(Editor’s Note: Don’t miss the exclusive premiere of Lila Blue’s new video, “Stranger,” as part of this edition of Out Now. Watch below.)
Lila Blue writes songs with angst, tender love, detailed guitar lines, descriptive lyrics, and witchy energy. Their lyrics pull you into scenes and stories. They sing with great variation, Lila’s vocals are sometimes harsh, like aggressive growling and howling, while at other times they’re a soft and soothing sound. Their craftsmanship is top-tier; their story lines are intricate and engaging. Lila has been working with several of their collaborators since they were a child, developing strong and meaningful relationships. That kind of connection, understanding, and growth creates the perfect grounds for a cohesive sound.
I’m honored to feature this phenomenal artist. I think you’ll find their sound to be engaging, creative, and distinctive. I hope you enjoy Lila’s music as much as I do.
Do you create music primarily for yourself or for others?
Lila Blue: My creative process has become so tied to performing for others that I’m actually not sure anymore. I think before anything else, I make music because I love what storytelling can do. My first love was the written word, and as a sensitive and frequently-overwhelmed individual, it’s been there for me at every turn. I know that I would still write songs even if I never got to play them for anyone again, but I love watching what stories can do to those they touch and how deliciously unreliable they can be to make and ingest.
What is your greatest fear?
I kid you not, my greatest fear is steep inclines that have unsteady ground. If you ever want to catapult me into a state of pure horror (which as I write this down I realize I’m giving any future foe the ability to undo me…), put me on a hill with loose gravel, a sandy bluff, or even a shaky pair of stairs and my nervous system is toast. I fell down a bluff when I was a kid and it’s been ingrained in me since to avoid shifty ground.
What is your current state of mind?
It’s the final day of 2023 as I’m writing this, so I’m feeling more quiet and reflective than usual. There’s been so much pain this year, personally and globally, and I think I’m trying to hold reverence for the grief that comes with that, while also uplifting joy and mindful action whenever I can.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I had a poetry teacher in college, Marie Howe. In our first class, she made it very clear that if we didn’t know an answer and pretended to, we would be missing the entire point of being a student and a person. I have pretended to know many things that I don’t for fear of missing out or being deemed less smart because of it. Having someone give me the permission to let that go – and illuminate how much I was actually missing out on in doing so – is something I’ve reflected on time and time again.
For anyone reading this who might not be out of the closet, were there any specific people, musicians, or resources that helped you find yourself as a queer individual?
I grew up on the Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile and those folks held out a light for me in their songs to feel seen, to have the thought, “Oh, I can do this as a calling and be vocal about who I am and who I love.” I got to share that with Brandi this year, which absolutely knocked my socks off in the most full-circle way.
I also had a middle school music teacher, Rachel Garlin, who was a proud lesbian folk musician and a huge support in my life at that time. Being in the presence of her living her life happily, full of queer love and music, woke something up in me around how I dreamt about my own future [and that it] was a possible reality. Reading Zami by Audre Lorde in high school was also a big turning point for me and what’s been beautiful about coming out and continuing to grow is that I realized the questioning doesn’t have to end at the point when the closet door opens – we all deserve to have a lifetime of discoveries! I felt that when I found Adrianne Lenker’s work or when I recently read The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson.
What does it mean to you to be an LGBTQ+ musician?
I had a hard time answering this, as there’s so many paths to choose with a question so wonderfully vast. I don’t know how it would feel to not have who I am and who I love intertwined with the art I make, they feel inextricable to me and because of that, I have a hard time pinpointing what it exactly means to me that they intersect. What I do know is that uplifting queer and trans stories that make myself and my community feel desired, honored, seen and held is what I feel called to do with my life, and each time I get to do so and share it with the world, it feels holy to me.
What are your release and touring plans for the next year?
We’ll be releasing two videos for “Stranger” [watch above] and “I Met the Devil,” and a music video for “High on a Hill,” as well as dropping the new merch and vinyl available on my Bandcamp page. I’m planning to tour with my friend and dear collaborator NOGA in the spring, am continuing development on an original musical in February, and in the meantime will be consistently playing shows in NYC starting in mid-January!
Can you tell us a bit about the new video for “Stranger?” We’re so excited to be premiering it within this interview.
