Lily Elise spent most of her young life in the San Francisco Bay area singing her heart out. At the age of 11, Lily saw a group of singers perform in her hometown and a fire was instantly lit inside her. She had no other option but to become a musical performer.
Influenced by Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, Lily eventually found herself performing in front of a national audience on NBC’s The Voice. As if that experience wasn’t amazing enough, she also received coaching from one of her idols, Christina Aguilera. That isn’t bad for a girl who began singing as an infant for her parents from her crib.
With The Voice in her rearview mirror, Lily is poised to release her first EP, “Taken.” The EP can be best described as an eclectic mix of alternative, pop and R&B. Production from the likes of Felix Snow, Dan Nigro and Mighty Mike adds a solid foundation and strengthens the release. “Taken” is nothing short of a phenomenal piece of artistry and deserves your undivided attention.
Steve Johnson of Icon vs. Icon recently sat down with Lily to discuss her influences, what it was like being a contestant on The Voice, and her upcoming EP “Taken.”
First off, tell us a little about where you grew up and your earliest memories of music.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. I was kind of always a singer. Any time I heard music my parents told me that I would sing it back in the crib. I would sing my ABC’s and all that stuff. In terms of music, I remember being about 11 or 12 and seeing a group of singers from my hometown singing. I remember thinking to myself, “If they can do it, I can do it.” That was the first moment where I was like, “I want to be a performer!”
Who would you cite as your greatest musical influence?
I grew up listening to a lot of different genres. I listened to a lot of Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. I had the whole compilation disc. I’m also obsessed with diva singers like Christina Aguilera, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Beyonce. I also love songwriters like John Mayer. It’s really a collection.
You were a contestant on ‘The Voice.’ How did you get involved with the show and what was the experience like for you?
When I was on ‘The Voice,’ it was my first real experience in the industry. I auditioned for it originally because my friend was working for the company at the time. None of us really knew what the show was going to be. It was season one. We didn’t know who the coaches were going to be. We didn’t really know a thing about it. For me it was just like, “Oh! It will be fun! I’ll go sing in front of people!” I was super young. The experience was very eye-opening for me. I was so young and I was a little bit afraid to speak up. It really forced me to look at who I wanted to be as an artist and what kind of songs I wanted to write.
You mentioned Christina Aguilera as one of your influences. You were on her team during your time on The Voice. What did you take away from your time with her?
She is such a strong woman. I grew up listening to her and she was one of my main influences singing wise. I felt every emotion ever. I was so nervous. She is such a strong, powerful female, and voice. She is really inspiring to me. That’s what I took from it.
Did the show influence your style of music at all or did you have an idea of the direction you wanted to go in?
I was so young at the time and I was super green. When they would give me songs and say, “You want to sing this?” I was like, “Sure!” I wouldn’t really speak up. It wasn’t until after I got off the show where I was like, “OK! I know what I want to do now!” I got in the studio after that and starting writing every day. That’s where I found my sound.
Would you recommend that other aspiring musicians follow the same path you did and try to go on a show?
I think it really depends on the person. Everyone’s path is different. Looking back, if I were to do it all over again, I would have been more prepared before going in. I think that it is your ambition that helps put your songs and style together. If you don’t let anyone change that at all, then it can be a really great platform. For me it was a great platform, so I would say yeah!
You released a few songs from your forthcoming EP “Taken.” The title track has been described as a mix of pop, R&B and EDM. How would you best describe your sound to people who haven’t heard your music?
I would describe it as alternative, pop, R&B.
OK … [laughs]
It’s a little bit of everything! [laughs]
What is your typical songwriting process?
Typically when I write songs I like to start with melody and then put lyrics to it after. I write every day, so every day is a little bit different. Some days I go in with the producer and start with chords and develop the track from scratch. Sometimes melody and lyrics will come at the same time, then I’ll go back and edit and reform them. Every day is a little bit different!
You worked on the EP with Felix Snow, Dan Nigro, Mighty Mike, Erik Belz and Danny Score. What did each of those guys bring to the table and what was your experience like working with them?
They are all really awesome. They are all my close friends and people I work with really closely. They are all different. With Felix, when he did “Taken” … When I first wrote “Taken” it was a ballad that I wrote with Jenn Deciliveo. Felix ended up producing it afterwards and really brought the song to life. I fell in love with his production. The others were different. Dan Nigro produced another song from the EP that hasn’t come out yet. We wrote it just to a guitar. He had these guitar chords. We wrote lyrics to that and produced it later. They are all different, but those guys are really awesome. I’m lucky to work with such talented producers.
Were there any challenges to putting the material together for the EP?
Putting the EP together took a year to a year-and-a-half. I was writing so many songs. I just kind of picked and chose which ones I wanted to keep. The ones that really felt like me, and spoke to my heart as an artist, and said what I wanted to say. There are always challenges that arise, but in terms of creating the music it kind of created itself in a way. Once the songs were done I just knew.
When can our readers get their hands on the completed EP?
I think during summer this year.
Are you happy with the success the singles from the EP have had so far?
Totally. It’s been really interesting for me to see. I really want to put out this EP on my own. I want to do it independent because I want to release music that is really me and not deal with any of the other cooks in the kitchen. When we started putting these singles out, the first one did really well for what it was. It was the first thing I ever released. With every track that I put out I see it build more and more. I’m really excited and I’m really happy that people seem to be liking it. It’s all you can ask for.
You recently collaborated with Twin Shadow on “Alone,” a track off his new album. What was that experience like for you and what can you tell us about that project?
George from Twin Shadow is amazing. I’m such a fan. I met him in a studio in LA when we were recording “Alone,” which is the song that is on his album. The whole process was really great. He’s such a talented guy. He’s so welcoming. He brought me into his world. It took a better part of a day to record the song. We took our time with it. That was awesome. I also got to perform with him in New York in January. He’s just a great guy. The whole album is so beautiful. I’m a fan.
What’s next for you? Do you have a full length album in the future?
I’m always working. I definitely have songs that I want to release after the EP is out. I’m not quite sure … I’m thinking of just putting a single out after the EP. I definitely have an album in the back of my mind. When the time is right, for sure.
Do you have any performances coming up where people can see you live?
I am working with my band to put my live show together. I don’t want to go out there until I feel like it’s perfect. I’m a perfectionist in that way, but yes, there will be live shows soon. Maybe next summer.
A career in the music industry is not an easy path to follow. What is the biggest obstacle to your career moving forward?
The biggest obstacle for me is just being able to continue with no expectations. It’s hard as a creative type to set aside … Let’s rephrase. It’s hard to look at yourself objectively. You are your music. You are your product. For me, I try to separate it a little bit. My music determines who I am as an artist and how I’m going to keep moving forward. As long as you don’t stop, you will get there. I think a lot of people get in their head and it drives them back.
What is the best piece of advice anyone has given you along the way in your career?
It’s cliche, but just be yourself.
We get that answer quite a bit.
It’s easy, but it’s not easy. Be yourself.
Would that be your advice to someone who wanted to pursue a career in the music industry?
Yeah! I think that you know when something is right. I keep repeating it, but as long as you don’t stop, and don’t let anyone tell you that you have to stop, or tell you that it’s not going to work for you … If you believe it, you can do it.
Do you have any last words for our readers?
Thanks for listening and I hope that they like it!
Thank you so much for your time. Best of luck out there Lily!
Awesome! Thanks so much!