Moving Forward: pia the band Re-evaluates Life Plans and Priorities on "Getting Better" EP


pia the band lays on a bed wearing an orange sweatshirt and light blue jeans.

Pia-Allison Roa examines personal growth and self-expectations on Getting Better. Photo by Zach Nahshel.

Pia-Allison Roa makes an honest self-assessment on her Getting Better EP.

The Detroit singer-songwriter who performs as pia the band recognizes the importance of re-evaluating life plans and priorities and making changes along the way. 

“These are the four songs that I felt were most ready to be out,” said Roa about her debut EP. “Once we recorded all four and then put it all together, it popped out to me that these are all about overcoming things.” 

As part of that process, pia the band examines past situations and relationships through contemplative lyrics and ethereal indie-rock, dream-pop, and shoegaze-folk instrumentation. 

“It felt good to get all those out … but then it was even more special looking back at what the songs meant, what they could mean now, and how they can be interpreted by other people,” said Roa, who’s also a clinical pharmacist specialist at Wayne Health.

To learn more, I spoke with Roa about Getting Better ahead of her May 28 show at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti.

Q: How have things been since graduating from pharmacy school at Wayne State University? 
A: Things have been good lately. Since the last time we talked, a lot has changed. One of the biggest things is I used to be in pharmacy school, and then I was a resident for two years. Since then, I’ve been in my actual job, and I love it. 

Music, to me before, was an outlet, escape, or thing that brought me back to the ground. Now that I’m in my job, it’s not like I need to escape anything. It’s been interesting to actively write or work on music … but it’s not in the same way of thinking, “Oh, this is my escape.” Releasing this EP was interesting because they were all songs that were born out of the escape part of my life. They were recorded over a year ago, and they were written way before that. 

Q: What’s it been like to release your debut EP after focusing primarily on singles?
A: For this EP, I recorded all the songs in two to three weeks in January or February of last year. Those songs are ones that I’ve been playing since I started doing this. First, I was nervous because if people have been coming to shows they’re songs that I’ve played before. I thought, “How is this going to compare if somebody’s heard it live and now they’re going to hear it recorded?” 

Second, part of it was me thinking, “These feel like my diaries and secrets that I can say out loud to you in person in a loud setting, and you might forget about the lyrics. And then I can go home, and I can still keep that to myself.” But now it’s out, and you can replay sections over and over and hear what I’m saying. 

Third … since those songs are so much older, I feel like the content focuses on things that felt consuming for me at that time. Now, listening back I’m thinking, “Whoa, those are events, topics, or situations that I’ve grown from and exited out of.” It’s been interesting to let it be rehashed out in the world. Overall, I feel happy and relieved that I was able to put a project together and get it out there. I’m proud of myself and the people who helped me put the EP together.

QGetting Better provides a thoughtful examination of your personal growth and the expectations that you have for yourself. How was writing and recording this EP cathartic for you?
A: A lot of the songs touch on getting better, but with each song in my head, I have resolved that situation or that topic. Then another song comes up for a different situation or topic, and it’s the same idea. I’ve realized that I’m always getting better, even though a situation might arise and resolve, there’s always something that you’re going through and getting better at.

Q: “Patient” explores the challenges of letting someone go, trying to move forward, and rediscovering yourself. How did writing this track inspire you to focus on your own needs instead?
A: I’m the type of person who likes to take care [of others]. Being the oldest of four sisters, there’s something in me that does that for anybody that I know. I’ve learned in life, and especially during that time, that doing that and being that person for every single person … can go a little overboard or become a little uneven. That’s what brought about this song. A lot of times in life, I’ve learned to just be patient and kind and realized, “Oh, you are still being kind and you are still being patient, even though you might not be waiting around for a specific person or situation.” It’s actually about being patient and kind to yourself and trying to move forward from that.

By the end of it, I say, “I feel myself coming back.” Throughout the song, I’m describing how I might have felt or how it may feel to lose myself in making somebody else more important. It’s a realization of, “Oh, now I need to get back to home base and remember who I am, what I want, and what I’m doing.” It’s also saying, “I feel myself coming back because I’ve taken my gaze off of the priorities of another person or situation.”

Q: “First Place” examines being disappointed with another and wondering about the what-ifs in life. How did this track help you move past that disappointment and find closure? How do the song’s themes also connect to Patient” and “To Be?”
A: When I started writing it, it was becoming like the beginning of “Patient,” and this idea of “I’m back in a situation where I feel like I’m prioritizing someone over my own needs, morals, and beliefs.” As it evolved, I explored and mourned that relationship or situation. 

By the end, I’m saying, “And I wonder if you’re alive / Or if you are just existing.” It was out of exasperation from the situation, and it made me reflect in the same way as “Patient” with putting this relationship or situation before any of my thoughts and needs. Out of a response to that, I’m saying, “Are you as affected by this? Because it feels like I only am.” “Patient” and “First Place” were pretty eye-opening for me and started in the same way. Instead of resolving like “Patient” does, “First Place” doesn’t. “First Place” has a line where I say, “I’m getting better,” and I think the conclusion to “First Place” is “To Be,” which is the last song. “First Place” was written close to “To Be,” and the resolution of that song came out in “To Be.”

Q: “To Be” looks back on your life, the choices you’ve made, things you’d like to change, and the person you’ve become. How did writing this track help you reconcile those aspects of life?
A: It’s the conclusion of that whole period of my life. This song bookends that time in my life, my job situation, my living situation, and who I was around at that time. It was all up-ended since everything was changing. I’m reassessing my life and wondering, “How did I get here? Where am I going? What am I doing?” This song helped me work through that and the state of all the things in my life that have gone in a way that I didn’t want it to. 

