Within five minutes of speaking with London-born, LA-raised Lila Drew, it’s strikingly clear that music is and always has been her true calling.
After falling in love with the music her parents played at home when she was a young child, Lila Drew started writing songs and had her first studio session when she was 14. Although the rising indie singer/songwriter isn’t even out of her teens just yet, she already speaks with such intense eloquence about her craft that you understand exactly what she’s trying to accomplish: to create a body of work that will outlast the fickle music industry and stand the test of time, like a lot of her biggest influences and inspirations.
Drew speaks to 1883 during the height of the quarantine-crisis where she talks about hew new song ‘Dad’s Van’, why she wants to be an ‘album artist’ verses a ‘singles artist’, and how she thinks coronavirus will impact the music industry for the better.
What’s your origin story? What was it about music that made you want to pursue it as a career?
I’m only 19 so it’s always funny when people ask this question! I haven’t had much ‘life’ yet to think a lot about my career. So far in my life, music has just always been a massive gravitational force. I grew up listening to so much music — everything from Aretha Franklin to Public Enemy to Lou Reed. The music playing in my house was really broad, and I’m thankful for that because it’s given me a wide love for a lot of different genres. I started playing piano when I was young and then I discovered GarageBand and that was it; that was the turning point. I realized that I could write songs by myself and that changed things for me. I just kept writing every day and learned more and more about production and learning about that entire world. Also, I was born in London and grew up in LA and you have such an incredible exposure to music here. I was surrounded by artists and friends who were also doing creative, interesting things. I just kind of kept making music and it finally got to the point where I felt like I knew what I wanted to say and I felt like I knew how to say it.
What’s your songwriting process? Where do you typically find your inspiration?
One thing I always do is start at the beginning of the song. I go in the order of the actual song. I’m writing a lot while in quarantine! They are really shitty songs [laughs], but I’ve just been writing some random ideas and that’s how a lot of songs happen; it’s just me, in my room, and writing and singing into the universe. I’ve been writing a lot in the studio, too. A lot of times we’ll be building songs from scratch and I’ll start composing the melody and the lyrics and building all of the other parts of the song, which is very cool because they all come together at one time. A great songwriting exercise is to write lyrics and melody organically and try to not edit one or the other. There’s this interview with Charli XCX, who is such a good pop writer, and she was talking about this technique she uses that producer Max Martin taught her about lyrics and how it has an organic melody; you can follow the melody through the cadence and the lyrics instead of using other things to create a melody. I’ve been trying to keep that in consideration. I think the process is always really different, it’s not linear. As an example, I’ve been teaching myself how to play guitar and that’s been interesting in terms of writing just because I think it’s cool to write on instruments you don’t know well because there’s a lot of creativity that can come from that. I try to write by hand because that helps, for me at least.
Your EP, locket (side one), is extremely confessional and vulnerable. Do you ever find it difficult or daunting to be open in your songwriting?
Not really, to be honest! I write in a very personal, confessional way, but everything I write is quite abstracted and very visual. I think because of that, it gives me a space to be vulnerable and open without feeling like I’m completely exposing myself. It’s hard for me to be vulnerable in my regular life and I enjoy being a strong, private person and I enjoy knowing what I know and things like that [laughs], so songwriting has been an outlet for me to be able to express other sides of myself. I’ve never found it that scary. Everyone takes different things from songs, too; no one is going to listen to the song and understand and feel the same way that I did. I think that’s the really special thing about music; everyone can take things in different ways. With confessional music, it’s easier for people to relate to if the music and lyrics are real.
Have you written for any other artists or are you someone who likes to keep your songs to yourself?
I’ve never personally written songs for other people, but I certainly have a large collection of songs that I would 100% give to other people. I’d love to write for other people! I think it’s a cool exercise and could help me figure out how I can make my writing better for myself. I find, for myself at least, I can only really write about what I know and oftentimes there’s just nothing to write about, you know? Which sounds crazy as a songwriter! When you spend so much time in the studio, you don’t see anyone. In those times when I’m making the most music, it is often when I’m not socializing or experiencing new things to talk about. I think writing for other people could help me get out of my head.
On the EP you collaborated with GoldLink. Are there any other artists you’d like to collaborate with, whether it’s a duet, writing a song together, producing a song of yours, or something similar?
Charli is such a funny one because our music could not be more different, but I admire her as a performer, a crazy good pop songwriter, and she’s had such an incredible career. James Blake is a massive inspiration for me, I’d love to collaborate with him. There are so many artists, I would have to dig to find an answer! But those would be two right off the bat for sure. I’d love to write a song with Phoebe Bridgers or one of those classic indie songwriters of this generation; I just think her songs are so special and singular.
You just released your carefree summer jam track ‘Dad’s Van’. What’s the song about and the inspiration behind it?
‘Dad’s Van’ is a funny one. I just released a song called ‘Locket’ five weeks ago and that is one of my favourite songs, but it’s a really deep, heartbreaking song. Everyone I work with and all my friends always comment on the fact that I don’t think I’m that serious of a person, but my music tends to be serious just because the topics are serious and I have that side to me well. ‘Dad’s Van’ is one of the first songs that I loved that I wrote because it was just light. It’s just not that deep of a song. I don’t know if that’s a shitty thing to say! [Laughs] It’s a song about what it would be like if I grew up in the suburbs. My producer was playing these summer-influenced R&B chords and juxtaposing them with all these drum machines. I just loved this idea of me sitting in the back of someone’s dad’s van, which is not true: my dad doesn’t have a van and there was never a romance in the back of a van; it’s all fabricated. I just loved the visual of a suburban, summer ’90s movie vibe so that’s really what I tried to capture. I just loved the idea of putting out a song that didn’t feel so serious and it felt carefree for lack of a better word. For me, I just turned 19 so it was a cool moment to capture and to know that I can write songs that also feel young and free.
