There is a gem of a track that can be found on Elizabeth Pape’s recent CD. Listeners can hear the singer nonchalantly offer herself an introduction over the strumming of gleeful guitars.
“Hi, this is Elizabeth. And um. I just wanted to sing a song that I made up. I just want to hear it when I get bigger.”
The unabashedly adorable recording was captured on a cassette tape when “Lizzy Lou” was 8 years old. But innocent as it might have seemed at the time, it was a premonition of things to come.
“There are endless cassettes of me singing songs,” Elizabeth said, with a laugh. “I wrote my first song when I was 10. I was in choir and band.”
Today, Elizabeth Mary — as she goes by her stage name — is a familiar face on the local music scene. Beginning as the front woman for the rock outfit Zero 2 Sixty at age 22, she embraced a rock ’n’ roll persona for eight years, with a five-year stint as one-half of an acoustic duo alongside Jon Sendt, dubbed Broken Strings.
But in the past two years, Elizabeth has been singing a different tune. Honing in on her city girl surroundings, yet staying true to her roots as a country girl raised on a rural Iowa dairy farm, she did the unthinkable in 2018 when she made the decision to leave her day job at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium to pursue music full-time.
“It was a huge leap and the one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Elizabeth said. “I loved my job, and I loved the people there.”
The risk, however, turned out to yield a big reward.
One week later, she found herself opening for country star Collin Raye during his stop in Dubuque, which led to future opening engagements for such country luminaries as Lorrie Morgan (who described Elizabeth as “incredible”), Sara Evans and The Bellamy Brothers, as well as performing for America’s River Festival at the Port of Dubuque and at other regional venues.
From there — and inspired by words of wisdom from her best friend — she headed to the studio to record her EP, “Dance with the Fear.” The release included the single, “Mirror, Mirror,” which local radio station 101.1 FM The River picked up and put into rotation.
The song, a personal reflection for Elizabeth, also found an audience who could relate to its lyrics:
“Mirror, mirror ... On the wall,
I got lost somewhere along the way,
Take me back ... Set me free,
When you were all that mattered to me.”
“That was the first time I realized that people were really connecting to my music,” Elizabeth said.
She decided to go back into the studio, recording her second single, “Breathe in Girl,” another tune written while sobbing on her bathroom floor that found a home on local radio and has since been spun in 43 countries.
“It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, here we go,’” Elizabeth said of her whirlwind success. “The line from ‘Breathe in Girl’ that people tend to identify with is, ‘I hate to spoil the ending, but you’re going to be OK.’ 2018 was a year of so many ups, but I was really coming into who I was with so many things. There were still a lot of things knocking me down.
“I always say that people love success, but they hate successful people. I couldn’t take one more thing and, at that point, was feeling helpless. But I realized that no one could help me but myself, and I had to get out of that hole. I told myself, ‘Girl, you need to get up.’ I just remember looking at myself in the mirror and saying, ‘Breathe in, girl. Breathe out, girl.’
“It’s just unbelievable how many people have come up to me and told me that that song helped them. I never set out to do that. When I write, I write for me.”
That song, as well as a third single, “Sweatpants and Wine” — voted as KBOE 104.9 FM’s 2019 Iowa Country Song of the Year — can be found on a 14-track CD released in the fall of 2019 called, “Meet Me in Madison.”
Available through most streaming music platforms, it’s a tribute to the Wisconsin city in which she is breaking new ground and recording, at Megatone Studios, as well as the city she continues to call home: Dubuque.
“Dubuque is such a hub for music,” Elizabeth said. “It’s really incredible.”
In addition to “Breathe in Girl,” there are other tracks that strike a personal chord. “Stronger,” her latest single which released to local radio last week, serves as a reminder of how far she’s come. “I’m Okay” is an anthem for overcoming overwhelming situations. “Home to Me” is a reminder of her childhood. And “One More” is a tribute to her “Opa,” who passed away, with Elizabeth longing for one more smile, one more conversation.
Steeped in country sensibilities, the CD delivers it all in a fusion of musical styles, tapping into pop, rock, blues and jazz.
“I love country and am a country girl, but I think it was cool that I was part of the rock world for awhile and was able to get a taste of what they was like,” Elizabeth said. “When I started recording my album, it was hard to pin what (musical style) I was. I never wrote for a genre.”
In addition to music, Elizabeth also has launched a small clothing and accessory line, available at Carol Ann Boutique & Body and B-1 Hot Yoga Studio, both in Dubuque, as well as through her website at www.
When she’s not making music or designing clothes, she loves running — and to a musical style one might not necessarily peg.
“I love running to death metal,” she said, laughing.
While she’s gotten plenty of local love, Elizabeth admitted to attracting a few naysayers. But she takes it in stride. Capping 2019 off with 130 solo shows, she said she is looking forward to what the new decade might have in store for her, hinting toward announcements of additional opening act performances, solo shows and more.
“I never expect anything, so I’m always so excited when something comes up,” Elizabeth said. “I went from Zero 2 Sixty, singing cover songs, to performing originals. I’m hustling every day. The naysayers don’t know unless their boots are on the ground. I work hard and I play hard. And I’m really proud of everything.”