By the end of this, I’ve already explored the idea that I should have more compassion for myself and see what it looks like to put my needs and wants first. But at the same time, I’m keeping in mind that right where I am is where I need to be and that I’ve already become who I’m striving to be.

Q: The four tracks for Getting Better were written from 2020 to 2023. How did your songwriting evolve during that time?
A: I still think strongly about and value lyrics a lot. At some point in the last couple of years, when I was writing all of this and being new to writing, I was largely focused on what these words mean to me, what can they mean to other people, and what am I trying to say. I think there’s a good balance in keeping that in mind, but I was a little too much on the “thinking about it” side. 

I wonder what it would look like for me in these new songs to not take that too heavily and see what comes out. Especially now that I’m not writing out of an escape … I’m excited to see what topics or what ways I can song-write. I’ve listened to podcasts of different musicians saying, “I want to challenge myself to write about something outside of myself,” so I’m excited to explore that. But for this EP, I feel like nothing will ever be this raw and special because it was all so new and out of that situation.

Q: You also co-produced Getting Better. What was it like to step into that role for this EP? What new insights did you gain about the production process?
A: In this process, I got to learn what I’m capable of and the style of the songs and the recording that I like. But moving forward, for future songs, I love the idea of incorporating more of my band that I currently play with [live]. When I’d record something, it would sound great, and I loved it. And then we’d play it live, and it turned out to be something not drastically different, but I’d think, “Wow, I wish we could have recorded this the way we play it live.” I hope to switch that up, and I’ve been working with Adam [Liles], who is my guitar player, on demos. We’ve been tracking some stuff to see what comes about when I get to collaborate with my band first and then record versus the other way around. 

Q: How did co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Collins help you shape the EP’s overall sound?
A: I had worked on Ben with “Stranger,” “Old Days,” and “I Have Everything.” To me, he’s like a magician—he knew the kind of sound and what I was going for before I even really had to say much. Maybe it was out of me showing him the demos or how I was singing them. I laid down an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar, I put vocals on it, and then we’d add some stuff on top. Ben played a lot of synth on it, and he did all of the bass for it and played some lead guitars. If Adam [Liles] wasn’t playing the lead guitar, it was Ben.

Those guitar sounds you hear on “To Be” … as Adam was recording it live, Ben had a pedal steel out because he was either helping [another artist] record something or rehearsing for [their] show. He was trying to mimic Adam’s guitar lick, and then after Adam finished, Ben said, “What do you think about adding pedal steel? I could try it.” And I said, “Let’s do it; let’s try it.” I think there were only one or two takes of him doing pedal steel, and it was all very impromptu. There would be moments in the song where he’d add a pedal steel lick, and I would be melting. That whole process is fun because it feels like trying to catch magic in a little bottle. 

Q: You also collaborated with Adam Liles (guitar) and Cameron Wilson (drums, percussion) on Getting Better. How did they take those tracks to the next level sonically?
A: Cameron was available to track drums [on two songs], but Ben [Collins] played drums on “Patient.” “I Have Everything” and “First Place” were songs … that had nuanced [parts] compared to “Patient.” At that time, I had met Cameron at a show that I played solo, and Cameron said, “If you ever need a drummer …” And I said, “Oh, perfect. I’m recording right now. Why don’t you add some drums to these two songs?” That’s how Cameron was involved.

Adam was a little bit more involved creatively. Similarly, Adam came up to me—and it was also because I played a solo show—and he asked me, “Hey, if you ever need a guitar player …” I said, “Actually, I’m recording right now. Do you want to hear some songs and see what you want to put on them?” Adam tried to get those guitar tones out to match the feel of the song, so he helped in that aspect. Translating it live has been super fun in “First Place” and “I Have Everything” since Adam has been able to play those guitar parts that are on the recording live.

Pia-Allison Roa and Adam Liles perform at Ghost Light in Hamtramck.

Pia-Allison Roa and Adam Liles perform at Ghost Light in Hamtramck. Photo by Donatella Pompeo.

Q: What do you have planned for your May 28 show at Ziggy’s? Who will be joining you for your set?
A: I play all of Getting Betterand then I play the songs that are out as singles. We have in rotation a song called “Feel” that I wrote a while ago, but I didn’t think fit on this EP. I have a new song that I recently wrote that we play, and it doesn’t have a title, but I love workshopping songs live. That’s how every one of my songs has come about. 

Right now in my band is Adam Liles on guitar, Riley Kirkpatrick on bass, Duane Hewins on drums, and Jane Rogers on synth and auxiliary percussion. Duane brings so much energy … and when I watch Duane when we’re practicing, and we’re all facing each other in a circle, I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, you’re getting me hyped up for my own songs.” We also do a cover of Beabadoobee’s “Apple Cider” sometimes, so Jane plays glockenspiel on it. I call Jane as somebody who sets the mood of the song … they do a good job of matching that with the synths.

Q: What’s on the horizon for you later this year? Do you plan to write and record new material?
A: I hope to write more this summer. Last year, I didn’t do much of that because I had played so many shows. I’m excited to keep working with Adam [Liles] on demoing and then practicing in our live shows. I hope to record the ones that seem cohesive or want to be part of a bigger album. I hope to one day make a full-on album, but an EP is probably what I have coming.

Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of

pia the band performs May 28 with Vaega and Najj May 28 at Ziggy’s, 206 West Michigan Avenue, Ypsilanti.