Even though there are endless ways to be unique, many young people struggle with wanting to fit in. Teen musician Liam McFarland’s song, “Ordinary,” touches on this idea with its chorus: “Preconceived ideas of what to be. Oh, how I long to be ordinary.”
Liam’s lyrics and music are anything but ordinary. The 16-year-old high school junior has been writing music for several years and his newest EP, Almond was just released on October 6. His self-described “lo-fi alternative bedroom pop” is heavily inspired by Liam’s various influences, but his songs retain a unique perspective and quality while still describing universal experiences and ideas.
“I’ve actually been playing music since I was in first grade, I believe. I remember when I was younger, I did this program where kids formed bands and we would play covers and sometimes we’d play at the Eagles club,” Liam says. This is where he got his start in music. However, his music hasn’t been published for very long. “I’ve been recording music for two to three years,” he states. Liam celebrated the two-year anniversary of his first EP, Green, on October 1 of this year. An EP stands for “extended play” and it is shorter than a full album. EPs are usually around four songs long.
Liam uses a ukulele in most of his songs, but recently he has started to branch out. “I’ve found that ukulele can be kind of limiting, so I’ve been teaching myself guitar because you can have so many more moods with all of the different chords you can play on a guitar. I’m also pretty good at playing bass because I’ve played it for a good while.” He laughs. “I’m not super good at guitar, but I’m making it work.” Liam is almost completely self-taught on all three instruments.
Liam is a junior at Avanti High School and attended Nova Middle School before that. In addition to writing and recording music, Liam says, “I’ve definitely dabbled in lots of forms of visual art, like collage, painting, and video-making. I’m also hoping to make a music video sometime soon.” The music video will likely feature Liam and his friends.
Even though he enjoys other types of art, Liam says that “music definitely is [his] main creative outlet.” In addition to writing music and creating visual art, Liam participates in theater at multiple locations. He has been in Creative Theater Experience (CTE) for three summers and has completed training to be an intern at CTE next year. Liam has also had large roles in Avanti High School’s theater program since he was a freshman. Most notably, Liam played Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” last spring.
While theater productions are a group effort, Liam makes all of his music by himself. “It’s all me. I pretty much just make all of my music on my phone, on GarageBand. I definitely have a very DIY approach when I make music,” he says. “In the future, I would like to maybe buy better equipment and things like that, but for now, I don’t find that just making music on my phone is particularly limiting to me. I think that really it has more to do with your taste. I think when you’re creating something with a zero dollar budget, you just have to have good taste and then make something cool with the resources you have rather, than trying to make something more than the resources you have.”
As an example of how Liam creates his music without owning expensive recording and editing equipment, he states, “Recently, I was recording some bass tracks and when you just record bass directly into a phone, it doesn’t sound good. You just hear the treble [higher sounds] of the bass. So what I did was, I copied the bass track and pitched it a level down to get the dynamics from the original recording as well as the ‘bassiness’ of the original recording.” Liam says that it’s a “fun challenge” to come up with creative, low-budget ways to create fancy or complicated-sounding musical effects.
Since Liam has been recording music and posting it online, he has released four singles, two EPs, and two full-length albums. “I think the way I have always tried to style my music is basically just pulling from artists I’m interested in at the time, and then blending in my own little twist on it,” he says. “So I think the way that I create music hasn’t changed [since he started making music], but stylistically, it’s definitely evolved. I’ve been really into 80s vibes recently and that’s very different from my first stuff, which is pretty simple.”
Liam listens to a wide variety of musical styles, but as far as his musical influences, he says, “An artist that really inspired me to start making music was Cavetown.” He adds, “I think lyrically, Sufjan Stevens is one of my influences. He has this really cool blend of intensely specific details contrasted with esoteric, extremely vague, big ideas. And I think that’s really cool. I am also really inspired by Perfume Genius. I think his eclectic style is sort of representative of what I aspire to do.”
While listening to other artists inspires and influences Liam’s music, he says that sometimes being a musician and artist can make appreciating other art a challenge. “When I’m listening to an artist that does a similar thing as me, it’s very hard for me to just enjoy the music and not think to myself, ‘they’re doing better than me; I could do that,’” he says. “I kind of have to practice just doing and not worry about what other artists are doing. I do think I have a better appreciation for interesting sounds in music, like interesting soundscapes. I think that if I listen to an artist that’s using a really cool synth sound, I’ll hear that and maybe try to replicate it in one of my songs. It’s more of an active listening experience now.”
Even though Liam is invested in his music, he doesn’t plan to pursue it in college so he can continue to explore and experiment rather than learning how someone else has made music. Instead, Liam wants to major in psychology and currently plans to become a therapist. “Hopefully, in 5 to 10 years, I will have created an album where I’m like, ‘I’m 100% satisfied with this album,’” he says. “I’m probably not going to be 100% satisfied with anything I ever create, but I think that’s good because I like to improve my craft. That’s the way I improve my music is by creating something and then learning from what worked and what didn’t work.”
In the future, Liam would love to perform in a setting where he can feature his multi-layered backing tracks, which often include synth sounds, bass, and sometimes even clips of noises like rain or people speaking.