Eliza Legzdina Is Making It Her Own Way

It was the day after Valentineʼs, and still very much in Valentineʼs mood I caught up with Londonʼs fiercest new pop star Eliza Legzdina on Zoom. The previous day Eliza had been on a shoot with photographer Jazmine Amour, a “kinda nudey, kinda sensual” shoot which she describes as the first time sheʼd felt that comfortable, having had a deep connection through the lens.

Following the release of her hotly tipped EP ‘Iron Curtain Golden Pussyʼ Elizaʼs latest single ‘Hot Sauceʼ has really heated up the internet with its accompanying music video and Instagram filter. Eliza is someone whoʼs online presence as well real life demeanour come across as oozing with confidence, so to get the opportunity  to dig a little deeper and hear such a strength within her vulnerability was nothing short of inspirational. I have had the pleasure of spending time with Eliza in real life, but even from just a 35 minute zoom call alone it is evident that Eliza has so much wisdom to offer the world.

The end of our chat summarises Eliza for me, after listing Cardi B as one of her most listened to artists right now Eliza said “I just love to see women win” – that very pure and very strong championing of women seems to be a key component running through the veins of everything Eliza does, and personally I canʼt wait to continue watching her win!  

So starting at the beginning; you began your musical journey training  in opera! Tell us about that? How has the opera training in anyway impacted your music now?

Although Iʼm really grateful for it and really  did enjoy it, I think I initially got into opera because when I first got to the  UK, where I went to school there were no Jazz singers, and pop and  ballad singing wasnʼt seen as high of an art. Everyone was doing opera here so I kind of just jumped on the bandwagon, and really excelled at it. If  I was a cat, then that was another one of my lives. I really enjoyed the  discipline of the training, and I often think back to the breathing techniques. For my rapping, Iʼm not gonna lie I think my classical training and my diaphragm really helps! In sections that are really fast, I power through them and I know if I breathe there Iʼll break the line. 

You were born in Latvia, do you feel your Latvian roots have inspired your sound at all?

I think that as I got older nearing my early 20ʼs I started to recognise how much I had actually learnt from classical folk singing and how much I enjoyed a folk sound, because of the really interesting harmonies, and the 4ths and the 5ths that you get in folk singing and Latvian music. I didnʼt really apply it to any of my earlier work, but as Iʼm writing towards an album now, Iʼm really considering it a lot more.

Whilst at Goldsmiths I took an Ethnomusicology class, you got to choose a different style of performance for your main instrument. My  main instrument was voice, so I did Arabic singing, I learnt all about the Maqam system, which is a tonal system itʼs different from the Western keys. I thought it was so amazing that in every harmonic chord,  progression and interval, thereʼs a meaning. Every ugly 4th, the devils chord or whatever is put there in place so that you feel a nostalgia, a sadness. That made me really understand that music is this incredibly universal language and even with the Latvian stuff, I can use parts of that musical history and slice it in with things that are current or pop music to make something that’s different.

I think someone whoʼs done that really successfully is Rosalía with her Flamenco singing. I first heard her years ago now, when she was just doing Flamenco singing, before she was a  pop star. As soon as I heard her I knew, ‘this girlʼs gonna blow’. I think any  place you can get innovation like that is so exciting. Iʼve been slightly shy of it in the past because I feel like Iʼm a traitor in some sense, I know Iʼm not but I think because I left and Iʼve chosen to live here in England and in a lot of ways Iʼm a very Western girl with really progressive beliefs, but then Iʼm totally Latvian too so I do want to merge those sides of me more in my music.

When did you first move to London? And did you start making music straight away?

I moved to London from Norwich after my Bachelors in 2014. I always knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to be an artist and that I wanted to do the pop star thing, but in 2014 I had only really  written a few songs and I was still really really defeated by imposter syndrome. So performing my own material felt so excruciating; I was so afraid, really truly afraid. Especially hip-hop, I first started writing hip-hop when I was about 12, and I wouldnʼt show anyone – that was like my biggest kept secret! I didnʼt think anyone would possibly understand why I was doing it or where I was coming from. It wasnʼt until around 2016/17 that I really came to the realisation that if I donʼt do this now, I would always be an imposter. I was an artist living in a  corporate world, trying to do a corporate job, trying to be some body else and that was why I hated myself. I started to write more seriously around that time, although some of those songs never hit the airwaves and no one will ever hear them, writing them was a really important process of coming home to who I am.  

You come across so confident within yourself, is confidence something that has come along over time for you?

