of the ’90s. To the concertgoers who turned out in droves for Zuba’s appearances at the Double Diamond and other local venues, Liza was the epitome of a confident artist, a woman who knew what she wanted. That strength, however, was not something she was born with. Instead, it was built largely on stage, beginning with her first real gig, in the Telluride-based duo Liza & Billy, with current String Cheese Incident guitarist Billy Nershi.”I think I developed it,” said Liza of her evident sense of self-confidence. “I was pretty shy growing up, especially performing. That scared me a lot. Playing with Billy, I realized that opening your eyes and looking at people was real enjoyable. And in Zuba, I had real confidence, because I liked the music. It felt real good.”After some five years with Zuba, things began to feel not quite so good for Liza. There was a lot that went into the decline: excessive amounts of time spent in too-close quarters on the road, a shortage of dollars and commercial success, artistic differences. Over the last few years of Zuba’s existence, there were frequent personnel changes; by the band’s farewell concert, in September of 1999 at the One World Festival in Crested Butte, the one-time quintet had been pared down to a trio. By then Liza, the last remaining original member, decided to pull the plug on Zuba.”There were a lot of considerations,” said Liza, who helped found Zuba in Telluride in the early ’90s, moved with the band to Boulder in the mid-’90s, and saw it become a national touring act. “I spent so many years doing it, it was my family and my life. I pondered it a long time before deciding to end it.”Liza saw that Zuba was still capable of making good music. The band’s last album, “South of Eden,” marked an artistic high point, even as the band was going through the last stages. In the end, even good music wasn’t enough to salvage the band.”We’d done it for eight years and we were all tired,” said Liza. “We were still struggling financially. We toured so much, we got tired, and tired creatively. There’s bands that can do that, but we weren’t one of them. We had become a trio at that point, and we were doing things all by ourselves. I took that as a sign that it was time to let go andsee what happens next.”Despite those words, Liza was not about to let the winds of chance dictate her next musical step. Through the last years of Zuba – including a few years, she acknowledges, when the band probably should have been put to rest – Liza was coming up with ideas for how she thought the music should sound, and how it should be presented. Much of the internal strife, she said, came from the band not showing sufficient support for those ideas. As soon as Zuba finished its eight-year run, Liza was contemplating her next career move.She took a job working in a Boulder gym, and partook in the normal routines that were impossible given a life on the road – “regular sleeping, scheduling a regular personal life, just checking things out,” she said. “I needed a lot of rest and healing after all the touring.”But music was far from out of her mind. She took time to practice guitar, write songs, sing and jam with various musician friends, and play a few solo shows. Liza also built a home studio. “I’ve pretty much been in there every day since,” she said.Now Liza is ready for the next giant step back into the music business. Mostly for kick, but with an eye toward her future, Liza put together a gig this past April at Boulder’s Fox Theatre, creating a band from her local friends.”I was just trying to get the new songs going, get a feel for the instrumentation,” she said. “People freaked; they loved it. It was a lot different than Zuba. And I think the songs are good. It was cool to have all the sounds I had in my head, and have them played by all the parts of a big band.”Over the past few months, Liza has been working out the details of putting together a band. Some of the pieces – bassist Brian McRae, formerly of the Sherri Jackson Band, drummer Aaron Snyder of Hi-Fi Mo-Fo – seem to be in place. While she’s waiting for other potential permanent band members, Liza is going to tour, under the name Liza.Liza, the band, makes its Aspen debut tonight, Friday, Oct. 27, at the Double Diamond. Joining Liza, McRae and Snyder will be some top Colorado players – keyboardist Jeremy Lawton, former Acoustic Junction guitarist Yoshi Iono, backup singers Wendy Woo and Marca Cassidy. The show will open with Woo and Cassidy performing as a duo, with Liza sitting in for part of the set.Through the few gigs and rehearsals she has done with her budding band, Liza has seen vast differences between Zuba and her new project.”In Zuba, we started out as a garage band, and grew up musically together,” said Liza. “With the people I’m playing with, they can do a samba tune and a reggae tune, and loops and a funk tune.”And that helps me. It’s more song-oriented; I’m more of a singer-songwriter now, even though I’m confident in my guitar playing. But these guys are a level, a few levels, above me. They’re stronger on their instruments and they have experience in all these different bands.”Liza, the band, has recorded a four-song demo CD, which it hopes to spin into some kind of record deal. She hopes to move from the club circuit where Zuba thrived into more festivals and venues where listening to songs is emphasized over dancing and drinking. The once-shy singer wants to get her music, and her self, out in front of audiences again.”It’s time for me to grow on my own,” said Liza.


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