I feel like we need carefree songs right now!
For real. All I’ve been able to listen to is the news, which is probably not the best for my health. I’ve been listening to so many new podcasts. I can barely listen to music! But there’s been a lot of Stevie Wonder and that’s it. My brother comes into my room every day and asks me if I’ve listened to all of this new music that’s come out and I’m like ‘NO!’ I will listen to it in a week! It’s too overwhelming. I’m deep into listening to the same three songs off Songs in the Key of Life every day and that’s it. I can’t get past it!
I’m interested in speaking with young artists about everything that’s going on right now with the quarantine and how it’s impacting the music industry. As a rising artist, what changes in the industry do you think will come from this, whether that’s in touring, how artists release music, or with any other aspect of the industry?
It’s a really interesting one. I’ve been working for about a year on my full-length album which has been amazing. I’ve never been able to find my voice in this way. Yesterday I was sending a link of the album to someone and feeling like it’s almost done, which is a very weird feeling. I still have vocals to cut and edits to do and mixes done, but it’s been really weird because I’ve been pretty much locked out in the studio since this past June working on this album. I graduated high school in the spring so this is my first time doing music without school and I’m going to college in the fall. The past two weeks have been interesting because this is my first time not being able to go into the studio in months. It’s been refreshing in a way because I think people are paying attention to music right now in an unprecedented way. You can see it in how people are interacting and communicating with it because there’s nothing else to listen to; there are no distractions. I’ve been trying to figure out visuals and all those things for my new project, but we’re at a place in time where the music matters the absolute most, which I actually think is cool to see.
Yeah, for the first time in a while, I feel like the music matters the most above everything else and all the gimmicks.
I agree. There are so many amazing videos out there, there are so many crazy tours, there are so many people going viral on the internet, and this is going to be a time where the music is what matters. It’s going to push people to have to get creative. I’ve spent the past five days setting up a little mini-studio in my room so I can continue to create. I have this little vintage Wurlitzer keyboard and a bunch of posters and I’ve been trying to figure out an interesting way for me to play music online, but not just do it in a way where it’s me singing into my phone. The good thing about this is that there will be a lot of cool work being made out of this period. People are going to be focusing on the music and less on everything else, which is how it should be. Music is what matters. It’s going to be a testament to what music is going to connect at this time.
You’ll be releasing new music throughout the Spring. What can we expect from these singles?
They are nothing like ‘Locket’ or ‘Dad’s Van’! Making music while growing up has been an interesting experience. I’ve always definitely known what I wanted my music to sound like but, naturally, there’s such as an evolution that comes with making music at this age. The third song that I ever came out was with GoldLink, I wrote that song when I was 16/17. The difference between 16 and 19 is huge, it’s a lifetime. The music that I’m putting out sometimes soon is the best picture of me that I’ve been able to express through music. It’s my most personal music, but I feel I haven’t overworked it as much as I feel like I have with so much of my other music. I’ve made it pretty recently and I’m trying to just get it out as quickly as I can because I have a huge amount of music just hanging out on my Dropbox, but when it gets to releasing it I don’t connect with the song like I once did. With this new project, I have been trying to lead with my gut over everything to make sure that I absolutely love every single song as much as the next. As a music listener and as a consumer, I care a lot about albums. I don’t have playlists, I don’t shuffle, I listen to albums from beginning to end. All I’ve wanted to do is make an album that I love and that I feel I can listen to for a long time.
I was talking about that with a songwriter friend — how there’s a difference between ‘singles artists’ and ‘album artists’. I’ve always been someone to enjoy an entire body of work rather than random singles here and there.
That’s me as well! I’ve talked a lot with the people I work with about this. A lot of artists are succeeding off of singles and that’s amazing and I love them! But, for me, I want to be an album artist. It’s really important to me. What better time to make my first album than when I’m on a gap year between high school and college. My biggest goal going into this year was making my album. There’s a producer in London named Matt Hale that I work with and last summer he told me I was ‘too young to be working on an album for five years’ and ‘too young to overwork yourself’, so I’ve tried to take that into account and just let the music happen naturally. I’m excited about it. It’s not done by any means, but it’s getting close. I want nothing more than for people to hear. It’s really special, I love it.
Last question, what do you hope people take away from your music?
I feel like every song is so different, but I hope at the end of the day people can relate to what I’m speaking about in my music. I try to pull from personal experience and feelings and try to articulate my emotions in the best way I can. I hope that people can grasp that and take that away. I hope that people can dance to it if they want, they can cry to it if they want, and experience the full range of human emotions! [Laughs] The biggest thing I hope people can feel something when they listen to it and interpret it in whatever way they experience it.
interview by Kelsey Barnes
photography Adeline Wohlwend
hair Hailey Adickes @ Celestine Agency
makeup Miriam Nichterlein @ The Wall Group
casting + production Angeliki Sofronas
Check out Lila’s latest single ‘Dad’s Van’ below!