“I’ve always said my style is, like, infomercial-esque 80s, 90s ironic pop, but sometimes it gets a bit darker. I like infomercial music, like QVC, and smooth jazz lift music… I like being weird, basically.”
Liam Brown, aka PIZZAGIRL (and the artist formerly known as Lumen), is very much a child of the 21st Century – but you wouldn’t necessarily know that to look at him. The 19-year-old sat before me today is sporting a green and blue shell suit jacket and natty pizza socks, in honour of the ‘pizza crawl’ we’ve invited him on around some of the city centre’s popular slice bars. He’s upbeat at the prospect of putting his culinary powers to the test, but his positive demeanour is primarily because he has a new EP out in April. Amazingly, An Extended Play is the first ‘proper’ collection of music Brown has released as Pizzagirl or Lumen, beyond dropping a number of singles since he emerged on the scene as a fresh-faced 17-year-old.
“At home it’s like The Shining,” he says about the bedroom setup he has in his “Beatzeria” at home. “I’ll just sit at home and stay quiet, recording a song a day. Basically, that’s all I do. I’ve been sitting on quite a bit of music and it’s nice to just get it out and have people listen to it.”
Brown has always been a prolific songwriter, but what he has possibly lacked is the conviction to go with his work rate. The newfound confidence that he has comes from the backing of Manchester-based label Heist Or Hit, who’ve given him the comfort he needs to just go and create. “They never change anything creative about it, so anything coming out is 100% me in my bedroom.”
“I feel like in my room I can make a fool out of myself,” he continues. “I feel like I can experiment a bit more because no one’s watching me.” Working alone offers Brown the freedom he craves, where he can allow his creativity to truly express itself – but he does occasionally miss the opportunity to bounce ideas off people; which is where the internet comes in. As a product of the digital age, Brown sees the internet as a tool, using it to locate rabbit holes of musical inspiration which he can then disappear down. “I love the internet like a person, it’s a thing of constant inspiration. I like that idea of it being a thing, like a friend or an extra bandmate. It’s where someone in a band would be like, ‘Have you heard this?’ Spotify is like my co-manager at the minute.”
Pizzagirl’s style is so obviously rooted in the garish aesthetic of 90s children’s TV and synth-heavy 80s film soundtracks that he fits right in inside the brightly-coloured pizza establishments adorned with retro paraphernalia that we wander into. The Pizzagirl shtick is a homemade version of all these influences, yet deliberately and playfully off-kilter. “I just love pop culture,” Brown exclaims, as he sits down to his second slice beneath some Transformers skateboards. “I love all the fashion, the wacky, colourful, ballsy stuff.”
Though Brown makes plenty of references to “properly inspirational, smooth RnB pop stuff” – Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson (“Let’s Wait Awhile by her is the ultimate power ballad, but it’s so funky”), Jessie’s Girl and Don’t Stop Believing – there’s not a hint of irony or pastiche in his music. Instead, the Pizzagirl oeuvre is flavoured by a far stronger fascination that Brown has for the dark, brooding synthwave film soundtracks to Drive and Bladerunner. One listen to his singles Carseat and Coffee Shop will confirm this.
“I feel like I was born in the right time but the wrong time as well,” he admits. “I want to be living in the 80s but at the same time I wouldn’t have the same accessibility of 80s music if I were living then. Which is hard – it’s the constant burden I live with…!”
There’s a sense of longing on the louche track Seabirds from the EP that hints at a deep seriousness in him, which makes the whimsy of the Pizzagirl front seem like a wall that’s put up for Brown to hide behind. This can be a delicate line to toe, but in his mind he knows exactly where Pizzagirl ends and where Liam starts. “I feel like Pizzagirl is a persona. If you look on Instagram it’s like a wacky, exaggerated me – I’m not like that all the time, I’m quite chilled out I’d like to think.”
“Hopefully Pizzagirl is a thing that other people can get in on,” he states, adding that he wants it to be “a nice little world where you feel warm in the nostalgia. I just want to take people back 20 years to forget about the climate that we’re in today. It’s quite a bleak landscape. When I look back on the 90s, even though I wasn’t really alive – I wasn’t born until 1998 – it just seems more fun; everything seems a bit more alive and vivid.”
