by Eric Althoff
In a city so absolutely filled with talent, the singer-songwriter known as Elizabeth II knew she needed to stand out. The Ashburn, Virginia resident, who commutes into D.C. to teach guitar and voice lessons at 7DrumCity, dyed her hair blue in her early teens and says that people who see her perform live never forget the girl with the vivid hair.
“I accidentally stumbled upon it in regard to branding,” she said of her signature style. “There’s really not much to the story other than I just really love the color blue and think it works for me.”
But if all she had was the brightly colored hair—and a name identical to a certain English queen—it’s doubtless many people would pay attention to this young lady if she didn’t also have the musical chops and attitude to back it up. Elizabeth II released a self-titled EP late last year, with tunes such as “Rope Sting Angel” and “Wedding Demon” bearing a punk sensibility reminiscent of acts like the Dollyrots. Elizabeth II’s vocals, which go along with her up-tempo compositions, channel the delightfully angsty stylings of Joan Jett and Patti Smith.
“Generally, I get a lot of ideas when I’m driving because I have an hour commute,” the artist said. “So, I’ll sing it in my phone. A lot of times it starts out as a bass line, which is very uncommon, apparently, for a guitar player.”
Elizabeth II, who is just 22 years old, writes all of the parts of her songs right down to the drumbeats, which she later records with her four-piece ensemble. The artist describes her shows as “heavier” versus what appears on her recordings. And because she is as of yet relatively unknown, this allows her to surprise audiences with a lively performance.
“I believe in the experience of the performance rather than just standing there holding a guitar—which is sometimes tricky for me because I’m playing and singing at the same time, so I’m kind of glued to one place,” she said. “But the people I bring into my band do a good job of moving around, and…trying to get people to connect with the songs.”
Elizabeth II says that her influences as a guitarist include Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, and Uli Jon Roth of the Scorpions, which she says stems from “being such a guitar nerd” growing up. It was shortly thereafter that she began composing her own songs and imitating the thrashing styles she so loved.
“When I first started writing songs, I tried to write a lot of prog-esque songs,” she said, but then realized she wanted to go in another direction entirely. “I got into grunge music and started paying attention to things like melody and arrangement. I got into arranging my own songs and figuring out how to get each little part to work with each other in a very unique way.”
Elizabeth II has even gotten to meet some of her heroes, including Andy Timmons and Slash, with the latter heaping praise upon her when she performed at a music industry event on Capitol Hill in support of the Music Modernization Act.
“I got to be that one youth performer,” Elizabeth II recalls. “Slash was turning people away who wanted his autograph to watch me perform, which was really cool. Then I got to talk about the industry with him.
“I was 20!”
While her eventual goal remains to tour, Elizabeth II said she also feels a certain responsibility to inspire other young women to pick up the guitar and start playing, too.
“Growing up, I would have loved to have seen more” female guitarists, she said, adding it largely continues to be a “boys club.” “Thankfully, especially with Instagram, a lot of the really talented female players have gotten their own platforms. You just have to know where to look.”
Meantime, she continues to build her audience one stream and one gig at a time. The DMV is a haven for musicians like her, but that also makes it tougher to stand out. But Elizabeth II views the music scene in the capital region not as one of competition but of mutual support.
“The country doesn’t really know it exists other than the fact that it’s got a history of punk in the ‘90s and 2000s,” she said. “We’re pretty much all about if someone can come out of D.C. and go on these big tours.
“We’re all pretty good about supporting each other. We all want to make good music and have the world hear it.”
Having such a rich musical culture around also helps Elizabeth II in her songwriting. She says she often sends “crappy bedroom demos” to her friends for feedback, similar to how the auteur film directors of the ‘70s would provide notes for one another—and much the same as the singer-songwriters in Laurel Canyon did in the ‘60s or the French Impressionists critiqued and got better by working off one another in the late 19th century.
“All my coworkers are musicians as well, so we’re always bouncing ideas off each other and going to each other’s shows,” she said of her colleagues at 7DrumCity in Northwest D.C. “And then I’ll actually go to the studio and record it.”
She is also humble if a friend perhaps comes up with an idea that works better than what she originally wrote.
“I’d rather (do what’s right) for the song than be super anal about it has to be exactly what I wrote,” she said.
Elizabeth II teaches about 30 students of all ages at 7DrumCity and said she gets great satisfaction when one of her charges locks into a particular concept or lesson. She continues to write music and perform as much as she can, with her eyes on touring as soon as she can.
And she’s counting on people remembering her not only for her high-energy songs but also for that rather colorful hairstyle she has maintained since age 14.
“I told my mom and she said, ‘Oh, I’ll help you with it,’” Elizabeth II said of changing her hair color as a teen and keeping it ever since. And of the sound she marries to her unique style, she said, “The guitar is the ‘frosting’ on top of it.”
Elizabeth II’s self-titled EP is now streaming on Spotify.
A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.
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