I wrote “Stranger” in the green room 15 minutes before going on as an opener for Kevin Bacon’s band in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Father’s Day in 2018 – which sounds like a fever dream when I write it out. Being in the midwest with the Bacon Brothers led to me ingesting a lot of country and folk music on the road and left me with a deep craving to write a tried and true country-folk tune. I wrote it a cappella, and then found the instrumentation a week or so later.
When I wrote it, I thought I was singing it to an “other,” a figment of someone I hoped could love me and see me. Now looking back, it feels like a letter from my closeted 18 year-old self to who I am now: Still ashamed of so much of themselves, trying to write to the stranger they craved to become. It makes me endlessly happy to sing this song to them every chance I get from the proudly queer, and deeply loved self I am now.
The video we got to film in Nashville felt like such a beautiful close to the chapter of bringing “Stranger” to the world. With the small and scrappy team at MOXE, and the amazing Elizabeth Olmstead, I feel we got to showcase what that song is about for me; the music and the words, and the creative lineage that got me there. Myself and long-time collaborators Saskia Lane and Phillip Roebuck got to play through “Stranger” on the beautiful land that MOXE is built on. I got to gaze at the studio in the distance as we sang through a song that means the world to me; I couldn’t have asked for more.
Like you mentioned, you’ve been working with some of your team members and bandmates for over a decade. Could you share that process of growing alongside folks you’ve been working with for years?
I was on a flight the other month with Saskia Lane and Phillip Roebuck (who were the first people I learned how to write songs from) and while the two of them were snoozing, I looked over and had a deep, reflective moment on how lucky I am to be able to collaborate with those who are part of my direct creative lineage. The folks who I made Sweet Pea with literally taught me how to play music, taught me how to be a musician’s musician, and I wouldn’t be the artist and human I am today without them. These songs wouldn’t have bloomed the way they did without Saskia Lane, Phillip Roebuck, Ashley Frith, Gabriel Ebert and Damon Daunno, and Kat Cook’s presence in my life.
You have a distinctive witchy-folk sound. How did you develop your sound and style?
Music has always been a ritualistic and spiritual space for me. As a kid, I was surrounded by folks and relatives who practiced witchcraft and around then I started writing songs in my sleep. Looking back, I wonder if that’s when I was least vigilant to certain turmoils I was going through, but I like to “yes and” when it comes to the rational and the mystic!
From the jump, what’s come out of me is tied to the lineage of folk music and those that taught it to me at the Lake Lucille Project, an artistic commune I’ve been a member of since I was eight years old. Learning to meld my practices of ritual and channeling, with the muscles I’ve built over the years in studying writing and music, has let me feel like I’m not powerless to what comes through me; I think if anything from here things will only get witchier.
Your music plays with intense variation in tempo and dynamics. Some of your songs whisper while others growl. This contrast creates engaging collections of songs. What is it like for you to write with so much diversity in sound?
Thank you for noticing that. I’ve always been really drawn to artists whose bodies of work are full of contradictions. A few months ago, someone asked me what I like most about music. It took me a moment to articulate it properly, but as someone who’s faced a fair share of trauma in my life, with that has come a distortion and “fossilizing” of time. I felt really trapped by my memories and through that felt trapped by time itself. But with music, I found that I could suspend time in the way my trauma did, but not from a foundation of harm. A good song can do that for someone – at least it does that for me. I figured out that for me to keep that suspension going, I needed to make music that felt surprising and dynamic to my ear.
You recently released your fourth album, Sweet Pea. Is there anything you’d like to share with our audience about the new album?
I’ve been so lucky to experiment with every record I’ve done and explore the current themes I felt drawn to at that time. When my producer Jordan Brooke Hamlin and I began to meet and discuss what this record would be about, I realized that I wanted to make a project where if someone asked me who I was when no one was looking at me, I could hand them a piece of music and show them. This is that record for me. If you listen to it, it will tell you all you need to know about me, and it wouldn’t have become that without the amazing crew at MOXE and my bandmates, some of whom have been my collaborators the past 12 years.
Photo Credit: Frank Theodore
“Stranger” Video Credits: Recorded at MOXE in Nashville, TN.
Produced by Lila Blue & MOXE.
Elizabeth Olmstead – Direction, cinematography, & editing
Lila Blue – Acoustic guitar & vocals
Phillip Roebuck – Resonator guitar & percussion
Saskia Lane – Upright bass
Special thanks to Jordan Brooke Hamlin, Lake Wilkinson, Kat Cook, & the MOXE crew.