Making Us Wonder: Interviewing Lily Holbrook

3 Mar

A couple of months ago, I checked out a show by the alternative rock musician Lily Holbrook. She killed it there, absoulutely blowing away every other act of that day. After the show, she agreed to be interviewed by Top Five Records, and the result is below.

Top 5 Records: Thank you for such a great show. That was a lot of fun. Did you enjoy it?

I did yeah

T5: Do you feel there is a large difference between a concert setting and busking?

Well that was a really cool experience because that was a great venue and I don’t play venues that nice all the time, so that was really fun. Busking has its advantages too. It is really connected to the people, very intimate, there’s a lot of interaction because people, especially when I do it right around here in the Castro there’s a lot of really unique people, and they’ll say funny things and they get very emotional sometimes because there are a lot of music fans in this neighborhood and people who connect with things that happened in their lives, so there’s some really interesting experiences that happened around here, just people get very involved with it and they’re walking right by you and they can stop and talk to you, and so it is really interactive. So that part is really cool. It is sometimes overwhelming, but it is really cool and a really unique experience.

Concerts are fun because of almost the opposite reason. Sometimes you want to just not have to interact as much. Even though actually I love interacting, sometimes there are times when I want to just perform and they be able to go backstage and just decompress. So it is kind of interesting because they are very different and I like both for their differences.

T5: You still busk, don’t you?

I do, I do. I probably will tonight, right around there.

T5: So, how does it feel performing with a band. That’s a newer thing for you.

It is. I have had bands in the past, usually for various reasons, it didn’t last very long. In this one, we seem to have a great connection so I’m hoping we last a long time and I love playing with them. There’s a lot of awesome things that come with playing with a band, but we are still working through technical stuff, because it’s harder for me to hear myself and so it’s a little harder for me to sing, because we get pretty loud and it’s different having to keep in time with them because I’m playing alone I really vary my timing which sometimes work really well because my vocals can then get really slow at times and speed up at times and I can do whatever I want. So with them, I can’t do that as much so there’s just some compromises that have to be made.

T5: Do you feel it’s less improvisational?

It is less improvisational, Yeah that’s true. I think that the more we practice, because we are a pretty new band, I think over time that we will be able to capture that improvisational feel, but right now we are still getting to know each other musically and figuring it all out but ultimately I enjoy it more, playing with a band.

T5: What about the name though? The Shivering Lilies, do you want to talk about that?

*Laughs a little* Sure, we had trouble coming up with a name no one could really agree on anything. I’m not sure why, but they really wanted to keep Lily in the name and I really didn’t care about it. It was really them, that wanted to and we kept just coming up with name and somebody said The Shivers, but there was a band already called that, and then I forget who, but one of the other band members said The Shivering Lilies, and we all really liked it, we thought it had a good ring, so we said Hey, we’ll go with that.

T5: Speaking of that, how does it feel to lead a band rather than just being yourself? Is there a difference?

There’s a big difference. It’s really cool to have a group of people to share things with. It takes a little bit of the pressure off, because it’s not just you. If you make a mistake, it’s all of you and not just me, but at the same time, it does take effort and working through differences and I really wanted to be like a band, and more than a backing band I like to think of us as equals, so at the same time, I have a strong personality when it comes to my music, I have strong opinions, so it takes a little letting go on my part and on their’s too. It’s just a lot of compromise. I think for any band, there’s a lot of compromise, so getting used to that is challenging, but it’s good.

T5: Do you view this as an evolution of your musical style. When I compare your first album to your later two, there’s a large difference over there. Is this part of that evolution, or is this it’s own separate offshoot?

This is. I always wanted to play with a band, but for various reasons I could never keep one together. I moved around a lot and I had record deals that fell through and all these crazy things were happening that made all of the bands that I was with dissolve quickly, but when I write music, most of the time I’m envisioning it with other instrumentation like on those later two albums. I never really wanted to be an acoustic artist although I still love acoustic music and I still want to do that to a degree, but I think that this was always a part of wanted to do.

T5: Coming back to your first album, I’ve read that you created that album after your brother died. Would you like to talk about that a little bit?

I can, yeah sure. It was a few years after my brother died. Some of the songs were written not long after he died, but it wasn’t recorded until four or five years later, but that was a very impactful event in my life, so five years wasn’t much time at all, even now it is the most critical event in my life really. Those songs really came from an interesting place, I don’t think I could ever recapture that. There was a lot of pain, but also a lot of beauty and kind of fairy-tale imagery that is somewhat connected to him because he had a big influence on me in that I have loved mythology and fantasy and he did as well, he was seven years older than me, so I got a lot of my appreciation for that from him. So, I connected those into the songs and used those as metaphors for how I was feeling and most of the album is about his passing and also the pains of letting go of childhood.

