Photo: Mathew James Wilson
Lala Lala On Straightforward Songwriting: "I Definitely Was Born An Oversharer"
Chicago indie-rock project Lala Lala was one of the local acts this year at Pitchfork Fest. Fronted by London-born singer/songwriter Lillie West, the band's 2018 sophomore album, The Lamb, is a sweet, spare moment of self-reflection written during an anxiety-ridden time where, as West notes in a press release, "I started to frequently and vividly imagine the end of the world, often becoming too frightened to leave my house. This led me to spend a lot of time examining my relationships and the choices I’d made, often wondering if they were correct and/or kind."
West's gentle songwriting has definitely caught the eye of her more established familiars: In January, West released a collaboration with WHY? singer Yoni Wolf titled "Siren 042." This past spring, she opened for Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers' band, Better Oblivion Community Center, and most recently West has opened for GRAMMY nominees Death Cab For Cutie on their U.S. summer tour.
The Recording Academy spoke with West at Pitchfork Fest about her personal evolution between albums, getting sober, opening for Death Cab and "being born an oversharer."
How does it feel to be performing at a major festival in the city where you live?
It feels really nice. I mean, it felt pretty monumental to me. I feel like Pitchfork is sort of a rite of passage for Chicago artists, and it was very special.
Hometown shows were always nerve wracking, because there's a lot of people you know, but it's also great because everyone's on your side, everyone's like eager for you to succeed and have fun, and yeah, it felt good.
You lived in London and were born in California... How did Chicago become your home?
I moved here for art school when I was 19, and then I dropped out and I stayed [in Chicago].
What did you listen to growing up?
When I was a teenager, I was really into Pavement. Was a band I really liked. Karen Dalton. I was into indie music, kind of. When I was a kid, I remember my mom listened to Kate Bush and Moby and Buena Vista Social Club. But that was like all we had in the house.
How did you get your start in music?
I've just always been a really big fan of music and it just slowly occurred to me that I could do it. And I started going to DIY shows in Chicago and just becoming friends with DIY musicians and sort of picked it up myself, as well.
I played piano on and off for awhile, but I started playing guitar, really, when I was 19. And now I've been branching into other instruments just for fun, and taking my knowledge and intuition from what I know from guitar to other things.
How has that experience been, learning an instrument as an adult? I tried learning guitar, and I couldn't as an adult.
You totally can. It just takes like so much longer than you think it does, or for most people I feel like. Some people pick it up really quickly, but I find it very challenging. But yeah, you just have to keep trying. You can learn anything as an adult. It just takes longer.
The Lamb is your second album. What was your state of mind going into the making of it?
I really wanted to make something that I cared about. I just wanted it to sound good, and I wanted to pay attention to guitar parts and melodies, and yeah, I just was trying to be really present for it.
Has it been hard in the past, to be present when making an album?
Well, just the first album we made, I didn't even really know we were making an album. I just was like, we've written some songs as record them. So I was very aware of the fact we were making an album.
In your song "F**k With Your Friends," you have a lyric about drinking to make someone seem more interesting. Your album touches on stuff like that, very personal things. Was it a cathartic experience being able to write about these part of your life?
Yeah, "F**k With Your Friends" is from the album Sleepyhead when I was drinking a lot, and now when I made The Lamb, I was sober and I don't drink anymore. But it's just more so that I write about what I'm experiencing always. And those are just things that I experienced and I'm just a pretty straightforward person.
Do you feel like you've grown?
Yeah. I mean hopefully. Yes. Yeah. Everything has changed, that's for sure.
In what ways do you feel like you've grown, artistically?
I just feel like I pay more attention in every way possible, and I want to go somewhere specific. Whereas in the past, I just let things happen.
Some of The Lamb touches on things like mental health. Does sharing this side of yourself come easily?
To a certain extent, yes. I do disguise some things. Honestly, I think the longer that I do it, the harder it is to be open. I find myself becoming more and more closed off. It's hard to share your life with a lot of people, but I definitely was born an oversharer, and as I've gotten older, I've closed off a little more.
I've spoken to some artists who say that they forget they're being vulnerable in the studio, but once they're performing live, it's like they're showing the world who they are. Do you feel like that?
Yeah, totally. I think live, sometimes if there's lyrics that I wish were different. I might sing them in a certain way that they're less audible, for sure.
What's one thing creating music has taught you about yourself?
Honestly, that you can just do anything, because I don't have formal training, and I started so late, or not even that late, but I started later than most people who get into music, and it just really showed me that at any point you can just decide to do something and if you keep trying.
Even if it doesn't become [my] full-time job or something, I'm very lucky with that has happened, but doesn't mean that you can't just do it. You can just do whatever you want.
You recently opened up for Death Cab For Cutie on their summer tour. How was it opening for such an established act?
It was amazing. I have only good things to say about that band. They are so, so kind. They were so generous to us, and they're amazing musicians, and they made us feel so welcome. And it was an environment that we were not familiar with. It was really big shows, and they really made us feel at home and I can only rave about them. I was a huge fan. "Soul Meets Body" was my ringtone.
What's next for you after Pitchfork?
I'm going out of town. We have one show in L.A. this week, and then I'm going to Russia to visit my Dad. Then I'm going to go on tour with this band WHY? Just hanging out and singing with them, and then we go on tour with Whitney in October, November, and then we have a tour in December with Twin Peaks.
How do you take care of yourself on tour?
It's really hard. We don't party at all. We go to sleep right after the show. As soon as possible, we go to the hotel. We eat really healthy. We try and exercise when you can, if there's like a gym in the hotel, or just like going for walks in between soundcheck. But it's really tough. Those are the things I try to do. Stay hydrated.
Do you feel like being sober has changed your life, the way you write?
Yeah, I'm like the opposite now. I like won't eat dairy. I try not to eat sugar. Before, I just didn't care what happened to me and I just drank so much and did drugs and stuff, and now I'm like hyper, I need eight hours of sleep now. If I get less than eight hours of sleep, I'm exhausted.