Featured Artist Interview: Lili K
Lili K is a soulful, super-real girl to say the least. With an upcoming live performance at the Metro this Friday, an album dropping in the spring, and an incredible music video for the single, "Tommy" that was recently released, quite a bit of buzz is humming around this little lady. Lucky enough to have a chat with her over drinks and appetizers, she informed me of her roots, her journey so far, and where she's headed.
CC: Just so we know a bit about your history before delving into your current successes, can you tell us a bit about your vocal roots in school and in church, and how those styles of training affected your perspective of music?
LK: Well I was moreso into playing sports and stuff when I was little, actually. I was in kickboxing and fighting, and I went to fighting tournaments and stuff. It was weird. But I had a vocal teacher who would come to our school once a week, and he mainly did spirituals. I started going to church with him, and singing in the church choir. My mom was never really religious...we would go to Friday churches and stuff...but I started going to church with my vocal teacher, and it was an apostolic church so I started singing gospel and spirituals. I thought it was so awesome to see reactions that music would get out of people. Of course it's not only the music, it's the spirituality and the power that's associated with it.
CC: Do you feel that the spirituality aspect was part of it for you too personally?
LK: Yeah. It's more so, like, the energy. The positive energy and the love that you felt from it, and it's like, "Wow, music can make you feel this way, and make other people feel this way." It was just wild. I was just a little kid and I would, be like "Why is singing making you cry. Is that bad? Is that good? So it was kind of just this cool thing that opened my eyes to music.
CC: I read in your last article for the Chicago Reader that you have an infatuation with mishaps in vintage recordings. That's pretty cool! Are there any specific instances that you can reference that really moved you?
LK: Well I listen to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald. Alot. Um, and in a lot of older recordings, y'know there's not like, certain parts you can take out, or how many takes you can do. Occasionally, a reel will be chopped up, with another reel, but it wasn't as seemless as it is now, so you can kinda hear when the tape turns over, or they ran outta tape so the had to pick it back up, yknow, or like talking in the background. That was just so cool to me, because I feel like you get a taste of what was actually going on in the session. Like the Bill Evans Trio recordings that I mentioned in the Reader, that whole recording was live. So there were like, power outages, and talking and clapping and laughing, and stuff like that. It's just so cool to me, because you can get more of an essence of the musicians, and the mood that was in the room, and stuff, as opposed to everything being edited so perfectly...it just doesn't feel as genuine.
CC: Are there any modern artists that move you at all?
LK: Robert Glasper...I guess he's not even new, but everybody knows him now, yknow, even though he's been making music for years, but the Black Radio albums are really awesome. It was great to hear that something so heavily rooted in Jazz is getting a bit more mainstream recognition...I mean his musicality is genius. It's just really awesome to see that. I've seen him live a few times, and you can totally tell that he's growing as a performer, and as a person. With more exposure and everything like that, yknow. But yeah, I also like King a lot, they're great. If you're unfamiliar, it's two sisters, and they make amazing music. New wave soul? I don't really know how to explain it. It's really awesome though.
CC: I know you've mentioned D' Angelo quite a few times.
LK: I wouldn't really consider him a new artist, he's been in the game for awhile. D'Angelo is like my father, who I also want to make out with...in a weird way...like...
CC: Yeah, I'm gonna edit that one out.
LK: Like musically, he's inspired me so much, but it's like, "You are a beautiful person." The first thing I ever made in photoshop was me kissing D'Angelo.
CC: That's hilarious.
LK: There's a lot of new artists I think are great, though I do listen to older stuff. That's just kind of what I'm more so into.
CC: Besides the fact your new album will be self-produced, and full length, how do you feel this album is different, or represents growth or evolving for you?
LK: Everything I've done before has been pretty much produced by Peter Cottontale. We got introduced to the scene together, we were really good friends, and he sort of branched out and started working with Chance the rapper more, and I've done work with them for sure. I mean I've sung on Chance's stuff. But this one, Peter didn't produce it, so it's me and my band. I've always performed with my band, but I've never recorded. It's way more expensive, it's a longer process, to record a live instrumentation, as opposed to someone making a beat yknow, on a computer and all of that. So, I did that with this album, and I just kind of wanted it to be my vision, everything before this has been a combination of mine and someone else's vision, so it's hasn't been fully what I want to do. So this album, is fully what I want to do. But just one of the many facets of what I want to do. It's more rooted in soul than anything...there's jazz elements in it. But it was really cool to have it be completely my call. My band is really amazing.