T5: Was it cathartic?

Yeah, definitely it was.

T5: You must have heard of Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, did you know that he doesn’t perform that song anymore? He sang that about his son dying and feels that he has come to terms with his son’s passing and so he can’t summon the emotions needed to sing that anymore. Do you see a parallel?

Wow, that’s interesting. Well, some of those songs I don’t do anymore but actually, that’s more because they don’t translate as well without the strings and some of the other stuff that goes on. I still do some of the stuff though, but honestly I don’t know that I will ever fully come to terms. I have improved over time, but I don’t know if I ever see a time in my life when I couldn’t summon the emotion because it’s always going to be just something very painful. A lot of learning came out of it, I can live with it, but I think the emotion will always be there. But I understand that, and I think that’s good. I mean, closure is good.

T5: And to be fair, he’s had a lot more time to come to terms. But this brings us to an interesting point, you said that both your brother and you really enjoy mythology, and of course much of your music has a dark fantasy element running through it. Would you like to that about that?

It started when I was very young and I don’t really know why. It’s very common in little girls to like fairies and mermaids, so that’s pretty standard, I think I just took it to a higher level. I had a really vivid imagination, I was a really shy child and I wasn’t good at sports and things like that and that was very important in my school and sports were a big thing, so I kind of became very introverted and turned to art and music and my imagination. So, in my imagination, I was always creating these fantasies with dragons and princesses and castles and then I would also read literature and also my brother would play D&D, and so I would read the manuals and I was really fascinated by all the creatures. So, it just stuck with me, I never lost it and as I got older, I just continued my interest. I always loved the lighter side, but I also got interested in the darker side, like vampires and pretty much everything in fantasy I have an appreciation for. I think a lot of it just has to do with having that strong imagination and just being shy, so turning to that for some sort of comfort.

T5: So which is your favorite? Creature, setting or whatever.

I have a lot. I definitely really love the legends of King Arthur and the Round Table, and I love kind of that British huge castles and Celtic kind of feel, so that is one of my favorites.

T5: On that topic, did you like The Holy Grail?

Yeah, it’s really funny.

T5: It’s a very light-hearted take though and when I hear your music, it all seems much darker than you do in person. Do you feel that there is a separate part of you that is the creator?

Well, I do kind of have dual personalities going on and it’s a little bit sad. Before my brother died, I was always a dramatic person, who felt things very deeply but I also did have a very light-hearted, very silly side, which I still have, but it became somewhat diminished after that. Before he died, I used to listen to a lot of music that was dark, but I also listened to a lot of music that was more silly and playful, but it changed after that. For some reason my connection to music became a more serious, darker thing. So, I guess that event just changed a lot, but I still have that lighter side to me and I guess that I just project that to people. And also I don’t want to be all dark and brooding and bringing people down. I try not to. *laughs*

T5: So, what are you listening to these days?

Well, I listen to a whole bunch of different stuff and I listen to a lot of the stuff I’ve always loved like classic rock. Some of my favorites are the cure and Tori Amos, but some of the stuff that I’ve been listening to more recently . Over the past few years, I’ve started really liking this band called the Birthday Massacre. They’re kind of like a dark fairy tale kind of band. They’re a lot heavier than my music, but they still have some quite pretty, beautiful parts and the words are really kind of like a dark fairy tale. I love that and I really like a singer that a lot of people hate, Lana Del Ray.

T5: I think people love to hate her. I think the reason a lot of people hate her,is that they feel she is manufactured. I think people don’t complain as much about the music as about the fear that they’re being taken in.

I think if you listen to her body of music, it becomes really obvious that it couldn’t be manufactured. But you really have to listen to a lot of it. I think that if you just listen to one song here or there, some of the songs are not as good as others. I think that it’s just something you need to invest a little more time in to get what she’s trying to say Once you listen to a lot of her songs, you hear these similar things happening over and over that you can tell could only come from her, they couldn’t come from some guy in a suit somewhere in a record label. I think she really is an artist, but people don’t want to believe that for some reason. I know she can’t sing live very well, but I do think she is a great writer and writes great lyrics and melodies, Some people are just really great at one or two facets, and just don’t have the whole thing and I think that’s okay.

T5: I enjoy her music very much, but I can understand why people feel that she is manufactured because she is one image, and a very stereotypical image, one which has been done before and which has been known to sell. Do you feel that there is any image you embody? Because your music always seems to be very personal, but when you create is there someone you visualize saying these things.

I do just try to be very real and authentic and just say whatever is trying to come out. I think some people would say that is a strength and other people would say that it’s a weakness, because I really don’t have that instinct to brand myself and think “Oh, I’m going to dress like this and be this” because I really like a whole bunch of different fashions and imagery and different types of music and I’ve had problems with people on the business side of music because they do want you to kind of narrow yourself to one thing and that really leaves a bad taste in my mouth because that’s not me. So, I don’t really, I just kind of let it come out whoever it comes out, or I try to.