I think thereʼs perceived confidence. Iʼm definitely confident; I have a supportive family, I come from a lot of privilege, and I know that I can do certain things and walk into rooms and take up a certain amount of space, but I guess then there’s this deep internal, personal confidence that wavers. You know the one, that I think you work through in your later 20ʼs, that I think really people only grasp in their 30ʼs. Thatʼs about completely accepting who you are, I think as much as Iʼm like ‘Yeah Iʼm really fun, and I have all these jokes, blaming my ascendant Sagittarius and my Gemini moon, and I can flutter in with personality and personal flare, but deep down I was so insecure. I wasnʼt really sure how to navigate being both a women, and being a hyper femme and therefore hyper sexualised, I wasnʼt afraid of that but just knowing that other people would be. Iʼve had to balance that in myself, as well as in my art. Iʼm also an older sister and a human, a person, so even although, yes Iʼm incredibly sexual and I enjoy performing in my sensuality, it’s not the only thing about me.

When I started getting into this music game I quickly realised that it was the first thing people wanted to say about me, I’m too sexy. Because a womenʼs body is still so political, and Iʼve actually only really come to terms with that notion maybe in the last two or three years. Itʼs made me really self aware, no one can tell me shit, but itʼs crazy people really think I was confident all those years ago but to me I feel like Iʼve had this huge  journey to accept myself. It just says so much about how as women, in today’s society were told to make ourselves smaller to fit in with the needs of others.

I agree completely that being able to be body positive or sex positive if youʼre able to, should be a default, as opposed to your selling point or a talking point.

Exactly I donʼt know why it has to be my catchphrase or my buzzword. I do these interviews and I get asked a lot about body positivity, and donʼt get me wrong I totally understand that Iʼm not a size 8 or a 6 foot model or any of these things that are accepted standards of beauty within fashion or music, but Iʼm still able bodied, and incredibly privileged and itʼs crazy to me that because Iʼve got a little bit of cellulite and a roll here and there, that Iʼm body positive. I feel like that’s pretty lazy.

I think when we look at dark skinned womenʼs bodies, queer bodies, curvy bodies and see how their content is being shunned from Instagram and not propelled by algorithms, that’s where we should be focusing our efforts of body positivity. Somebody that looks like me on mainstream media can be one of the first steps, but it’s so low down the chain of where we should  be going as a society but it is something that comes up ALOT. I remember Lizzo, had a Letterman interview and she said ‘Iʼm not an activist because Iʼm fat and blackʼ. But I think that’s how people see it… ‘Well you have stretch marks and cellulite and you show them so youʼre an activist.ʼ  Thatʼs crazy! But its cool, Iʼm happy to do it, Iʼm happy to be the poster child for it in some way if it gets a conversation rolling and I can be myself.

So body positivity is something that people do talk about or discuss when they think of you as an artist, but are there any things in particular that you would want to be the poster child for? 

There’s a definite level of self-love that I would be happy to be the poster child for because I think in my music, alongside being confident and wearing whatever you want, or dancing however you like, thereʼs also this level of independence. Itʼs a huge privilege to be independent so I push it in my music, and I push it to my friends and women in my circles. You really have to have every single duck in a row for yourself in some capacity, you have to really work on yourself and thatʼs when you will manifest and in turn receive the energy that matches you. If you donʼt you will only attract energy that is lesser than.

We as women, we have so much power, the older I get the more I realise we are really the sexual beings, weʼre really the ones who have the energy to create an environment, to create businesses, to do all these things  despite all the hardships against us. I think therefore we do have to expect ourselves to be incredibly independent and at least move away from the society that our parents grew up in. My mother who I love dearly, was always just accepting of the fact that for her to have a normal life it would have to include a partner that would earn more than her. Now thatʼs not a reality thatʼs possible in a climate where, although sexual liberation is happening for us, our pay cheques as women still do not match men’s. People who abuse power, people who do not know how to love, people who are saboteurs will still take advantage of the fact we do more and expect less!

I think until you truly get a certain level of independence, you can’t see the weakness of others, particularly men, and individuals in control. Iʼd really love to be the poster child for independence, for my music to blow independently thatʼs the dream; to retain my master rights and own the largest proportion of them, THAT would be great. Thereʼs definitely beauty in some of those macro distribution companies that can promote music on an international scale, but I think the power of doing it independently to some degree is there to learn all the facets of the business before you find the RIGHT team. Itʼs taught me that no-one can take away my character now because I know what it takes to get here. I donʼt want a hand out, I want information that will help me grow my business. I donʼt need a deal with a promise to be somebody’s superstar ‘cause that doesnʼt exist. I think going at a snail’s pace can actually sometimes be the most effective thing.  