CC: Yes, I could see that during your live performaces.
LK: (Has conniption) Ugh!! They're so good!! So that was great, recording with them.
CC: You mentioned this album being one element of things you want to do, What are the other elements that you plan on exploring?
LK: I'd more so consider myself a Jazz vocalist than anything else. Even though I grew up with spirituals in the church and everything, I don't have that heavy, gospel-y R&B voice, it's just not what I was given. So the first time that I heard Ella Fitzgerald, it was like "Oh, this is what I'm supposed to do. THIS makes more sense to me," and I was like in middle school at that time, at like 12 or 13 years old. But I definitely want to delve more into the jazz world. I'd love to do an album with all standards, with like, a Jazz trombone; I'd love to do one of the big bands. As long as it's original music that's more jazz oriented. Even though all of my stuff you can hear jazz elements in because of my vocal styling. But yeah, I just feel like there's so much room for growth, in exploring other genres. I don't really like to be put in a box, which is awesome when you're an indie artist, you can kinda do whatever you want. But I think that overall, my sound will have a defining quality to it, because, it all kinda comes from me, and my influences.
CC: What exciting things do you have upcoming?
LK: February 7th at the Metro. That'll be good. We're playing a lot of stuff from Ruby. So we've never performed most of [the songs] before, so that'll be fun. My album is coming out in April.
CC: What artist(s) do you want to collaborate with?
LK: (pauses) I don't know...there's lot of artists that I'd love to work with. I'd love to work with Anthony Hamilton. I think that would be great. Or John Legend. Y'know. That'd be fun too. I think it'd be great to work with Esparanza Spalding...I don't know if it'd be like a collaboration, I just kinda want to be around her and take in her essence...(laughs). Same with Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Sharon Jones. I just want to learn from them. I don't know! There's a lot of artists I'd love to work with.
CC: Being in a genre that is primarily influenced by black culture, gives you a bit of leverage and puts you in a unique position. I suppose I should ask if you feel this puts you in a unique position.
LK: It's an interesting topic. 'Cause you know I'm not the first white person to sing this genre, and it's not a genre that I would claim to create either. But my mom is mixed, her dad is Black and Puerto Rican and her mom is white, I know I look like this little blonde Aryan baby. When I was born, my mom was like "Why is my child this white?" (Laughs). So she kinda raised me as a single mom, and a lot of her culture was taught to me, and I always grew up in black communities and I was always the only white kid, so it was never like uncomfortable or foreign to me, it's just how I was raised. My mom would play Motown growing up, as well as like, Steely Dan, and other like, classic rock. But she was the first one to get me into Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin, and that type of stuff. She's always been my role model, as being a woman, and even just what I aspire to be. My being white and doing this genre, It didn't really occur to me that it was a thing. It's just how I was raised. It would make more sense if it were someone like my mother who can identify with being a biracial woman...I can't do that, even though that's the culture I was raised in. I just respect it so much, and it's just a thing that I love, it's what's always spoken to me, music-wise. The first album that I ever heard that made me want to make an album was "Voyage to India" by India Arie. And alot of her subject matter is about her culture, about her race, and all the different things about beauty standards and things like that. Even though I know it's not about me, I can totally relate to that...I see that in my mom, I see that in my community, and in the women I look up to. So it's always been kind of a weird thing for me. Well...not weird...but weird that it's not weird? If that makes any sense. I don't know how to phrase that better. But yeah, I've been asked the question before. I know there's a lot of issues, especially recently with a lot of cultural appropriation within music, and that's not something that I ever thought that I was doing necessarily, but I'm also not trying to force something that I think looks cool.
CC: If your soul feels something, your soul feels something.
LK: And it's just been like this since I was a baby, like, this is how I was raised. I'll see other artists, (not saying names), and I'll be like "That's not you. That's just disrespectful." Or even to claim that you originate something. Like, I know the history of the music, I know it didn't come from white people, and I'm never gonna claim "I'm the first person to do this!" No. Never. I want to always give credit where it's due, with the history of everything. It's like, why not?
View Lili K's amazingly adorably vintage new video (shot in both of ours hometown, Brew City), and don't forget to catch her LIVE this Saturday at the Metro in Chicago.