Music for the Mind
A Music Therapy major, Harris’ performances as •f i g• and the venue she operates, Titter’s Diner, are both rooted in gender and sexual openness.
By Mattie Winowitch, Waynesburg University
Elizabeth Harris is bi, shy and ready to cry, or at least that’s what her bio on Twitter and Instagram say.
As a twenty-two-year-old senior Music Therapy major at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Harris’ roots stem from a deep love of music, as well as wanting people to feel understood no matter who they are or where they come from. Outside of her school, she performs throughout Pittsburgh under the name •f i g•, and writes songs about her personal struggles, fruit, nature and women.
She also has a space where people can come and perform at her house called “Titter’s Diner,” which is a judgement-free zone for anyone jonesing for a jam session. As someone who loves DIY-ing and giving back to the community, Harris hopes her passion for music and distinct styles helps her leave a mark on Pittsburgh, a city she’s grown to love.
Mattie Winowitch: How did you first start getting into music?
Elizabeth Harris: I actually started taking voice and piano lessons in elementary school, so it’s always been around. I started writing songs in middle school, and I picked up the guitar in the sixth grade. I wanted to be like my pap who was a wedding singer and always playing the guitar whenever I went to my grandparents’ house.
MW: What’s the meaning behind “fig”?
EH: Fig comes primarily from a Sylvia Plath quote. I love this extremely sad quote because it’s how I feel, and a lot of my music is rather melancholy and about nature so it fit perfectly. Fig is also a euphemism for vagina, and I love women. The quote comes from “The Bell Jar,” where Sylvia Plath wrote:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
MW: Why music therapy?
EH: I have always wanted to combine my passion for music with my compassion for social justice and service in the community, so when I found out about music therapy, I found that I was satisfying both of those needs.
MW: In the past four years at Duquesne, how have you left your mark on the city of Pittsburgh?
EH: As a part of the music DIY scene, I feel as though I have circulated my music and my activism by being involved with communities that raise money for important non-profit organizations. But, at Duquesne itself, I created a group called “The Gender Forum,” which is a group that meets to talk about gender issues. Duquesne doesn’t have a women’s group or anything of the sort, so I wanted to make something that would address those issues, but also the issues of trans and non-binary and genderqueer individuals, as well as LGBTQ people. I wanted to create a safe space that allowed people who might have felt marginalized at a Catholic university to speak, discuss and learn about things in the media and how societal aspects of masculinity and femininity affect them.
MW: Who are your musical role models?
EH: Joni Mitchell. I love her songwriting style, her voice, her guitar playing—everything.
MW: What made you so passionate about personal struggles?
EH: It was more so an outlet for me to express myself, as well as stories I heard about women in my life. I wanted to be able to tell the stories of people who don’t always get the chance to speak up.
MW: As a young, bisexual woman yourself, what struggles have you faced, if any?
EH: I definitely experience bi-erasure. When I was in a relationship with a woman, it was a lot of people assuming that I was a lesbian and only attracted to women. Now that I’m dating a man, my queer identity tends to get washed out completely. It’s a daily thing. People think identity is definitive, but it’s really ever-changing and fluctuates by day, as does everyone’s perception of other people’s identities. I feel more affirmed in my identity every day, though.
MW: What’s the history behind Titter’s Diner?
EH: Titter’s started as me wanting to have a venue for music in the DIY community that was more intimate and focused more on solo acts or acoustic and smaller bands for performances. It was also an initiative to kind of subvert “the boys’ club” and allow queer people, female non-binary people, people of color and people with disabilities to have a safe place to perform, because a lot of the community is tailored to white cis men playing in loud bands. I wanted to make something else. The name is a pun off one of my favorite diners in Pittsburgh called Ritter’s Diner. It’s kind of like, “Well, everyone has titties.” I thought it was humorous.
MW: What’s your favorite song to perform and why?
EH: My favorite song to perform is a song called “Pomegranate.” It’s a song I wrote about feeling forced to be a person that I wasn’t because of the things that I was told by people in my life. It’s my favorite to perform, because several people already know the lyrics to the song and sing along with me whenever I perform. It’s also really honest and raw, and I like the catharsis, or reexamining the initial feelings associated with the song.
MW: What advice do you have for any young musicians in Pittsburgh who are just getting started and trying to find their niche?
EH: Just go to shows. Find things in the [Pittsburgh] City Paper or events on Facebook, and just go. You make friends and connections seeing the same people in different venues. If you reach out to them, the people in Pittsburgh will lift you up.