Liz Huett didn’t meet her birth mom and siblings until she was 19, but the singer-songwriter’s life has always been full of love.
Huett, a former child actor whose music career began in earnest by singing backup for Taylor Swift, has big goals for her life, and not all of them are related to music. She was adopted by her parents as a baby, and with her mother’s experience working with the foster care system, she wants to work together to improve the experience for kids, make it easier for parents to adopt and improve the system for the social workers, who are often given heavy case loads with little afterthought for their own lives.
“You hear so many really sad, disheartening stories about kids that are a product of the system. I wanna share my positive outcome,” Huett, 31, said of her future plan. “My life was changed. Two people just decided—after having four kids of their own, and they weren’t wealthy; they weren’t well off.
“There was no reason why they should’ve got up one day and decided, ‘I’m gonna take in a child that’s not my own and love it like it’s mine and take it to dance lessons, and now [she] wants to learn how to play guitar, and now I’m gonna take [her] to auditions for acting.’ They just changed my entire life and it’s such a beautiful rescue story. I want to inspire people. It’s a beautiful thing to adopt a child.”
Liz Huett is now planning for the release of her debut full-length album, but she grew up in Riverside primarily interested not in music, but acting. She did theatre throughout school, and living so close to Los Angeles, there were plenty of other opportunities. By her fifth grade year, she was spending more time auditioning and acting in commercials than at school: Chiquita Banana, Burger King, Barbie, Sprint, AT&T and various pizza chains.
She had a guest spot on Nickelodeon show Brothers Garcia and others. But by high school she was having doubts about an acting career and was starting to grow annoyed at missing a “normal” life. She came close to booking a lead role for Nickelodeon and Disney shows, but now feels fortunate those didn’t pan out.
“Right around my freshman year, I just got really resentful of all the time that I spent on set and the time I didn’t spend living,” she said.
She sat her parents down and had a heart-to-heart, and they were supportive when she said she needed to live more of her life if she wanted anything to draw from as a creative person.
“Then I realized music was something I could do in my bedroom,” Huett said.
She had yet to write a single song, but she had plenty of singing experience and was passionate about the likes of Tom Petty, Blink-182, Weezer and country artists. Making that decision to drop acting gave her the opportunity to take a break and decide her next steps.
“I don’t know where that … little bit of wisdom [came from]. At the time I thought it was reckless, and I was really scared I was making the wrong decision,” she said. “But in my gut I just felt like, ‘I don’t wanna be gone all the time.’ I dated the baseball player in high school, and I did cheer and was in choir, and I was able to show up every day for the last three years of high school. Those are formative years, and it’s important to have the all-American upbringing experience.”
After taking the year after high school off, she decided to move to Nashville to pursue a music career. Not too long after she did, Taylor Swift hired her as a backing vocalist, giving her a chance to tour the world for more than three years.
She also signed a publishing deal and began writing songs for other artists. Looking back now, she knows that she could have just moved to L.A. and lived a much more comfortable life close to family.
“I think my soul was really thirsting for something courageous and I just felt like moving across the country, stripping myself of every comfort and any friendships to fall back on, and any sort of distraction,” she said.
“At the time I thought I was just so brave. Looking back, it was a little outrageous to think, ‘I’m one of the special ones. I’m gonna move there and I’m gonna make shit happen.’”
Yet, making that move is what quickly landed her the job singing with Taylor Swift, and opened many more doors for her as an artist. She said that people in the city’s music industry took her more seriously because of it.
As a songwriter, Huett began working exclusively in the country realm, which she loved. She had written a song for Sara Evans and the TV show Nashville. This year she wrote a song for country artist Jana Kramer.
Huett supported herself primarily through the publishing deal. At the time, however, she had little faith in herself as an artist.
“I think comparison is really, really dangerous. It can be like a cancer in this industry,” she said. “I got a little unhealthy with the comparison game, just looking at other people’s paths; how what was working for them may not have been working for me at the time.”
That gave her crippling stage fright and insecurity. She started picking apart her own songs. Eventually, Huett got past it when she realized that while no one can be perfect, she can be honest.
“People don’t put on the radio because they want to hear perfection. They just wanna be moved, they wanna feel something authentic and they wanna experience raw emotion,” she said.
That’s when she loosened up, her songs got better and she regained her confidence. More doors started opening, and she signed an artist deal with Interscope Records. Looking back, this is the same lesson Taylor Swift taught Liz Huett.
“I learned that you have to mean everything you say with your writing,” Huett said of working with the pop star. “People are quick to smell bullshit, and people don’t really connect with anything that is 80-percent authentic.”
Twelve months ago, Huett released her first single, “STFU & Hold Me,” a sonically sugary, lyrically rough-around-the-edges pop tune about wanting a lover to “stop sweating the small stuff.” Over crunchy guitars reminiscent of Third Eye Blind, she targets an ex on “H8U.” Newer single “Responsible” recalls Charli XCX as she sings about hooking up with “someone on her pillow, who says he works in tech.” And on the sparse fingerpicked “Don’t LV U Anymore,” she ruminates about a relationship gone bad.
After failed attempts in 2014 and 2016, Huett is planning her debut record, which could take the form of an EP or LP. This time, she’s taking it song by song until she has enough that satisfy her.
“It was just like being in creative and artistic puberty for a couple years,” she said. “I can finally, after years, say that I’m in a place where I’m really proud of the songs I’m singing, and I’m super pumped on the sound that we’ve found. I feel like I really truly have an identity as an artist. I know who I am. That’s the thing that I feel like is the hardest to achieve. I just had to wait for it.”
Even though her new songs are clearly in the pop realm, Liz Huett isn’t checking any genre boxes, and isn’t averse to blending country into the mix of programmed beats, alt-rock guitars and breezy SoCal vibes.
In 2017, Liz Huett moved back to Southern California. She was writing and recording most of her own songs in L.A., anyway, and she can be closer to her family and friends from school. It may also give her and her mom the chance to talk about changing California foster care and adoption processes.
Huett’s mom was a foster parent for a decade before she and her husband adopted Huett, and has shared many heartbreaking stories of getting close to foster kids, but the way the system is designed prevents foster parents from keeping custody of children for an extended time.
“She would get so attached, and then one day a social worker would call and say, ‘It’s time to move homes.’ … It’s just crushing for a kid. I can’t imagine finally getting comfortable somewhere and feeling safe and feeling like you belong, and then getting uprooted again.”
Liz Huett calls it the “nature of the beast.” The system was designed with the safety of children in mind, but there are ways to improve it, letting children in good home situations remain where they are if they request it and the healthy living situation is reaffirmed by therapists and social workers.
And the adoption process is often a separate headache, with adoptive parents overburdened with financial hurdles—usually in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“It shouldn’t be as difficult to adopt a child. There are so many kids that needs home in this world,” Huett said. “If you have one person that wants to fight for you and take care of you and protect you it should not be as much of a headache.
“Taking care of the employees that facilitate adoption and foster care … means it trickles down everywhere. If people are well taken care of they’re gonna take better care of these kids and they’re gonna have more heart and more spirit to give to improving the whole system.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.