The Gospel According to Liz

Liz Vice battles stage fright to bring a message of hope to a secular city.

Hope is a common theme when speaking with Liz Vice about her debut album, There's a Light. Rich with throwback R&B influences, the album features 10 tracks of Vice's dynamic, soulful vocals, with lyrics referencing her deep-rooted spirituality.

But she's not here to "tickle people's ears" with religion, she says.

"I know people have labeled me as this gospel singer, but I'm like, 'I didn't even grow up with this music,'" says Vice, laughing. "I grew up with Bonnie Raitt and Melissa Etheridge and James Ingram. And I love Disney songs."

The middle child of five siblings raised by a single mom, Vice's original dream of stardom stemmed from a Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera concert she attended as a kid. More than being a singer, though, the show inspired her to be an actress. Following the concert, she wrote her Oscar acceptance speech—which she still carries around with her—and practiced being interviewed by Jay Leno in her bathroom mirror.

But during college, Vice suffered from kidney failure, and she went on dialysis. Believing she wouldn't live past age 21, her focus changed.

"My dreams kind of shifted from thinking about the future of becoming an actress to, what can I do today?" she says. "Because if the Lord isn't going to heal me and if I'm not going to live very long, what can I do to encourage people to live the best life that they can?"

After a few more years of dialysis and studying medical assisting, Vice received an unforgettable call at 3 am: A kidney was available for her. Following the transplant in 2005, she began what she calls her "bonus life," and returned to her dream of filmmaking—only this time, she wanted to direct.

“My desires shifted from wanting to be seen to making things happen,” she says. 

Vice later switched from her regular church to Portland's Door of Hope. She mentions getting a "subtle nudge" from God, telling her to try out for her church's choir, even though the thought of singing in front of people intimidated her. By 2010, Vice was volunteering for choir solos. A year later, she started singing with local gospel collective Deeper Well.

"I hated singing; it was always terrifying," says Vice, who recalls feeling like a "sweaty James Brown" when she sang her first solo. "I got super shaky afterward, and I still do to this day. If I'm singing a song, I'm screaming out, 'There is hope! There is hope!' It takes so much power out of me."

This exclamation of hope is found throughout her album, which was written and produced by Door of Hope pastor Josh White and recorded live on analog tape last summer. The resulting classic soul sound was surprising even to Vice.

"So many Christians are like, 'I've never heard anything like this. I do not like Christian music, but I love this album because I've never heard anything like this before,'" Vice says. "And I don't know why that is. I'm just as shocked at how many people loved this album who wouldn't even step foot in a church."

People might not step foot in a church immediately upon hearing Vice's music, but they might step into a concert venue, which helps convince her to keep singing—even if it makes her shake with fear.

"When I see people having fun, and they can have one of the crappiest weeks and then go to a concert and they're like, 'Yes, I needed to hear this,' then it makes me feel like, regardless of my insecurities, I'm going to keep doing this, because I see how it changes people," she says. Though she hasn't gotten over her stage fright, Vice has no plans to stop any time soon. "I'm singing about Jesus in bars," she says with a laugh. "And I love it.” 

SEE IT: Liz Vice plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with the Breaking Yard and Valley Maker, on Thursday, May 15. 8 pm. $6 advance, $8 day of show. 21+.