Back in 2016, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Liz Cooper was living in a dimly lit, basement apartment. She placed a vase of flowers in one of the windows to provide a burst of color and it ended up serving as a source of inspiration.
“It was some really pretty purple flower that eventually dried up and [still] looked exactly the same,” says the 26-year-old Baltimore, Maryland native, while sipping a pale-green juice at a grocery store in East Nashville. “That’s not what my songs are about, but they for some reason pulled something out of me or they gave me life in some way.”
Her living situation is different these days, but that yearning for natural beauty and transcending one’s surroundings permeates Window Flowers, Cooper’s newly released debut full-length with her bandmates Grant Pettyman and Ryan Usher — also known as the Stampede. Sharpening up her guitar attack, Cooper pushes her strand of folk rock deep into psychedelic territory by merging her idiosyncratic vocal style with swirling, droning guitar effects and lacerating solos that feel dusted with otherworldly magic.
On Cooper’s 2014 EP Monsters, she kept her arrangements largely conventional, embracing folk and dashes of country that highlighted her rhythmic fingerstyle guitar playing. But once she swapped to the electric guitar, her new songs began to elongate into more exploratory jams onstage when the band needed to fill time.
“You’re like, I don’t really have three hours of music, so I’m going to extend this song three or four minutes and do that,” says Cooper. “Learning how to make my way around the electric guitar was helpful.”
Much of Window Flowers reflects that mindset, with songs like the mystical “Dalai Lama” stretching to the 7-minute mark (and, according to Cooper, even longer when they play it live). “Hey Man” ratchets up the intensity, repeating a confident come on like a mantra while the band bashes away in a squalling frenzy. “Kaleidoscope Eyes,” meanwhile, is as dreamily multi-hued as its Beatles-referencing name suggests, with Cooper tentatively embracing a budding desire.
In the country-leaning “Mountain Man,” Cooper expresses a different kind of desire, fixing her gaze on an archetypal strapping fellow with whom she could settle down and live a simple life on top of a hill — an outcome she doesn’t get to enjoy in the bizarrely funny, virtual reality-themed video — while the wind howls outside their cabin door.
“We were just talking about what we wanted when we were old,” says Cooper of writing the song with Brittany Kennell. “We were like, ‘I just want to be sitting on a mountain one day, with my mountain man, on the front porch, just in a rocking chair.'”
“Mountain Man” also puts a spotlight on Cooper’s guitar playing, a blend of rhythmic and lead elements that piles melody on top of melody without ever losing touch with the beat. Her style has its roots in her childhood musical training, when her father, a hobbyist drummer, made her practice basic patterns on his kit before she picked up the guitar.
“He instilled rhythm into me. Now my nervous habit [while] driving is playing air drums and it’s so dorky, but that’s what I do,” she says, laughing.
Sometimes Cooper’s meditations on transcendence become unmoored from her personal observations and connect with worldly struggles, as on “The Night,” a starry-eyed plea to exorcise “sadness, pain and hatred” by dancing into the wee hours. As riots engulfed her hometown after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Cooper wrote down her hopes for healing, resulting in a song that can be interpreted multiple ways: straightforward call to the dancefloor, or universal tonic for unspeakable tragedy.
“Sometimes I’m really intentional with [a song], but other times I’ll write it and be like, I don’t really know what that means,” says Cooper, “and then later on it means something else.”
Like the ever-evolving jams that round out Window Flowers and transport themselves to new places when Cooper and the Stampede play them live, “The Night” doesn’t really need an origin story in order to connect. It’s capable of leading one out of bleak circumstances and into bliss, maybe even well into the future.
“That’s the most magical thing about [a song]: can it last forever? Can it mean different things as time goes on to different people?” says Cooper. “If you can capture that, then you’ve done it.”