The change of name from Lumen to Pizzagirl is something that Brown also credits as a big part in his development. “If I were going to see someone called Lumen I would expect something more pretentious than I was doing at the time,” he states, and it’s also resulted in an uplift in expectations of what his live show is. Brown credits a gig he played with Kero Kero Bonito at Liverpool Music Week in 2017 for making him think outside the (pizza) box about his live setup. “It was a perfect gig for me to do; all their fans are really hardcore and they were all dressed up mad. Sarah [Midori Perry, vocalist] had a flamingo, they were playing proper mad synth patches, it was boss to watch. So I went home, got some synths, and started doing it.”
This hits on what Brown thinks was an important realisation for him in identifying the musician he wanted to be. He doesn’t want to be viewed as ‘just another artist’ in an endless sea of acts jamming their way through a set. “I want it to be like a party, like a design,” he says, before revealing that he’s often bored by bog standard live shows. “When I go to gigs I’m always sitting there waiting for it to finish because I’m not really a big gig goer. I remember seeing Peaches at Sound City; she was crazy, I love her. Stuff like that, that blurs the line between music and cabaret, gets me more excited than seeing just a band on stage with drums.”
“Pizzagirl seems like a novelty name but it’s just a moniker to be a bit crazy,” he adds, showing no signs of flagging as his third pizza slice arrives. “You don’t know what to expect, it could be anything, and I feel like that’s better for me because I don’t have to impress anyone. I wanted to do something that was so absurd that you wouldn’t – you couldn’t – criticise it. It’s just fun, I don’t want it to be too serious.”
The impression of a young artist reaching back to a period that he barely remembers to co-opt the style can come across as a bit of a calculated move. But the fact remains that Brown was making music with a retro, synthetic kind of vibe long before Pizzagirl; and the image belies the fact that this music has real heart and depth. Favourite Song and Private Number (a song about falling in love with a computer) are far from throwaway tunes; they’re heartfelt and perfectly in tune with the twinkling synth passages.
“I’m not like some novelty Timmy Mallett or something, going on stage making songs just to listen to once. I want to put a bit more thought to how it’s done, but in a way that the lyrics would be a bit deeper than the music. It disarms you by the fact that it’s a bit ironic.”
The focus Brown puts on Pizzagirl’s accompanying visuals is key to understanding him as an artist who successfully straddles two eras separated by a digital revolution. “I like adverts, and how media goes with music,” he states, demonstrating an acceptance of advertising culture that is typical of his generation. “Ads are sort of the little helper to give you what visuals go with the music, but if I’d said this 20 years ago it would have been called selling out. Aspiring to work with ads or brands shouldn’t be seen as selling out – it should be a really good opportunity to do something creative. You can’t just sit there and go, ‘I’m never going to work with a brand because that’s my music getting tainted’, because it isn’t! It’s fun. It’s weird, because a lot of traditionalists are like that. You can’t make music without at least capitalising on it in some way.”
Pizzagirl is far from the finished product, which is probably the most exciting aspect about what he’s achieved with An Extended Play. Still in a state of building on his influences, Brown admits that he feels like he’s “just a bit of a sponge at the moment: any pop culture thing or any film or TV or live act that sort of piques my interest, I’ll take bits from it.” The image of Brown burrowed away in his Beatzeria, filtering the wackiest corners of the internet into his own singular identity, is one that gives you faith that the future of music is in safe, if unconventional, hands.
“It’s exciting to not know, to see what’s going to happen. The journey’s fun.”
Pizzagirl’s Pizza Crawl
We couldn’t let Pizzagirl get away with not living up to his namesake – here are his recommended slices from Liverpool’s finest pizza joints.
Pizza choice: Mr White (Oregano, ricotta, mozzarella, caramelised onions, garlic oil)
“Cheesy, creamy ricotta, I like it a-lotta. It’s the go-to pizza here. Shout out to Jamie the pizza wizard.”
Pizza choice – Pedro’s Pepperoni (Pepperoni and house cheese mix)
“The pepperoni slices are really evenly spaced – it’s like an American flag! The cheese-to-bread ratio could be better, but the pepperoni spacing is like art.”
American Pizza Slice
Pizza choice – Fennel Sausage (Mascarpone, fire roasted red peppers, Italian sausage)
“Mmm fresh cheese. It’s on a par with Crazy Pedro’s, but it’s a bit like toast.”
An Extended Play is out now via Heist Or Hit.