This is not a toy


Eliza Rickman plays an original piece at The House Cafe Monday night. Her music includes a wide range of instuments including an accordian, a toy piano, a cowbell tambourine, and a looper to name a few.

By Jessica Cabe

DeKALB | Audiences have come to expect singer/songwriters to take the stage with an acoustic guitar or keyboard. Eliza Rickman prefers her toy piano.

The California artist, who played at the House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway last night, purchased the toy after graduating from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in arranging, needing an instrument when she began performing in Los Angeles. The sound became a unique and powerful quality in her music, so she took it with her in the studio.

Rickman’s first release, an EP titled Gild the Lily, consists of six unusually austere tracks.

“I intentionally kept my EP stark and simple – it’s almost exclusively vocals & toy piano,” Rickman said.

The contrast between Rickman’s rich voice and the innocence of the toy instrument creates an interesting dichotomy and depth in her music. She expands upon this depth on her unreleased full-length album, O, You Sinners, by adding string arrangements and percussion to the mix.

Rickman recorded the album last winter with Mark Greenberg (Andrew Bird, Wilco, Mavis Staples). Her decision to work with the Chicago-based engineer resulted from a search through her favorite recent independent releases, including the work of Andrew Bird.

“I was really hoping to work with someone who had recorded Andrew because those people obviously know how to record strings,” Rickman said. “I knew that was going to be a big part of my album. I emailed three or four guys who had recorded Andrew, and to my pleasant surprise, Mark responded enthusiastically within only about a half hour.”

From there, the artist flew to Chicago and recorded O, You Sinners in two sessions. The first lasted a mere three days and consisted of piano, toy piano and vocals. Rickman returned two weeks later with her Los Angeles band and played the role of producer while they recorded the string parts.

The addition of strings and percussion creates a more developed sound compared to the simplicity of Gild the Lily, but Rickman said it was not a conscious effort to improve upon her first release.

“I’m not sure the full-length album was necessarily an effort to better myself so much as to get some of my best and most orchestrated material out to fans who have been asking for it for a very long time,” she said. “Some of [the songs] were still relatively new and fresh. Others … were written a long time ago and have been live favorites for ages.”

As of right now, O, You Sinners does not have a release date.

“Locking down a release show in L.A. has been frustrating,” Rickman said.

She plans to have the digital album out by the beginning of November, and the physical CD is set to follow shortly thereafter.

Rickman currently tours in the U.S., and the House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway, was one of her many stops along the way. She performed for free last night as the House Cafe’s open mic featured artist.