In contrast to the realm of popular music where lyrics are ironed out to be as vague, lifeless, and universally applicable as possible, it’s refreshing to find a singer-songwriter whose unfiltered specificity manages to feel as if the words tumbling out of their mouth were your innermost thoughts, hopes, and fears fully fleshed out. Lillie West of Lala Lala has accomplished just that. Her low rumblings matched perfectly with the appropriate soundscapes create emotive pieces that are heartbreaking, unexpectedly celebratory, and everything in between. Whether it’s tongue-in-cheek, flatly delivered honesty or intimate confessions, West’s songs feel like a close friend who knows you better than you know yourself.
I always proceed with caution when entering someone else’s space and took the same approach when I met up with Lillie backstage before her show at Baby’s. Immediately, though, she was a comforting presence. Fully present and calm, she took to the couch to start warming up on the guitar, which spurred the conversation about the merits of traditionally trained versus self-taught musicians. In defense of the self-taught, there was a reference to the late great Amy Winehouse when she said, “If you learn to play guitar off someone else, you’re just going to sound like them, and while I’m not even an adequate guitarist, I’m still a distinctive guitarist. I sound different.” The consensus was that neither is superior than the other (as long as your not a dick about being “classically trained”), but you have to acknowledge the level of privilege that accompanies those who have a formal education in music. Privilege is something we discussed again as we spoke about the creative community in Chicago, where music seems to be thriving. Her reasoning was that it was a relatively affordable city for creatives to live, allowing artists to spend more time on their real work and less time at their day jobs. Covered head to toe in thick black ink outlines and topped off with vibrant pink waves, I had to ask if she was a product of parents who were creatively minded and expressive as well, or the black sheep of a family of squares. While both her parents are involved in the arts, creative pursuits weren’t expected of her or forced upon her. They really allowed her to do her own thing and find her way as an artist.
Figuring things out on her own seems to have worked out pretty well for Lillie. Front to back, Lala Lala’s set was flawless. Already having a body of work that ranges from highs to lows and back, the set was impassioned, frank, and vulnerable. Lillie’s words are still running through my mind days later — some haunting, others making me feel less alone and understood. At times when you’re numbed by the cocktail of your over-caffeination and lack of sleep combined with your learned emotional unavailability, Lala Lala’s music will remind you of what it is to be alive again — and all the beautiful, tragic, and ordinary intricacies that accompany that.