You could say Liv Austen is the artist who came to London for the drama, but stayed for the music. That she made the right decision is turning into quite an understatement.
The Norwegian-born singer-songwriter arrived in the UK in 2010 to study acting, before finding her voice as one of the hottest new properties on the music scene. The rave reviews that greet Austen's every gig has been echoed by similar acclaim for the 2018 debut album, A Moment Of Your Time.
Liv's star has been rising since she unveiled her Workin' Man's Dream EP in 2014, with what turned out to be perfect timing, in tandem with the extraordinary new wave of interest in all things Nashville. The buzz about her has got louder with each release since, from the brilliantly catchy, feelgood 'Don't Regret A Single One' to the tear-stained 'Over,' written especially for Austen by her good friend Ben Earle of UK duo the Shires.
Her story begins in the small town outside Oslo where she was born, and where she was singing from as far back as she can remember. But you might not recognise the confident and engaging performer she has turned into from the tentative steps she took towards that career. “I was always a very shy child,” she says, “so I would be at the back of the church choir, I didn't want to do the solos. But I'd been playing piano since I was eight, and I was really into music.”
After a move with her family to Norway's proper countryside, she lived in Belgium in her teenage years, developing her skills in several languages and, slowly but surely, the feeling that the songs inside her needed to come out. “That move was crucial in terms of music, because it was in college in Belgium that I really started,” she says. “I did acting as well, from a young age, but when I was a teenager I started taking singing lessons. I had this singing teacher who thought I was really good, but I was very apologetic about the whole thing.”
The turning point, as so often happens, was when she faced her fears. With one of her school's monthly music nights approaching, and parents marking their diary to come and see what the students were up to, her teacher urged her to perform. Liv resisted every encouragement until she couldn't say no anymore. “Long story short, she kind of forced me into singing a Norah Jones song,” she remembers. “I was the most nervous I've ever been in my life."
“But I think sometimes when you're really scared of doing something, it's because you want it so badly. Afterwards, I was elated. It was unbelievable. Not that I've been in many life-threatening situations, but it felt like I'd survived something. It's really important to push yourself, and I think I've learned from that.”
Suddenly, a musical upbringing that embraced the joyful pop of Britney Spears and Hanson and the crossover country of Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood all made sense, as Liv channelled that inspiration into her own songwriting and performances. “I was listening to these songs that addressed things that were happening in my life, and I thought it was incredible that a song by somebody else made me feel like it was about my life. I wanted to do the same.
“I did also have a lot of people telling me that my songs were very country, in terms of the lyrics being very straightforward and honest. So that made me curious, and I started listening to American country radio, then it started influencing me that way. Country music is funny and clever without trying to be, and that's why people relate to it, because you're saying it the way everyone around the world is feeling it.”
But even then, music nearly lost out. “I'd done musical theatre for two years in Oslo,” Liv explains. “I went into it because I was doing acting and music and couldn't decide which one to go for. I learned so much about performing, but musical theatre is a very specific thing, so it wasn't quite what I wanted to do. But I'm really glad I did the training, and I had this great drama tutor who said 'I think you could be a really good actor, and if you want to really do that, you have to go to the UK, because they have the best schools.'”
So began the next adventure, as she relocated to study at the Guildford School of Acting in Surrey. “I was there for three years, and music was kind of my escape, because the acting was so intense. The training is day and night, but if I had a moment to myself I'd sit in one of the rooms and write another song, still not really thinking it was going to do anything for me.
“Then when I graduated from drama school I had more time to do the music. Suddenly It felt like that was the thing I had control of. It's so funny how life takes you. You think you're doing one thing and then it presents this completely other opportunity.”
Since that point, Austen has completely owned her place in the new music scene, with the winning passion that allows us to claim her as an honorary Brit. She augments her exhaustive live schedule with collaborations with the composers and fellow artists who are also part of this exciting new world. “I've never regretted moving to the UK for a second,” she says. “It's wonderful to see how people are including me in the scene, they don't have to do that. I think you should claim me,” she smiles.
Liv's impressive debut album embraces country and pop flavours and all the other influences in her musical DNA. Her songs are as infectious as her personality, and her time is now. “Sometimes you can feel trapped by genres, and you just go 'This is a brilliant song, it doesn't matter what you call it,'” she concludes. “I just want to be Liv Austen.”