Elizabeth Ziman, the indie singer-songwriter who performs as Elizabeth and the Catapult, is bristling under various oaths of silence.
She’s a busy lady, so much so that getting out on the road with fellow musician Julia Nunes for a tour that brings them through East Tennessee on Tuesday is almost a bit of a relief. But you can almost hear the barely restrained zeal in her voice during a recent phone interview as she reins in her excitement about projects she’s not allowed to discuss.
“There are a lot of exciting projects with a lot of exciting people, but I actually can’t say what they are right now!” Ziman told The Daily Times with a laugh. “I’m working on a friend’s TV show, but I can’t say who it is yet. It’s going to be out on Apple TV, and I was kind of the music consultant for it, and it basically took over my life for the last four months with full days on the set, but I can’t say what it is. I’m sorry!
“And the next one is even more exciting, but I can’t talk about it, either! I have these things I’m working on, and just thinking about my career, at the end of the day, my fans — Elizabeth and the Catapult fans — only care about my songs. I have a new HBO film, ‘A Dangerous Son,’ streaming online, but they’re like, ‘Great, but we’re interested in your songs.’ It’s really interesting, because I have this freedom to do all of these things, like coaching actors or helping with music production or writing songs for TV and film or writing film scores or making albums in my house, and at the end of the day, I end up loving all of it.
“Each skill feeds the other skill, and I think it makes your songwriting better,” she added.
Multitasking is necessary, she pointed out, for a do-it-yourself artist whose boundless interest in music outside of the traditional pop-rock paradigm goes back to childhood. A New York City girl, she was writing piano-based music before she reached double digits, studied classical composition at the Berklee College of Music and put her pursuit of a film scoring career on hold when she was recruited as a backup singer for jazz/R&B singer Patti Austin’s tribute tour to Ella Fitzgerald. Expanding her palate, she put together the first iteration of Elizabeth and the Catapult, a group that briefly included jazz chanteuse Esperanza Spalding.
A debut EP in 2006 led to a Billboard Underground Artist feature that same year and a deal with Verve Records in 2008, which released the group’s debut, “Taller Children,” in 2009. Her sophomore effort, “The Other Side of Zero,” featured a collaboration with Americana royalty Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch; five years ago, “Like It Never Happened,” her third album, received a handful of Independent Music Award nominations. Her most recent album, “Keepsake,” was released in 2017, and while she can’t give a definitive date for her next project, she wants to put out a record of ballads, she said.
“I’ve written all of these ballads over the years, songs I wasn’t comfortable putting on an album because I don’t want to bum everyone out or have so many solo piano tracks,” she said. “But they’re just lying there, and I want to give fans what I think are actually some of the best songs I’ve ever written. Those kinds of songs sometimes come out of the most pain and the most turmoil, because they just happen to have more truths in them.”
From languid to effervescent, Ziman’s voice is suited for a broad range of emotions. That versatility is one reason she and Nunes, who share the same booking agent, struck up a fast friendship and decided to put together a joint tour, titled “The Holidays CAN Be Fun.” But while a holiday song or two might make their way into the setlist, it’s not, in fact, a Christmas tour.
“It’s obvious that for all the Christmas music and happy music you hear in stores and elevators, the holidays can be a hard time for everybody,” she said.
“We wanted to give (the tour) a name that’s literal to people’s lives, and it should be fun. I get to duet with her, but we’re both playing solo sets, and there’s a certain freedom to doing that. I’m doing a lot of looping stuff and trying out new songs.
“I have a winter choir that I run with my friends — at least 30 Brooklyn singer-songwriters, all amazing females, where we do all holiday music, so I have no shame about holiday music. But we probably won’t make a huge deal about the holidays. We’ll get one or two nuggets in there, if we can, but it’s more about the feeling of the holidays.”
And it’s not all maudlin or sentimental. She wrote a charming, whimsical song called “Jews Have Fun on Christmas Too” that Rolling Stone debuted four years ago, and given the chemistry between herself and Nunes, Tuesday’s show is akin to an open invitation to a slumber party.
“Hopefully there will be lots of laughter, some really good smoothies and meeting some wonderful people,” she said. “We have a show almost every day, but we treat it like going to camp as much as possible. We’ve got to get outside and get into that creek and visit that museum. And we’ve got to bring a Frisbee!”