Ashburn’s Beth Cannon is Making Her Mark on the Music Scene, and Doing it Her Way.
The Tribune’s Jan. 27 edition of Red Couch Chronicles featured an interview with Beth Cannon, a rising star in the local music scene.
Cannon has come a long way in a short time. She brands herself as Elizabeth II (also the name of her band), and is a talented guitarist whose passion for the guitar and music generally is riveting.
Especially rock music.
Cannon is also a vocalist and songwriter who has been writing music since middle school. A product of Loudoun County’s Broad Run High School, now pursuing a marketing degree at George Mason University, she has a gritty yet easy-going charisma that makes her at once likeable and believable.
Cannon, 19, plans to release her first music single, “Devastation” on Jan. 29, and is assembling a team to produce the music video version. Other original songs will follow.
A northern Virginia native who grew up in Ashburn, Cannon was shy as a young girl and didn’t gravitate towards athletics the way her older brother and younger sister did. “I wasn’t the most artistic person either, until I got into musical theatre in middle school,” she said. After her first audition in sixth grade, she didn’t get the role and she admits that hurt. It also made her more determined the next time around. Cannon had two lead roles in the shows that followed, but realized that as good as she was vocally she wanted to play an instrument too.
Her parents bought her a guitar for her twelfth birthday, and the love affair began. “I got super into Jimmy Page early on,” she said, and got caught up in the guitar work in Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same”.
“I would sit in my room and practice guitar all day sometimes, listening to some of the great artists and trying to teach myself,” she said. “Then my parents got me guitar lessons, and that helped a lot.” Her parents were rock music fans and that helped too. She was exposed to Zeppelin, Heart and other bands by her father, and rock became her joy.
“My family isn’t musically inclined, so this was a new world for them, and they were completely supportive of my interest,” Cannon said.
Cannon’s writing started with poetry, but she took a hiatus when she began to write instrumentals while improving her guitar skills. “But then I realized there are just so many rock instrumentals anyone wants to listen to, so I decided to get back to writing words to go along with the instrumentals,” she said.
“I started writing hard rock, rock and roll, going back to the roots,” she said, and that became her focus.
Performing her music is a more recent experience for Cannon. “I took a gap year after high school before starting college, to figure things out,” she said. One of the things she figured out was that she wanted to perform, and to get the live feedback from an audience.
Cannon has performed at several Loudoun and area venues, as well as in Boston. Most of the music she performs is original, though she likes to add one or two covers — done her way. She has even added a touch of pop to her rocker mix. For example, a Cannonesque version of “I Can’t Feel My Face” by Canadian pop artist The Weeknd.
“My persona on stage is me telling a story, and a lot of people are surprised what they see,” Cannon said, referring to her angry, raspy vocals and guitar riffs that alternate with softer, wispy tones.
“I’ve learned where and when to put the rage in my voice,” she said. “And the way I look at a live performance is that it’s an escape, basically.”
She wrote “Devastation” about a year ago and later brought a rough version to producer Mark Williams, who owns Sucker Punch Recording Co., in Bethesda, Maryland.
“He knew exactly what to do with it, and made the recording process amazing,” Cannon said. “It now sounds exactly the way I wanted it to when I wrote it.” She said the guitar solo for the song represents a step forward for her, from early days of shredding to the need to match the guitar work with the melody. ”
“I’ve learned to restrict myself from doing too many of those shreddy notes that I love,” Cannon said.
“Devastation is about someone sneaking around behind your back,” she said. “It’s basically a hypothetical situation that I have a fear of in my head. I’ve never been cheated on before, and neither have I done that to someone else because I think it’s one the worst things you can so to someone.”
Cannon’s what-would-it-be-like story is told in the lyrics, starting with an opening reference to “the relapse”.
“The relapse means when they keep going behind your back and lying, over and over again,” she said. “In a way they don’t care about it, because they love the adrenaline rush of being under the gun. when confronted with what they did.”
“It’s rage, a lot of rage, that I bring out in the song, a lot of emotion,” Cannon said. The music video version will be about domestic abuse and violence between two people in a relationship. She hopes it will also help people her age better understand abusive relationships, and how to get out.
Cannon performed part of “Devastation” during the interview.
Assisting with the interview was hip-hop artist Lucidious, a.k.a. Lucidious Music, who is a Briar Woods High School and Mason graduate. Just a few years ago, he was where Cannon is today, and asked her about her aspirations as well as how she is using social media to expand her brand.
