LIZA THORN IS ONE HALF OF THE ROCK DUO STARRED, MUSE TO HEDI SLIMANE, GOOD FRIENDS WITH COURTNEY LOVE AND VERY HARD TO TRACK DOWN
by Sarah Nicole Prickett photography Jacqueline DiMilia
“Liza’s not here right now,” says a male voice, low in the intercom. I’m outside the Bushwick-industrial complex where Liza Thorn, the Starred singer and New York’s newest blonde witch, shares a studio with her bandmate, Matthew Koshak. At 3:17 p.m., Koshak answers the unmarked door. The interview was scheduled for 3. Something terrible happened, he says. He doesn’t say what. Koshak sounds like maybe he’s used to explaining for Thorn, who also missed the first of our photo shoot dates. Around midnight, she emails to say sorry, thank you and that yes, same time tomorrow works great. When tomorrow comes, she doesn’t reply to emails or texts; her ringer is off. I reschedule. On the third day Liza rises, texting me to request an iced coffee and maybe an apple. It’s 3:42 p.m.
I first met Liza Thorn four months ago. It might have been Thorn’s birthday, but it wasn’t her apartment. It was a French-ass loft on Bleecker Street, with windows for walls and books unopened everywhere. I remember Thorn saying how good the cake was and not eating it, and there was a pet parakeet who never left her shoulder—her bleach-white nest of hair.
“I’m not a pop star. I’m not trying to be a figurehead that gets molded. I’m, like, my own person.”
Thorn is the kind of girl who was always right there a second ago. Her presence on several scenes is chimerical, shifty. A begrudging muse, she has been photographed and photographed again by Hedi Slimane, who also used Starred’s Call from Paris for his second-ever Saint Laurent show (“I’m still waiting for my free clothes,” she half-kids. “Everything I wear is like a present, or cost two dollars”). On the Vogue site, Thorn performs the song alone, her voice a scratch and a coo. Sometimes she is paid to DJ fashion parties, or Thursdays at Heathers. Courtney Love adores her—so much that, beginning June 26th, Starred will open for Love on a month-long tour.
Come July, iTunes releases Grant Singer’s short film, IRL, in which Thorn stars opposite that other chic heroine of the night, Sky Ferreira. (Singer also directed videos for both Call from Paris and No Good, which features Liza smoking listlessly, hitchhiking in improbable boots.) But Thorn’s own IRL (In Real Life) is a moody party of none. A pair of black heels rest in the exact same spot they were last week, when The Aesthete’s photographer shot her in the same, unsprung position on the same fading couch. She wears a red spangled blouse, thrifted, casting her pallidness into relief. Looking at her, I’d guess she last saw the sun in May of 2011. She emits almost no noise. She is lovely.
“I can’t deal with New York before 10 p.m.,” she says, her voice a just-awoken growl. “I like it where it’s desolate. New York is like being in a jail. Especially the city. I like this industrial part of Bushwick, and where I live, in Bed-Stuy, there’s like—space. But New York City is like—it’s like going to a music festival.” Space and silence are Thorn’s leitmotifs. “I don’t listen to bands,” she says, then winces and retreads. “Don’t make that the quote you blow up: ‘I don’t listen to bands.’ ’Cause I do. I’m just hungover.”
Last night her friends from Bleached were in town, but she missed their set. They went out, drank tequila. She slept in a new pair of tights that don’t look it. “I don’t know how they rip like this,” says Thorn, “but I could go through a new pair of tights like every day.” She shrugs. “It’s just like…life.”
Thorn, who is 27, was raised in San Francisco by first her librarian mom, then her Buddhist-monk dad, so her chillitude is birthright. The last book she read is titled, aptly, Drug Experiences. Sentences begin and end with “dude.” Since 18, she’s been in various grunge bands, touring dive bars in jalopies and loving it. When she and her ex-boyfriend (Christopher Owen) broke up, he started the band Girls. She moved to Los Angeles. I assume it’s Owen she means when she tells me that for two years she refused to read the tattoo on her then-boyfriend’s inside arm, because she thought she would hate what it said, then hate him. “It’s good to not know anything about the person you’re with,” she says. “That’s my relationship advice.” She has no tattoos herself.
Thirteen months ago, after coming here to film IRL, she decided it was easier to stay in Brooklyn than move back to L.A., where she’d lost her driver’s license (“too many tickets,” she says, “not like a DUI thing…”) and didn’t have a job. She never wants one. “I’m not a pop star,” says Thorn. She takes a wary sip of the iced coffee, which she describes as “fancy” and “intense” (I got it from a café in Brooklyn Heights). “I’m not trying to be a figurehead that gets molded. I’m, like, my own person.”
“I can’t deal with New York before 10 p.m. I like it where it’s desolate. New York is like being in a jail. Especially the city."
Starred doesn’t have a label yet. They don’t have an album. Thorn and Koshak are demoing or recording 20 songs, all of which she wrote, and from which she’ll choose 12 or 13 or maybe her lucky number, 11, for the debut full-length. Thorn says she’s deciding which label is best. I ask her what the factors are. “Money.” She laughs, but she’s not joking. “I mean, labels are all evil, basically. I want some money and I want a label that’s able to put my record in stores.”
She loves Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, although Dylan is on “a list of things [she’s] not allowed to talk about.” Patti Smith is a “poser,” a “fangirl.” Thorn is no fan. Not of anybody. She says she’s met all the people she used to idolize—Jason Pierce from Spiritualized, Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux, and more recently, Black Bananas. And then, of course, Courtney Love, with whom she will not be confused: “I’m not Courtney,” she says. “I’m friends with Courtney, and I’m not Courtney.”
She has to say it. Not just because she’s opening for Courtney, or because she wears Courtney’s old ermine coat, but because she looks so much like Love. She’s got the hapless limbs in rag-doll clothes; the limpid, half-shut eyes; that blonde. Thorn sounds, however, more like Hope Sandoval minus the hope. Or a faithless Marianne. Something drags its way through the badlandsy space of a song like No Good, some psychic pain. All she will say is that the songs are about being in relationships, or being a prisoner.
A prisoner of relationships? Maybe. Of expectations? She rolls her head onto one shoulder, thinking. “Just, like, of the United States of America. I think we live in a fucked-up repressive place. It’s not like the government is working for us. It’s a money thing. It’s corporations running things.”
Thorn’s older brother works for Yahoo!, so I ask whether she’s talked to him about her views on corporations, or the NSA. She hasn’t. Her iced coffee is two-thirds full. Outside it rains for the seventh consecutive day. She’s sitting up now, playing idly with a drumstick, the kit at her back. “I feel pretty powerless,” she says. “But that has led me to live my life the way I do, which is like, do whatever you want. I plan ahead one day. Get a job? Like, collect money? I don’t know. Who cares. Make art, I guess.” She lets the drumstick fall on a cymbal. It makes a violet, hollow splash.