Liz Cooper reveals a new side of herself on 'Hot Sass'

The Brooklyn-via-Nashville musician did away with her old band moniker, the Stampede, and embraced sonic freedom on her newly released album

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Liz Cooper

In the fall of 2019, Liz Cooper moved from Nashville, her home for the previous nine years, to New York City, a place she had wanted to live ever since she was a kid.  

“I just needed a change. … I needed to move to a place that was going to challenge me in a different way,” Cooper said recently by phone from the road. “I moved to Nashville to chase a dream, and I wanted to move to New York for myself.” 

By early 2020, Cooper and her band had finished making an album she wrote in Nashville, but before she could gear up to release a new record and tour, the pandemic hit, and Cooper spent the next few months sequestered in her new Brooklyn apartment. 

“It was extremely difficult. … Living in the city, it was really intense in a different way because you're just staring out your window, and you're seeing things that are happening, and then you're reading about it the next day in the news,” she said. “I focused a lot on painting and doing a lot of visual art, which was really good for me. And also playing the piano. When everything was super real and scary, I bought a Wurlitzer piano, so I had that to play for the tough months when I literally couldn't leave my apartment.” 

For a while, Cooper was biding her time and processing the unfolding, often-incomprehensible pandemic, but she eventually realized she couldn’t wait around forever. “I was slowly getting my bearings and figuring out how to live in the unknown,” she said.

Finally, last month, Cooper and her band released Hot Sass, the album she wrote in 2019, which stands in contrast to Cooper’s earlier work. For one, she did away with her longtime band name, Liz Cooper and the Stampede, casting off all of the Americana genre associations that came along with the moniker. Indeed, Hot Sass is a wiry, often-psychedelic rock album that gleefully careens in unexpected directions and revels in buzzy, fuzzy sounds. 

“It’s this other side of myself,” said Cooper, who will perform with her band at Ace of Cups on Wednesday, Oct. 6. “It's me growing up and knowing what I want and what I don't want, and what I like and what I don't like, and not just doing things for other people all the time.” 

To make Hot Sass, Cooper and her band — Ryan Usher (drums), Joe Bisirri (bass) and Michael Libramento (keyboard/synthesizer) — convened in Burlington, Vermont, at producer Benny Yurco’s personal studio. The musicians tracked all the songs live, which required lots of advance planning and rehearsing to ensure a smooth recording process. 

“Ryan, Joe and I were going to work every day on these songs to make them into a live experience. … We needed to perform, and we needed to play really well,” she said. “The studio at the time was a one-bedroom apartment studio, so Ryan's drums were set up in a room, and we couldn't see him. And then Joe and I were in another room, so we had to really feel each other. And we were only allowed a handful of takes.” 

The preparation paid off not just in the studio, but now on the road. “I think it is easier playing this record live," Cooper said, "and it's just more fun."