Lucidious records on topics that include teen depression, relationships and a positive outlook on life, and he and Cannon relate to these themes. Both see this kind of storytelling as transcending music alone. Those topics are highly emotional, and can easily bring out critics.
“But sometimes it’s more basic than that,” Lucidious said. “Sometimes they just don’t like you or your work at all.”
Cannon agreed, and remembers her first brush with a critic. She posted a video of her playing guitar with a band. “It was almost pure shred, but one guy commented that it was garbage, pure garbage,” she said. She took it personally, but it also caused her to look at her guitar playing with a more critical eye.
“There definitely were some parts where I could’ve done better, and it helped me open my mind and work harder on my technique.” Cannon said.
“Now I build on criticism. It inspires me to do better,” she said.
Asked if she gets other criticism, Cannon was quick to say yes. “Sometimes it’s my blue hair, or the way I dress,” she said. “When that happens I say, hey this is how it is. I like it. It’s my vision, not your vision.”
“I wanted to dye my hair blue many years ago and asked my mom if I could. She said ‘sure, let me help,’ and it became an ongoing thing and part of my identity,” she said.
Cannon keeps her hair blue because she likes it, not because she wants attention. “I like blue, and I want it on my head,” she said. It’s also a color and look that she has tied to her logo and brand.
Cannon has also come across people who underestimate her skills. “Because I’m a girl, some people assume I’m not an especially good guitarist.”
Until they hear her play, whether on social media or live at a local music venue with her rotating group of band mates.
In a word, Cannon kills it.
Cannon also performed parts of her songs Lonely and Fall This Far. Lonely also deals with relationships and is likely to be her next single. A link to Cannon’s performance will be added to this story.
“I get angry when I see so much common sense falling out of the heads of people, and rudeness,” Cannon said, in further describing what she characterizes as the rage in here music. “Sometime I think why can’t you just hold the door open for that person, or why can’t you do better than a two-cent tip for your waiter. That person needs to eat too.”
“A lot of my songs are a way for me to let it out, without shoving it in people’s faces,” she said.
Cannon blushed when admitting she has composed a love song for her first album (EP), and that the feelings expressed there are not hypothetical.
“That one’s not hypothetical. It’s all good,” she said.
Among Cannon’s idols is Stevie Nicks, and while see sees herself always playing guitar, Cannon wants to be known as a singer storyteller too.
Another artist she admires is Haley Williams, who Lucidious said Cannon reminds him of. Both admire her style, charisma and relationship with her fans.
Asked about her vision, Cannon looks forward to the creation of her first album, and going on tour as Elizabeth II.
“I want to show girls that you can do more than play chords, and be an inspiration to young girls to push the boundaries of playing guitar,” she said.
Cannon is well aware of the stereotypes of rock and roll celebrities. “Rock and roll is a very sexualized genre, and I know this is something I’m going to continue to run into, ” she said. “I have quite a bit of self-respect, and I want to show other girls that you don’t have to be ‘naked’ to make it in rock music. But you do have to have a good voice and talent.”
Her band, Elizabeth II, is dynamic. Cannon said the faces of band mates change from venue to venue because she can’t expect everyone to dedicate themselves full-time to the music the same way she does. “They have school, they have work, they have other things, so I’m just grateful that I have the opportunity to bring different people together when I need them to help me perform the music,” she said.
Cannon admits that some of what she has written about to date is “hypothetical”, but a lot is based on her own life experiences. She points to her parents as role models and strong promoters of her musical journey. And to a younger sister and older brother who support her too. “But I’m different from them. And didn’t grow up the way many people around me did,” she said.
“For me, it was always about music, about discovering,” Cannon said. And learning. She practices as often as possible, honing her guitar skills at every opportunity and has studied with two of the best guitar players in the world. Cannon also earned a highly competitive scholarship to a five-week guitar school at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. where she further honed her skills and expanded her network of peers.
She has taught guitar for four years at Shamrock Music Shoppe in Purcellville, Virginia, and other students find her online for Skype lessons. “Most are guys,” she said, pausing to add that her students are serious about the music and that teaching guitar helps pay her music-related bills. She also gets help from a guitar company in Indonesia, which sent her a free guitar with hopes she will use it.
True to form as artists, Cannon and Lucidious followed the interview by exchanging connections and posts, and Lucidious offering his help.
“I’m at the early stages of marketing myself and my music,” Cannon said. “I don’t have the whole plan yet. But like my music. I like me, and I like what I do.”
Reader’s note: Lucidious is also the son of executive editor Tom Julia.