Having you been making music during this time?

I have, maybe not as much as Iʼd like to but maybe thatʼs just my self deprecating voice speaking. Before Covid hit, I was on a roll, I was a machine, in absolute beast mode and when things stopped it really broke me, it broke me down. Everything I had worked so hard to get was halted, like everybody else, but I do think it was especially hard for artists and performers. So much of the light that we get back is just from seeing peoples eyes whilst they watch us. Itʼs a very egocentric form of therapy but itʼs like I give myself in order to receive your energy and attention, and when I donʼt have that in the purest form of performance and all you do is Instagram performances and stuff in the digital world it breaks the momentum. It changes the sacredness of it and it just feels really distant.

However despite all of that I have written quite a lot, I have music coming out throughout  the year and Iʼve started writing for my album. I think weʼll start rolling that out at the end of the year, but I really donʼt want to rush it. I have a lot of EPs coming out and so much music still yet to drop. Sonically I have been pop, very hip-hop, alternative R&B, glitch Gameboy music and I love that and it will all always be a part of me because I am  that high energy, bouncy, I-wanna-dance music girl, but Iʼm also growing. My heart has aged, my mind has changed and I want to honour that. I want to make music that relates to the women Iʼm becoming. So I really donʼt want to rush this album, I want it to be a collection of pieces that move through high energy but also take you to a place where you can connect with me on another level. 

I think a lot of artists often have this idea or idea projected on to them  that they need to really stay in one lane when it comes to their musical style, that if a track has done well they need to almost remake the same track so I think itʼs great that you really want to show  your growth through your music. Production wise will there be similarities to stuff you have already released?

There will still be a lot of  electronic bits and youʼll still hear an 808 and there will still be beats that youʼd hear in a club. Thereʼs going to be tracks that fit closer to my release ‘Tom & Jerryʼ, more of an R&B flex. ʼTom & Jerryʼ is quite tongue in cheek, a young person who wants to be loved and also have something casual but a continuation of that moving into, I guess a more ‘adultʼ space without seeming too serious. Iʼve been through a series of enough heartbreaks, and broken my own heart enough times that Iʼm at a point where I feel I can speak on it without seeming weak.

As a result of being a victim of sexual assault and rape and all these things that weʼre victims to in the patriarchy as women, I think I was just SO angry and within my tracks ‘Tic Toc‘ and ‘Jelly‘ and my EP ‘Iron Curtain Golden Pussyʼ  they were my tracks to flip the whole world and just be like I am this breathing, sexual beast, do not come near me, this is my territory, be afraid of me. This was my energy and having that sentiment resonate back to me, with the ‘I May Destroy Youʼ sync – having the world really get what Iʼm saying was so special. I’ve done that now, Iʼve proved that; what am I saying next? I feel like now I can talk about the things that were really uncomfortable and once did break my heart and Iʼm not weaker for it. The moments when you allow  yourself to be vulnerable is often when you connect with the most people because we’re all just humans looking to understand our experience. 

‘Hot Sauceʼ Just came out. Tell us about the track, and how that came about?

I was lucky enough this year to travel to see musician friends I have in Madrid to create an EP. I stayed there for a week and met these incredible musicians and made all this music and one of the songs I made was with  an artist called Mike Dwyer, heʼs a producer, and I heard this one beat and was just like THIS ONE, this will be very easy and very fun, it already had that energy. I wrote the whole track in 2 maybe 2 and a half  hours, it was like the quickest job Iʼve ever done and then I took the stems and had my friend Hatcher whoʼs also an amazing producer go through it, and we made it sound a little more UK; I love the Atlanta sound but Iʼm aware I live in London and I love London too so I wanted to recontextualise the track a bit.

I shot the photography with my friend Anna Rosova, another great friend Davide styled me and India Alexa did my make-up, sheʼs super talented and it was just really easy to create those visuals. Itʼs  meant to be spicy, hot, funny, bouncy. Itʼs the first track from my EP thatʼs going to be coming out this Summer. Itʼs been a pleasure to release it, and the response has been so great, it’s really about not toning down your own personal flavour for anyone else. Thereʼs not a lie told in that song, I genuinely LOVE hot sauce – I have like 18 bottles at home.

Top three artists and tracks right now:  

 Samoht – Myspace

Jay Lewn – Top Down

Cardi B – Up

Follow Eliza Legzdina on Instagram

Stream ‘Hot Sauce’ on Spotify

Interview: Tallulah Syron

Photography: Jazmin Amour