T5: So, as an extension of all of this, what are the next steps for you as an artist. We all love seeing you in these small halls, but everyone expects more from you because you have the talent to be on the same stage as say Tori Amos or Fiona Apple. Especially considering how weak Fiona Apple’s last album felt. So, this is still a small area, and we would like to see more and more people grow, so what are your plans over the next five or ten years.

So, I’m really hoping that the band’s going to get stronger and I’m hoping that we’re going to stay together for a long time and start creating new music together. We’re starting with that a little bit, but I’m hoping we’re going to start doing that a lot. I’m really hoping to put out a new album this year. My plan is that we’re going to do a Kickstarter because I wouldn’t be able to finance it on my own and also I never really actively pursued record deals, I kind of fell into then, but at this point, I think that I’d like to keep a record company out of it because I don’t really feel they help all that much. Especially my experience, because both my record deals ended because the companies went out of business and they didn’t treat me that decently.

So, to do the Kickstarter and could do well independently, I think that could be really awesome. That would be my first album since my first album that would be completely without any interference from record label people. So, it would be interesting to see what would happen with that.

T5: Do you have a name for that album?

I don’t have a name yet, but I do want to get it done before the year is over. We’ll see what the name ends up being.

T5: Can’t blame a guy for trying

And I’d love playing bigger venues like Great American and developing a bigger audience. My problem has always been that I’m kind of shy and I’m not a very aggressive person when it comes to the business side of things. I like to think I’m a friendly, nice person and I like to connect with the fans but I’m not really someone who aggressively pursues things maybe the way I should, but it doesn’t quite come natural to me and I think it’s kind of something about me that’s actually a good thing, but it’s kind of also a bad thing at the same time. Maybe with my band I can balance that out somehow.

T5: That’s where Kickstarter works very well for you, right? Because it gives you direct contact with your fans.

Definitely, yeah. So hopefully, maybe by Spring we’d like to start going through Kickstarter.

T5: Musically, are you aiming anywhere new with this album?

The band, all the members are going to bring their own feel to it. That will definitely color some of it. I want to bring some more electronic elements, but I still want it to be rooted in rock and roll and keep the organicness about it, but I would definitely like to add some more electronic influence on some of the tracks. Probably not all of it, but I’m not sure of a specific direction or theme. I think it would be leaning towards the same direction as Wicked Ways but maybe just a little bit more dynamic with some really big rocking parts and some really quiet pretty parts and maybe some more electronic mixed into it.

T5: Do you have any covers planned? You’ve had some really fun covers in the past, like It’s A Sin and interestingly Mama I’m Coming Home. How does it feel performing a cover as compared to your own song?

I love doing covers, I always have really loved doing covers. I think I’m a lot more relaxed with covers because I guess I have some deep-rooted insecurities, so with a cover I have all the faith that it’s a great song because someone else wrote it. So that frees me up a little maybe in the performance when it’s someone else’s song and I’m 100% sure it’s awesome.

T5: Over the past couple of days I’ve been addicted to a Freelance Whales cover of the Devo song Girl U Love. So, when Devo does it, it’s got a very inhuman feel, sort of as if it were robots laughing at human emotions and when The Freelance Whales do it, it’s very soppy and emotional. Do you feel when you take a song and cover it, do you feel that you add a lot of your own flavor to it?

A lot of times, yeah. I try to do that with most of my covers. Some of them are not that different from the original, but some of them, yeah. It’s A Sin, which is on Wicked Ways is an 80s dance song and its very uptempo and my version is very slow and dark. So, yeah I do like to do that, especially if I’m actually going to record it. I like to make it as different as possible and maybe bring out different qualities which are there, but not as obvious to the listener.

T5: Is there anything you would like to tell your audience here?

Well, my audience has kept me going. I’ve had a rough road and there have been times when I was really discouraged and felt really beaten up and didn’t think I could keep doing music, at least not as a full-time profession, because it is so hard. Even though I don’t have the biggest audience, they are very loyal and have given me constant positive feedback and kind, kind comments and really personal things that are amazing, things that I still can’t believe, “This song changed my life” or “This song helped me through my mother’s death”. Things like that. Those kinds of comments keep me going.

T5: Do you have a story like that that you would like to share?

Well, just the other day someone told me that the song Mermaids, their mom passed away and they said that song helped me get through her death and every time I hear it I think of her flying with the fairies and dancing with the mermaids. So, that really touched me, especially since that album is about my own brother’s death.

T5: I’m sure that felt very satisfying. That’s awesome.

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